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Towards A Conversation On Guns.

I want to talk about the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals overturning the Illinois ban on ‘conceal and carry’ on December 11th. With any luck, I hope you all have been able to avoid seeing the kind of television coverage Roger Ebert and Charlie Brooker have talked about and have -- instead -- spent your time in a way that fits the grounded plurality of your personal narrative. (Though there’s nothing quite like complaining about television, is there?)

Let’s get to it: the decision last week immediately cites Supreme Court precedent -- DC v. Heller and McDonald v. Chicago. It says that they’re of the opinion that the second amendment said ‘keep and bear’ arms for a reason -- that there is a constitutional right “to carry a loaded gun outside the home.”

I’ve seen one source say that 300,000 muskets were used in the Revolutionary War -- this being when there were 2.5 million people in the country. There are 300 million guns in the country today, which -- in part -- makes manifest subcultures of the kind described to Josh Marshall in an e-mail, wherein those plugged into the “tactical reality” “speak of the ‘tactical’ as a fait accompli; as a kind of apodictic fact: as something that everyone -- the customers, interlocutors, fellow forum-members -- experiences on a regular basis, in everyday life.”

The decision from the 7th Circuit goes on to discuss the need to protect one’s self from Indians on the frontier of the wild west. On page six, they speculate that had a law been designed to prevent people from being frightened by weapons -- based on Blackstone citing the Northampton Statute (as well as the fact that a man tried under the Northampton Statute in the 1600’s was acquitted) -- it would’ve been a fine and fair law.

On page seven, there is a claim that strikes me: “But the other side of this coin is that knowing that many law-abiding citizens are walking the streets armed may make criminals timid.”

Do we really want to amplify the claimed social contract seen in the second amendment to such a point? Why would we want an arms race on every street corner? Why would we want an arms race in every neighborhood? Why would anyone want to consider -- as an automatic point in their person-to-person relations -- a gun? Instead of “arming teachers” -- which, Jesus Christ -- wouldn’t it be better to keep the guns as far away from children as possible? Guns aren’t nuclear deterrence writ small. Are we really going to stand up and say that this country needs 600 million guns, not 300 million? 900 million? 1.2 billion? In ten years time, will we say that no American family can live without five guns per household, following this awful kind of Gillette three blade, four blade, five blade mentality? The ad absurdum can only go so far, and we got there in Connecticut.

It says something about the nature of our youth that they can be so optimistic when confronted with something like this -- and not only am I thinking of the young man who said he knew karate President Obama cited on Sunday night, but the kids parents worrying quoted on twitter, saying they were ‘fine’ and ‘nothing like that could happen here,’ too -- but it also says something when thrown up against the Sunday shows, and it’s here I’m thinking of Rep. Jason Chaffetz, who placed the blame on video games and movies (which is pretty much perfectly akin to placing blame on Coney Island and Vaudeville), and George Will, who seemed to forget that the Firearms Act of 1997 came into existence after Dunblane, not before.

On page nine, they quote John Jo Donahue: “Based on available empirical data … we expect relatively little public safety impact if courts invalidate laws that prohibit gun carrying outside the home, assuming that some sort of permit system for public carry is allowed to stand.”

Given the hemming and hawing concerning the data in the text, it’s a curious position to take, and I’d like to see more data, especially considering that Japan has 0.07 gun deaths per 100,000 and has made it illegal for a citizen to hold a gun in their hands unless they have a license.

At the end of page 10 and page 11, Mark Duggen’s study “More guns, more crime” is highlighted and praised.

On page 12, there is this --

Concealed carriage of guns might increase the death rate from assaults rather than increase the number of assaults. But the studies don’t find that laws that allow concealed carriage increase the death rate from shootings …

Am I reading this right? There aren’t more shootings. There might be more assaults, but who knows?

On page 13, there is this --

Anyway the Supreme Court made clear in Heller that the right to bear arms isn’t going to depend on casualty counts. If the mere possibility that allows guns to be carried in public would increase the crime or death rates sufficed to justify a ban, Heller would have been decided the other way …

On page 14, there is this --

In Skoien we said that the government had to make a ‘strong showing’ that a gun ban was vital to public safety -- it was not enough that the ban was ‘rational.’

How is ‘rational’ not a ‘strong showing?’

On page 17, the court floats the possibility of private institutions banning guns from their premises as an alternative path of gun control. It mentions New York State having potential gun owners demonstrate cause for owning a gun, which might be plausibly akin to the idea of making getting a gun similar to getting a driver’s license in this country.

Why the court cites Lawrence v Texas on page 18, I’ve no idea. If you want to say the right to privacy is established outside your home, say it; don’t invoke the specter of having sex outside the home, especially if there’s the chance that some smart ass Will Hunting type will cite it in a misdemeanor charge years down the line. (And the Judge just says that the ‘interest’ in having sex inside the home is greater than outside the home.)

And the idea of having private institutions ban firearms from their premises comes to a contradictory head when the decision cites Judge Wilkinson, who writes that “there may or may not be a Second Amendment right in some places beyond the home, but we have no idea what those places are, what the criteria for selecting them should be, what sliding scales of scrutiny might apply to them, or any one of a number of other questions. It is not clear in what places public authorities may ban firearms altogether without shouldering the burdens of litigation.”

The dissent speaks of the Statute of Northampton and says that the idea of saying that Blackstone was speaking of fear of seeing a weapon as “strained.” Any weapon taken out into the public is potentially frightening to the public not because it’s concealed or visible, the Judge writes, but because it’s a weapon.

The best arguments being floated right now seem to strike at a cross between a Dunblane-styled amnesty, setting up a driver’s license process, setting up a Mother’s Against Drunk Driving shame culture, banning assault rifles and upping funding to mental health programs.

Which -- when you had one person running for President forget that the ban on assault weapons had passed, when you have lawyers arguing over a Statute passed in the 1300’s -- is better than nothing.


Extra Credit: Jonah Goldberg and James Fallows get into a good point/counterpoint over at The Atlantic. Garry Wills speaks of the second amendment.