Pausing to reload

If the assault weapons ban had still been in effect, Jared Loughner would have killed fewer people.

The Tucson assassin managed to kill six people and wound thirteen more, at least one critically, before he ran out of ammunition. When he paused to reload, three heroic unarmed people tackled him. If he’d had a smaller magazine, fewer people would be dead and injured.

The 31-round magazine he bought, legally, along with his 9mm Glock, last November, would have been illegal until the NRA managed to prevent the extension of the assault weapons ban in 2004.

I’m not a huge fan of generic gun control. Making it harder for already ineligible people to get guns – by passing tougher laws on gun trafficking and closing down the private-sale loophole that allows sales without background checks – would have some value, but shrinking the number of guns owned by people allowed to own guns under current law wouldn’t do much about violence. States that make it easier to get a concealed-carry permit don’t find that the permit-holders commit many crimes. And “assault weapons” constitute only a tiny part of the gunfire problem.

Still, this is a case where excessively loose controls permitted avoidable violence. The shooter hadn’t been convicted of any crime or been officially judged a risk to others due to his mental-health problems, but there’s no way he could have passed even a cursory training program for concealed carry; he couldn’t even get through a community-college algebra class without being spotted as a dangerous person. Arizona is one of only three states to allow concealed carry without a special permit.

But even assuming that he would have simply ignored that law, there’s no reason to think that he would have been sufficiently dedicated or knowledgeable to acquire an illegal high-capacity magazine. If he’d had only 10 rounds in his clip rather than 32, some of his victims would be alive and unhurt.

Now can anyone tell me a legitimate use for a 32-round handgun, other than in the exercise of “Second Amendment remedies”? If not, perhaps we should pay tribute to the victims by restoring the quite minor regulation that might have saved their lives.

Gabrielle’s Law

I can’t believe some of the s..t that’s turning up in the comment threads on many web sites. The following may be a misuse of the RBC to try to cope with really profound bitterness I’m experiencing, and if so I apologize, and my fellow RBCers are authorized to take it down if they see fit.

First, fellow citizens, let us shrink from assigning blame for this terrible act of a madman to the patriots guilty of nothing but framing their love of country in language like “Second Amendment remedies” and visual puns like crosshairs.  There is absolutely no way these leaders could know anyone having access to a Glock with a 20-round magazine would think a harmless metaphor for political engagement has anything to do with actual violence, or even to know that such people exist.  To accuse them is as unjust and irrational as to blame those who preach death for blasphemy and for those who tolerate it, when a devout follower of the Prophet acts on the sermons, and when thousands of the faithful throw rose petals on him for it.

Now, there is an important lesson already taught by today’s tragedy, and that is the feeble inadequacy of our gun laws, and the terrible cost in human life of that weakness.  Arizona is one of the genuinely free states, whose citizens rejoice in the right to carry concealed weapons without a permit, and yet…! An armed citizenry is a safe one, but the really shocking part of today’s episode is that “allowed to be armed” is not enough: not one of the Arizonans present except Loughner used this precious freedom to shoot anyone, apparently not even to draw a piece! Some of them may have inexcusably left home without their weapons, and the rest incompetently (or timidly) failed to use them; all need to be identified by name and address, with pictures, and held accountable at least in the forum of public opinion.

Real Americans would have had their heat out and shot anyone they took to be the original shooter, and before Loughner emptied his magazine. With freedom comes responsibility, and a lot of people in Tucson didn’t use theirs, and that’s the plain fact.  This is where we need to clothe our duties with the dignity of law, and I propose the following, with some optional features.

Whereas, yada, and furthermore yada yada;

Now therefore be it enacted:

Article 1.

A.From [effective date] no [person/white person/Anglo person/male person etc.] over the age of [13/16/21] shall be abroad in a public place without a loaded repeating firearm of a type approved by [agency/outsource to local NRA chapter] on his person.

B. Any [citizen/NRA member in good standing] shall be authorized to inspect obliged parties under this article and to effect arrest for violation. Upon a finding of guilt in a criminal court, violators shall be subject to [a fine of $XXX/a period in the public stocks of not less than YYY hours/etc.] and for two years following the offense shall be obliged to carry two (2) approved weapons as per this article.

Article 2. Any person obligated under Article 1 present at a crime involving deadly force, or a circumstance where a reasonable person would consider such a crime incipient or likely, who does not shoot someone present, preferably the initial or probable perpetrator, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor etc.

I do not think even this will work, owing to reflex times, holster friction, and like that, and therefore I believe Article 1 should be amended to read

“…without a loaded firearm [etc] in his shooting hand, cocked if of single-action design, provided that such weapon may be laid upon a counter, table, etc. at a distance of no more than 20 inches when it is necessary to use two hands to make change, cut steak, etc, but for a period not exceeding sixty seconds.” Extremism in defense of anything you really care a lot about is not only no vice, and not merely a privilege, but a duty, and a posse of all the citizenry is no posse at all if it’s not ready to fire.

Caring for the survivors, after this atrocity falls from the news

Whatever motivated today’s Arizona atrocity, let’s make sure that we show the same love and effective, competent help to these wounded people five, ten, or twenty years from now that we will surely show today. And let’s do the same for tens of thousands of others who are surviving victims of serious violence.

We don’t know yet what led a young man to commit today’s atrocity in Arizona. On all sides, people will search for the partisan or political messages that may have incited the assailant. That’s right and proper. Lone gunmen or conspirators who commit mass murders such as the Oklahoma City bombings are sometimes abetted by venomous rhetoric that disfigures our political life.

Talk also turns, again rightly, to the subject of gun control. Whatever political agenda or personal demons drove the Fort Hood shooter to homicide, he might not have butchered so many people without the services of his well-equipped quartermaster corps down at “Guns Galore”, where he bought his lethal wares.

Today, though, I hope public advocacy should go in a different direction. Many people are going to survive today’s shooting spree with grievous wounds. Some of these wounds will be visible on their bodies for the rest of their lives. Other wounds will be less visible but no less visible in people’s hearts and minds, as they seek to recover from what they have been through, who they have lost, what they have seen.

Whatever motivated today’s killings, let’s make sure that we show the same love and effective, competent help to these wounded people five, ten, or twenty years from now that we will surely show today, as this atrocity dominates the news. Let’s make sure none of them lose their homes or are needlessly institutionalized because of financial issues that arise in their care. Let’s do the same for tens of thousands of other people who are surviving victims of senseless gun violence. Many of these men and women, such as this Chicago high schooler, are just remarkable.

And let’s take a moment to consider the thousands of men and women who staff rehabilitation hospitals, emergency departments, nursing facilities, and other facilities who do very difficult work, and do it very well under difficult circumstances.

What Murder Costs Us

A recent study placing the costs of murder at $17.25 million is attracting a great deal of attention. I hope it will help make the case for crime prevention initiatives at a time of diminishing state budgets.

As with many cost-benefit studies, the number itself cannot convey the human impact of what it is estimating in economic terms. So consider this: If he hadn’t been murdered, today would have been John Lennon’s 70th birthday.

Officer Thor Soderberg, RIP

Chicago Police Officer Thor Soderberg, very much missed.

Chicago Police Officer Thor Soderberg was widely respected for the work he did training new officers and for the work he was doing to help address Chicago’s serious youth violence problem. He was killed Wednesday in the line of duty. He had an indirect connection to partners at the University of Chicago Crime Lab. He is very much missed.

The Chicago Community Trust has established the Thor Soderberg Fund – Connecting Youth with Nature fund in his memory. Those so moved can donate online by clicking here.

Armed and dangerous

The man who threatened to kill Sen. Patty Murray is the holder of a concealed-carry permit.

One strong argument for “shall-issue” laws making it easier to get a permit to carry a concealed weapon is that the people who go through the process seem to be a remarkably law-abiding bunch, committing only a handful of crimes of violence. (The parallel movement toward “stand your ground” rules somewhat weakens that argument by making it lawful to blow someone away if you think, even unreasonably, that he might be threatening you; in that circumstance, there may be a death, but not crime of violence.)

That argument is slightly weaker, and the gun-control argument slightly stronger, after today’s revelation that a concealed-carry-permit holder in the State of Washington made a series of anonymous telephone calls threatening the life of Sen. Patty Murray for her vote in favor of the Affordable Care Act. Yes, you can make threatening calls with or without a concealed-carry permit, but clearly a system that lets someone crazy enough to do that have such a permit isn’t as tight as you’d like it to be.

Gun possession by felons

If North Carolina permits a felon to have a firearm, isn’t he still covered by the Federal felon-in-possession law?

Per Eugene Volokh, the North Carolina Supreme Court finds that a lifetime ban on firearms possession by those convicted of non-violent felonies violates the North Carolina Constitution. Putting aside for the moment the questions of (1) whether the analysis is right (though as a non-expert I find the reasoning in the dissent persuasive) and (2) whether the result is good public policy, I’d like to ask a straightforward legal question: even if North Carolina law permits the plaintiff in this case to have a gun, wouldn’t he be in violation of the Federal felon-in-possession statute if he got one? And wasn’t he in violation of that statute during the years when he had a gun, before the North Carolina law just struck down was passed in 2004? The court cites his “years of law-abiding conduct” as evidence of his fitness to have a weapon. Can a course of conduct that constitutes a felony under Federal law properly be called “law-abiding”?

Special footnote for gun-totin’ opponents of “judicial activism” I’m waiting to hear your screams of outrage about “legislating from the bench.”

Extra-special footnote for libertarians If it’s unconstitutional to make a felony conviction a lifetime bar to gun ownership, how about making it a lifetime bar to voting?

A beacon to an oppressed world

One of the really great things about being American is knowing your country is exporting the best of its political and artistic culture to places that really need it. In the sixties and seventies, for example, Europeans watching US TV shows started asking pointed questions about stuff like habeas corpus and refusing to answer questions on 5th amendment grounds, and why they didn’t have those rights.

Lately, the record is a little more mixed. Still, can our hearts not swell with pride at the entrepreneurs along the Mexican border doing well by doing good? Mexico has no Second Amendment and very strict firearms laws, obviously a culture with feeble moral underpinnings. But thanks to these gun dealers, who will apparently fill your trunk or your semi with anything you can pay for, they can still have the stuff they need to protect their freedom from government oppression, maybe enough assassinations and resignations to reach Grover Norquist’s dream of no (living) government at all. Not only that, any surviving soldiers and police get to hone up-to-date combat and survival skills against serious firepower, so it’s a win no matter which side you’re on.

This is not “strictly business,” make no mistake. This is business with a radiant moral purpose, partner in nobility with the whole American drug importing, marketing and enforcement enterprise that has shown Colombians, Mexicans, Afghanis, and so many more a road out of poverty, and perked up the boring lives of their people. We have every right to make them pay royalties to Quentin Tarantino to see this stuff in movies, but we give it to them free and live on the street.

Are you suffering some wussy concern that what goes around comes around? The sixth par of this story will reassure you, and note that actual paid professional experts are cited. (The rest of the story will just upset you, ignore it.)

Giuliani improvising, and guns

NPR, reporting on Giuliani’s appearance before the NRA today, had a sound clip in which he asserted that the freedom in the Second Amendment was just as important as all the other freedoms in the Bill of Rights. What kind of nut, including the most dedicated firearm aficionado, could believe such a thing? Or say it, even cynically to fawn on a hostile audience?

More generally, what is it about guns? Is there any other recreational accessory that attracts not only such a ferocious affection but so much silly hifalutin’ rhetoric about them? Maybe dogs, and I guess if someone wanted to restrict possession of baseball mitts we’d have people in the streets. “You can have my food processor when you rip it from my cold dead fingers!”? We don’t hear that very much, even from people who really like to cook. But the gun affect mystifies me even though I spent about a decade playing with guns from about age 12, and enjoying it, because guns are just so simple and limited; when it comes down to it, you just can’t do very much with them.

Continue reading “Giuliani improvising, and guns”