Politics, et Cetera

A publication from The Political Forum, LLC

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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

They Said It:

Nature made me happy and good, and if I am otherwise, it is society’s fault.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile or On Education, 1762.



Battling the “scourge” of gun violence in this country should be easy.  We just need the crazy people – i.e. the gun “nuts” – to do a few simple things.  They need to stop insisting on owning AR-15s, for starters.  They also need to let us close the so-called gun-show loophole.  That’s it.  Nothing serious, nothing radical going on here.  Just some common sense, basic reforms that will make everyone safer and everyone happier and make the United States a much better place than it was before.

Or so we are told – by President Obama, by the Democrats in Congress, by the mainstream media, by . . . well . . . everyone who is opposed to “gun violence,” as if gun owners are in favor of it.

On the off chance you happen to have spent the past week or so in a cave, last Wednesday a married couple, who also just happen to be Islamists, shot and killed 14 people in San Bernardino.  In response, the political Left – including, obviously, the mainstream press – insisted that the real problem is guns, or at least the politicians who prevent “common sense” gun regulations from being enacted.  On a front page that will, to borrow a phrase from FDR, live in infamy, the New York Daily News as much as blamed pro-gun rights politicians, insisting that “God isn’t fixing this!  As the latest batch of innocent Americans are [sic] left lying in pools of blood, cowards who could truly end the gun scourge continue to hide behind meaningless platitudes.”

Given all of this, and given the “epidemic” of gun violence, why wouldn’t the NRA, right-wing politicians, and most gun owners simply give in?  If all it’s going to cost is AR-15s and some more stringent background checks, what’s the big deal?  Why not do “the right thing” and end the “scourge” now?  Seems pretty easy and straightforward, doesn’t it?  Radicals on one side, prolonging an epidemic, and calm, rational, reformers on the other, trying to end it.  That’s a pretty easy choice, no?

Well, no.  As far as we can tell, there are at least three problems with the case – such as it is – put forward by those who wish to end the “epidemic” of gun violence.  More to the point, these three problems help, in large part, to explain the ongoing distrust and animosity between the Left and the Right in our political system.  They also suggest that the next several election cycles will produce more political polarization and more bifurcation of the American population into competing and diametrically opposed camps.  In short, get used to it.

The first problem with the case against gun violence is that it is based, almost entirely, on lies.  Or, if you want to be less accusatory (and thus less accurate), the best thing you can say is that the case is based on hype.  Obama and his ilk spend their time prattling on about such things as the “epidemic” of gun violence, never quite realizing or conceding that there really is no such thing in this country.  Yes, there is an epidemic of high-profile, spree-shootings, which are horrifying to say the least.  But that’s not quite the same as an “epidemic” of gun violence.  Indeed, it is a very different animal altogether, suggesting different solutions and emphases.

The simple fact of the matter is that gun violence in this country is decreasing and has been for more than twenty years.  Gun murders, per capita, are down considerably over that period and continue to fall.  And so, for that matter, is violent crime altogether.  Indeed, in 2010, you were roughly half as likely to be killed by a gun as you were in 1993.  Read that again, if you will:  the gun murder rate in this country has fallen BY HALF over the last two decades.  And for the record, that decrease has absolutely nothing to do with gun control.  Writing at National Review Online, Charles C.W. Cooke – a Brit dedicated American civil liberties – has been a one-man wrecking crew on this subject.  In his latest piece, he put it this way:

Over the past 25 years, Americans have bought more than 100 million new guns, and most of the 50 states have liberalized the laws that govern their purchase, possession, and use.  And what has happened to the “gun-murder” rate?  It’s been cut in half.  (The crime rate has also dropped precipitously.)  If we are to have an honest debate in this country, conservatives will need to accept that the vast number of firearms in circulation contribute to the America’s relatively higher rate of shootings, and progressives will need to accept that, beyond that obvious point, the relationship between the raw number of weapons, the laws under which they are regulated, and the incidence of crime is a lot more complex than is typically conceded.

We are not going to get that debate, of course.  There is a good reason that Michael Bloomberg and his fellow travelers jump cynically upon every mass shooting and attempt to use it as a catalyst for their existing ideas, and that is that horror’s aftermath is the only time in which they can get the American public to seriously reconsider the status quo.  To the champions of stricter regulation, calm and dispassionate analysis are enemies to be dispensed with, preferably in favor of chaos and disquiet and the hysterical pointing of fingers.

Unfortunately, not unsurprisingly, this but one of countless false or misleading statistics cited by those in favor of greater gun control.  Another, of course, is the total number of gun-related deaths in the country every year.  The Centers for Disease Control reports – and the media and gun control happily trumpet – the fact some 32,000 Americans die by guns every years.  What they fail to mention, particularly in the context of gun control, is the fact some 64% of those deaths – which is to say nearly TWO-THIRDS of them – are suicides.  Now, far be it from us to deride or minimize the importance of gun-related suicide.  It is a tragic and horrific subject in its own right.  That said, gun suicides are not, in any way, going to be curbed by the type of “reforms” the gun reformers propose.  Not to state the obvious – although it seems sometimes that we have no choice but to do so – anyone who commits or wants to commit suicide by gun is not going to be dissuaded from doing so by limits on magazine capacity or bans on certain types of long guns.

The media and the Left – we know, we know, that’s redundant – have also been peddling the idea that “mass shootings” are increasing dramatically.  If they can’t win the argument based on shootings alone, they’re determined that they’ll win something, in this case, mass shootings.  Last week, after the San Bernardino shooting, the Washington Post trumpeted the “fact” that there have been 355 mass shooting this year.  That’s more than one per day!  How could anyone be so callous and – dare we say it? – evil as not to want to end the “scourge” of mass shootings?  Well, we don’t know the answer to that question.  What we do know, however, is that entire premise is garbage.  Writing in the New York Times, Mark Follman, the national affairs editor for Mother Jones responded thusly:

On Wednesday, a Washington Postarticle announced that “The San Bernardino shooting is the second mass shooting today and the 355th this year.”  Vox, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, this newspaper and others reported similar statistics.  Grim details from the church in Charleston, a college classroom in Oregon and a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado are still fresh, but you could be forgiven for wondering how you missed more than 300 other such attacks in 2015.

At Mother Jones, where I work as an editor, we have compiled an in-depth, open-source database covering more than three decades of public mass shootings.  By our measure, there have been four “mass shootings” this year, including the one in San Bernardino, and at least 73 such attacks since 1982.

What?  73 since 1982? vs. 355 this year?  How does one explain the discrepancy?  Dishonesty, that’s how.  Follman continued:

What explains the vastly different count?  The answer is that there is no official definition for “mass shooting.”  Almost all of the gun crimes behind the much larger statistic are less lethal and bear little relevance to the type of public mass murder we have just witnessed again.  Including them in the same breath suggests that a 1 a.m. gang fight in a Sacramento restaurant, in which two were killed and two injured, is the same kind of event as a deranged man walking into a community college classroom and massacring nine and injuring nine others.  Or that a late-night shooting on a street in Savannah, Ga., yesterday that injured three and killed one is in the same category as the madness that just played out in Southern California. . . .

The statistics now being highlighted in the news come primarily from shootingtracker.com, a website built by members of a Reddit forum supporting gun control called GunsAreCool.  That site aggregates news stories about shooting incidents — of any kind — in which four or more people are reported to have been either injured or killed.

It’s not clear why the Redditors use this much broader criteria.  The founder of the “shooting tracker” project, who currently goes by the handle “Billy Speed,” told me it was his choice: “Three years ago I decided, all by myself, to change the United States’ definition of mass shooting.”

That’s just fantastic, isn’t it?  Some random internet doofus named “Billy Speed” unilaterally changed the definition of “mass shooting.”  And because it fit their narrative, the media and Left-wing politicians went along.  It has to be frustrating for the gun-control advocates.  They call Wayne LaPierre a “jihadist” and a “terrorist” and insist that the NRA is filling poor, stupid Americans’ heads with utter nonsense.  Still, even when they lie outrageously and unapologetically, they can’t seem to change the terms of the debate.  They can’t seem to get a majority of the country to buy into their “moderate” “common sense” approach to gun control.

All of which brings us to perhaps the greatest falsehood of them all; that being the notion that this “common sense” approach to guns will fix all of our problems.  Indeed, in our estimation, this “lie” is so pervasive and so damaging to the debate over guns in this country that it qualifies as the second of our “problems” with the gun-control argument.

Go back to the New York Daily News front page from last week.  According to the News, pro-gun-rights legislators should shut up, not just because they’re annoying, but because they have it within their power to “truly end the gun scourge.”  But is that even close to true?  The short answer is no.  The longer answer is also no, but with some explanation.

The types of restrictions that gun-control advocates propose are, for the most part, unlikely to do much of anything to stop “gun violence.”  Moreover, most such proposals are based on whim and fancy, rather than anything substantive.  The most common and popular proposal is to return to the 1990s gun-control regime and thus to ban “assault weapons.”  Assault weapons, as many of you know, are merely long guns that look like military weapons.  They do not function like military weapons.  They are not “machine guns” – which is to say fully-automatic guns.  And the differences between assault weapons and not-assault weapons are purely cosmetic and almost entirely arbitrary.  Writing at the Left-leaning Slate, the even more left-wing James Bouie notes the following:

There’s no doubt assault weapons — there’s no official definition for the term, which makes identifying them for prohibition difficult, if not impossible — are scary to many Americans, especially with their presence in high-profile shootings like the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, or the theater killings in Aurora, Colorado.  But out of 73 mass killers from 1982 to 2015, just 25 used rifles of any kind, including military-style weapons.  Most used revolvers, shotguns, and semi-automatic handguns.  Which gets to a related point: We might feel safer if we ban “assault weapons,” but we won’t be safer.  Of the 43,000 Americans killed with guns since 2010, just a fraction — 3.5 percent — were killed with rifles.

The pointlessness of banning so-called “assault weapons” is actually starker when ALL murders are considered.  Handguns account for nearly two-thirds of murders.  Rifles – and that’s ALL rifles, not just the scary “assault weapons” – account for less than 2%.  According to FBI statistics, you are nearly five times more likely to be murdered by a knife than a rifle, nearly twice as likely to be murdered by brute force and bare hands than a rifle, and nearly 50% more likely to be murdered by a “blunt object” than a rifle of any sort.

Likewise, anecdotal evidence suggests that making handguns more difficult to purchase would be equally ineffective at stopping the “epidemic” of gun violence.  California and Illinois have among the toughest gun laws in the country.  And as we well know, the laws in California did nothing to stop the terrorist murders in San Bernardino.  More to the point, these two states, which account for roughly 16% of the nation’s population, also account for roughly 20% of the nation’s gun murders.  Over the last twenty-five years, gun laws have been relaxed in nearly all states, and gun murders have precipitously decreased.  The few states/polities that remain holdouts against the national trend in gun-ownership restrictions – California, Illinois, the District of Columbia – have also remained holdouts against the decline in murder rates.

Expanded background checks and closing the “gun show loophole”?  Also red herrings, we’re afraid.  The so-called gun show loophole, as you may know, is not a loophole at all, but the simple fact that private gun owners are allowed to transfer ownership of their guns, either by sale or gift, without having to conduct a federal background check.  Licensed gun dealers, however, are required to comply with background check laws, regardless of where they sell their guns – at a store, at a gun show, or at the supermarket.  For gun dealers, there is no loophole.  As for private transfers, the criminologist James Jacobs, director of Center for Research in Crime and Justice at New York University School of Law, a professor of constitutional law, noted the following in an interview last week with Time magazine:

I think that requiring background checks for all gun sales, period, would be a good idea in principle.  The problem is implementing and enforcing such a system.  There’s no universal registry of firearms, so if the police were to arrest somebody and try to prosecute whoever sold them their gun without the required check, there’s no way to verify who the seller was or when the sale took place.  To have an effective system of regulating private sales you would need a registry, and the idea of a registry is an anathema to the gun owning community because they see a registration system as a precursor to a general confiscation — which it was in the U.K. and has been in other countries as well.

But even if we could politically will a gun registry into existence, it’s unlikely that it would work.  In the few states where we have a requirement that assault weapons be registered, no more than 10% of the owners of assault weapons have generally gone through the registration process, meaning at least 90% of the people don’t register.  Other countries have also had a difficult time making registration work.

The Canadians have registered handguns since the 1930s.  In 1993, the liberal government initiated shotgun and long gun registration.  The program attracted a great deal of criticism, huge cost overruns and resistance from firearms owners, and in 2012 the Conservative government scrapped the program and destroyed the registry.  That might give people pause for thought about the feasibility of a registration program.

In the end, the fact of the matter is that efforts to “control” guns are often counterproductive, nearly always unlikely to produce the intended result, and serve only to give government more control while providing a false sense of security to those who want merely to feel that their government is doing something – anything! – to address the truly frightening issue of spree shootings.

And that brings us, at long last, to the third and the biggest problem with the “reasonable efforts” to end the “epidemic” of gun violence in this country; that being the fact that said efforts are hardly reasonable and are, without question, a mere prelude to more radical gun-grabbing.  Gun-control advocates are forever prattling on about how they don’t want to do anything radical and how they don’t want to take anyone’s guns.  Moreover, they insist that anyone who believes otherwise is a conspiracy-minded, racist lunatic, who thinks that the big, mean black man in the White House is going to take all the guns away.  But is it really all that crazy for gun owners to think that a ban on “assault weapons” today will lead to a ban on handguns tomorrow?

The fact of the matter is that the Left in this country – which is largely synonymous in this case with gun-control advocates – is ideologically predisposed never to concede failure and never to allow policy disappointments stop it from proposing, advancing, and enforcing more of the same.  As countless wags have noted over the years, being a liberal means never having to say you’re sorry.  And that’s because the Left is conditioned to believe that its policies do not fail; they are only implemented insufficiently aggressively.

Consider, if you will, the case of the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009,” better known as the Obama stimulus.  As Obama took office, and as the bursting of the housing bubble turned into a deep recession, the Keynesians determined that that the country needed a massive, unprecedented stimulus.  And that’s precisely what they got, an $800 billion bill, the largest such stimulus in the nation’s history.  And . . . it did nothing.  Or at least it didn’t do what we were promised it would do.  It “saved” some jobs in state and local governments – hence the coining of a new economic term, “jobs created or saved,” – but it didn’t bring unemployment down or turn economic growth around as Obama and his advisers predicted.

Why didn’t it work?  Well, if you ask almost anyone on the Left, the stimulus didn’t work for one reason and one reason alone.  The leftist economist Joseph Stiglitz put it this way: “The problem with the stimulus was not that it didn’t work, but it wasn’t big enough . . . .”  Jared Bernstein, then chief economic adviser to Vice President Biden said this: “The simple Keynesian answer is you take the GDP gap —  actual GDP minus potential — sum it up over the downturn, and divide by the multiplier . . . Using annual CBO potential GDP and the real GDP on the books for 08-2010, you come up with a GDP gap of around $3 trillion.  Divide that by 1.4, and you’d need around $2 trillion, more than twice the ARRA.”  Likewise, Christina Romer, the chair of Obama’s Council of Economic advisers:  “we probably needed about $2 trillion given what we were actually up against.”  Bill Clinton: “I think the stimulus did as well as it could have done — there just wasn’t enough of it.”  Liberal economist Dean Baker:  “The story of the stimulus is straightforward.  It was a useful policy tool to counteract the effects of the collapse of the housing bubble.  However, as many of us said at the time, it was nowhere near large enough.”  And on and on it goes . . .

This is no mere coincidence.  This is how the liberal mind works.  Indeed, this is how the liberal mind is conditioned to work.

All of this can be traced directly back to Jean Jacques Rousseau, the intellectual progenitor of the contemporary Left, who can be said to have sown the seeds of all of the utopian ideologies of modern times, including, but not limited to liberalism, socialism, communism, and fascism.  As we have noted before, the opening line in Rousseau’s Emile is, in many ways, the guiding principle of the Left:  “Everything is good in leaving the hands of the creator of things; everything degenerates in the hands of man.”  Thus, it was Rousseau who argued that humans are innately good, that the concept of original sin is a lie, that vice and error are not natural to mankind but introduced from without, caused almost entirely by bad institutions.  And the inevitable consequence of these beliefs is the present-day insistence that any failure of policy means merely that the institutions must be changed, tweaked, fine-tuned, improved to more adequately meet the challenge, whatever it may be.

“All wickedness,” Rousseau wrote, “comes from weakness.  The child is wicked only because he is weak.  Make him strong; he will be good.  He who could do everything would never do harm.”  If, therefore, your institutions are “wicked,” which is to say that they do not achieve the desired policy ends, then those institutions must be strengthened.  Your stimulus package must be bigger.  Your agrarian reforms must be more severe.  Your gun control laws must be even more stringent.

Great Britain has, perhaps, the most stringent and, frankly, crazy gun control laws in the developed world.  The British government essentially banned the private ownership of guns in 1997, after the mass killing/spree shooting at an elementary school in Dunblane, Scotland.  Now, for the record, Britain had extremely tight control laws before the Dunblane attack, and yet the attacker’s guns were all legally owned.  So the Brits upped the ante.  Again.  Today, Britain is, according to the Daily Mail, “the most violent country in Europe” with “a worse rate for all types of violence than the U.S. and South Africa.”

And so how does the Leftist mind deal with this seeming failure?  It pushes on.  As Counter Current News reported last November (and as the Left-leaning Snopes.com verified), British law enforcement is trying to make the weapons-control regime stronger, thus expelling the wickedness:

The new “Save a Life — Surrender Your Knife” program is in full swing and police are telling us that they have joined forces with an already growing trend in the United Kingdom to ban “pointy” knives.

Lancashire Police tell us that an “amnesty” program began at the end of August, and “more than 800 knives have been handed in across the county — including swords, machetes and commando knives.”

“The amnesty was extended for a further week owing to its success,” Lancashire Police representatives explained.

The Lancashire department explains that their “officers have now given their backing to a national initiative designed to raise awareness of knife crime and encourage the surrender of dangerous weapons.”

How would this play out in the United States?  Well, we know that the problem that needs addressing is not the problem the Left believes it is.  There is no “epidemic” of gun violence in this country.  What we have is a spate of spree shootings, the perpetrators of which are likely feeding off one another and creating a feedback loop.  We also, apparently, have an Islamist terrorism problem, not that anyone wants to talk much about that.

We know as well that the “solutions” proffered for this misunderstood problem are all but certain to be ineffective.  Banning “assault weapons” or private sales of guns will do nothing to discourage the potential spree shooter, most of whom use handguns and buy them legally with background checks.

Ineffective techniques applied to solve a misdiagnosed problem will, of course, produce no positive results.  All of which will simply convince the Left that the problem was that gun reforms will work, but they have to be bigger.  The near-hysterical New York Times has already called for owners of “assault weapons” to surrender them.  And it is only a matter of time before the paper has the backing of legislators.  Then they’ll take certain handguns, then certain caliber weapons, then try to enforce a registry, and so on.  And none of this, we remind you, is paranoid speculation on our part.  It is informed forecasting based on past precedent and leftist ideological predispositions.

In 2004, the Clinton-era assault weapons ban was allowed to expire, in contravention of the general principles of liberal governance we have discussed here.  While fortunate, that was fluke.  We wouldn’t call it “luck,” given that a great many people worked very hard to ensure that outcome.  But we would say that it was a historical anomaly.  It also happens that this anomaly occurred during one of those very rare periods in American history in which there was a Republican president and a Republican Congress.  The stars are not likely to align again thusly for a long time.  All of which is to say that if the gun-control Democrats get their way this time, there is no reason to believe that we will be lucky enough to see their efforts rolled back again.

Political scientists spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out why America’s political parties have become so polarized over the last couple of decades.  There are many explanations, of course.  But one of the simplest and most oft overlooked is the fact that in the post-1960s, post-Watergate eras, the Left and Right now operate more openly in differing and often opposite moral planes.  The Right, for the most part, more vigorously embraces the Founders’ vision and the Founders’ faith in the Lockean Social Contract, while the Left more vigorously espouses a Rousseauian vision and a Rousseauian social contract.  The two are largely incompatible.  And as the gun debate demonstrates, the two also create vastly differing versions of reality.

This isn’t going to end any time soon.  Indeed, we expect it to get worse in the near future – on guns, on economic matters, on terrorism, on a whole host of issues that will define the nation over the next decade or more.  Which means that the immediate future is going to look very much like the immediate past: nasty and uncertain.  The near future will be filled with political fights that are largely meaningless and unresolvable, seemingly based on the strange and false belief that a victory in one of these fights might translate into a victory on the more important fronts.  In the end, of course, it’s all pure distraction.  Distraction from the failures of the current administration; distraction from the corruption of the permanent ruling class; distraction from the fact that both the democratic and the republican natures of our government are being constantly undermined; distraction from the fact that, eventually, something wicked this way comes, but the people in charge of stopping it have no idea how to do so.

Copyright 2015. The Political Forum. 3350 Longview Ct, Lincoln, NE  68506, tel. 402-261-3175, fax 402-261-3175. All rights reserved. Information contained herein is based on data obtained from recognized services, issuer reports or communications, or other sources believed to be reliable. However, such information has not been verified by us, and we do not make any representations as to its accuracy or completeness, and we are not responsible for typographical errors. Any statements nonfactual in nature constitute only current opinions which are subject to change without notice.