Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Apparently I’m Not Eligible to Run for Office as a Republican; How About You?

So the Republican National Committee is considering a “purity test” to determine which candidates will get party support in the 2010 elections. For those who’ve missed this, here is the full text of the resolution (sponsored by Indiana über-conservative James Bopp):

Proposed RNC Resolution on Reagan’s Unity Principle for Support of Candidates

WHEREAS, President Ronald Reagan believed that the Republican Party should support and espouse conservative principles and public policies; and

WHEREAS, President Ronald Reagan also believed the Republican Party should welcome those with diverse views; and

WHEREAS, President Ronald Reagan believed, as a result, that someone who agreed with him 8 out of 10 times was his friend, not his opponent; and

WHEREAS, Republican faithfulness to its conservative principles and public policies and Republican solidarity in opposition to Obama’s socialist agenda is necessary to preserve the security of our country, our economic and political freedoms, and our way of life; and

WHEREAS, Republican faithfulness to its conservative principles and public policies is necessary to restore the trust of the American people in the Republican Party and to lead to Republican electoral victories; and

WHEREAS, the Republican National Committee shares President Ronald Reagan’s belief that the Republican Party should espouse conservative principles and public policies and welcome persons of diverse views; and

WHEREAS, the Republican National Committee desires to implement President Reagan’s Unity Principle for Support of Candidates; and

WHEREAS, in addition to supporting candidates, the Republican National Committee provides financial support for Republican state and local parties for party building and federal election activities, which benefit all candidates and is not affected by this resolution; and

THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Republican National Committee identifies ten (10) key public policy positions for the 2010 election cycle, which the Republican National Committee expects its public officials and candidates to support:

(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;

(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

(4) We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

(7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

(10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership; and be further

RESOLVED, that a candidate who disagrees with three or more of the above stated public policy position of the Republican National Committee, as identified by the voting record, public statements and/or signed questionnaire of the candidate, shall not be eligible for financial support and endorsement by the Republican National Committee; and be further

RESOLVED, that upon the approval of this resolution the Republican National Committee shall deliver a copy of this resolution to each of Republican members of Congress, all Republican candidates for Congress, as they become known, and to each Republican state and territorial party office.

Chief Sponsor:
James Bopp, Jr. NCM IN
Donna Cain NCW OR
Cindy Costa NCW SC
Demetra Demonte NCW IL
Peggy Lambert NCW TN
Carolyn McLarty NCW OK
Pete Rickets NCM NE
Steve Scheffler NCM IA
Helen Van Etten NCW KA
Solomon Yue NCM OR

I don’t want to waste time discussing whether a purity test is a smart idea or a bad idea; hey, it’s their party. But I do want to take on each of the ten themes expressed in the test itself.

(1) We support smaller government, smaller national debt, lower deficits and lower taxes by opposing bills like Obama’s “stimulus” bill;

OK. I get that Republicans were opposed to the stimulus bill. The problem is, I don’t recall hearing many Republican ideas to help prevent the economy from taking a nose dive into a true depression. One thing that Republicans don’t seem to grasp right now is that there is a huge difference between being opposed to something and offering up a viable alternative. Think of it this way: If you suggest eating Chinese for dinner, I could say, “Gee, I don’t feel like Chinese; why don’t we go for Italian, instead.” From there, we could have an open and honest debate about which would be a better meal choice. On the other hand, if I was a Republican, my response would be more like this: “Gee, I don’t feel like Chinese (after all, they’re communists!); so we’ll just skip dinner tonight.”

I also fail to understand the constant mantra about “smaller government” as if by simply making government “smaller” we make it better. I’m less worried about the size of the government than I am with the effectiveness of that government.

As to the national debt and deficits, I seem to recall these going up, not down, under a Republican administration. It seems that Republicans are firmly opposed to debt and deficits except for debt and deficits that they like. Finally, I’d like to be certain what Republicans mean when they say “lower taxes”; lower taxes on whom? The wealthiest Americans who can easily afford to pay a bit more from the money that they’re parking in illegal offshore bank accounts? Why is it that I doubt that “lower taxes” means repeal of regressive taxes like sales tax.

(2) We support market-based health care reform and oppose Obama-style government run healthcare;

First, does that mean that Republicans will support an end to the anti-trust exemption for insurance companies? After all, an anti-trust exemption doesn’t really seem consistent with market-based insurance reform. Second, when Republicans talk about “Obama-style government run healthcare” does that mean that they oppose Medicare, Medicaid, the VA, and military healthcare? Those programs are, of course, all government run. What about the insurance provided to members of Congress? Finally, what type of reform do Republicans support? Remember that the plan offered by Senate Republicans didn’t prohibit exclusion based on pre-existing conditions (among a host of other failings). We’ve had a largely “market based” system (with anti-trust exemptions) for years and look where that’s gotten us. And how exactly do Republicans plan to handle the millions of uninsured Americans? Insuring a measly 3 million additional Americans over 10 years (while leaving 30-50 million uninsured) doesn’t really seem to be a solution to the problem. Then again, so long as the “solution” is merely opposition and obstruction…

(3) We support market-based energy reforms by opposing cap and trade legislation;

I wonder how many Republicans can actually explain what cap and trade legislation means. And, for that matter, I wonder how many of the Republicans who oppose cap and trade also believe that global warming is a myth. The funniest part of this is that cap and trade is a market-based reform. That is the whole idea; allow the market to put a value on the right to pollute and provide cost incentives for reducing emissions. And again, note that as usual, what Republicans oppose is spelled out clearly (Obama’s stimulus bill, Obama-style government run healthcare, cap and trade) but what Republicans support is much, much more nebulous (smaller and market-based). Again, it is easy to be opposed to a particular, narrowly-defined policy; it is much more difficult to articulate an alternative.

(4) We support workers’ right to secret ballot by opposing card check;

In all honesty, I don’t know enough about card check to really get into this discussion. I will note, however, that it seems strange, in the entire universe of issues for Republicans to focus on, that card check makes the top ten.

(5) We support legal immigration and assimilation into American society by opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants;

This point is one of the most insidious of all of the points on the Republican purity test. Why? Did you note that Republicans don’t just support legal immigration, but also support assimilation? In other words, Republicans are telling immigrants to come in legally, but once here, they had better jettison their cultural (and religious?) heritage and assimilate into American society. And why is that I suspect that the Republican version of “American society” is the same thing as Glenn Beck’s “white culture”?

In addition, I’m not quite sure how supporting legal immigration and assimilation is accomplished “by opposing” amnesty. What does one have to do with the other? More importantly, what precisely is the Republican plan to deal with illegal immigration and the illegal immigrants who are already here? Again, they oppose a particular policy (amnesty) without offering a solution to the existing problem.

(6) We support victory in Iraq and Afghanistan by supporting military-recommended troop surges;

First, who doesn’t support “victory in Iraq and Afghanistan”? Do Republicans really think that either President Obama or Democrats support “defeat”? It seems to me that the real question is the definition of “victory”. More importantly, I find it quite odd that when the Republican purity test finally gets around to specific things that Republicans are supposed to support, the focus is on a particular strategy advocated by the military. The last time I checked, the military was overseen by civilian leadership. It is important to remember that the issues being looked at by military planners are almost exclusively military. We don’t ask or expect military planners to look at diplomatic consequences of a particular policy, the cost to implement that policy (what about that support for a smaller national debt…?), the cost in lives or impact upon military families (I suppose that the military might factor this in to the calculation, but I don’t really know), or the desire of the American electorate to engage in the particular military operation. I suspect that generals recommended attacks on the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but we allowed civilian leadership to decide what was in the best interest of the country. So too should civilian leadership decide what is in the best interests of America when it comes to Iraq and Afghanistan. If that means a surge, then so be it; but the decision needs to be made on the basis of all known information and should take into consideration all relevant matters, not just the matters relevant to the battlefield itself. Military strategy options should be developed by military planners but decisions regarding those strategic options should be made on the basis of national interest, not just military necessity.

(7) We support containment of Iran and North Korea, particularly effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat;

This one leaves me a bit puzzled. First, the use of the word “containment” harkens back to the Cold War and fears of Soviet expansion. I suspect that the real issue being “supported” is limits on the ability of North Korea or Iran to export nuclear technology or terrorism. And again, who doesn’t support those ends? Do Republicans really think that President Obama or Democrats oppose “containment” of Iran or North Korea? More problematic is the phrase “effective action to eliminate their nuclear weapons threat”. What precisely does this mean. Again, I doubt that anybody supports ineffective actions. The real question, of course, is what action would be effective? So, for example, are harsh sanctions “effective”? Maybe I’m wrong, but when I read this particular point of the purity test, I take it to really be referring to military action as the “effective action”. Maybe I’m wrong. But if not, I’m troubled by the idea that Republicans are being asked to support a military action without necessarily considering either alternatives or consequences. Forget Iran for the moment; what would be the consequences of the use of force against North Korea? Do we really want to elect leaders who want war on the Korean peninsula?

(8) We support retention of the Defense of Marriage Act;

I’m not going to take the time in this particular post to explain why I oppose the Defense of Marriage Act (and why I believe it might be unconstitutional) or to explain why I support same sex marriage (or at least domestic partnerships that have all of the benefits and obligations of marriage). Instead, I’ll simply note that of the items that Republicans apparently view as the litmus test for whether a candidate is worthy, opposition to same sex marriage counts for 10%. I still don’t understand how the issue of whether a loving, committed couple can be allowed to enjoy the benefits of “marriage” can rise to this level of importance. And, for the record, I note that those states that have allowed same sex marriage have neither imploded, been struck by wave after wave of natural disasters, nor sunken into the bowels of the earth; moreover, I note that in those states the institution of heterosexual marriage remains alive and well.

(9) We support protecting the lives of vulnerable persons by opposing health care rationing and denial of health care and government funding of abortion; and

I’m glad that Republicans oppose health care rationing. I’m curious to know how they plan to stop insurance companies from continuing to ration care or, for that matter, how they intend to stop the effective rationing for those people who can’t afford health insurance. Republicans also oppose the denial of health care. That seems like a pretty clear blanket statement; yet last time that I checked, Republicans were set against health care for illegal immigrants (remember Rep. Joe Wilson’s “you lie” moment?). And recall, once again, that the Republican health care reform proposal did not prevent insurance companies from denying coverage based on pre-existing conditions.

With regard to the funding of abortions, first I note that it is a blanket opposition. There is no nuance or exception for matters of rape, incest, or life of the mother. “Gee, sorry, that you’re gonna die ma’am, but if you can’t pay for the abortion on your own, we can’t help you!” Talk about compassionate conservatism. I also have a problem with enshrining certain types of moral issues into federal funding policies. Why, for example, are Republicans opposed to funding abortion but not drugs for erectile dysfunction or hair replacement? More importantly, why are Republicans opposed to funding abortion but not opposed to funding the death penalty, wars, torture, and illegal wiretaps? If every issue to which a large group of voters objected on moral grounds were excepted out of government funding, I suspect that very little would be funded (then again, I suppose that Republicans would view that as good, so long as the military was still fully funded). I also have a problem with the exception for abortion given that other religious traditions come to the issue of abortion with a different understanding and mindset. Thus, while the denial of funding may satisfy a conservative Christian worldview, it may also run directly contrary to a Jewish understanding of when abortion is acceptable. If my religious tradition has a different understanding of the issue, why should someone else’s religious understanding determine how federal spending impacts upon my religious beliefs? (For a more in depth discussion of religious views of abortion, see my post Keep Your Religious Doctrine Out of My State’s Laws from January 2008). I get that conservatives don’t want their tax dollars to pay for abortions; I don’t want my tax dollars to pay for torture. Republicans will do almost anything to protect the “unborn”; but once a child is born, don’t look to the Republicans for help or protection, no sir!

(10) We support the right to keep and bear arms by opposing government restrictions on gun ownership;

Like abortion, I’ve written before about my thoughts on gun control and the Second Amendment and I won’t belabor the point here. But I do want to point out the fact that the opposition to “government restrictions on gun ownership” is another blanket statement. There is no exception for children, the mentally ill, or felons (or terrorists for that matter) and there is no exception for assault rifles or armor piercing bullets or rocket-propelled grenades (or nuclear weapons…). So it would seem to me than any Republican who supports even modest gun control legislation would not pass the party’s proposed purity test.

And what happened to honoring the tenets of this recitals from the preamble of the proposed resolution:

President Ronald Reagan also believed the Republican Party should welcome those with diverse views

Somehow the notion of welcoming diverse views doesn’t seem to come through in the proposed purity test.

As a counterpoint to the Republican purity test, take a look at this purity test for Democrats proposed by Devilstower on Daily Kos:

(1) We support the rights extended to Americans extended under the Constitution. All the rights. For all Americans.

(2) We support thoughtful, pragmatic solutions that protect American lives, American standards, and American pocketbooks. This includes finding solutions that don't require bombing anyone.

(3) We support an America that has diversity in race, thought, background, and religion not out of some hazy idealism, but because it is our nation's greatest strength.

(4) We oppose torture in any form, in any place, at any time, for any reason.

(5) We support American business, and recognize that an unregulated market is an unfair market, an unstable market, and a market doomed to failure.

(6) We support American workers, and know that when workers are allowed to organize they make their jobs, their companies, and their nation stronger.

(7) We believe that the reputation of our nation is valuable and must be zealously guarded against those who place expediency ahead of law.

(8) We believe in spreading democracy and human rights to the rest of the world by vigorously upholding those ideals here at home.

(9) We believe that access to our government is not for sale. Not in the courthouse, not in the White House, and not in the legislature.

(10) We believe that the health of our planet is not a zero-sum game, not a game of "you go first," and not a game.

What is interesting is that I don’t necessarily completely agree with each and every point in this “purity test” either (for example, I’m very hesitantly willing to consider torture in a true ticking time bomb case). Nevertheless, I think that the ideals espoused by this purity test are certainly worth considering, at least as a comparison to the proposed Republican purity test. Read both sets of positions and then ask yourself in which version of our country would you rather live?

Finally, ask yourself whether a purity test like that proposed by the Republicans makes sense. Which would you prefer: (a) party that has pre-determined how its members must think and how they must vote on certain issues; or (b) a party that tells its members to think for themselves, honor their ideals and values, and represent the voters that elected them, rather than the party to which they belong.

Oh, one more thing, as long as I’m looking at purity tests and lists of values and ideals. Charles Johnson, the founder of the right-leaning blog Little Green Footballs has announced that he is parting ways with the right because of:

1. Support for fascists, both in America (see: Pat Buchanan, Robert Stacy McCain, etc.) and in Europe (see: Vlaams Belang, BNP, SIOE, Pat Buchanan, etc.)

2. Support for bigotry, hatred, and white supremacism (see: Pat Buchanan, Ann Coulter, Robert Stacy McCain, Lew Rockwell, etc.)

3. Support for throwing women back into the Dark Ages, and general religious fanaticism (see: Operation Rescue, anti-abortion groups, James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Tony Perkins, the entire religious right, etc.)

4. Support for anti-science bad craziness (see: creationism, climate change denialism, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, James Inhofe, etc.)

5. Support for homophobic bigotry (see: Sarah Palin, Dobson, the entire religious right, etc.)

6. Support for anti-government lunacy (see: tea parties, militias, Fox News, Glenn Beck, etc.)

7. Support for conspiracy theories and hate speech (see: Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Birthers, creationists, climate deniers, etc.)

8. A right-wing blogosphere that is almost universally dominated by raging hate speech (see: Hot Air, Free Republic, Ace of Spades, etc.)

9. Anti-Islamic bigotry that goes far beyond simply criticizing radical Islam, into support for fascism, violence, and genocide (see: Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer, etc.)

10. Hatred for President Obama that goes far beyond simply criticizing his policies, into racism, hate speech, and bizarre conspiracy theories (see: witch doctor pictures, tea parties, Birthers, Michelle Malkin, Fox News, World Net Daily, Newsmax, and every other right wing source)

And much, much more. The American right wing has gone off the rails, into the bushes, and off the cliff.

I won’t be going over the cliff with them.

I disagree with Charles Johnson on many issues, but I’ve always found him to be reasonable and fair minded. When he takes a position, he almost always backs it up. Ever since I came across Little Green Footballs during the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006, I’ve found his site to be a destination to see what the rational right is thinking. As Johnson has frequently noted over the last several months, too often what the right is thinking isn’t rational at all.

So anyway, it looks like I won’t be eligible to run for office as a Republican in 2010. Shucks.

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Guns: A Fable

Well, maybe not a fable, per se, but I was having a hard time coming up with a title for this post. Anyway, I’m going to let a few videos and stories make my point today.


This incident apparently happened in Ohio on October 10, 2009.

These next two videos are from Gun Show: Undercover (A Project of the City of New York). Thinking of the bar shootout video above, keep in mind that Ohio was one of the states that New York’s investigators focused on for the Gun Show: Undercover.


Next, read the story “Should these men have been allowed to carry a gun?” published in The Indianapolis Star on October 11, 2009.

Now watch the video below:

The article that goes with this video (from the Sun Sentinal) describing the gathering of the Broward County Republicans at the gun range includes this additional fact:

One of the shooters at the Tuesday evening event was Robert Lowry, a Republican candidate hoping to unseat U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston. Lowry's target had the letters "DWS" next to the silhouette head.

Lowry said he didn't know who wrote Wasserman Schultz' initials on his target, but said he knew they were there before he started shooting. He initially described it as a "joke," but after answering several questions he said it "was a mistake" to use a target labeled "DWS."

That’s right: A candidate for Congress thought it was a joke to shoot a weapon at a target labeled with the initials of the incumbent member of Congress (and his opponent … or is that enemy?). Hah, hah, hah. Here is the response from Rep. Wasserman Schultz:

There is nothing light or funny about pretending to shoot someone. At a time in our country when people are bringing guns to Town Hall Meetings and a preacher is calling for the death of our President, I find this type of action serious and disturbing. Tonight I am going to have to talk to my young children about why someone is pretending to shoot their mother. Trivializing violent behavior is the kind of extreme view that has no place in American politics.

With all of this firmly in mind, recall these photos that I posted previously:

IMG_1469 by NineTwelvePhotos.

IMG_1461 by NineTwelvePhotos.



And finally, take a look at these news videos:



I know that there are a lot of disparate elements in these videos and stories. I also recognize that there is no direct link between some of the concerns raised in the initial videos and stories and those at the end of this post. However, the nexus between these videos and stories – guns – is real. I could spend a lot of time writing about my thoughts on these videos and about guns. But I think that the videos and stories speak for themselves and provide ample evidence of issues about which we should be concerned.

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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Do You Really Need Your Gun at a Political Event?

One of the more interesting manifestations of anger at some recent town hall meetings and at President Obama’s speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention is the appearance at these events of citizens brazenly displaying weapons, including semi-automatic rifles. I’m not concerned that there was any threat to President Obama’s safety; the protesters were outside the auditorium and were most likely kept far from President Obama’s ingress and egress route. I don’t know if the same can be said of the town hall events at which armed protestors have appeared.

I’m sure that some may want to talk about the Second Amendment right to bear arms. I’ve discussed that in the past and I don’t feel like rehashing the issue now. But the issue of whether people should have the right to bear arms at a political event is, to me, a red herring. The real question is this: Why do these people bring their weapons to these kinds of events? What is the purpose of brandishing a weapon — even calling the news media to be sure that they know to show up and video the display of that weapon — at a political event? I’d be curious to know if these people wear their guns and carry their assault rifles when they go to the grocery or the bank or to see their doctor or their kids in a school play. If so, I guess the question is what these people are so worried about that they feel the need to “pack heat” everywhere they go. But, if not, then the question becomes why they chose to carry — and actively display — those weapons at a political event.

I suppose if the focus of the particular event was gun control, the display of weaponry might make some kind of sense as a show of support for gun rights. But given that the focus of this summer’s town hall meetings has largely been healthcare reform, I don’t see the link between the issue and firearms. Unless, of course, the real issue isn’t healthcare reform at all, but rather, fear and loathing of the government. Bringing a gun to a political event must, it seems to me, have some kind of political statement attached to it; otherwise, why bother? After all, wouldn’t a big “I Oppose the Public Option!” sign be just as effective a means to demonstrate opposition to healthcare reform legislation?

So, if a political statement is being made with a gun, what should we interpret that statement to be? The only thing that I can think of is an implicit (or explicit) threat: “If we don’t get our way, remember that we’re armed!” What else could be the point of bringing guns to a political event? Consider the frequent recitation of Thomas Jefferson’s “blood of patriots and tyrants” quotation and see if you can come up with another explanation for the appearance of weaponry. The display of weaponry may also be calculated to dissuade proponents of healthcare reform from confronting the opponents; after all, who is going to walk up to an armed protester to strike up a discussion on a hotly debated political issue?

Some people have pointed to an incident in 2000 when members of the New Black Panther Party marched outside the convention of the Texas Republican Party with assault rifles. My view on that event is no different from my view of the current display of weaponry. The New Black Panther Party was apparently protesting then Gov. George W. Bush’s refusal to intervene in a scheduled execution. That show of force was, in essence, no different than the current show of force. Of course, in the case of the New Black Panther Party, I think that most of us can agree that they represent a decidedly fringe element of the body politic; query whether those attending political events this summer with weapons represent the fringe or the actual conservative core of the Republican party?

In any event, how are we any different from nations like __________ [insert the name of your favorite third world country] when we view it as acceptable to threaten our elected leaders, even implicitly, with violence? And does the presence of weaponry at events at which passions are running high and tempers are being lost worry anyone else? We’ve seen pushing and shoving and a few fistfights. Should we be concerned about the presence of weaponry in that environment?

People may have a right to carry a gun in public and to come to a political event armed. But that doesn’t mean that they should. The principal message being conveyed by the brandishing of weaponry at a political event is the threat of violence if those who are armed don’t get their way. America’s democratic system works through the ballot box, not through the barrel of a gun. Violence — or even the implicit threat of violence — has no place in American politics. While it may not be possible to ban the presence of guns, responsible voices should be doing everything they can to discourage people from bringing their weapons to political events. But when the only voices that a portion of the right will listen to are Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and their ilk, then not only do I not have high hopes for the tension to be ratcheted down, I’m actually concerned that passions and tempers could be inflamed further still. And that, with the presence of weapons, would be a truly dangerous combination.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Guns in Dorms!

For every good bill introduced in the Indiana General Assembly, there are a handful of bad bills. And each year there are also a handful of bills that are so bad that they are just idiotic. Senate Bill 12 (authored by  Sen. Johnny Nugent, R-Southeast Indiana) is the winner (at least so far) of dumbest bill of the 2009 legislative session. The bill would add one new chapter (consisting of once sentence) to the Indiana criminal code:

A state educational institution may not regulate in any manner the ownership, possession, carrying, or transportation of firearms or ammunition.

When I first saw this bill I presumed that it was in response to the tragic events at Virginia Tech University and Sen. Nugent’s letter to the editor of The Indianapolis Star (in response to an opinion column opposing the bill) confirms that presumption. While I understand (well, kinda…) Sen. Nugent’s desire to allow college students to pack heat in order to protect themselves from nutcases who might be intent on violence on campus, it doesn’t take much thought to see why SB 12 is a really, really bad idea.

Let’s consider a few things. First, most students don’t live by themselves on campus. Thus, the gun, when not carried by the student, will likely be sitting in a dorm room to which many other people (roommate(s) and friends, for example) will have access. My freshman dorm room was often a bit like Grand Central Station and there weren’t many good hiding places. And remember that college roommates don’t always get along (I used a jar of gefilte fish when I needed a little privacy; my Korean roommate preferred to use his mom’s kimche). Fights among roommates (whether merely verbal or escalating to something more) are not uncommon. Add to this brew the fact that we are talking about young adults, many of them away from home for the first time, often under a great deal of stress (presuming that they are taking their studies seriously). Do we really want to introduce guns into that situation? Oh, I forgot to mention alcohol. Last time that I checked, use of alcohol (and even drugs) was fairly common on college campuses. And we know how well guns and alcohol mix.

And let’s go back to Virginia Tech for a moment. I suppose that the shooter might have been stopped had another student been armed. Maybe. But unless the other armed student (students?) really knew their way around their firearms, how much collateral damage (i.e., other students) would have been caused. Police officers undergo extensive training before being allowed on the street with a weapon, but virtually anyone can obtain a license to own a gun. If you are the parent of a college student, would you be comforted to know that your child might be protected from a crazed serial killer by other students with concealed weapons? Or, are you more concerned that those weapons will pose an even greater danger to your child than the rare serial killer?

And ask yourself this: Why limit this statute to colleges? Why not allow guns in high schools or hospitals or courtrooms? Maybe if the passengers aboard the planes on 9/11 had been armed, they would not have been hijacked (of course, the passengers defending the planes might have shot out windows and caused the planes to crash anyway…)! Maybe we should require everyone to have a gun! Yeah, that’s the ticket. If we all have a pistol on our hip, an assault rifle on our shoulder, a few grenades on our belt, and maybe a rocket launcher strapped to our back, no one will mess with us and we’ll be free of crime and violence forever! Of course one little misunderstanding could get pretty ugly, very quickly, but I guess that is the price that we should pay for safety, right?

Sarcasm aside, I think that guns are dangerous. They are supposed to be. But when it comes to college campuses, I think that students will be much safer in a gun-free environment. Sure, from time to time someone may come along with a means and motive to do harm. That, unfortunately is part of our society (of course, if that person had a more difficult time obtaining a gun in the first place…). But to address that rare occurrence by allowing yet more weapons is simply asking for trouble and yet more  violence. We should be looking for every opportunity to reduce the chance of gun violence rather than increasing that chance in order to reduce the isolated really bad instances of gun violence.

Please call your legislators (remember, you can check the Indiana General Assembly’s “Who Are Your Legislators?” page to learn who your legislators are and get their contact information) and tell them to oppose Senate Bill 12.

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Supreme Court Hears 2nd Amendment Case

Today the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in a case that goes to the heart of the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution. The essential issue before the Court is whether the 2nd Amendment provides an individual the right to keep and bear arms and whether the government (in this case, the city of Washington D.C.) can severely restrict the type of arms (i.e. handguns) that can be owned by citizens.

I have my own thoughts on the 2nd Amendment and gun control legislation (see if you can guess where I stand...) and I could probably write fairly extensively on those thoughts. Instead, I wanted to post just a few brief (well, brief-ish) notes about the issues.

Obviously, before any opinion can be reached, the key starting point must be the text of the Constitution itself. Sadly, far too many people think that they know what various provisions of the Constitution say without actually reading the full language. So here is the 2nd Amendment to the United States Constitution (all 27 words):
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.

So what exactly does the 2nd Amendment mean? That is the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court today.

All too often, when people talk or think about the 2nd Amendment, they quote the second clause of the Amendment without regard to the first clause. However, ignoring the first clause is a flawed way of reading the text of the Amendment; after all, if the first clause has no meaning, then why was it included? It is instructive to note that of the Bill of Rights, only the 2nd Amendment includes a preamble or explanatory language; all of the other Amendments in the Bill of Rights simply enumerate what laws cannot be passed or rights cannot be infringed. Thus, the first clause of the 2nd Amendment must mean something.

And if the first clause does not mean anything, then what precisely does the second clause itself really mean? After all, it says that the right "to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed". Does that mean that laws prohibiting assault rifles (machine guns) are unconstitutional? Does that mean that laws prohibiting convicted felons from owning guns are unconstitutional? Does that mean that laws limiting access to high explosives are unconstitutional? Does that mean that laws prohibiting carrying a gun into a school are unconstitutional? Do we really want a society where people walk around "packing heat"?

I think that it is also worth thinking about the 2nd Amendment with some degree of temporal context that is not as relevant for other provisions of the Constitution. For example, speech is speech and religion is religion, whether in 1791 or 2008. But the weapons of 2008 bear little resemblance to the weapons with which the Founding Fathers were familiar. Do you think that George Washington or Thomas Jefferson could even contemplate an automatic pistol that holds 18 armor-piercing bullets with a rate of fire of 25 rounds per minute and an effective range in excess of 100 feet, let alone an AK-47 , Uzi, MAC-10, night-vision scope, laser targeting, rocket propelled grenade, or Stinger anti-aircraft missile? Compare today's guns to those available when the 2nd Amendment was written, when a soldier had to manually load each round into his gun (don't forget about adding black powder) and then shoot a small round lead bullet (that certainly wasn't going to penetrate Kevlar body armor) for a fairly short distance without too much accuracy. In other words, the world has changed and the 2nd Amendment has not. It is also worth noting that the meaning of "cruel and unusual punishments" has changed with time (no more drawing and quartering, hanging, or beheading), so why shouldn't the meaning of "keep and bear arms" change with the times, as well?

There really appear to be two things driving much of the anti-gun control rhetoric (other than blind allegiance to the 2nd Amendment): protection from criminals and protection from government. I want to address these (briefly) in reverse order.

Some people have argued that the government should not "take away" their guns because then the government could "take over" (this appears to be one of those black helicopter/new world order sort of fears). First, does anyone really believe that our government (which, let's face it, can barely manage to keep the government semi-functional) really intends some kind of coup to destroy "freedom" (although I might argue that the Bush administration, with programs like warrantless wiretapping and imprisonment of American citizens as "enemy combatants" does have some eerie similarities to some of these fears)? And, assuming for a moment that such a plan was in the works, does anyone really believe that individual gun owners will be able to stop M1 tanks, F-18s, Blackhawk helicopters, nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers, Predator drones, and soldiers as well-trained and well-equipped as ours?

As to public safety and the right of people to defend themselves in their homes, the right to have a weapon does seem like a good idea. We've all heard the refrain that if the government takes away our guns, only criminals will have guns. But, the last time I checked, the police had guns too. Moreover, if we put an end to the availability of guns (even just handguns, I suppose), then, after a time, it will become more and more difficult for criminals to get those guns. Just look at how little criminal gun violence exists in other developed countries that do have stricter gun control laws. And don't forget the number of children who die each year playing with the guns that their parents purchased to protect their home. The guns may have protected the homes from burglars, but they certainly did not protect the families from innocent and curious children.

Personally, I think that tighter government regulation of guns (together with efforts to get handguns out of the hands of criminals) will do far more to protect me and my family than would owning a handgun myself.

Well, those are just a few of my thoughts on the subject. Now, it all appears to be in the hands of the Supreme Court. Unfortunately, I don't have high expectations.

For some additional information, please see "High Court Starts Case Challenging D.C. Gun Ban" by Nina Totenberg (NPR's legal affairs reporter).

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