How about Democrats embrace popular policies?

I’ve found the best way to understand American politics is by assuming that the Republicans are ruthless and the Democrats are inept. There’s more evidence here:

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While Republicans have made great electoral hay for decades by pushing an extremist gun agenda, the Democrats have consistently offered a milquetoast, muddled response. And here’s the rub: the polls consistently support stronger gun control.

This is low-hanging fruit. Take a popular issue and run with it. Make it into an issue upon which people VOTE.

Yes, I make it sound easy, but how could you do much worse than this:

And yes, I know there have been some recent election wins. But there’s a deep, deep hole to climb out of. And nothing is guaranteed in the midterms

In many ways this reminds me of the Medicare-for-All issue. Mainstream Democrats, Pres. Obama, and Hillary Clinton just couldn’t get themselves behind any version of it, even though it is reasonably popular – without any mainstream effort behind it at all.

Now, we can have a policy argument about gun control and Medicare-for-All. I’m convinced they’re desirable and feasible. You might disagree. Compromises on policy can be reached.

But politically, these issues can WIN. But one has to choose to try.

P.S. For the record, I don’t much care whether Democrats, in and of themselves, win anything. If a Republican embraced sound, humane policies, sure, I’d vote for a Republican. But, jeez. Trump? You make it so hard, GOP.


Gun control for Mr. Spock

On my Facebook page, in response to this post, my friend, Scott, makes an excellent point:

Ultimately, this is just another permutation of the externalization of costs (in terms of health and fiscal expenditures) by the domestic arms manufactures, retailers and rabid consumers.

When debating guns, you encounter all kinds of people. Some come across as very emotional – FREEDOM! Pry it from my cold, dead hands! – while others strike a pose of the hyper-rationalist. Gee, these very, very logical people say, if we could just discuss this whole issue *rationally*, then we’d sort it out, easy peasy.

I have all sorts of problems with this pose, but let me meet it on its own ground for a moment.

On cold, rational, microeconomic grounds, what we have here is a huge pollution problem. Some people – in this case, gun manufacturers and gun nuts – are privatizing the gains of gun sales and ownership – cash profits and psychological benefits –
while socializing the losses – cash outlays for improved security and the horror of watching children get shot to bits at schools over and over.

Classic economics would tell you this is a problem. You can’t properly price a produce or service – or social system, really – unless people bear the full costs. Gun manufacturers and gun nuts are not bearing the full costs right now. Instead, they are dumping mass gun violence pollution on all of us.

So, how do we address this? There are a variety of ways. My preferred route is to enact strict gun control like I’ve laid out elsewhere. But a tidy, economic, freedom-loving solution is to force gun manufacturers and gun nuts to fully bear the costs of their interests. Private citizens or the government could sue every link in the gun chain to recover damages. Or we could tax manufacturers for those costs. Or we could make gun-buyers purchase comprehensive insurance policies to cover all of those costs.

Bottom line, no need to get emotional about it. If you’re a hyper-rationalist and can just ignore the real human consequences of gun violence, okay. But for goodness sake, carry your philosophy and stance through to its logical conclusion. Make the gun manufacturers and guy-buyers pay.

P.S. While not exactly hyper-rationalist, this plan should also satisfy people who are very concerned with that good, old-fashioned conservative value of personal responsibility. Unless, of course, they don’t actually mean it.

Real gun control won’t be won through half measures

We are in the grip of an absolute madness on guns in the US. We get ever more insane solutions, like these gun shelters in classrooms.

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What we need is the complete criminalization of guns in our shared, public spaces; a ban on new semi-automatic sales; a lock-up for existing semi-automatic weapons at licensed facilities; comprehensive, national (not state-by-state) background checks, gun registration, licensing, and training and insurance requirements; and a limit on ammunition purchases. All sales of guns have to take place at federally licensed facilities or have to be witnessed by law enforcement, so that all of these requirements can be met. Oh, and if your gun is lost or stolen, report it, or face criminal charges.

Sound extreme?

Under this system, you still get your weapon for home protection (which I still consider a mistake, especially when one considers suicide and domestic violence); you can hunt (although, we’d need to resolve how to transport the weapon to and from the private hunting ground); and you’d get to be a gun hobbiest.

Oh, and if you’re concerned about the 2nd Amendment, let’s require all gun owners to turn out for regular training so that they can be ready to serve in a well-regulated militia.

Still too extreme? Well, it seems to me to be hardly more extreme than the gun nut vision of a country in which the only thing truly binding us together is our mutual fear of one another and our willingness to be ready to kill one another at all times. Oh, and then teach our children that distrust and to be afraid of dying at any moment by installing gun shelters in the classroom.

Look, as a practical political matter, for anyone interested in pushing back against this madness and divisiveness and fear-mongering, we MUST stake out what will be seen by opponents as an extreme position. We shouldn’t be bashful about what we truly want or hide behind half measures. The nature of our system is such that we will never get 100%. I can accept that. What I can’t accept is ceding half the ground before we’ve even begun to fight. Not anymore.

2nd Amendment extremism for the 1st Amendment

A note to the lunatic, NRA-type 2nd Amendment absolutists out there. Here are some ideas I have on how to exercise my absolute 1st Amendment rights.

Given my rights under the 1st Amendment, I will stand outside your home on the public street shouting obscenities all night long. Neither the state nor you have the right to cut me off. Oh, and I will use a bullhorn, because the tool doesn’t matter, only the right to use it.

Given my rights under the 1st Amendment, I will get all of my friends to peaceably assemble around your home, also shouting obscenities all night long. Using bullhorns. We will also march everywhere you go. There is nothing you can do about it under our absolute rights.

Given my rights under the 1st Amendment, I’m going to start a religion. Like those good, old-timey religions, it will require human sacrifice. There will be nothing you can do to stop it under my absolute right to religious freedom.

Given my rights under the 1st Amendment, I’m going to start a newspaper that publishes every day that you have joined this new religion and that you have the sacrificed the most people. Doesn’t matter if it’s true, because I am asserting my absolute right to a free press.

Now, I’m sure you and maybe even some unpatriotic libtards will object to my interpretation of the 1st Amendment. Something about setting reasonable limits on time, manner, or place on the exercise of our rights, or some other such nonsense.

But I know, in the end, 2nd Amendment NRA-style absolutists, that you will join me in defending our 1st Amendment rights against these grave attacks. I look forward to your support.

Time to demand more

After the Parkland shootings – and, of course, Newtown and so many others – I’m tired of conversations about halfway measures on gun control.

I’m tired of only discussing things like background checks, waiting periods, closing gun show loopholes, etc. (These seem to be the top priorities of most established gun control groups, it seems to me.) It’s time to change the conversation.

Instead, I want a complete criminalization of the possession of guns in our shared, public spaces. Ultimately that should include regular (non-emergency) law enforcement personnel, but as a bridging measure, we might have to let that stand.

That said, it might seen odd, but I’m actually fine with the ownership of powerful personal firearms. People have hobbies – even dangerous ones. But they should be kept at federally (definitely not state) licensed and monitored facilities. The high-powered weapons should not be allowed to leave those facilities or transported by the civilian owners themselves. Also, ownership of ammunition for these weapons should be strictly limited.

Among the more common restrictions on gun-owners (in some states) – like licensing, background checks, etc. – I would also require comprehensive insurance policies (likely expensive) and annual training programs and psychological evaluations.

Per the Second Amendment – “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State” – I would also require any gun-owner to sign up for mandatory national duty. This could be designed similar to the National Guard – or be part of it.

Here’s where I go wobbly: the possession of handguns and non-semi-automatic (hunting) rifles in the home. The home being a private space, I can let that go for now, and hunting is a valid sport, in my mind. But in either case, there should be strict limitations on the ownership of ammunition.

As I said, it’s time to change the conversation and thoroughly criminalize the arming of our public spaces.

Oh, and while I’m at it, we’re going to have to be willing to make this personal. We have to call people who are unwilling to do what is necessary to protect the American public immoral or even evil. The time is now.

Teachers as gun control advocates

Here’s an interesting idea in the gun control fight – a nationwide strike by teachers. But one commenter said this is a lot to ask of teachers. I agree. They didn’t sign up to be gun control organizers. They signed up to educate our children and give them a better future. Sadly, they and the students are too often the targets. I would contribute to a strike fund to help teachers and their families. Maybe a portion of it could be used by the teachers to run tutoring sessions for the kids likely to fall behind. This all seems extreme and complicated, I know, but desperate times. How much easier would it be for Republican politicians (and some Democrats, too, by the way) to stand up to the NRA and the gun extremist supporters?

In the wake of the Parkland shootings

Today I have become something I never thought I would: a single-issue voter. I will never vote for a candidate that doesn’t support strict gun control legislation, even if that means withholding my vote.

As an atheist, I don’t usually use this word, but anyone who supports our current gun laws or advocates for looser ones is evil. It’s hard to walk back that word, but I’ve had enough of school shootings and a hyper-armed society.

You’re not free if you fear for your child’s life or your own. We share our freedom in our public spaces. Once your freedom impinges upon mine, it’s gone too far.

The best solution to mass shootings and gun violence is to restrict personal firearms and ammo. Period.

More answers to gun advocates

Following up on my prior post in which I laid our a wild proposal to ban all civilian gun ownership, let me address some other arguments that gun advocates tend to make.

I can already hear the objection that any restrictions on the civilian ownership of guns would be in violation of the Second Amendment. As a strong proponent of the First Amendment, I take this seriously. I just happen to think that gun advocates’ interpretation of the Second Amendment is completely wrong. Let’s quote the full text of the amendment, seeing as it’s pretty short:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Okay, let me say, this is a terribly written sentence. But what’s worse is that gun advocates only repeat the second half. That is, almost by definition, unconstitutional. It’s only in the context of a well-regulated militia, organized to defend the United States, that we can even begin to understand the right to bear arms.

A second argument that I don’t buy from gun advocates is that we should apply the concept mutually assured destruction (MAD) to our shared public life. You often hear this expressed as, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” While you might think they’re talking about police, they’re not. They want every single person armed, in every setting, so that we all are prepared to shoot one another should someone step out of line. Maybe you’re prepared to accept that universal fear would work somehow in some settings. But I can promise you that it will fail when it comes to mass shootings. The MAD concept was borrowed from the Cold War. The idea was that nuclear-armed states would never attack one another because each one was sure it would be destroyed in the resulting conflict. The whole system counted on nation states – specifically, civilian and military leaders – not being suicidal. But all too often, mass shootings end with the shooter dead – either in a self-inflicted suicide or from suicide by cop. These people often don’t want to live, so the whole approach falls apart.

Oh, and by the way, if more guns made us safer, then the US should be the safest country in the world seeing as we have the highest per capita rate of gun ownership in the world.

Wrapping up, let me recommend that you take the time to read two articles – one from Vox and the other from Five Thirty Eight – that have good analyses of the research on gun ownership, gun violence, and gun control. You might be surprised to find that the Five Thirty Eight piece is skeptical of many gun control proposals.

Finally, I can tell you this: prayers aren’t going to help. Taking action will.

Not necessarily vigilante action, but let’s end with a desperate, nervous laugh…



Is it possible to have private gun ownership and prevent mass shootings?

Another horrific mass shooting in the US, and yet again, the American public seems aghast that this could happen. All of the usual proposals will be floated by gun control advocates, and despite these being generally supported by the American public, gun advocates will wield their seemingly unassailable power over Republican politicians and prevent anything from being done. That script is now familiar.

So, given that nothing will change, I’m going to step back for a moment and ask a big picture question that keeps coming back to me whenever these shootings occur:

Is it even possible to have private gun ownership and prevent mass shootings?

My conclusion: No. It’s not.

If we really want to end mass shootings, then I believe we have no choice but to bar civilians from owning any guns whatsoever and confiscate all of the weapons that are currently in circulation.


Simple human nature.

Some people have always and always will do bad things to their fellow human beings. No amount of cultural change or teaching virtues will ever stop that altogether. And the reasons tend not to change over time, either – religion and ideology, hurt feelings and isolation, mental illness. These aren’t going away anytime soon, either.

The only thing that changes is what tools are used to cause the harm. If all that’s available are fists, fists will be used. If it’s swords, it will be swords. And if it’s guns, well, you get it. Of course, in the past, individual personal weapons were limited in their ability to kill masses of people. But technological changes with guns have put enormous power in the hands of a single person to wreak havoc, as was macabrely mocked in this ad by the gun control group States United to Prevent Gun Violence:

I should point out that the banning and confiscation of private guns would have to be total and comprehensive within a given nation or multi-nation region. Otherwise, the ban would be ineffective. For example, in the US, strict gun laws in Illinois and Chicago designed to contain the violence in the city are undermined by lax laws in neighboring Indiana. Strict gun laws in France designed to combat terrorist attacks were undermined by lax laws in Eastern Europe. The crackdown might even have to be worldwide. The killer in the 2011 attack in Norway that killed dozens of people purchased his ammunition from the US, despite Norway’s strict gun laws. (Plus, the world is awash in guns, thanks to the legacy of the Cold War.)

Now, this is one point where I can say that gun advocates are right: If all private gun ownership is made criminal, then only criminals will have guns. Yep. That’s exactly the point. And police and security forces would have to aggressively enforce these laws and bring criminals to justice. We don’t allow private individuals to have shoulder-fired missiles or nuclear weapons, and we count on law enforcement, broadly defined, to prevent people from acquiring them.

So, again, the only way to prevent mass shootings is a complete disarming of the civilian population.

Now, of course, this supposedly is the nightmare scenario for gun advocates, at least in the US: that the civilian population would be stripped of the weapons necessary to fight back against a tyrannical government. Well, I guess I have to admit again that they’d be right. Up until now I haven’t mentioned military weapons. It’s absolutely true that, if the civilian population has no weapons, it is easy cannon fodder for a ruthless military. Now, like many people I know, I’ve been tempted to argue at this point that it’s ridiculous for gun advocates to think they could oppose a modern military. Seriously, how is the most powerful fully automatic personal gun going to defeat an F-16 fighter jet? But I think this argument ignores the history of successful insurgencies that relied heavily on small arms. Vietnam defeated the US. The mujahideen eventually drove out the Soviets from Afghanistan. And of course, Afghan insurgents continue to resist the Afghan government, despite deep and continued US involvement there. The fact is that passionate, well-armed insurgencies can sometimes wear down even powerful militaries (especially when they get financial support from that military’s strategic opponents).

So, is this fear of tyrannical government real enough to justify private civilian ownership of guns that enable mass shootings?

We can debate this, but my answer is no. In fact, I call bullshit on the paranoid, anti-government fantasies of some gun advocates. Somehow these faux patriots get away with comparing our liberal democratic republic to the most brutal authoritarian regimes. Yes, it’s true; America could go horribly off track. (As terrible as Pres. Trump is, it really could get a lot worse.) And the military has at times been used against our own population (including fellow soldiers, not to mention Native Americans). But if things got so bad as to require an armed insurrection, well, it seems to me that either it’s only paranoids who are resisting or the country has self-destructed to the point where whatever would emerge out of the conflict would be unrecognizable as the US. (Just look at how the neo-Confederates among us still can’t accept what the US became after the Civil War. And I say Civil war, not War Between the States, thank you very much.)

So, if you want to attack me for advocating for a complete ban on private gun ownership, well, fine. Have at it.

Now, believe it or not – in proper American fashion – I’m prepared to compromise.

I have no problem with hunting and could easily be persuaded to allow guns for that purpose.

I might be persuaded to allow the private ownership of handguns in homes for personal protection. (Although, in general, I would find this quite misguided, given that guns in homes seem to contribute more to suicides and domestic violence than protection.) Carrying the gun outside of the home would be a crime.

I might be persuaded to allow for the private ownership of more powerful guns, but they would have to be stored at federally licensed ranges and could not be removed from the premises.

Before I would agree to any of this, I would put severe limits on the amount of ammunition that could be purchased.

But of course, all of these laws are pure fantasy – divorced from the actual politics of guns in the US. As I said at the beginning, nothing will change in the current climate at the federal level, which in this strange way, has created space to make out-of-this-world proposals.

Carrying on without hope

I hate to admit it, but I approach American politics and current events with a deep sense of despair anymore. It wasn’t a one-two punch, but a one-two-three punch.

First, no one was prosecuted for turning the US into a torturer. Second, no one was prosecuted in the aftermath of the financial crisis. And finally, we took no action after small children were shot to pieces at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Collective madness grips societies, occasionally, so – in a way – it’s what you do after the peak madness that counts. We’re now in our second decade of letting enormous wrongs go unaddressed. And I don’t see any hope on the horizon.

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