Sunday, April 19, 2009


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.


OpenMindedRepublican said...

Thanks for the review!

You end up I think at the same place I am at when you get to the end. The way to reduce homicides is not to go after the 'how' but rather the 'why'. I think we need to focus on reducing the causes of homicide, by fixing the lack of opportunity amongst minorities, especially blacks.

Much better chance for success, and nobodies rights need to be taken away.

EdHeath said...

You're welcome.

I am not sure we are in exactly the same place at the end. I would be a little more aggressive than just fixing the lack of opportunity, in the sense that the government creates some of the lack of opportunity. It is possible (I am hopeful) that Obama will push to improve secondary schools in poor neighborhoods, and even possible (I am less hopeful) that Obama will push to have factories for wind turbines and perhaps solar cells located near inner city neighborhoods. There is, after all, a source of labor there that is not otherwise occupied at the moment (except in self destructive pursuits). If that is what you had in mind (or you could at least sign onto that), then yes, we are in the same place.

Also, while I wouldn’t take away anyone’s rights, I will likely always be in favor of curbing those rights a bit here and there. Making the right to carry a concealed weapon contingent on requesting and gaining a permit does not seem unduly harsh to me, for example (something already in effect in Allegheny County). I would further say that ownership of a weapon such as an AK-47 or M-16/AR-15 should not be considered a specific right, and should be allowed only in particular circumstances, such as for a collector (with perhaps the firing pin safely removed) or for an armored car company. Personally I believe there exist reasonable alternatives for home defense, such as a pump shotgun, a lever action Winchester style rifle or M-1 Garand rifle. True, you can’t hole up in your house and simply squeeze the trigger almost endlessly, but these are all multi shot weapons which would enable an individual to engage at least a couple of people at once. Without the AK’s, there wouldn’t be the indiscriminate spraying (semi automatic or possibly fully automatic) of targets by criminals. Regardless of the situation with law-abiding gun owners, I certainly would support the idea of gun sweeps in poor neighborhoods, conducted by the police possibly backed up by the National Guard (our militia, guaranteed by the Second Amendment). Of course, such a ban on Assault Weapons is not likely to happen, but I am in favor of the idea. Again, perhaps you agree with that, or could sign onto it. Then we are in the same place.

OpenMindedRepublican said...

Concealed carry requires a permit in all but two states, Vermont and Alaska. Vermont has one of the lowest homicide rates in the nation, Alaska one of the highest, so make of that what you will.

I cannot say I support banning AK's and AR's. They have basically zero affect on crime; and I cannot support banning them for symbolic purposes.

I am aware the shooter in your area used an AK, but he did not do anything with it he could not have done just as easily with a lever. And how do you separate a M1 from an AK? Or worse, a Mini-14?

OpenMindedRepublican said...

Oh, and yeah, finding ways to make those areas productive and self supporting is exactly what I think we need to do.

If we do not allow people to suceed within the rules of society, they will try and find ways outside the rules of society.

Right now we lock them up for violating those rules, which is probably necessary as a short term 'band-aid'; but a long term fix requires addressing how society has failed them.

EdHeath said...

I think you are possibly right about how Poplawski might have achieved the same result with a lever action rifle. The only caveat is that some lever action rifles use something akin to carbine ammunition (a few use pistol bullets, but those are I believe rare). The AK’s bullet is less powerful than a hunting round might be, but it penetrated the officers’ bullet proof vests while their pistols could not penetrate Poplawski’s vest. But that’s neither here not there, Poplawski obviously wanted a military type weapon to resist the international Jewish conspiracy (apparently what he said).

Well, I say there are alternatives for home defense, but to be absolutely honest, people are not going to choose them. After all, there are alternatives to the pickup trucks and SUV’s that people buy. Now, there are farmers and business people who use pickups in their daily business, and there are some people who chose to have big families (I’ve always thought a kind of selfish act myself, but apparently I don’t understand God well enough, according to the parents in these families) who need outsized SUV’s. Fine, but other people buy these things and drive by themselves with no cargo. Couple that with the fact that SUV’s will crush other vehicles in an accident and yet will also roll (probably in the same accident) and put the driver and passengers of the SUV at much greater risk. And pickups and SUV’s are robbing our children of their future by using gas at an alarming rate. Yet Americans do choose SUV’s/pickups over smaller cars. So of course Americans choose to buy AK’s, mini-14’s and the rest over Garand’s or Winchesters. Why just defend your house when you can have overkill?

And despite what Obama might have in mind, I don’t hold much hope that Americans will reach out to their poorest neighbors. Everyone wants to hold onto what they have, not help others who are less fortunate.