Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Rational response to mass killers

The initial response to the shooting of school children at Sandy Hook was a call to renew the Clinton-era assault-weapon ban. While the army has assault rifles, there is no real definition for an assault weapon. The 1990s law tried to define them by listing military features that were easily removed. Does anyone seriously believe that a gun capable of accepting a bayonet is more dangerous than a nearly identical one that does not accept a bayonet?

There is also a great deal of confusion about the term "semi-automatic". A fully automatic weapon continues to fire as long as the trigger is depressed. A machine gun is an automatic weapon. These are tightly controlled and have not been used in any mass shootings.

A semi-automatic weapon fires one shot each time the trigger is pulled. Some people would classify a revolver as being semi-automatic. The next step down from semi-automatic is one that requires an extra step to chamber the next round. This might be a bolt-action, a lever action, or a pump.

The biggest disconnect is that idea that disturbed people will be unable to injure anyone if certain guns are outlawed. The Columbine killers show how misguided that reasoning is. They considered flying an airplane into a building or crashing a car into a school bus and instead came up with a truly diabolical plan. They constructed two bombs around propane tanks and hid them in the school. Their intention was to kill upwards of a thousand people with the bombs then use guns and pipe bombs to kill the survivors. As a final touch, they rigged gasoline bombs in their cars to explode an hour later in the hope of killing police officers on the scene.

Fortunately, none of their bombs went off. When their plans failed, they began shooting people and attempted to detonate one of their propane bombs manually. After that failed, they shot each other.

And all of this happened during the assault weapons ban.

The Attorney General's recommendations say nothing about guns. Instead they talk about identification of disturbed individuals.

This is something that has been lost in the current reaction. The initial reaction to Sandy Hook is that it was caused by guns and that we have to do something about gun control. There is no recognition that tens of millions of peaceful people own guns or that mass shootings are not the work of ordinary people. Neither is there any recognition that guns will continue to be available no matter what laws are passed. Anyone who doubts that should should look at Mexico which officially has tight gun control or even cities such as Washington DC where guns are effectively outlawed.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Gun Hysteria

Something bad happened and guns were involved! We have to prevent this from ever happening again! We must pass gun legislation while people are still outraged!

Why the urgency? Because few of the measures being proposed in the wake of the Newtown shootings would have made a difference. A few of the suggestions include:

Renewing the ban on assault guns.
While the military has assault rifles, there is no such thing as an assault gun. Attempts to create a definition simply ended up with manufacturers making small changes and continuing to sell essentially the same gun. The rifle used at the Newtown shootings did not count as an assault weapon under the Clinton-era legislation.

In general, the assault weapons ban was a total failure. Gun deaths were declining before the ban and continued to decline during and after the ban. If you look at a chart of gun deaths you cannot tell when the ban was in effect.

Closing the Gun Show Loophole
This "loophole" is the ability for one private citizen to sell a gun to another private citizen. While it happens at gun shows, it happens other times also. "Closing the loophole" means that the federal government would be involved anytime a gun changed hands.

Remember that the shooter used his mother's guns and that she bought them through licensed gun dealers.

Outlawing large-capacity clips
This might make a difference. It would require a shooter to carry more clips and change more often. That might give potential victims more time to run. But, the Clinton-era ban was only on new clips. Before the law went into effect, production ramped up on clips so that high-capacity clips were available during the entire period of the ban.

Part of the rush to pass new legislation is that they want it passed before people have time to wonder if the new laws would make any difference. They also in a hurry to get legislation passed before people can put the shooting in perspective. Yes, shooting young children is horrible but only a very tiny percentage of gun owners go on a rampage. On average, around 87 people are killed by cars each day but there is no sense of urgency since the deaths are scattered.

By endorsing a list of ineffective measures, the anti-gun people are proving that this is not about a specific incident, it is about advancing an ideological agenda. They are using a tragedy to shout down the opposition. They did the same thing after the Giffords shooting when they insisted that a man with psychological must have been taking coded orders from Sarah Palin.

Gun rights advocates long suspected that Obama had been silent on gun control so that he would be reelected. There is a good chance that he would not have been reelected if he had supported this legislation prior to the election. While it is possible that a tragic event caused him to reevaluate his priorities, it is also possible that the tragedy simply allowed him to advance policies that he was planning on pushing during his second term, anyway.

It should also be noted that Obama is trying to exploit the tragedy in the Fiscal Cliff negotiations. That makes everything he does suspect.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Gun Craziness and Sandy Hook

There has been a wave of craziness in the wake of the tragic shootings at Sandy Hook. Both sides have said some stupid things.

To start with, we cannot get rid of guns. That horse has left the barn. There are more guns than people now. Any attempt to confiscate all of them would require a level of house to house search that would shock the 18th century British. It would also be ineffective. If I know that they are going to search my house for guns, I will hide them elsewhere until later.

Nancy Pelosi has promised to introduce new measures that would put restrictions on new gun purchases. This is political opportunism that would not have stopped the shootings. In general, gun opponents see an opening for new gun legislation that is unrelated to the shootings. The big giveaway here is that this would only affect new sales. This is fueled by the natural urge that politicians have to be seen doing something, even if it is symbolic.

The other side has made an issue about the gun free zones. Of course, declaring the school a weapons free zone did not stop the shooting. It was never intended to. The weapons free zones were created in the 1990s after a number of students were caught with guns. They inevitably said that they carried the gun for self-protection. Teenagers should not be carrying guns around with intent to use. They do not have the judgement. This is even more true of the elementary school where the shootings took place.

Finally, guns are only the means. Getting rid of guns would not stop someone dedicated to destruction. The worst school killing in history took place in 1927 when the school board treasurer in Bath, Michigan packed a school full of explosives and blew it up. Just today a car bomb killed 17 in Pakistan. The Columbine killers planned to explode a propane tank, potentially killing over 1,000 and only started shooting people when their bomb failed. Taking guns away will not stop murderous intent.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Unions and the Right to Work

Al Sharpton wrote a column about Michigan's new Right to Work law that refers to it in terms of civil rights. This has been a typical reaction from the left. The law does nothing to stop unions from organizing or negotiating. The only thing it does is stop forcing people to join unions if they don't want to. Think about that - the left is treating the freedom to decline membership as a civil rights issue. This should be no surprise since Obamacare fines people for not carrying insurance but it still turns the idea of civil rights on its head.

Modern unions are a relic of earlier days. Their heyday was a century ago when workers rights actually were being abused. They work best in an industrial setting where jobs are narrowly defined and workers are interchangeable. The work poorly in an office setting where everyone does something different and creativity is required. To hear their supporters, they are the only thing that stands between the American worker and the near-slave conditions of 19th century factory jobs.

Their self-image is all wrong. Laws have been made to protect us from the abuses of earlier times. A tight job market does far more to raise individual's pay than a union. In fact, the union insistence on seniority limits competition because it discourages employees from taking other jobs.

The vast majority of Americans manage to exist without being in a union and don't feel the need to organize.

At the same time, unions have become fat and corrupt. They amass huge warchests which they use to get sympathetic legislators elected. This is why Republicans have waged war on them for the last few years - because union money is almost always on the wrong side of union-sponsored ads. Unions have no use for limited-government because that means limiting union jobs. So they are for an ever-expanding government and don't care about the cost.

Right to Work legislation does not stop unions from organizing but it does cut their warchest to just what their members pay. They can no longer take dues from non-members. This will cut their lobbying power which has always been disproportionate to their membership. No civil rights are involved, just a source of money for the Democrats drying up.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Switch Places?

When asked about his portrayal of the Democrats in the movie Lincoln, Director Spielberg said "you have to understand that the Democrats and Republicans have switched places since then." There are a lot of ways that this can be taken. Some of them are true and some are insulting.

In the movie, as in history, the Republicans were easily convinced to support the 13th Amendment which outlawed slavery. The Democrats were solidly against it so Lincoln and his operatives had to pick up votes one by one.

The most insulting implication is that the Democrats were on the wrong side of an important issue in the 1860s but that the Republicans are the ones on the wrong side now. You could refine that to refer just to civil rights. A reasoned argument can be made that the Republicans' position of equality before the law is morally valid and that the Democrats' position of racial preferences is divisive and harmful to the people it is trying to protect. Regardless, it gives Democrats a chance to feel smug to think that they are morally superior.

There are some ways that the two parties actually have traded positions. During the 19th century, Democrats believed in states rights taking precedence over federal law. This allowed slave states to exist. Lincoln changed that, giving the federal government primacy. He changed us from "These United States" to "The United States". Later presidents used this to expand and consolidate federal power. Since Reagan's alliance with the Libertarians, Republicans have felt that the federal government has expanded too far and are in favor of returning some powers back to the states. One reason for this is that federal one-size-fits-all programs are often a poor fit for most of the country.

There are other issues that the two parties continue their 19th century support for. The Democrats have always been the part of the poor and supported measures such as protective tariffs and market restraints. The Republicans have been in favor of open markets and free trade going back to their roots as the Whigs (the Republicans were formed from members of the defunct Whigs and abolitionists). This has continued to today with President Obama running a campaign on class warfare.

In all, it is a mixed bag. The parties have switched positions on some issues and are consistent on others. On the definings issues of the parties, they are really about the same. The Democrats are still about intervening to help specific constituents and the Republicans are in favor of free markets.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Hollywood Communists

The standard line for years has been that there was nothing to the Hollywood Communist Party. Portrayals like The Majestic and The Front imply that many people implicated were not even really communists. They just joined to impress a girlfriend. Recently Sean Penn complained about his father's treatment during the period.

While it is true that this organization was ultimately infective, it is also true that they really were hard-core communists who were plotting to overthrow the US government.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, there was a period when the Soviet archives were publicly available. Several historians traveled to Russia and went through them.

There were actually three different communist parties at the time. The communist party of California and of Los Angeles were harmless and open to anyone who wanted to join.

The Communist Party of Hollywood was a different animal. They literally took their marching orders from Moscow. You did not join to impress a girl. There was a screening process set up to weed out all but the truly committed and the final decision on who was admitted came from Moscow.

Once you were in, you surrendered much of your personal freedom to the party and to Moscow. You could only marry a fellow communist. Similarly, if you had an analyst or psychiatrist, he had to be approved in case you gave away any secrets.

It is tempting to give this group a pass. After all, their side lost so they did not cause any real harm. But it is important to put it in perspective. During the 1950s, communism was advancing. During the 1950s and 1960s communism took over a good bit of the world. India and Egypt were both socialist. Revolutions were taking place all over Africa and South America. Half of Europe was occupied by Soviet troops. There was genuine cause for alarm.

To give a modern parallel, they were similar to the modern groups that plot to commit acts of terrorism in the US. They were not nice people and they were not innocent.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

The Objection to Rice

I have seen several possible reasons advanced for the objections to Susan Rice becoming Secretary of State. There have been accusations that people object to her race or gender. I think it is far more simple than that.

Five days after the attack that killed the Libyan ambassador, she went on a series of talk shows and told a bald face lie - that the attack grew out of a protest over a YouTube video and had nothing to do with terrorists.

I am sure that there is a lingering suspicion that Obama would have lost the election if the electorate knew that al Qaeda, an organization that President Obama claimed was no longer a threat, had mounted an attack that killed an ambassador. Rice gave political cover for her boss during a tight election and the Republicans can't forgive her for it.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Filibuster "Reform"

The Democrat-controlled Senate is planning on changing the rules for a filibuster. The White House has given its support.

For the past four years (minus a few months when the Democrats controlled 60 seats), the Republicans have used the filibuster and the threat of a filibuster to block legislation they strongly disapprove of. Since it takes nearly all of the Republicans, united, to wage a filibuster, this says a lot about the strength of their convictions.

The Democrats and the White House hate this. They feel that a simple majority should be all they need to pass their agenda and that the Republicans are abusing the filibuster.

The Republicans counter that Majority-leader Reid has abused his authority by refusing to allow Republicans to make a single amendment to important legislation.

Regardless, the Democrats will regret it if they change the rules. One of the iron laws of American politics is that no party can keep control forever. The way that the Democrats treat the Republicans today sets the tone for how they will be treated when the Republicans are in the majority. This could happen in 2014 when memories of the rule change will still be fresh.

There is a very good chance that the Republicans will take the Senate in 2014. Typically the party in the White House loses seats in this off-year election. There are two reasons for this, both relating to the President. This class of Senators was elected along with Obama in 2008. They will not have the benefit of Obama's coat-tails in this election. Further, by a President's 6th year, people are getting tired of him which helps the opposition. Reagan and Bush (43) both lost the Senate in their 6th year and the Republicans solidified their gains in Clinton's 6th year. All three presidents saw a drop-off in their popularity after their reelection.

Considering this, the Democrats should be leaning over backwards to be nice to the Republicans in the hope that they will reciprocate.