What I Learned in Law School: Update

Thanks to Atrios and Quilt Lady, as well as to a whole bunch of wonderful people on Twitter, my essay about the Second Amendment has garnered a number of comments. Rather than answer individually in the comments section of that post, I thought that I’d respond here.

First, although commenter HD didn’t engage on the legal or factual arguments that I made, s/he corrects my use of the term “automatic weapon.” I’m happy to accept the correction, but it’s, as we say in the law, a distinction without a difference. Digby explains that:

With a few keystrokes, the suspect, James E. Holmes, ordered 3,000 rounds of handgun ammunition, 3,000 rounds for an assault rifle[,] and 350 shells for a 12-gauge shotgun — an amount of firepower that costs roughly $3,000 at the online sites — in the four months before the shooting, according to the police. . . .

He also bought . . . a high-capacity “drum magazine” large enough to hold 100 rounds and capable of firing 50 or 60 rounds per minute — a purchase that would have been restricted under proposed legislation that has been stalled in Washington for more than a year.

(emphasis mine).

The only reason anyone needs an assault rifle or to shoot 50 or 60 rounds per minute is to massacre people. Whatever you call that kind of weaponry, I maintain that freely allowing every nutjob in the country to obtain it is inimical to both “a well-regulated militia” and the “security of a free state.”

Jay Alan Babcock suggested that police departments aren’t always as supportive of gun control laws as I impled and provides several examples to support his contention. And I agree that some policemen don’t support gun control. Yet, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence did a study and concluded that:

The majority of police chiefs surveyed supported the proposed firearm control policies, including background checks on handgun and long gun purchases, tamper resistant serial numbers, and prohibiting civilians from carrying firearms in a public setting, among many other policies. Most police chiefs (62%) also believed that the government should do everything in its power to prevent handguns from reaching the hands of criminals, even if it makes it tougher for law-abiding individuals to purchase a firearm. . . . In brief, police chiefs support many potential firearm control policies that could save lives and prevent incidents of gun violence from occurring.

Other commenters said here, and in messages to me on Twitter, that it’s hopeless, America won’t do anything, and, anyway, we’d have to ban all guns in order to save lives.

I just won’t accept that we’re doomed to allow incident after incident where, year after year, innocent moviegoers, students, workers, etc. are killed and wounded. Wikipedia notes that the Virginia Tech massacre:

prompted the state of Virginia to close legal loopholes that had previously allowed Cho, an individual adjudicated as mentally unsound, to purchase handguns without detection by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). It also led to passage of the first major federal gun control measure in more than 13 years. The law strengthening the NICS was signed by President George W. Bush on January 5, 2008.

That’s the largely rural state of Virginia and that’s Republican President George W. Bush.

So I just won’t accept that America won’t do anything.

And, I don’t agree that we’d have to ban every single gun in America. I think target shooting enthusiasts and hunters can own guns that don’t shoot 50 or 60 rounds per minute. I think we can have reasonable background checks for the people who purchase guns, ammunition, and protective gear. You can call me cynical, but if the Aurora killer had brown skin and was named Mohammed, people would be in an uproar wanting to know how he was able to arm up without being detected by Homeland Security. But the people in Aurora are just as dead and just as wounded, even though the killer has white skin and is named James Holmes.

Finally, I want to thank the many other commenters who offered thoughtful points. The first step in fixing this problem is having an adult discussion about it.

4 responses to “What I Learned in Law School: Update

  1. Speaking as someone who lives in a country with much stricter firearms control than the United States (though less so than the U.K.), I must say that I find the situation in the U.S. incomprehensible–and I use that adjective advisedly. I cannot understand how such a state of affairs can be tolerated, much less advocated for.

    “So I just won’t accept that America won’t do anything.”

    I hope that you are correct. I would hate to think that the debate is over, that the sane people have lost, and that America will have to continue to pay the price of some supposed freedom in the blood of its slaughtered civilians. Some of these slaughters will be mass murders of the kind that we saw in Aurora, while others will be once-offs that barely make the front page–the domestic incidents, the road-rage that gets out of hand, and all the rest–but the butcher’s bill will still have to be paid until that adult conversation can take place and some reasonable measures enacted.

  2. Peter of Lone Tree

    “The tragic situation in nearby Aurora, Colorado (I live in Boulder), with 70 people shot at a showing of The Dark Knight Rises, is not a random, incomprehensible event. When these horrific mass killings happen, however, it is common to hear people say that we may never comprehend how such things can occur. For example, at a memorial service after the Oklahoma City Bombing, the governor of Oklahoma said, “We can’t understand why this happened.” These seem like odd statements that people make on behalf of a species that has managed to project its understanding into black holes, subatomic particles, the genetic code and the edges of the universe. If we can’t comprehend the murderous actions of a member of our own species, then we damn well better keep trying.”
    The Batman Shootings and Crossover Effects

  3. What about “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”, or “to ensure domestic tranquillity”. We already accept limits on gun ownership (automatic weapons, RPGs, small thermonuclear devices). It is a question of degree, not kind.

  4. “The first step in fixing this problem is having an adult discussion about it.”

    And it is my firm belief that one side wants nothing to do with an adult discussion about any of these issues.

    Witness the health care reform debate.

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