Heller ruling on 2nd Amendment: legerdemain

“To the leaders, skeptics and cynics who told us to sit down, stay silent and wait your turn, welcome to the revolution.”

I finished reading The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 by Joseph J. Ellis (2015). The title refers to George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. More about the book in the future.

In reading the footnotes – what a nerd! -one jumped out at me. “…for judicial devotees of the ‘original intent’ doctrine” – what DID the Founders mean? – “Madison’s motives” in crafting what became the Second Amendment to the Constitution “are clear beyond any doubt.”

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.

“To wit, the right to bear arms derived from the needs to make state militias the core pillar of national defense” rather than a professional, federal army, which skeptics of federalism feared as threats to small-r republican values. .

“To avoid reaching that conclusion, the [Supreme Court] majority opinion in Heller [v. District of Columbia, 2008], written by Justice Antonin Scalia, is an elegant example of legalistic legerdemain masquerading as erudition. Madison is rolling over in his grave.”

Those not familiar with the fancy noun, it means 1. sleight of hand 2. trickery; deception 3. any artful trick.

In other words, the suggestion that Scalia’s argument is originalist is pure hokum. The Supreme Court had made only a couple rulings over two centuries on that amendment and, it would seem, got it wrong the second time.

In making this ruling, SCOTUS has empowered folks, including some in the powerful National Rifle Association, to argue that ANY limitation on gun ownership is unconstitutional. If the First Amendment can be proscribed – no yelling “fire” in a crowded theater unless there are actually flames – surely the Second can be also.

My wife and I were watching NBC Nightly News on March 24, the day of March for Our Lives rallies all over the world. One of the early stories was Museums across the nation work to archive mementos of grief left after shootings. There is actually a protocol for collecting those items left after mass murders! “Jeff Schwartz of the Parkland [Florida] Historical Society is relying on advice from… curators across the country — from Columbine, Colorado, to Charleston, South Carolina — who have all faced such situations.” We both wept.

So I’m not all that concerned about the “crass ageism” of some of the survivors. The Parkland kids, as of March 24, had been in the media spotlight 39 days, still grieving. I cut them a LOT of slack. “To the leaders, skeptics and cynics who told us to sit down, stay silent and wait your turn, welcome to the revolution,” Marjory Stoneman Douglas student Cameron Kasky told the throngs in DC. “Either represent the people or get out. Stand for us or beware.”

I don’t know what the change in the gun culture will be, but I remain cautiously optimistic, because I have to be.

From The Doors:
The old get old
And the young get stronger
May take a week
And it may take longer
They got the guns
But we got the numbers
Gonna win, yeah
We’re takin’ over
Come on!

Sandy Hook + 5 years = idiotic NRA-backed bill

“It would not establish a national standard for who is allowed to carry a hidden, loaded gun in public.”

After twenty first-graders and six educators were gunned down at Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012, gun control advocates felt that it was the perfect time to get something done on that front. If Congress won’t respond to the deaths of six- and seven-year-olds, what WILL change them?

But nothing much happened. Professor Charles Collier wrote: “In other words, less gun violence proves that gun control is not needed; more gun violence proves that gun control is not working. In either case, the proper response remains laissez-faire.”

In fact, there is a bill with broad support in the US House of Representatives, tacking on a poison pill to the ‘Fix NICS’ Act, designed to “improve the gun-sale background check system simply by helping ensure that the staffs of federal agencies and states complete a couple more keystrokes and mouse clicks every day and submit more records into the system” The addition is dreadful:

“‘Concealed Carry Reciprocity’ would force states to allow people to carry concealed guns in public even if they are domestic abusers, have other dangerous histories, or lack even the most basic safety training to carry concealed guns in public. [It] would leave local police powerless to stop people with dangerous histories from carrying guns.

“‘Concealed Carry Reciprocity’ would gut our gun laws because it would force each state to accept the concealed carry standards of every other state — even states that have weaker standards, or worse, no standards at all. And it would not establish a national standard for who is allowed to carry a hidden, loaded gun in public.”

I can easily imagine even a supposed “good guy with a gun” getting shot and killed by law enforcement in the midst of an act of violence.

This I understand: List of mass shootings placed inside nativity scene at Dedham [MA] church. “Pastor Stephen Josoma said the goal is to get people talking about what more can be done to bring peace on earth.”

There is a Sandy Hook Promise channel on YouTube that might provide ideas on addressing the apparently intractable debate over gun violence and gun control.

Polly ticks, again

“Domestic terrorism” means activities with three characteristics.

mamas-768x385It’s been a very newsworthy period, and I haven’t been able to write about any of the polly ticks of it. I was mourning my friend. I’ve been ill.

So here is a potpourri of stories, some of which I think are interrelated.

I have been told to my face, “Racism will go away if we would only stop talking about race!” Exhibit #666 to the contrary is Rick Tyler For Congress, a third-party candidate from Tennessee, who has an unapologetic racist campaign. He has borrowed Donald Trump’s slogan and “improved” on it. There’s been outrage over the candidate’s “Make America White Again” billboard, which he has, reluctantly, taken down.

But it DOES point out the obvious: Not everyone enjoyed the past ‘greatness’ in America.

SCOTUS got one correct

Abigail Fisher’s Supreme Court loss: A massive blow to mediocre white people coasting on their racial privilege. Here’s the relevant piece of information:

“In 2008, 47 such students were admitted who had lower grades or test scores than Fisher. Forty-two of them were white. Only five were people of color.

“Fisher and her lawyer Blum were not challenging the admission of the 42 white students.

“Instead, Fisher’s argument was narrowly that she should have been admitted instead of one of those students of color. It was the case that collapsed any distinction between opposing affirmative action and demanding that white people be given preference.”

BREXIT

Now that UK has left the UN EU, we discover that people are surprised that the position they voted for – as a protest – actually is coming to pass.

There were huge Google spikes in search inquiries for “What is the EU?” in the UK, after the polling closed but before the results were announced. Of course, this doesn’t mean it was just the folks who voted for the annoying portmanteau Brexit who were looking it up; it may also been the 28% who didn’t bother voting at all. The fervent nationalism, anti-immigrant and anti-elite drove the anti-EU agenda.

The vote means a second Scottish independence vote ‘highly likely’. I was opposed to the first vote when Scotland stayed (barely); not so sure about the next one. And will Ireland unite?

The lesson of the Brexit: Take Donald Trump very seriously.

The House of Representatives sit-in

After the massacre in Orlando, there was a boring conversation about whether the events constituted terrorism. Naturallymit does. From the FBI:

“Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:
Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

SO the church shootings in Charleston, SC: terrorism. But one should balk at limiting the term to those actions perpetrated by a Muslim.

Speaking of which: the National Rifle Association called civil rights icon John Lewis a terrorist “for giving a speech on gun control and staging a sit-in at the House of Representatives.” As the quote goes, “They know not of what they speak.”

This is clear when you hear the primary complaint about the sit-in, which is that it was just a publicity stunt. Obviously, they are not versed in non-violent direct action, for OF COURSE it was a publicity stunt. Most protests are.

Another complains that the Democrats didn’t have a sit-in for other issues. True enough. But sometimes things just reach a tipping point. As Lewis said, “The time to act is now. We will be silent no more. The time for silence is over.”

Forty-nine people were murdered at the Pulse nightclub primarily from a Sig Sauer (modeled in the AK-47, for the pedantic who try to negate the gun control debate with semantics.) Then a Senator from Connecticut, who filibustered for four bills to be voted on; there was a vote, and they were all defeated. The sit-in created a tipping point.

The flaws in the various bills can be discussed. But I think there’s some reasonable bill that would ban assault weapons, get background checks for those buying weapons at gun shows, have a seven-day background check for those who are on the no-fly list to ascertain if they really represent a risk – the aforementioned John Lewis was once on the roster. The NRA has essentially blocked the Centers for Disease Control from getting funding to study the issue of gun violence on communities. A bill would require what has become a dirty word; compromise.

That the Democrats used the opportunity to raise money is definitely true, as I got my fair share of solicitations. But I’m used to both parties using any opportunity to pass the hat; I wish I could be more outraged. I think is true: House Democrats Didn’t Win The Battle, But They Are Preparing To Win The War.

damien flag

This is a picture of the remains of a banner set on fire on the front lawn of the Albany (NY) Damien Center’s temporary home at the city’s First Lutheran Church this past week. As the Facebook comment read: “In the wake of the Orlando tragedy, it is very disheartening to have this happen in our local community. We appreciate all of our community’s support and love extended and stand in unity with our LGBT community during this time.”

This Broadway sings for Orlando video always makes me verklempt.

News Cliche

My current pet peeve in news articles is the use of the phrase “that no one talks about” or the variation, “that no one is talking about.” For instance, ‘Richard Burr’s the most vulnerable Republican Senator that no one’s talking about’. It seems arrogant. The words suggest that Everyone Else has missed this important angle of a larger narrative, but that writer, singularly, is sage enough to have unearthed it.

Guns in every school?

There are about 300 million guns in the US, nearly one for every man, woman and child in the country. ABC News has noted that, even if a gun control law were passed tomorrow, those extant guns aren’t going to disappear.

Tom the Mayor, my old FantaCo and YMCA buddy, asks: How do you feel about the NRA’s idea of having guns in every school, you being a parent. I think they are vile and evil.

I’m not keen on the NRA’s idea. I like what Salon’s Mary Elizabeth Williams had to say: Keep your guns out of my school! Among other things, the armed guards, in schools and elsewhere, are often early targets for would-be mass killers. I worry that having armed guards will accelerate the problem. And the foolish notion of making the teachers into a militia is beyond the scope of the job, when they have been given increasing responsibilities for – ready for it – teaching.

If we have armed guards in every school, where will the money come from? The strains on school budgets NOW are enormous. Now, if the NRA is willing to PAY for all of these people, MAYBE we can talk about it. (Nah, not even then.) Who will these people be, anyway? A police officer, with a level of training in situational behavior, or a rent-a-cop who just knows how to take target practice well?

The fact is I heard that about a third of schools already have armed personnel, according to NBC News. Columbine had at least one armed guard during the massacre at the high school in 1999.

Ultimately, I think that the NRA and other pro-gun advocates have been disingenuous; MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell explains it well. The implication is that more guns will keep everyone safe; clearly untrue. The Fort Hood shootings represent an apt example.

There are about 300 million guns in the US, nearly one for every man, woman, and child in the country. ABC News has noted that, even if a gun control law were passed tomorrow, those extant guns aren’t going to disappear. It would be foolish, though, to do nothing.

I have a friend who grew up in Newtown, Connecticut. and still has friends there. It’s difficult that “this horror happen in such a quiet, ordinary town.” I remember writing about the all-but-forgotten mass murder in MY hometown less than four years ago. I wrote that, on Binghamton’s newspaper’s website, “along with expressions of sympathy, distress about the human condition, requests for more help for the mentally ill, and people on both sides of the gun control issue…” This is why I despair about anything ever-changing; every gun tragedy generates the same damn conversation.

And it’s ONLY because six-year-old children were many of the victims that I have any hope that that, maybe, just maybe, things WILL be different this time.

And though you didn’t ask, I figure I’ll sound off on another topic: violent video games. I’m not a gamer, but I listened to the whole podcast when Chris (Lefty) and Kelly Brown discussed certain hazards they have faced;…how video games nearly shattered their marriage and the lessons learned… . This was all very good.

Lefty also discusses the tragedy in Newton, CT, and what it means for video games. He believes that the video games that simulate killing other people are, or should be, kept away from small children. I’m not convinced this is actually happening. I remember going to the mall some years ago and my 12-year-old niece was playing some game I can only describe as gruesome. She’s turned out all right, but I’m not convinced that’s true of all the teenagers who surely get to play them. This adult gamer notes that kids have been playing “cowboys and Indians” or “army men” for decades with no ill effect. I myself had a Johnny Seven OMA (One Man Army), and I grew up to be a pacifist. But playing war just wasn’t that graphic. If kids have seen 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence via movies, TV shows, music videos, and video games, is it likely that at least some of them might be negatively impacted?

Jaquandor asked a few questions. I’ll take the first one here, and the others down the road:

I see the question’s already asked, but: Guns. What on Earth to do about them?

I was going to ask Superman to take a giant magnet and collect them all.

Seriously, limiting the type of guns and the sometimes magazines they use would be a start. Some communities have gun buybacks, which I favor. I know those Second Amendment folks think the Constitution is absolute, but as I said recently, Amendment 2 is no more absolute than the First Amendment. We limit certain types of speech to maintain a safer society, but we can’t with guns?

There’s that recent shooting in, roughly, your neck of the woods, in Webster, NY, just outside Rochester. Coincidentally, that’s where my wife was born, and where my best friend from college grew up. Four firefighters shot, two fatally, responding to a house fire, set deliberately so some schmuck could shoot the responders, and so he could burn down as much of the neighborhood as possible, with at least seven houses ultimately destroyed. One of the guns he used was the same type of high-powered weapon used on children and teachers in Newtown, CT. MORE guns would not have solved that situation either.

Another day, another mass shooting

After President Reagan was nearly assassinated in March 1981, there was a “commonsense” limit on assault weapons, but that law lapsed nearly a decade ago.

When I first heard about the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, it wasn’t until about noon on Friday, December 14, a couple of hours after the horrific event. After lunch, I spent about three hours listening to the online reporting, first on NBC News, then ABC News. I figured if I kept following it, perhaps I’d discover they’d gotten it wrong. And they had – it wasn’t 18 dead children, it was 20. The wrong brother was initially named as the shooter. The basic framework, though, remained terribly the same.

Sometimes, when people don’t like a piece of entertainment, they’ll say, “I threw up a little in my mouth.” A crude reference, I think. But, following this story, I literally DID.

My sorrow over the particulars of the story was made worse by the inevitable statements that we need to have a national “conversation” about gun control and mental health. Except that, for some, it’s not the right time; apparently, it’s NEVER the right time, because we’re always reeling from the last event. Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York said, correctly, “If now is not the time to have a serious discussion about gun control and the epidemic of gun violence plaguing our society, I don’t know when is.”

After President Reagan was nearly assassinated in March 1981, there was a “commonsense” limit on assault weapons, but that law lapsed nearly a decade ago. Even before then, we’ve ALWAYS been having “conversations” about these things; we TALKED after the 1999 Columbine, high school shootings in Colorado, and the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, and the Arizona shootings last year, and the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooters this past summer.

The “conversation” after this latest event thus far is more of the same. Why are mass shootings becoming more common? Some say we should have MORE people carrying guns. Yeah, right, against a guy in a movie theater wearing body armor packing heat, in a dark theater, with smoke bombs; heard THAT argument rehashed Friday night on CNN. At least I didn’t hear anyone suggesting five-year-olds should be packing heat.

More noise: Mike Huckabee uselessly telling us that school “carnage” caused by having “removed God” from schools. Ultimately, I think the Onion got it right.

Here’s my position: the Second Amendment right to bear arms is no more absolute than the First Amendment right to free speech. One cannot yell “fire” into a crowded building; one ought not be able to fire into a crowded building.

I’m done talking about it. If we don’t DO something, I don’t want to listen to more of the same rhetoric when this happens the next time. And there WILL be a next time, with the number of guns in this country.

The one thing I’m still mulling over: how to tell my elementary school-age daughter. She’ll surely find out from her friends. I don’t want her to be afraid to go to school. How do I make her feel safe, even though I can’t promise her it couldn’t happen again?
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Newtown shooting: Names, profiles of the 27 people killed.

Happy memories of Newtown, from the town children’s librarian from 1994-1996.