Wednesday, July 25, 2012


OK, the headline is somewhat misleading -- Craig Whitney used to write for The New York Times and he has an op-ed in the Times today titled "A Way Out of the Gun Stalemate." But despite the fact that Whitney has an in at the Times, his piece is instructive, because it's custom-made in a way that would get it accepted at any mainstream paper in the country.

His secret? His hook is: both sides do it.
THE national conversation about guns, since James E. Holmes shot 12 people to death and wounded 58 others at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., has been a dialogue of the deaf. Unless gun-control advocates and gun-rights supporters stop screaming at each other and look for common ground on how to deal with gun violence, the next massacre is only a matter of time.

Liberals have to deprive the National Rifle Association of its core argument, that the real aim of all gun control measures is to strip Americans of their right to have and use firearms. Gun-control supporters must make clear that they accept that Americans have had this individual, common-law right.... Liberals should accept that the only realistic way to control gun violence is not by keeping guns out of the hands of as many Americans as possible, but by keeping guns out of the hands of people we all agree should not have them.

Gun owners and their advocates must, in turn, stop insisting that gun ownership is an absolute right. The Second Amendment is not a law unto itself. Before and after 1791, the right to keep and bear arms has been inseparable from civic responsibility....
Do you think "the only realistic way to control gun violence is not by keeping guns out of the hands of as many Americans as possible"? Is that your goal? Is that your non-negotiable demand?

It isn't mine. It probably isn't yours. So there's the first problem -- Whitney has replaced you with a figure made of straw.

A bigger problem is that, a few paragraphs later, Whitney tells us this:
Even after President Obama tried to start a dialogue on gun violence last year, stating, "I believe that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms," the N.R.A. flatly rebuked his overture and urged its members to vote against Mr. Obama so that he couldn't try to deprive them of gun rights through Supreme Court appointments in a second term.
So Whitney just finished telling us that the logjam will break once gun control advocates accept that the Second Amendment confers an individual right -- but then he acknowledges that the president of the United States has already made this concession, and it hasn't softened the gunners' stance one tiny bit. (Whitney also notes that the Brady Campaign has made this concession. Still no conciliatory movement from the gunners.)

Whitney lectures liberals on what must not be discussed:
Shooting sports are important recreation for many Americans. So an outright ban on bulk ammunition purchases, or on "assault" weapons like the AR-15, would be a nonstarter.... The 1994 ban on purchases of new assault rifles and extended magazines, which was allowed to lapse in 2004, was similarly overbroad.
Why? Just 'cuz. Gun fans see AR-15s or high-capacity magazines and, like kids looking at sugary cereals in the supermarket, say "WANT! WANT!" That's reason enough not to bring any of this up again, hippie.

What might be acceptable to the gunners?
Gun-control supporters need higher-precision instruments than the federal assault weapons ban in their arsenal if they want legislators to discuss and debate their proposals instead of dismissing them. A law requiring membership in a shooting range or a gun club for bulk purchases of ammunition or extended magazines would be a reasonable start. Vigorous enforcement of existing federal laws that criminalize buying guns, under a false pretext, for somebody else who can't pass the federal background check -- a favorite ruse of criminals -- would be a good next step. (Here we should take the N.R.A. at its word; it keeps saying laws on the books should be enforced.)

Maybe someday we could even require people who buy guns from private owners, online or at gun shows to pass that same federal background check. But we’ll never know until we begin seriously talking to each other about our gun violence problem.
Oh, right -- a ban on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines is de trop, but the gunners might actually go for (to take Whitney's last example) closing the gun show loophole ... if we ask them really, really nicely!

Let's check out some blog post titles from the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action:
* Will Gun Shows Become Extinct?
* Michael Bloomberg's and MAIG's Deceptive "Gun Show Loophole" Ad Campaign
* The War On Gun Shows
* The Truth About Gun Shows
* S. 843: Lautenberg Trying Again To Regulate Gun Shows
* The Gun Show Myth
Oh yeah, these guys seem really ready to compromise -- on this and (presumably) Whitney's other "acceptable" proposals.

You know what, Craig? Sometimes both sides aren't to blame. Sometimes blame for a societal stalemate absolutely can be assigned to one side more than the other.

(X-posted at Balloon Juice.)


Philo Vaihinger said...

Personally, I think we need to start with repeal of the 2nd Amendment.

It serves no useful purpose and now functions as a menace to public safety and the integrity of our democracy.

You don't need a Constitutional Amendment to allow ownership of small arms for personal or home protection or small capacity rifles and shotguns for hunting.

Or special firearms for target shooting competitions.

If that's the democratically expressed will of the people.

Not otherwise.

Steve M. said...

Me, I don't favor getting rid of the Second Amendment. i'm sorry the link of the first clause to the second seems so tenuous to modern readers ("A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state") -- it's clearly meant to suggest that the right is intended to advance that particular end. I'm sorry no one ever discusses the reference to the state in there -- you have a right to arms not to protect all right-thinkin' citizens against a tyrannical gummint, you have it to preserve the state, to preserve the very gummint you mistrust.

And I'd like it understood that freedom to own guns is like freedom of speech. You can be required to have a permit to hold a rally -- that's considered a a reasonable restriction on First Amendment rights. Reasonable restrictions on gun rights are reasonable, dammit.

Victor said...

You know what, I never, NOT EVER, speak for Conservatives.

Why would or should I?
They're on every single stinking TV news show, and you can't get them to shut the feck up!

But even if they weren't, I STILL wouldn't speak for them.
I'm NOT a Conservative.

So, how come every feckin' idjit on the planet feels free to speak for us Liberals - and never, NOT EVER, asks one of us what we think?

No, they just think they know, then they blurt out some old trope, and you can't get them to shut the feck up about it.

Why is that?
Maybe it's because you see so FEW actual, real, Liberals on TV, or hear them on the radio.
MSNBC - yeah, in the evenings and weekend mornings.

If you're not a Liberal, shut the feck up, unless you want to quote one of us. And make it a real one. I know that's tough, because the old Rolodex and your I-Pad's are full of fake ones.

Do some work - find one of us.
'Til then - shut the feck up!!!

BH said...

I lean towards Philo's position on the 2nd Amdmt, simply because (at least as it stands) it has caused nothing but mischief. My second choice would be amending it, replacing the 18th-century language now susceptible to NRA spin, so as to make it undeniably clear that reasonable regulation of gun ownership by private individuals is constitutionally permissible.

But... it doesn't much matter at present what we think of the 2nd Amdmt, because at present it's there to stay. It's, as I argued before, a fetishistic symbol.