Tag Archives: guns

Choices

I recently came across a Facebook post that perfectly summed up America’s continuing failure to make sane public policy consistent with the country’s founding premises. It pointed to the absurdity of far-right definitions of “freedom”:

You can regulate a human body, but not a coal plant. You can regulate the speech of a teacher, but not the money-as-speech of a corporation. You can coerce a child to pray in school, but not keep guns out of the classroom.

“You” are American lawmakers.

The post attributed these truly insane results to the Supreme Court, and the Court certainly deserves a considerable part of the blame, but so do the lawmakers who play to–or are part of–  the Rightwing fringe.

The Indiana legislature is a good example. In the wake of the Dobbs decision, our legislative overlords took hardly any time to ban abortion, but has struggled–and frequently failed– to regulate environmental hazards. The state has the most miles of rivers and streams too polluted to swim in, and we also lead the country in toxic emissions, among other deficiencies. The legislature’s focus on culture war issues routinely takes precedence over concerns for  public health, and lawmakers’ concern for the rights of farmers and utilities just as routinely outweighs concerns about the environment.

Our Hoosier lawmakers have a long history of telling teachers what to do–from older efforts aimed at prescribing how they should teach reading to periodic instructions about “character” education, to the more recent efforts to keep them from teaching about the less laudatory parts of our history or recognizing the existence of LGBTQ citizens. These persistent efforts have not been matched by efforts to restrain the influence of corporate dollars.

And don’t even start me on the Indiana General Assembly and guns. The pious hypocrites who continually try to shoehorn God into public school classrooms–and  failing that (due to that pesky First Amendment Establishment Clause) support the vouchers that siphon money from Indiana’s public schools and send them to private religious schools–continue to make firearms more easily available, most recently by ignoring law enforcement testimony and public opinion and eliminating the need to obtain a permit.

The hypocrisy is overwhelming.

The same “freedom fighters” who were outraged by mask mandates during the pandemic see no inconsistency with mandates to carry a pregnancy to term. They claim the “God-given right” to be free of a minor inconvenience that would protect their friends and neighbors, but are perfectly willing to interfere with medical science and the bodily autonomy of women.

Lawmakers who are solicitous about protecting factory farms from “onerous” regulation show considerably less concern about protecting the environment and the health of their constituents, despite evidence that those farms are massive polluters.To focus on just one element of that pollution, researchers tell us that industrial livestock farms produce up to 1.37 billion tons of manure annually—and that that’s 20 times more fecal waste than the entire U.S. human population, posing serious pollution risks to water and air.

The Indiana lawmakers who insist upon protecting the untrammeled, unimpeded right to own guns–including weapons more appropriate for war than personal protection–are blithely unconcerned with the havoc and death those weapons cause.

IN AN AVERAGE YEAR, 931 PEOPLE DIE BY GUNS IN INDIANA. WITH A RATE OF 14 DEATHS PER 100,000 PEOPLE, INDIANA HAS THE 19TH-HIGHEST RATE OF GUN DEATHS IN THE US.

In Indiana, 61% of gun deaths are suicides and 36% are homicides. This is compared to 61% and 36% respectively, nationwide.

The rate of gun deaths in Indiana increased 30%↑ from 2009 to 2018, compared to an 18%↑ increase over this same time period nationwide. In Indiana, the rate of gun suicide increased 24%↑ and gun homicide increased 49%↑ from 2009 to 2018, compared to a 19%↑ increase and an 18%↑ increase nationwide, respectively.

Across the nation, deadly attacks on schoolchildren are accelerating. The same legislators who are willing to tell education professionals how to teach and what to say remain unwilling to require even minimal background checks as a condition of buying the lethal weapons increasingly used to mow down the children in those classrooms.

There are, obviously, many other examples of misplaced legislative zeal.

The basic question citizens need to confront is: what is government for? What sorts of rules should government have the authority to impose, and what matters are properly left to each individual?

Our system was founded on the principle that Individuals should be free to pursue their own ends–their own life goals–so long as they did not thereby harm the person or property of someone else, and so long as they were willing to accord an equal liberty to their fellow citizens.

Hoosier lawmakers continue to get it backwards.

 

Indiana Legislators Don’t Care What You Want…Or Don’t

The Indiana Capital Chronicle is one of a handful of new media sites trying to fill the dangerous void in news about local and state government. (As I frequently complain on this site, so-called “legacy media” like the Indianapolis Star have emptied their newsrooms of reporters as they’ve focused on cutting costs at the expense of real journalism. The result has been a news desert when it comes to informing citizens about their state and local governments.)

A recent column in The Capital Chronicle focused on what is perhaps the most annoying characteristic of Indiana’s General Assembly–its pursuit of legislation untethered to the needs or desires of Hoosier constituents.

As the columnist began;

My Christmas wish is pretty simple: I would like lawmakers to listen to what Hoosiers want. ALL Hoosiers, not just the loudest slice of their Republican constituents.

Poll after poll and survey after survey shows what Indiana residents are worried about, and what they aren’t.

Bellwether Research’s latest poll in early December surveyed 1,100 Hoosiers representing both the demographic and geographic layout of Indiana. It asked about their top priorities.

Wishes one and two were lowering health care costs and affordable housing, at 31% and 21% respectively….Next up was increasing K-12 education funding at 17%. Nothing after is in double digits

As Hoosier lawmakers prepare for the upcoming session, however, they are signaling their preoccupation with culture-war issues. Some are focusing on restricting dissemination of abortion pills through the mail; according to the polling, exactly 3% of Hoosiers care about restricting access to mailed abortion pills. (Quite the contrary: according to the article, the GOP’s own internal polling reveals that a solid majority supports abortion rights, and a survey by Ball State found that 56% of Hoosiers believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.)

That poll also found that 56% of Hoosiers believe marijuana should be legal for personal use and 29% for medicinal purposes. Only 15% say it should not be legal…

Surveys also find only 6% of Hoosiers making oversight of K-12 curriculum a top concern, but the “usual suspects” in the Indiana Statehouse are busy preparing bills to combat “critical race theory,” which is not only not being taught, but is a rather rarified field of research into American legal systems pursued by a subset of law professors. Use of the terminology is not only inaccurate, it is intentionally misleading–a none-too-subtle “dog whistle” to White supremicists who want teachers to ignore certain aspects of the national story.

And of course, it wouldn’t be Indiana if our legislature failed to pick on LGBTQ Hoosiers. House Education Chairman Robert Behning has promised introduction of a “don’t say gay” bill–demonstrating that Indiana lawmakers aren’t intimidated by that pesky court ruling that found Florida’s “Don’t say gay” bill unconstitutional.

Most lawmakers send out constituent surveys on hot topics that they know will be coming up. They are clearly less scientific than the polls I have mentioned but even when legislators directly hear from their most engaged constituents they ignore the results.

Remember gun licensing from earlier this year? Not a single survey — that journalists could find — supported abandoning the carry permit. In fact they almost all said to keep the system as-is. But legislators tossed the licensing out with the bathwater — against advice of the Indiana State Police superintendent and the majority of law enforcement groups.

Growing up I was always told, “be careful what you ask for.” It seems lately the phrase for Hoosiers should shift to, “be careful what you DON’T ask for,” because you are increasingly more likely to get it.

The disconnect between what Hoosiers want and what we get from our lawmakers is a direct result of gerrymandering that produces safe seats and allow lawmakers to ignore the policy preferences of a majority of Indiana citizens.

Gerrymandering, after all, is the very best voter suppression tactic. Why bother to vote when the result has been foreordained–or, to use Trump language, when the election has been rigged? Gerrymandering amplifies the power of the fringes–the ideologues and culture warriors who vote in primaries–and effectively disenfranchises the rest of us.

Reporting on the antics at the Statehouse is one of the very few checks on lawmakers bent on pursing their own cultural fixations, and central Indiana has been ill-served by the Star’s devolution into sports and what has been called the “beer beat”–reports on new watering holes. That makes the arrival of the Indiana Capital Chronicle very welcome. The Chronicle describes itself as an “independent, nonprofit news organization dedicated to giving Hoosiers a comprehensive look inside state government, policy and elections.”

It’s probably wishful thinking, but perhaps a “comprehensive look” at what Harrison Ullmann dubbed the World’s Worst Legislature will trigger efforts at reform….

What Now For Gun Control?

Congress appears to be on the cusp of passing a gun-control measure, breaking a 30-year standoff. The bill takes baby steps toward the sort of gun measures that would meaningfully reduce the carnage, but the fact that Congress is passing anything  must be applauded as progress.

Of course, whether those baby steps will survive the horrendous, twisted logic of the Supreme Court’s recent evisceration of government’s ability to control armed mayhem remains to be seen.

Given that astonishing and dishonest opinion, what can be done?  

As a recent article from Talking Points Memo reminds us, it’s always, ultimately about the culture– and cultures are shaped by prevailing narratives.

An object, cloaked in an aura of glamor and cool, is, or at least feels, ubiquitous in American society. The object is a clear threat to public health — though that fact often gets eclipsed by arguments emphasizing the rights of those who like to use the object. Powerful, monied and well-connected special interest groups stand behind the object, and work fervently to thwart regulation and restrictions on it. 

Today, that object is a gun. In our recent past, it was a cigarette. 

Most readers of this blog remember when cigarette smoke was everywhere. We encountered it on airplanes, in bars and restaurants, and in our offices. The federal government was loathe to act; the FDA didn’t even get authority to regulate tobacco until 2009.

So–if government didn’t drive the change, what explains the anti-cigarette movement’s incredible success? In 2020, the most recent year for which the Centers for Disease Control provides data, 12.5 percent of Americans over the age of 18 smoked. In 1965, it was 42.4 percent.

That’s a pretty impressive victory. The question is, can we use the tactics that were so successful against Big Tobacco to get meaningful gun control, especially since the Court has evidently all but neutered government? 

Gun owners are in the minority. Smokers were also a minority — but, as the article notes, they were a powerful minority.

“In the 20th century, the smokingest segments of Americans were white men; now, the most gun owningest segments of Americans are white men,” Sarah Milov, associate history professor at the University of Virginia and author of “The Cigarette: A Political History,” told TPM. “The consequence of that for non-gun owning Americans is that they live in a world where public space is governed by the political demands and practices of what is truly a minority.”

The gun and cigarette lobbies spent millions obscuring that fact, presenting guns and cigarettes as foundational and ubiquitous parts of American life. Resistance to them, then, is futile — even unpatriotic.

The anti-smoking campaign changed attitudes about smoking in public places. They countered arguments about smokers’ rights by focusing on the harm to those unable to avoid second-hand smoke. When Big Tobacco fought no smoking rules for bars and restaurants, arguing that customers who didn’t like smoky venues could go elsewhere, activists pointed out that workers in those establishments had no such choice.

Experts think there are lessons to outsource to the fight for gun regulation: the anti-tobacco movement was coalitional, with outposts in every state; activists quickly realized the power of changing the narrative and stigma around public smoking, and of centering the rights of nonsmokers being harmed by cigarette smoke; instead of despairing at Congress’ coziness with big tobacco, they took the fight to local government. 

Even before the Court’s decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen,  ALEC had made it impossible to enlist most local governments in the movement to control weapons; a majority of states have so-called “pre-emption” statutes drafted by ALEC, preventing local governments from regulating firearms and ammunition.

The gun industry also benefits from a seriously devoted fan base. Many — though far from all — gun owners see their firearms as more than a recreational tool or even a means of self defense. The cult of the gun has grown so powerful that some owners consider it a part of their identity: shorthand for individualism and freedom, for triggering the libs and intimidating a federal government that supposedly wants to change their way of life. 

Even the tobacco industry’s biggest customers largely lacked that fervor.

Despite these considerable disadvantages, gun control advocates can begin to change the narrative from the NRA’s emphasis on gun owners’ rights. We can form coalitions emphasizing the rights of the rest of us–a clear majority– not to be shot and not to live in constant fear for ourselves and our children.

It took a long time to change the culture around smoking, but when the narrative changed, so did the culture– and when the culture changes, so (eventually) do the laws–and even Supreme Court opinions. 

Speaking of changes, tomorrow I’ll consider the radicalization of the Court…

 

 

 

 

Shoot-Out In The Fifth-Grade OK Corral

I’m hesitant to post about the most recent mass shooting–this one in a Texas elementary school. After all, what is there to say that hasn’t been said a million times before? As one commentator sadly noted, we’ll now hear Democrats talk about gun control and Republicans talk about mental illness.

Then, of course, there are Republicans like the odious Ted Cruz, who responded to an unspeakable tragedy in his state by asserting that the answer is to arm teachers. Not fewer guns, but more…and in the hands of people who, as a group, are least likely to want to own or brandish weapons.

Rand report looked at the pros and cons of arming teachers, and a fair reading suggested that gun manufacturers would experience the only “pro”–more sales of weapons. (Just what we need….) The relevant paragraph:

Arguments against arming teachers and school resource officers highlight the elevated risk of accidents and negligent use of firearms as more adults in schools are armed. The Associated Press reported, for instance, that there were more than 30 incidents between 2014 and 2018 that involved a firearm brought to a school by a law enforcement officer or that involved a teacher improperly discharging or losing control of a weapon (Penzenstadler, Foley, and Fenn, 2017). This compares with around 20 active-shooter attacks at schools over a comparable period (Cai and Patel, 2019). When even trained police officers have been found to successfully hit their intended targets in just 18 percent of incidents involving an exchange of gunfire (Rostker et al., 2008), critics question whether teachers can be expected to effectively return fire without inadvertently injuring the children they mean to protect (Vince, Wolfe, and Field, 2015). Finally, if teachers are holding guns or engaged in gunfire, it may make the job of law enforcement officers more difficult and dangerous when they arrive at the scene. Officers could mistake the teacher for an active shooter or could themselves be inadvertently shot by the teacher.

If silly things like evidence mattered to today’s GOP, we have mountains of it. I’m not going to bore you with links to the years of studies demonstrating the idiocy of America’s current gun culture–a google search will bring up more research than most of us want or need to read. The Republican mantra, on this issue as with so many, many others is: “don’t confuse me with the facts,” so marshaling those facts and using them as the basis of an argument is doomed before it begins.

The United States is the only modern country where mass murders are a routine experience. (I once met with a delegation from an African country that had only recently emerged from a bloody civil conflict, and was embarrassed to learn that the members of that delegation feared more for their lives on American streets than they had during their own civil unrest. They’d watched the shoot-em-up movies glorifying violence, and read the media reports about our routine carnage…)

Like so many others, I am bone-tired of writing about this insanity. Back in 2017, in a more analytic, less furious mode, I wrote:

There are 300 million guns in this country. We aren’t going to get rid of them–couldn’t if we tried. Furthermore, the vast majority of gun owners are responsible people–hunters, sportsmen, people hoping to protect their homes. It’s true that a significant number of the 30,000 plus gun deaths in America each year involve those responsible owners: suicides, domestic abuse, children accidentally shooting themselves or others. These deaths are tragic, but I’d draw an analogy to highway deaths–we don’t ban or confiscate cars because they can be lethal.

If we continue with the car analogy, however, there are lessons to be learned. We don’t let just anyone drive; in order to get a license you must pass a test. Your license can be revoked if you repeatedly break the rules. Academics study traffic deaths and issue recommendations for making our roadways safer–and legislatures, by and large, take those recommendations seriously. With guns, Congress has prohibited government from funding research on gun violence, and state lawmakers are constantly attacking and rolling back even the most reasonable firearm regulations. Congress even refused to pass a measure that would have prohibited individuals on the no-fly list–-people with demonstrable connections to ISIS–from owning guns.

The history and interpretation of the Second Amendment has been twisted beyond recognition. If self-proclaimed “originalists” are really interested in the original meaning of the Amendment (I have my doubts), they might find this explanation by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens edifying.

I don’t know whether our legislative “gun nuts” are really as ideological and twisted as they seem (speaking of mental illness…), or whether–undoubtedly like Cruz–just deep in the pocket of the gun lobby.

And I don’t know how or where this ends.

 

 

The Cult Is Armed

Last week, Politico ran an interview with a scholar of autocracy.You really–really–need to click through and read it in its entirety, because I lack the space and ability to offer a coherent synopsis.

The scholar, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, had made accurate predictions about Trump’s likely refusal to concede his 2020 defeat, and she made them well in advance of the election. During the course of the interview, she made several other penetrating observations. Among them: the likely permanence of the changes Trump has effected to the GOP. She says that his sway over the party has permanently transformed its political culture, changing it to an authoritarian party in which you don’t only go after external enemies, but also after internal ones. Authoritarian parties don’t allow dissent

When somebody like Trump comes on the scene and holds office, it’s really like an earthquake or a volcano, and it shakes up the whole system by gathering in this big tent all the extremists, all the far-right people, and giving them legitimation. The GOP was already going away from a democratic political culture, but he accelerated it and normalized extremism and normalized lawlessness. And so the GOP over these years has truly, in my estimation, become an authoritarian far-right party. And the other big story is that his agenda and his methods are being continued at the state level. Some of these things were on the agenda way before he came in, like getting rid of abortion rights and stuff like that. But these states are really laboratories of autocracy now, like Florida, Texas.

Ben-Ghiat made a particularly important point about a favorite Republican talking point that she noted is a time-honored strategy of right-wing authoritarianism. Authoritarians like to label democratic systems as tyrannical. (Psychiatrists might call that projection.) According to Ben-Ghiat, Mussolini was the first to make the accusation that democracies are tyrannical, democracies are the problem. That introduced a whole century’s worth of the strategy of calling sitting Democrats dictators. “Biden as a social dictator, [is] a phony talking point. It has so many articulations from “They’re forcing us to wear masks.”

Her observations about the “Big Lie” were equally interesting, especially for those of us who have read psychological profiles of Trump.

The genius of the “big lie” was not only that it sparked a movement that ended up with January 6 to physically allow him to stay in office. But psychologically the “big lie” was very important because it prevented his propagandized followers from having to reckon with the fact that he lost. And it maintains him as their hero, as their winner, as the invincible Trump, but also as the wronged Trump, the victim. Victimhood is extremely important for all autocrats. They always have to be the biggest victim.

There are several other points in the interview worth pondering, especially her acute observations about Ron DeSantis, but the one that really struck home with me was her response to the question whether the U.S. faces a civil war. She began by saying that she thought it unlikely.

But then she made a point I’d not previously considered.

I think that it’s not out of the realm of possibility, because if the Republicans tried to impeach Biden and impeach Harris, there would be protests. Whether that becomes a civil war is very different because it’s predominantly only one side which is armed, first of all….

The wild card is guns. No other country in peace time has 400 million guns in private hands. And no other country in peacetime has militias allowed to populate, has sovereign sheriffs, has so many extremists in the military, and that matters because of these other things. And in fact, if January 6 didn’t bring out a massive protest, what is going to bring out a massive protest? Because that showed that groups of people who were there were people unaffiliated with any Proud Boys or any radical group. And Robert Pape, who studied them, called them middle-aged, middle class, but they were all armed. Some of them had private arsenals and they showed up at January 6. So that’s the wild card. That’s one thing that’s extremely American, that violence, that the population believes it has the right to rebel against tyrannical government. Like Matt Gaetz says: The Second Amendment is not just about hunting. And here we go back to the idea of Biden as a dictator. And that only works if your citizenry is armed and ours is to a degree that no other country is in the entire world.

The insanity of America’s gun culture has been evident for a long time. What hasn’t been evident is the fact that “only one side is armed.”

Read the whole interview.