So I did read the Tushnet book “Out of Range”, all in one sitting on Saturday. I also watched David Simon, creator of “The Wire” and “Homicide, Life on the Streets” interviewed by Bill Moyers on Moyer’s “Journal” Friday evening. Doing both in a short space of time affected me considerably.
Tushnet is a rare bird indeed, a constitutional scholar who claims never to have considered the second amendment (and I believe him), and so come to the subject as the closest thing to an expert without an agenda., based on his analysis of available material, is that there is support for both sides of the argument in the history of the second amendment (gun rights versus gun control). Let me say right upfront that Tushnet’s position is that there is no empirical support the gun control works, particularly because there are not good empirical data sets. Tushnet spends a fair amount of time on this notion, and makes a somewhat confusing but ultimately somewhat persuasive case that regardless of whether you are trying to show that more enforcement of existing laws or more gun control is effective, that it is impossible to show why a crime drop occurs. Consider the argument advanced in Freakonomics, briefly mentioned by Tushnet, that the drop in crime that we saw in the 1990’s could be traced directly to women being able to have abortions legally from the mid-seventies on, and thus a generation of what might have been neglected children were not born. That would surely color the statistics for any effectiveness of the assault weapon ban, as well as any effectiveness of a program in Richmond that combined federal and state prosecutors to get criminals the harshest sentences possible for gun crimes. Tushnet did not look at the experience of other countries with gun control, but ultimately, to be realistic, most Americans who own guns would not likely give them up because the Japanese and the British ban guns and have lower crime then we do. Realistically that suggestion will be met with the refrain that if law abiding citizens give up guns, only criminals will have them (if nothing else, if guns were banned and citizens were ordered to give them up, then indeed the only people with guns would be criminals … sorry, couldn’t resist).
By the way, Tushnet mentions the “right of resistance” early in his book. He spends some time talking about militias, whether the second amendment is only supposed to apply to them and what their relationship should be to the government. Interestingly this issue was brought up in a discussion on another blog, although in my opinion the circle was not closed in the sense of attributing to Poplawski the “right of resistance”. Interstingly, just before (Shays) and just after (whiskey) the writing of the second amendment, there were two tax rebellions by poorer farmers aginst the government. Shays’ was ended by State authorized but private funded troops, the whiskey rebellion was ended by troops led first by Washington and later Hamilton. Even though both rebellions could be said to be the efforts of a local government to oppose a government that had become corrupt and oppressive, I have seen no evidence that the country as a whole either agreed or even sympathized. Which makes me think that one of the cornerstone arguments for at least not restricting the second amendment, not banning assault or military style rifles, is not an argument supported by public opinion when military weapons are used to resist the government. Something for tea party participants to think about.
Tushnet does examine the issue of the right of resistance in some detail. He acknowledges that even while some commercially available rifles are fairly fearsome, modern armies have tanks, aircraft and artillery which when used are quite a bit more effective. Tushnet does then briefly mention the concept of guerilla war. Most guerilla wars are fairly brutal affairs, but in keeping with notion of a militia. Of course, there is conundrum right there. Are militias for the defense of the United States per se, or for the defense of the concept of the United States against a now corrupt and oppressive national government. Personally I think that the writers of the second amendment were is some sense splitting the difference. As I mentioned, they appeared to have little sympathy when people were protesting taxes they had created. Yet the second amendment sort of justified what America had done in resisting England. It will be interesting to see if the second amendment plays any role in Poplawski’s trial.
But what is the context in which we should be discussing gun control anyway? When we talk about three dead policemen we are absolutely talking about a huge tragedy. But most of the victims and perpetrators of gun violence here in Pittsburgh are African American. Are we concerned about them? This was the subject David Simon talked about on Friday on Bill Moyer’s Journal. Simon’s thought is that we are not concerned about inner city poor neighborhoods. They have high unemployment and high underemployment, Simon calls them excess citizens, people we don’t need, we pretend to serve as citizens, but we really don’t. And they realize that, they realize there is a difference between urban schools and suburban schools. There’s a difference between how police approach a face of color and a white face.
The poor know the drug war has gone on for how long, thirty or more years? We said “Just Say No” in the 1980’s. as if that is likely to help a black teenager get a better education or get a job. I myself have just finished seeing the economic situation up close but in little increments. Helping people do their taxes is something I like to do, and I am happy to be paid something for doing it. But I am sure I am not part of any kind of long term solution, I am just helping some people get all the money the government is wiling to give them (within the rules), or at least owe as little as possible. I am not encouraged by what I see. Based on the incomes and situations I see, poor people do not have the credit to buy a house, except sometimes in Lincoln Lemington or the Hill or East Liberty. They do not save for retirement. I remember one gentleman in particular, still working at eighty, I believe just to make ends meet. These are difficult lives, with a lot of stories of setbacks, or being dragged down by disabilities (or family members with disabilities), or bad choices that they make worse (such as refusing to pay child support).
Within the context of crime, “The Wire” is all about the (too few) police who do try to solve crimes and/or bring order to the streets. Meanwhile, the higher-ups in the police department try to create statistics that show something is being done. The inner city is where there are AK-47’s and high magazine capacity pistols that are used, mostly by African Americans against other African Americans. And there is little hope of pulling those guns out of the neighborhoods, because there aren’t enough police and anyway doing so might imply it was ok to take away everyone’s guns.
But we shouldn't make a mistake of who the other, forgotten victims are.