Good News on Guns and Criminal Justice Reform

The Washington Monument and United States Capitol seen from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC
The Washington Monument and United States Capitol seen from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC (Shutterstock/Orhan Cam)

Few good things come out of Washington DC anymore, but today is an exception.

  • The Trump Administration is banning bump-fire stocks, which effectively turn semiautomatic weapons into machine guns. Owners will have three months to turn in or destroy their devices.
  • The Senate has voted 87-12 in favor of criminal justice reforms. Prison sentences for drug crimes will be lowered, judges will be given more discretion in sentencing low-level offenders and inmates will be allowed to serve more time in halfway homes or under house arrest.

Le Pen Unveils New Name, Trump Toes NRA Line

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's National Front, makes a speech in the European Parliament in Brussels, February 24, 2016
Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s National Front, makes a speech in the European Parliament in Brussels, February 24, 2016 (European Parliament)

Marine Le Pen has proposed to change the name of her far-right party from Front National to Rassemblement National (National Rally).

The rebranding follows a disappointing performance in last year’s presidential election, when Le Pen placed a distant second with 34 percent support to Emmanuel Macron’s 66 percent.

“Originally, we were a protest party,” Le Pen told delegates in the northern French town of Lille on Sunday. ”There must be no doubt in the eyes of all that we are now a governing party.”

To accomplish that, the Front must change more than its name; it must change its beliefs.

I argued after the 2017 election that the Front stood most to gain from becoming a socially, as opposed to a national, conservative party. With the defection of center-right, pro-market Republicans to Macron, there is even more of a vacuum on what in American terms could be called the “Christian right”.

But Republicans know it. They have made Laurent Wauquiez their leader, a social conservative and hardliner on immigration, in order to woo those same voters. If the Republicans turn into Front-lite, does is still make sense for the Front to become Republicans+?

Somebody who is definitively not helping: Steve Bannon, the far-right American firebrand who this weekend urged the Front to wear accusations of racism and xenophobia as a “badge of honor”. Read more “Le Pen Unveils New Name, Trump Toes NRA Line”

America’s Inexplicable Failure to Stop Gun Violence

Flags of the United States in Washington DC, February 17, 2015
Flags of the United States in Washington DC, February 17, 2015 (Matt Popovich)

Nothing confounds foreigners more about America than its relationship with guns.

I’ve been writing about American politics for almost a decade now and even I don’t get it.

In that time, the problem has only got worse. The five worst shootings in American history occurred since 2007. 1,806 Americans have been killed with guns this year alone.

I’ve heard all the arguments. I’ve read the studies. I’ve seen the figures. This much is clear: The widespread availability of guns makes the United States more vulnerable to gun violence.

This shouldn’t be a controversial thing to say. But even on a day like this, after seventeen students and teachers were shot and killed at a high school in South Florida, it is. Read more “America’s Inexplicable Failure to Stop Gun Violence”

Dallas Police Chief States the Obvious About Open Carry

Dallas police chief David Brown stated the obvious on Monday when he said open-carry laws make it harder for law enforcement to do its job.

“It is increasingly challenging when people have AR-15s slung over and shootings occur in a crowd,” Brown said, referring to a type of rifle that is commonly used in mass shootings.

And they begin running and we don’t know if they are a shooter or not. We don’t know who the ‘good guy’ versus who the ‘bad guy’ is if everybody starts shooting.

No doubt conservatives and gun owners, who only days ago praised Brown and his department for the way they ended a mass shooting of police officers in the Texan city, will take issue with his statement.

They argue that the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

But that is only true when the good guy is a cop. Read more “Dallas Police Chief States the Obvious About Open Carry”

Looking for Solutions After the Orlando Shooting

Fifty people were killed this weekend at a gay club in Orlando, Florida. Fifty people, who were partying and socializing in a place that is supposed to be safe for LGBTs. Who were no threat to anyone. Who were targeted because of who and where they were.

We don’t need to speculate about the killer’s motives to understand what this was. Whether Omar Mateen was motivated by religious fanaticism or anti-gay bigotry; this was a hate crime.

Events like these inspire fear and anger. We’re afraid it might happen to us next. We’re angry that it could happen in the first place. We are emotional and we all want to make sure it never happens again.

Some will argue now is not a time for politics. But what’s the point if we don’t learn from the massacre of fifty innocent people to reduce the chances of more people being killed? Read more “Looking for Solutions After the Orlando Shooting”

The Geopolitical Argument Against Gun Ownership

An honor guard at the United States Air Force Memorial in Washington DC, August 24, 2012
An honor guard at the United States Air Force Memorial in Washington DC, August 24, 2012 (USAF/Christina Brownlow)

It’s often dodgy to wade into the morass of America’s culture wars. For non-Americans, the back and forth of American pundits (and Facebook commentators) seems asinine at the best of times. It’s easy to view the whole exercise as pointless when you realize much of our culture wars revolve around what people like to do for fun, whether it’s shotgun blasting a rusty pick-up truck in the desert or having unprotected sex with people we would never marry.

That being said, there’s still an important discussion to be had here. Last week, a disgruntled (and possibly a bit racist) ex-employee of a local news network killed a journalist and her cameraman on live TV. That came on the heels a recent mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, where a white supremacist killed nine people in a traditionally black church.

Each time a mass shooting occurs in the United States, a cycle asserts itself: Democrats and liberals point to gun ownership and, occasionally, racism, as the proximate causes, while Republicans and conservatives counter that a better-armed society would be more likely to prevent such tragedies. Few minds change; many arguments are peddled; eventually, everyone forgets until the next dramatic shooting.

Within the comments of many a Facebook article lie arguments for gun ownership that are disconnected from geopolitical reality. It was a brief exchange with one such commenter that inspired this article.

I won’t go into the criminology side of gun ownership which is better detailed by more authoritative sources. Rather, I’ll focus on guns in America from a geopolitical perspective.

So please, when you’re writing hate mail about how would I like it if some thugs broke in and raped my whole family as a direct result of being an unarmed society, do remember I’m not even remotely talking about that. I’m focusing, rather, on gun ownership as it affects the geopolitical power of the United States. Read more “The Geopolitical Argument Against Gun Ownership”

Violence is Not Part of American Democracy

In response to the suggestion of a Russian reporter that political violence is inherent to America’s democracy, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs on Thursday strongly condemned the shooting that occurred in Tucson, Arizona as well as politically motivated violence in general. “That is not American,” he declared.

Gibbs had praised the event in which Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was severely wounded in last week’s assault, was participating earlier during his remarks, describing it as an “exercise of some very important, very foundational freedoms to this country: the freedom of speech; the freedom to assemble; the freedom to petition your government.”

Democracy and self government, “by and for the people,” are quintessential American values, Gibbs added, “that have been on display along with the tremendous courage and resilience of those in that community and throughout this country that have had to deal with this tragedy.”

Andrei Sitov of the ITAR-TASS news agency wondered though whether the freedom of a deranged mind to commit terrible crimes wasn’t just as quintessentially American. “No,” said Gibbs, “I would disagree vehemently with that.”

There is nothing in the values of our country, there’s nothing on the many laws on our books that would provide for somebody to impugn and impede on the very freedoms that you began with by exercising the actions that that individual took on that day.

“Violence is never, ever acceptable,” Gibbs added. Yet in different parts of Europe the news of the Arizona tragedy was followed by renewed reprehension about, if not outright denunciation of America’s gun laws.

The discussion has been revived in the United States as well but in a very different context. At times, Europeans may be quick to forget that America has a very different gun tradition and a very different gun culture. These elements should not be absent from a sensible debate.

In most of Europe, private gun ownership is either banned or subject to heavy government regulation and control. In America by contrast it is regarded as a fundamental right that is enshrined in the country’s constitution. It is part of many Americans’ sense of freedom and self-determination. To approach the issue from a European perspective would be ignorant and misguided. To suggest that gun related or politically motivated crime is somehow intrinsic to American democracy is simply preposterous.

Supreme Court Upholds Right to Bear Arms

Facade of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington DC
Facade of the Supreme Court of the United States in Washington DC (Shutterstock/Brandon Bourdages)

The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the Second Amendment to the United States protects the right of all Americans to bear arms in a five to four vote. The decision is welcomed by gun rights advocates across the nation who, for years, have complained that state and local restrictions to gun ownership are unconstitutional.

The Court was considering a restrictive Chicago handgun law similar to a District of Colombia measure which it ruled against in 2008. The victory may be more symbolic than substantive because few cities have gun laws as restrictive as those in Chicago and Washington. Moreover, it does not strike any other gun control measures currently in place, but it does provide a legal basis for gun owners across America who believe that government has unlawfully deprived them of their right to keep and bear arms.

According to Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. who wrote for the conservatives on the Court, “It is clear that the Framers … counted the right to keep and bear arms among those fundamental rights necessary to our system of ordered liberty.” Government may restrict gun ownership under certain circumstances, as when it denies felons and mentally ill from possessing firearms or restricting the right to bear them in “sensitive places” as schools and public buildings. “We repeat those assurances here,” wrote Alito.

“Despite municipal respondents’ doomsday proclamations,” the decision “does not imperil every law regulating firearms,” according to Alito. He stressed at the same time that the Second Amendment “applies equally to the federal government and the states.”

Bloomberg’s Call for Repeal of Tiahrt

Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City has called for Congress to repeal the Tiahrt Amendment. A law passed in 2003 and made permanent in 2008 that Bloomberg claims is hampering the investigations of people such as Nidal Malik Hasan, the man who went on the shooting spree in Fort Hood, Texas.

The same Nidal Hasan was already under investigation for posting on the Internet that Muslims should rise up against America and was declared to be mostly harmless.

It seems Bloomberg’s real problem isn’t that the Tiahrt Amendment prevents the investigation of firearm related crimes. If it did, we wouldn’t know that Hasan had bought the pistol he used from a Gunshop in Keleem, Texas.

Bloomberg’s problem is that his group Mayors Against Illegal Guns have been trying to get their hands on confidential law enforcement data for their lawsuit against American firearms manufacturers. Read more “Bloomberg’s Call for Repeal of Tiahrt”