Thursday, August 09, 2012

Why So Many Horrific Gun Killings in the U.S.? Because It's Too Damn Easy to Get Guns

In a column slated to appear in the August 20th print edition of Time Magazine, Fareed Zakaria explains that we have so many more horrific gun killings in the United States than any place else on earth -- not because we have more crazy people but because we make it easier than any other country for just about anyone to acquire a gun.

And we make it so easy for two reasons.  First, in  the face of this obvious causality, otherwise intelligent people abandon thought in favor of mindless political dogma.  Second, the gun lobby has sold the public on an interpretation of the Second Amendment that is a bogus departure from how the country controlled guns from the earliest days of the Republic.  As conservative Chief Justice Warren Burger put it after he retired, "one of the greatest pieces of fraud--I repeat the word fraud--on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime."

Zakaria's excellent column follows.

After the ghastly act of terrorism against a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Aug. 5, Americans are pondering how to stop gun violence. We have decided that it is, in the words of New York Times columnist David Brooks, a problem of psychology, not sociology. We are trying to fathom the evil ideology of Wade Michael Page. Only several weeks ago, we were all trying to understand the twisted psychology of James Holmes, the man who killed 12 innocents at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. Before that it was the mania of Jared Loughner, who shot Congresswoman Gabby Giffords last year.

Certainly we should try to identify such people and help treat and track them. But aside from the immense difficulty of such a task--there are millions of fanatical, crazy people, and very few turn into mass murderers--it misses the real problem.

Gun violence in America is off the chart compared with every other country on the planet. The gun-homicide rate per capita in the U.S. is 30 times that of Britain and Australia, 10 times that of India and four times that of Switzerland. When confronted with such a large deviation, a scholar would ask, Does America have some potential cause for this that is also off the chart? I doubt that anyone seriously thinks we have 30 times as many crazy people as Britain or Australia. But we do have many, many more guns.

There are 88.8 firearms per 100 people in the U.S. In second place is Yemen, with 54.8, then Switzerland with 45.7 and Finland with 45.3. No other country has a rate above 40. The U.S. handgun-ownership rate is 70% higher than that of the country with the next highest rate.

The effect of the increasing ease with which Americans can buy ever more deadly weapons is also obvious. Over the past few decades, crime has been declining, except in one category. In the decade since 2000, violent-crime rates have fallen by 20%, aggravated assault by 21%, motor-vehicle theft by 44.5% and nonfirearm homicides by 22%. But the number of firearm homicides is essentially unchanged. What can explain this anomaly except easier access to guns?

Confronted with this blindingly obvious causal connection, otherwise intelligent people close their eyes. Denouncing any effort to control guns, George Will explained on ABC News that he had "a tragic view of life, which is that ... however meticulously you draft whatever statute you wind up passing, the world is going to remain a broken place, and things like this are going to happen." I don't recall Will responding to, say, the 9/11 attacks--or any other law-and-order issue for that matter--with a "things happen" sentiment.

The other argument against any serious gun control is that it's unconstitutional, an attempt to undo American history. In fact, something close to the opposite is true.

Adam Winkler, a professor of constitutional law at UCLA, documents the actual history in Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America. Guns were regulated in the U.S. from the earliest years of the Republic. Laws that banned the carrying of concealed weapons were passed in Kentucky and Louisiana in 1813. Other states soon followed: Indiana in 1820, Tennessee and Virginia in 1838, Alabama in 1839 and Ohio in 1859. Similar laws were passed in Texas, Florida and Oklahoma. As the governor of Texas (Texas!) explained in 1893, the "mission of the concealed deadly weapon is murder. To check it is the duty of every self-respecting, law-abiding man."

Congress passed the first set of federal laws regulating, licensing and taxing guns in 1934. The act was challenged and went to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1939. Franklin Delano Roosevelt's solicitor general, Robert H. Jackson, said the Second Amendment grants people a right that "is not one which may be utilized for private purposes but only one which exists where the arms are borne in the militia or some other military organization provided for by law and intended for the protection of the state." The court agreed unanimously.

Things started to change in the 1970s as various right-wing groups coalesced to challenge gun control, overturning laws in state legislatures, Congress and the courts. But Chief Justice Warren Burger, a conservative appointed by Richard Nixon, described the new interpretation of the Second Amendment in an interview after his tenure as "one of the greatest pieces of fraud--I repeat the word fraud--on the American public by special-interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime."

So when people throw up their hands and say we can't do anything about guns, tell them they're being un-American--and unintelligent.

Restore the Constitution? By All Means -- To Before It Was Mangled by Scalia et al

In an August 2nd article on the results of the July 31st Texas primary runoff, the Houston Chronicle noted that while Ted Cruz's win as Republican Senate nominee was the most conspicuous success of the Tea Party PACs that deluged the state with anti-government TV commercials, long-term Texas Lt. Governor David Dewhurst was not the only experienced Texas conservative that the Tea Party managed to unseat. In fact, the Chronicle reported, "Dewhurst was one of seven Republican candidates on Tuesday who fell victim to their office-holding experience."

One of the more tiresome themes repeated ad nauseam in Cruz's commercials and most of the other victorious Tea Baggers' was that they were determined to "restore the Constitution."  This, of course, is code for the claim--which no political fact checker or court has ever found grounded in reality--that President Obama is a socialist who has departed from the Constitution in several significant ways, especially in riding roughshod over states' rights.  The remedies they envision include defeating Obama and repealing the Affordable Care Act.  But in Cruz's case, as Houston Chronicle Columnist Lisa Falkenberg pointed out today, additional moves necessary to "restore the Constitution" include proposals to "abolish the Departments of Education, Commerce and Energy, the Transportation Security Administration and the Internal Revenue Service in one fell swoop."

Yet the need to "restore the Constitution" is undeniably pressing.  But it has nothing to do with the Tea Party's imaginary grievances.  What it does involve is restoring the majesty and clarity of the Constitution before Scalia et al did so much to muddle and mangle it.

So by all means, let us restore the Constitution.

First and foremost, let us restore the militia clause to the Second Amendment.  All of the Supreme Court justices who ruled on the Second Amendment acknowledged that the militia clause was stubbornly there -- and that it was the crucial element distinguishing various models of the right to bear arms which the Framers considered and rejected, from the wording they actually adopted.  However, the majority followed Scalia in ignoring the militia clause and finding an obscenely expansive right to bear arms which the Framers never claimed.

Then let us restore the Constitution's understanding that it is individuals who have rights like freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion -- and never corporations. The lie that corporations are persons in the sense that individuals are was at the heart of the insane Citizens United decision, and its insane consequences are nowhere more clearly evident than in the results of the Texas primary -- where unfettered, unaccountable rich people disguised as "non-partisan" Political Action Committees bought seven elections with massive amounts of cash.

Then let us restore the right of Congress to tell states they cannot receive federal funds extracted from all U.S. taxpayers without following the rules Congress sets up for those funds.  The assumption that taxpayers from other states should give Texas or Louisiana or other social justice backwaters carte blanche funding to spend however they damn well please has nothing to do with states' rights -- apart from the rights of states whose citizens don't want their money used in that fashion.  We are returning to the disarray and chaos of the Articles of Confederation if the federal government can have no say in how funds it apportions among the several states are spent.

And finally, let us restore Roe v. Wade as the law of the land.  Never before in American history has a ruling by the Supreme Court been so thoroughly undermined by states who disagree with it.  Women and hospitals and doctors who tried to follow the ruling meticulously have been vilified and criminalized without cease.  And the federal government and the Supreme Court itself have allowed this flouting of the law.  It is long past time for the authority of the ruling to be upheld in practice.

So yes, let us restore the Constitution.  And let's stop the silly pretense that President Obama has done anything to the Constitution that needs to be reversed.  But do let us clean up the mess that Scalia et al have made of our most treasured national law.