Two Boston area immigrants who fell under the spell of a radical ideology that espoused the use of bombs against innocents were allegedly behind the violent April 15 multiple murders.
But it’s not who you think it is. The year was 1920 and the two men were Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. Aside from the date and the location, there are other parallels too. And they speak more about us than they do about either Sacco and Vanzetti or the Tsarnaev Brothers.
The nineteen-teens and twenties was a period of great tumult in the United States. After the First World War, which was widely viewed as disastrous mistake for having gotten involved, Americans rejected all things associated with the outside world. The aftermath of the Great War brought upheaval to Europe. Replacing failing empires and monarchies was Russian communism, German socialism, and varying amounts of anarchy seemingly everywhere else.
Today there is the ongoing collapse of the Euro and the demise of Middle Eastern strongmen, and so we fear radical islamism and economic contagion from Cyprus and Greece.
Eight decades ago the end of the war brought economic troubles too. High unemployment, which was widely and mistakenly thought of as a normal post-war adjustment to a lack of military demand and a surplus of returning soldiers, was actually just a result of the post-war continuation of the ongoing de-agriculturalization of the world economy. Regardless of the cause, greater unemployment turned American workers against more recent immigrants who were looking for work too. In 1917 America passed its first immigration restriction laws barring the entry of “idiots, imbeciles, epileptics, alcoholics . . . ” and Asians. Just a year before, an influential eugenicist wrote The Passing of the Great Race that became widely popular. By 1924 America had its first immigration quotas that attempting to freeze in place the country’s racial composition.
Today unemployment is higher than normal as the world deals with the fallout associated with becoming a post-manufacturing economy. Pat Buchanan hawks The Death of the West: How Dying Populations and Immigrant Invasions Imperil Our Country and Civilization. Politicians from all sides rail against “illegal” immigration but very often demagogue all immigration.
Both periods were characterized by big fights over petty tangential issues that many prudes insisted contributed to unrest and crime. The Volstead Act passed in the wake of the 18th Amendment gave us Prohibition, while today the President and many Democratic leaders want to outlaw guns. Were those laws to pass, more, not less, crime would be the result, just as more crime was the result of Prohibition too.
Certainly I could carry the parallels further, but let me just conclude with a few questions:
- Was it really necessary to quarantine an entire city to capture a couple criminals whose bombing victims numbered one-one-thousandth of those killed on 9/11?
- Does it not speak volumes about the limits of power and the power of people that the police were unsuccessful during their hours of uninhibited manhunt, but as soon as the house arrest was lifted a citizen found the suspect?
- Is it realistic to expect that among millions of immigrants there won’t be a few criminals, when we have millions of native Americans locked up here at home?
- Is not labeling violence as “terrorism” or “an act of war” just another form of “hate” crime, which attempts to characterize criminals by their thoughts instead of their acts?
- If three dead bombing victims is enough to rescind an American citizen’s constitutional rights, is two? Or one? Or none?
Thom Hartmann argues that the Second Amendment is a vestige of slave-holding days:
The real reason the Second Amendment was ratified, and why it says “State” instead of “Country” (the Framers knew the difference – see the 10th Amendment), was to preserve the slave patrol militias in the southern states
He’s cherry-picking. But, okay, I’ll play his game. Let’s stipulate that Mr. Hartmann is correct and that the Second Amendment was designed by Southerners to prevent the possibility of armed slave insurrections.
Okay, but if that’s going to be your position, then you must recognize that the Constitution also specifically treated slaves as non citizens, and thus, the Second Amendment offered slaves no Second Amendment rights. And who was hurt by that most?
Yes, that’s right, those who were legally prohibited from owning guns were powerless to resist their own government’s laws that were used to oppress them.
Thank you, Thom Hartmann, for so eloquently pointing out that our own nation’s history shows examples of the evil that can befall individuals at the hands of the government when they are denied Second Amendment rights.
Since I’m on the topic of intellectual consistency . . .
If you are of the belief that gun use should be severely restricted or even banned because some people will use firearms for bad things, then you should also believe that marijuana should be illegal because some people will smoke pot and then drive. You should probably also want to outlaw alcohol for the same reason. Or maybe just outlaw cars.
For those who miss my point, this is call reductio ad absurdum. If your argument is that guns are evil because some people do evil things with them, then on that basis, the list of things that should be banned is infinite.
As a general rule, we should not ban things because of the bad that may occur; instead we should make illegal the bad result.
Oh, but wait, I hear your counter-argument now: if we make illegal only the bad result, then we as a society are limited to reacting after an evil event and are unable to prevent the evil from occurring.
Actually, yes. That is all that the law should do. To do otherwise would require the severest restriction of freedoms. The law cannot prevent you from being murdered. For to do so it would require the confiscation of all possible weapons as well as the imprisonment of those who potentially possess malicious intent. Even were man deprived of all modernity, he would still find a way to kill with rocks.
In short, law cannot keep evil from occurring. But through the proper balance of the prospect of reward and the threat of punishment, it can limit evil’s spread.
Via Glenn, I found this story linking marijuana and gun violence albeit from a different perspective:
. . . legalize recreational drugs such as marijuana and cocaine. The theory behind this policy prescription is that illegal markets breed competition-driven violence among suppliers by offering the prospect of monopoly profits and by denying them lawful means for enforcing commercial obligations.
There is historical precedent for this. Legalizing alcohol after Prohibition’s end brought alcohol distribution and sales out of the illegal shadows and into the light of day. Mob-related violence fell almost immediately.
With a weekend to digest recent events, I have concluded that Newtown is really just the continuation of that timeless discussion regarding the correct balance of individual rights and responsiblities against the ability and wisdom of government to control events.
An obviously mentally unstable man steals some firearms and kills more than two dozen of the most defenseless victims. Immediately, as after all such events, there goes up a cry for more restrictions on the individual ownership of guns. However, even if that were the right course of action, as John Fund points out, in a country that contains over 200 million privately owned firearms, prohibition is not possible. To outlaw gun ownership would be as futile (not to mention damaging to the cause of limiting violence) as would be an attempt to return 11 million illegal aliens to their homelands or a second attempt at the prohibition of alcohol. Some things are just too entrenched to ever completely end.
Another group has argued for a greater ability of the government to diagnose and detain mentally ill individuals. While certainly there is great merit in having a serious adult conversation about the role of mental illness in violent crime, proposals to return to an era of committing people to the Cuckoo’s Nest, are as fraught with societal danger as are proposals to ban guns. Granting to government the power to forcibly hospitalize the mentally ill who might perform violent acts is as anathema to the American way, as giving government the power to imprison those who might commit a crime. Just how many scores of thousands of imprisoned innocently insane is the right number to save the lives of the next score of innocent children?
If phrasing the trade-off that way doesn’t make you uncomfortable, then I suggest that you don’t have an appreciation for what the American ideal of freedom means. Our system was purposefully designed to default to government inaction and individual freedom. While it is understandably frustrating to victims and their families, our rules prefer that the guilty go free rather than to wrongfully imprison an innocent man. That is no less true for the criminally insane than it is for the just plain criminal.
Shit happens. Sorry to so crassly phrase it, but that’s just the way life is. As we grow more technologically advanced, we have had great success in controlling–even eliminating–some of that shit. Smallpox is completely gone. Polio is rare. Malaria is almost non-existent outside of the third world. The same is true of hunger–the real, dying of starvation kind. We have even the ability to screen out telemarketers without ever touching the phone.
While shit still happens, less of it happens than happened before. So it is not surprising that we look around for other shit to stop. But sometimes in our zeal to stop it all, we lose sight of the trade-offs. How many millions of man-hours of economic productivity, for example, are lost every day in airport security lines in an effort to stop a hijacking that takes place less often than once-a-year?
Rare tragic events sharpen the focus more clearly than does the every day cost of preventing them. I remember a couple dozen years ago the sad story of an airplane lap child who died when he struck the bulkhead during turbulence. Immediately a cry went out to require infant seats on aircraft. In one of those uncommon examples of when Washington considers the whole issue–that which is unseen as well as that which is seen–Congress wisely chose not to act. I say wisely, not because I wish for infants on airplanes to die, but because a serious analysis of ALL of the facts indicated that the solution would lead to more deaths than it would save. That was because if parents were forced to buy an extra ticket for their infant, some significant percentage of them would opt to drive rather than to fly. And by driving, they would make their infant child far more susceptible to accidental death. Shit happens. And sometimes we just have to let it happen, because in trying to stop it, we inadvertently add to the pile of shit.
So what should we do to mitigate the risk of shit? Confiscation, as Ed Schultz suggests? Only if you want criminals to act with less caution, not to mention the real risk of igniting a civil war. Outlaw automatic weapons as Rupert Murcoch demands? It wouldn’t have helped as they were already outlawed in 1934 and Mr. Lanza’s weapons were not automatic. Reinstituting the “assault weapons” ban that limits the size of magazines as Senator Schumer wants? That wouldn’t have helped either; as Mr. Lanza reportedly overcame that limitation by having “hundreds of rounds of ammunition in multiple magazines.” Enforce tighter restriction on gun possession by the mentally ill? That might be worth analyzing, but it still wouldn’t have helped here, as apparently Mr. Lanza shot his own mother dead and then stole her guns. More cops in schools? There are 132,000 schools in the nation; even ignoring the $13 billion additional cost, is 132,000 new police really going to stop the violence? In a mall in Clackamas it apparently only limited, but did not stop, the bloodshed. Add to the list of places where guns are illegal? They are already illegal in schools; perhaps that is why schools and other gun-free zones are such a target-rich environment.
In epidemiology there is a concept known as “herd immunity.” If enough of the population is vaccinated, epidemics can’t occur. Even the uninnoculated benefit because their vaccinated neighbors prevent a disease’s spread from getting out of control. Herd immunity doesn’t stop the disease, but it does stop its spread. The evidence of recent gun violence suggests that if enough law abiding citizens are armed, the death toll of mass murder events may similarly be limited by a form of herd immunity. It is worth considering that the answer to gun violence is the counter-intuitive: more guns.
But what I would even more strongly suggest is that more restrictions on individuals is a worse response than doing nothing. Whether it is to leave a hundred million citizens more susceptible to everyday violent acts because, unarmed, they are at the mercy of armed criminals, or to add to the already swollen number of Americans forcibly detained, any heavy-handed governmental reaction to events such as what occurred in Newtown is likely to be worse than the problem it is meant to cure.
Government was never meant to be the last line of defense against evil. We individuals are. We are the militia. That is the meaning of the Second Amendment. Shit happens. And when it does, hopefully enough of our herd is ready to deal with it before shit gets out of control.
Guy Benson echoes a similar theme:
I’m skeptical that proposing more grief-fueled laws is a meaningful solution. And even if one could accurately project that passing Gun Law X would save Y number of lives, where do Constitutional rights come into play, and who gets to weigh those factors? If curtailing the First Amendment could also be scientifically proven to save some quantifiable number of lives, would we tolerate additional government limits on those core, specifically-enumerated freedoms? These are extraordinarily difficult questions.
Megan McArdle does too:
What Lanza shows us is the limits of the obvious policy responses. He had all the mental health resources he needed–and he did it anyway. The law stopped him from buying a gun–and he did it anyway. The school had an intercom system aimed at stopping unauthorized entry–and he did it anyway. Any practical, easy-to-implement solution to school shootings that you could propose, along with several that were not at all easy to implement, was already in place. Somehow, Lanza blew through them all.
. . . It would certainly be more comfortable for me to endorse doing something symbolic–bring back the “assault weapons ban”–in order to signal that I care. But I would rather do nothing than do something stupid because it makes us feel better. We shouldn’t have laws on the books unless we think there’s a good chance they’ll work: they add regulatory complexity and sap law-enforcement resources from more needed tasks. This is not because I don’t care about dead children; my heart, like yours, broke about a thousand times this weekend. But they will not breathe again because we pass a law. A law would make us feel better, because it would make us feel as if we’d “done something”, as if we’d made it less likely that more children would die. But I think that would be false security. And false security is more dangerous than none.
For McArdle’s crime of pointing out the obvious truth–nothing that gun control advocates have proposed would have stopped Mr. Lanza’s murderous spree–New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait awards her the “Worst Newtown Reaction Award.” I urge you to read his column, and then, if you can stomach it, read the comments. There really are two Americas. And Chait and his readers apparently have never stepped foot in the America west of the Hudson River.
Daniel Greenfield offers his thoughts on individual rights and responsibilities versus the government’s ability to control events:
The clash that will define the future of America is this collision between the individual and the state, between disorganized freedom and organized compassion, between a self-directed experiment in self-government and an experiment conducted by trained experts on a lab monkey population. And the defining idea of this conflict is accountability.
| Category: 2012
, 2nd Amendment
, Taxes & Spending
| Posted at: Thursday, 10 May 2012
I suppose I ought to say something about President Obama’s flip-flop on gay marriage. Instead, I’ll tell you what I wish Mitt Romney had said when he was asked about the President’s stance:
“That’s nice; now what about jobs?“
In fact, that should be Mitt Romney’s response every time he is asked about gay marriage, immigration, guns, Trayvon Martin, global warming, eating dogs . . .
Pretty much everything except the economy, taxes, and spending is a distraction from the issues that are really important. Mitt Romney should drive the point home that everything else is secondary and frivolous and that he is not going to allow the debate to come off that point.
P.S. If you’re really interested in what I think about gay marriage, here’s a couple recent posts that shed some light on that. But rather than expect you to read them, here’s a two-word summation: Don’t care.
MORE: Roger Simon concurs and offers a warning:
“The issue is a sideshow intended to distract. If our country goes the way of Greece – and writing this from the City of Los Angeles, it’s not so hard to imagine – you can forget any issue, whatever your favorite one is. You won’t be living in America anymore.”
UPDATE: Thanks to Ed at Insty’s Place for the links. While you’re here, this is a story that’s not directly about jobs, but I bring it around to that point: She deserves pity, not a punch in the throat. (There’s a bonus Blazing Saddles clip at the end.)
Tampa officials want to ban concealed carry permitted guns during the Republican National Convention, but a Florida law won’t let them:
So while Tampa plans to ban a wide range of weapons (clubs, switchblades, Mace) and things that could be used as weapons (chains, glass bottles, water pistols) outside the convention, it cannot prohibit guns carried with a concealed weapons permit.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn says, “The absurdity of banning squirt guns but not being able to do anything about real guns is patently obvious.”
No, Mr. Mayor. What is absurd is that you want to ban squirt guns.
It also seems that there is some Second Amendment absurdity over in Charlotte, where the Democrats are holding their convention. The city’s largest employer (and one of the nation’s largest ever recipient of federal funds), Bank of America, has decided that it doesn’t want to do business with companies that make guns.
It doesn’t seem that bright of a move for a struggling bank to end relations with a company that operates in one of the strongest industries during this economic downturn.
More here. (ht: SU)
Prediction: BoA and Mayor Buckhorn are both going to reverse course very quickly.
Fred Thompson attacks the Bush Department of Justice for taking the wrong side on the DC gun case.
The Bush Administration is taking the side of the DC gun ban in the case now before the Supreme Court. The aminus brief filed by the Solicitor General essentially says that bearing arms should be held to be an individual right, but that local governments should have the ability to infringe upon those rights.
It will be interesting to see how the presidential candidates come down on this. Especially Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani, who both presided over communities with strict gun control laws and haven’t been as strong an advocate of the Second Amendment as some of the other candidates.
Somebody needs to ask them if they support the President’s action.
The Supreme Court will rule on a major second amendment case just as the summer presidential campaign season kicks off next year. Depending on the ruling, the outcome of the Washington DC gun ban case could significantly effect the Presidential race.
The Court will likely rule one of three ways:
It could affirm that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. Ironically, complete success for the NRA could put America’s foremost gun rights advocate out of business as a major political player for the foreseeable future. Every Democrat in America whose highest priority is recapturing the White House and keeping the Congress should pray for this outcome.
The second possibility is that the Court announces a muddled ruling that alludes to an individual right to a gun, but affirms that local jurisdictions are afforded some level of regulatory oversight. I suspect that the Court, usually being cautious and incremental, will rule this way. This status quo decision would keep the gun rights issue alive but wouldn’t give it any extra breath than it currently has. Republicans will continue to advocate a gun rights position and prudent Democrats will either embrace that same position, or continue to avoid the issue.
If, however, the Supreme Court rules that the Second Amendment is a group right afforded to governmentally organized militias, then watch out. Such a decision would immediately put a constitutional amendment to reverse its effect on the fast track. The ruling would upset millions of voters, many of whom aren’t currently happy with Iraq, the economy, immigration, and Bush, and who might otherwise be persuaded to turn to a Clinton, Edwards, or Obama. But they won’t with gun rights at stake. If the Supreme Court takes away the individual right to bear arms next spring, automatically every Southern and Western state is unwinnable for any of the leading Democrats next November.
UNLESS . . . Democrats can successfully portray the Republican nominee as also being weak on gun rights. Rudy and Romney, both having led severely gun-limiting governments, are very vulnerable here. Either would have no more credibility on this issue than would any of their Democratic rivals, and could find themselves watching from the sidelines as the NRA organizes its soldiers, not for the Presidential race, but for Congressional races aimed at passing a constitutional amendment.
By agreeing to take
Parker Heller, it’s no stretch to say that for the second time in eight years a presidential election might hinge on a United States Supreme Court decision.
Say Uncle (multiple links)
Instapundit (here, here, and here)
Volokh (multiple links)
Rudy, perhaps recognizing his vulnerability on this issue, does a good job a preemptive damage control.
Glenn Reynolds in a New York Post op/ed agrees.