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The True Threat to Britain

There's a cop up ahead. Crucify him? Or just harsh words? / Romanarmy.net

There’s a cop up ahead. Crucify him? Or just harsh words? / Romanarmy.net

Apropos of nothing, I’ve realized that Roman military reenactment is rather popular in the United Kingdom. In a country that has not only strict gun laws, but also draconian laws restricting anything sharper than a cutting comment, there’s an enormous loophole. To bypass those tight regulations regarding knives, swords, and javelins, you need only say the magic words: “Holy shit, have you had a look at Bettany Hughes’s tits?”

So, you can’t go pistol shooting, you’re forbidden to defend yourself with a knife, and even hanging a sword on the wall is a chancy thing. But training in the weapons and tactics of the army that conquered most of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East and held it for centuries is totally cool.

Let’s be clear. These reenactors could march across the country half-drunk, just like real legionaries, and take it over. At least, they could be impolite while making clanking noises to millions of Britons.

True, The U.K. has a well-trained, and pretty well-armed, military. And if its troops are able to catch an Uber ride, it’s probably game over for any coup attempt too small too fill more than a pub or two. But if that Uber ride is suborned or simply delayed by a fellow traveler…

Well, then it’s Senatus Populus que … what? … Manchesterus?

How Dare You Use Logical Thought at a Time Like This!

Bath School Disaster/Public Domain photo from Wikimedia Commons

Bath School Disaster/Public Domain photo from Wikimedia Commons

If you’re looking for a sociology experiment in fear-driven policy, the current frenzy of calls from some quarters for more restrictions on personal ownership of firearms is a good example. Not that I enjoy marinating in it, but it’s a good example. I walked away from a “debate” the other day with a woman who told me to get my “head out of [my] ass” if I thought mass shootings are not becoming more common, talked about how afraid people like her are, and said she was “tired of statistics” and just wanted to get something done, as if invoking feelz is the ultimate trump card in a conversation.

Because for her, and many people like her, it is. All that matters is raw, animal emotion.

Fore the record, to evoke tired statistics and inconvenient facts, mass attacks are not on the rise, while violent crime continues to decline and is less common in the United States than in (supposedly safer) Europe. Mass killers tend to be very deliberate and long-term planners, plotting their actions according to the situation. They do not share an as-of-yet easily distinguished psychological profile, and rarely have criminal records. This means they’re hard to detect and deter, and they’ll take existing precautions as a given and work around them. Anders Behring Breivik reportedly plotted for almost a decade, starting a farming business to acquire fertilizer for explosives, and negotiating all of Norway’s legal hoops to purchase firearms.

One more law won’t fix that. To which I hear: you’re saying there’s nothing we can do; there must be something we can do. Well, yes. But “we” will have to do it ourselves. Nobody can protect us by waving a wand or passing a law.

But guns are scary.

So are knives when a mass attack in China (where blades are the weapons of choice) kills 33 people at a train station. The weapon is a choice–the real danger is the intent of the attacker(s) and the passivity of those victims and bystanders who are physically capable of reacting to defend themselves and others.

And guns and knives are going nowhere. Gun restrictions have never elicited much in the way of compliance, anywhere. New York’s recent assault weapon registration law drew in about 5 percent obedience from gun owners. Such weapons are increasingly easy to manufacture at home, even by those with minimal skills.

In a horrible way, we should be thankful mass attackers usually confine themselves to personal weapons. The worst school attack in U.S. history remains the Bath School Disaster, planned over many months by the disgruntled school board treasurer and perpetrated with dynamite. Thirty-eight people died.

The Happy Land fire killed 87 people after the jilted boyfriend of a coat check girl at the social club torched the place with a jug of gasoline.

And then there’s the Oklahoma City bombing and 9/11, both horrors committed with unconventional weapons by people who put a lot of time and planning into their crimes.

This all reminds me of what security expert Bruce Schneier has said in the context of travel security: “Exactly two things have made airline travel safer since 9/11: reinforcement of cockpit doors, and passengers who now know that they may have to fight back.” Everything else is “security theater” that violates innocent people’s liberty while doing nothing to deter bad actors who just work around checkpoints and restrictions.

Mass attacks strike me as being much the same: Hard to detect, perpetrated by malicious people who tailor their plans to the situation, and requiring a willingness to react by the intended targets without waiting for “the authorities” to show up. There’s no easy fix, and rejecting rational thought in favor of indulging fear won’t accomplish a damned thing.

Fast and Furious scandal looks increasingly like a plot from a bad novel

“ATF officials didn’t intend to publicly disclose their own role in letting Mexican cartels obtain the weapons, but emails show they discussed using the sales, including sales encouraged by ATF, to justify a new gun regulation called ‘Demand Letter 3’. That would require some U.S. gun shops to report the sale of multiple rifles or ‘long guns.’ Demand Letter 3 was so named because it would be the third ATF program demanding gun dealers report tracing information.”

That’s what CBS is reporting today, in the latest news on the Fast and Furious scandal, in which ATF agents leaned on gun dealers to sell weapons to obvious criminals to … see what would happen? That’s what it seemed like at first, anyway. Of course, what happened is that some of the guns — whoopsies! — were used in murders.

Now, it seems, there was another purpose behind Fast and Furious. According to emails exchanged by ATF officials themselves, the ATF applied pressure to gun dealers to continue sales with which the gun dealers were uncomfortable so that they could point to the purchase of guns by Mexican drug dealers as evidence that further legal restrictions were required on the sale of firearms.

Y’know, if I wrote a novel with this as a storyline, I’d be accused of paranoia and unrealistic plotting.

Politicians miss no opportunity to exploit Tucson shooting

Let me express, for the record, my contempt for the predictable creatures who see in the Tucson shooting spree and assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords an opportunity to smear people who speak unkindly about the government. It would be bad enough to extrapolate from one actor some sort of false collective guilt for anybody who shares a few political or social views, but that’s an extra stretch in this case, given that the only consistent strain in Jared Lee Loughner’s ravings about mathematics and mind control was whatever was provided by the random misfirings of his neurons. His YouTube page listed favorite books including both Mein Kampf and Communist Manifesto — potentially indicating a catholic interest in totalitarianism, though I doubt that well-connected a thread runs through his thoughts.

Basically, Loughner’s crime can’t be blamed on anybody but himself, and his writings and actions lay quite a solid groundwork for a criminal insanity defense.

But never doubt the readiness of the usual suspects to piggyback favorite pre-packaged authoritarian bills on the emotional reaction to the shooting.

Rep. Robert Brady, (jackass, Pennsylvania), is pushing a pet law “making it a federal crime for a person to use language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a Member of Congress or federal official.”

“Perceived as threatening”? That’s great. I have yet to meet a government official who doesn’t “perceive” the slightest criticism as the equivalent of a thrown glove.

Says CNN:

Brady said it is now time to put an end to the hyper-charged language.

“The rhetoric is just ramped up so negatively, so high, that we have got to shut this down,” Brady said, noting that “I’ve had my share of death threats” over his many years in politics.

Well, why not take advantage of a brutal crime to clamp down on antigovernment language and harsh words directed at agents of the state who command police forces and armies that rack up a body count the nation’s nuts will never equal? Yes, it’s an excellent moment to crack down on free speech that makes wildly powerful officials uncomfortable.

Hey, Brady, how’s this for rhetoric?: You’re an un-American thug.

And Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (one-trick pony, New York) is at it again with … oh guess, would you? Yes, it’s an anti-firearms measure. She, again, wants to ban high-capacity magazines and clips.

Hey, McCarthy, how many innocent civilians killed by police would be saved by such a ban? Oh, that’s right, the ban would apply only to civilians.

This is from a quick scan of news headlines, by the way. I’m sure that more fun laws are coming.

On a milder, but sadder note: Special condolences to the family of Christina-Taylor Green. Nobody should have died on that Tucson street, but the death of a child is always especially horrible.

Update: Christina-Taylor Green’s father says her murder shouldn’t be used as a justification for more restrictions on liberty.

Packing heat

While I was back east, yet another legal milestone was achieved in Arizona. That’s right, the Grand Canyon state joined Alaska and Vermont as jurisdictions where people can legally carry firearms concealed without first asking “mother, may I” of the goons in government office.

Of course, Arizona is just catching up with me with its legal tweak, since I’ve been lugging my guns along when the mood struck or the need seemed pressing for over twenty years now, without regard for the preferences of the local political class. I did so more often in New York City than I do here, for the simple reason that there’s more need for enhanced self-defense capabilities in the Rotten Apple than in the desert.

It is nice, though, that now I no longer  have to worry about offending the sensibilities of the local constabulary by going well-heeled.

Court decisions aside, scofflaws have long made gun control unenforceable

The following was written as a sample chapter for a book on how scofflaws limit state power, curbing the reach of government officials and carving out a modicum of liberty even when and where it’s officially forbidden. The overall book was intended to go much farther than the gun control issue, but it came to an abrupt halt a bit over a year ago. That’s when my agent called me on a Sunday morning to tell me how much he hated what I’m publishing below. Apparently, his loathing of my work couldn’t wait another 24 hours to be expressed.

So … Caveat emptor.

I doubt I ever would have gone to the black market to purchase an illegal assault weapon if it wasn’t for New York’s annoyingly restrictive gun control laws.

Wait. Let me back up a bit.

New York State passed the Sullivan Act back in 1911. The law required people to get a government permit to own or carry any weapon small enough to be concealed – handguns, in particular. Issuing the permit would be a matter of official discretion, which is a policy continued to the present day. Read more [+]

Second Amendment applied to the states in Supreme Court decision

Let me take this opportunity to congratulate my Chicago-area readers! You can take the gats out of hiding and sport them openly. Well, openly around the apartment, anyway. (Oh, c’mon. I know you windy city types are armed to the teeth, no matter what the law says.) The United States Supreme Court knocked down (by implication, anyway) Chicago’s handgun ban while reaffirming that the Second Amendment is “incorporated” by the Fourteenth Amendment, and applies to state governments as much as it does to the federal government.

Writing for the five-member majority in the case of McDonald v. Chicago (PDF), Justice Samuel Alito pointed out:

Self-defense is a basic right, recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present day, and in Heller, we held that individual self-defense is “the central component” of the Second Amendment right.

Moreover:

[I]t is clear that the Framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty.

As a result:

In Heller, we held that the Second Amendment protects the right to possess a handgun in the home for the purpose of self-defense. Unless considerations of stare decisis counsel otherwise, a provision of the Bill of Rights that protects a right that is fundamental from an American perspective applies equally to the Federal Government and the States. See Duncan, 391 U. S., at 149, and n. 14. We therefore hold that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the Second Amend-ment right recognized in Heller.

That’s a major decision, reaffirming the right to bear arms as an individual right which no government entity in the United States may infringe (precise boundaries of that right to be determined later, of course, so don’t get too excited) — and also continuing the incorporation of constitutionally protected rights so that they apply against state governments. However, as you can see from the above, Alito followed the Supreme Court’s unfortunate track record of torturing the Hell out of the Due Process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment in order to make it do the job originally intended for the Privileges or Immunities clause, which is a more logical vehicle for protecting individual rights. He knows this, too, acknowledging that “many legal scholars dispute the correctness of the narrow Slaughter-House interpretation” of the Privileges or Immunities clause.

However, he doesn’t change course.

… For many decades, the question of the rights protected by the Fourteenth Amendment against state infringement has been analyzed under the Due Process Clause of that Amendment and not under the Privileges or Immunities Clause. We therefore decline to disturb the Slaughter-House holding. …

Justice Clarence Thomas, while concurring in the case’s result, objects to the court’s ongoing abuse of the Constitution.

Applying what is now a well-settled test, the plurality opinion concludes that the right to keep and bear arms applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause because it is “fundamental” to the American “scheme of ordered liberty,” ante, at 19 (citing Duncan v. Louisiana, 391 U. S. 145, 149 (1968)), and “‘deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition,’” ante, at 19 (quoting Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U. S. 702, 721 (1997)). I agree with that description of the right. But I cannot agree that it is enforceable against the States through a clause that speaks only to “process.”Instead, the right to keep and bear arms is a privilege of American citizenship that applies to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment’s Privileges or Immunities Clause.

Good for Thomas. At least somebody is keeping alive a respect for proper reading of the Constitution. Maybe next time …

But the means matters less to most people than the ends. And in this case, that means yet another decision protecting the individual right to keep and bear arms.