They Don’t Know What Everyone Else Knows

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According to an AP report of July 17, the FBI is feverishly hunting for a motive for the terrorist massacre committed in Chattanooga by a radical Muslim named Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez:

Authorities “have not determined whether it was an act of terrorism or whether it was a criminal act,” Ed Reinhold, an FBI special agent in charge, told reporters. “We are looking at every possible avenue, whether it was terrorism — whether it was domestic, international — or whether it was a simple, criminal act.”

“We have no idea what his motivation was behind this shooting,” Reinhold said.

A leading Muslim imam did better, lots better. Suhaib Webb, who leads an Islamic institute in Washington DC, said, “It will probably be that he’s done this in the name of some radical Muslim group. . . . No official motive has been established, but sadly, I've seen this too many times. While millions are excited to celebrate Eid [the Muslim holiday], groups like ISIS, al-Qāidah and others continue to show that they have no regard for life or traditions, Muslim or not, young or old.”

But back to the FBI agent. For what reason would he possibly say such a preposterous thing? For what reason should anyone be paid for suggesting that he and his colleagues had “no idea” what they were doing? It used to be that we paid cops less, and they had more brains.




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Election 2014: The Ballot Measures

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Libertarians should take encouragement from some of the ballot measures in the Nov. 4 election:

Medical freedom

Arizona voters passed Proposition 303, which seeks to allow patients with terminal illnesses to buy drugs that have passed Phase 1 (basic safety) trials but are not yet approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

To libertarians, this is an old and familiar cause and one in which it is easy to find allies if people are paying attention, which most times they are not. The movie Dallas Buyers Club provided an opening, and this year legislatures in Colorado, Missouri and Louisiana passed what are now called “Dallas Buyers Club” laws. In Arizona, the cause was promoted by the Goldwater Institute.

Opponents have said that such laws will give many terminal patients false hope, which is surely true. But it is better to give 90% false hope if 10% (or some other small share) obtain real benefit, if the alternative is an egalitarian world of no hope for all. And it ought to be the patient’s decision anyway.

What the FDA will do about the “Dallas Buyers Club” laws is a question; as with marijuana, the matter is covered by a federal law, if one of questionable constitutionality. At the very least the Arizona vote, a whopping 78% yes, should give other states, and eventually Congress, a political shove in favor of freedom.

Marijuana

Legalization measures were first passed in 2012 by the voters of Colorado and Washington (the two states that had the Libertarian Party on the ballot in 1972). They have been followed this year by the voters of Alaska, which passed Measure 2 with 52%; Oregon, which passed Measure 91 with 55%; and the District of Columbia, which passed a decriminalization measure, Initiative 71, with 65% yes.

Alaska and Oregon were early supporters of marijuana for medical patients, as were Colorado and Washington. When the opponents say medical marijuana is a stalking horse for full legalization, they are right. It is — which means that more states will join Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado.

On Nov. 4 Florida rejected medical marijuana, but only because it required a 60% yes vote. Florida Amendment 2 had nearly 58%.

Taxes

In Massachusetts, which several decades ago was labeled “taxachusetts,” voters approved Question 1, which repeals the automatic increases of the gas tax pegged to the Consumer Price Index.

In Tennessee, Amendment 3, forbidding the legislature from taxing most personal income, passed with a 66% yes vote. Tennessee is one of the nine states with no general income tax, though it does have a 6% tax on interest and dividends, which will continue.

In Nevada, 79% of voters rejected Question 3, to create a 2% tax on adjusted business revenue above $1 million. Proponents called it “The Education Initiative” because the money was to be spent on public schools; opponents called it “The Margin Tax Initiative.” The measure was put on the ballot with the help of the Nevada branch of the AFL-CIO, which then changed its mind and opposed it. Good for them; most people and organizations in politics never admit of making a mistake.

Debt

In Oregon, Measure 86 would have created a fund for scholarship grants through the sale of state bonds. The measure was put on the ballot by Oregon’s Democratic legislature and supported by the education lobby. It was opposed by the founder of the libertarian Cascade Policy Institute and by the state’s largest newspaper, the Oregonian, because of the likely increase in public debt. It also would have allowed the legislature to dip into the fund for general spending if the governor declared an emergency. In this “blue” state, the measure failed: 59% no.

Regulation

In Massachusetts, which has had mandatory bottle deposits on carbonated beverages since 1982, voters rejected Question 2, an initiative to extend the bottle law to sports drinks, juices, tea and bottled water (but not juice boxes). The vote was a landslide: 73% no.

Abortion

Libertarians are divided on abortion, depending on whether they consider a fetus to be a person. Voters in Colorado rejected Amendment 67, which would have defined an embryo or fetus as a “person” or “child” under state criminal law. The vote was 64% no.

In North Dakota, a “right to life” amendment the state legislature put on the ballot as Measure 1 was rejected, also 64% no.

In Tennessee, voters approved Amendment 1, which asserts state control over abortion but would leave to the legislature what sort of control it would be. Opponents called it the “Tennessee Taliban Amendment.” It got 53% of the vote.

All of these measures are probably symbolic only, because the question has been coopted by the U.S. Supreme Court under Roe v. Wade and later decisions. Still, symbolism can matter.

Alcohol

In Arkansas, where about half the counties are dry, Issue 4 would have opened the entire state to alcohol sales. It failed, with 57% voting no. That’s a loss for freedom if a gain for federalism.

Guns

Washington voters passed Initiative 594 to require background checks for sales of guns by non-dealers. The measure was bankrolled by Michael Bloomberg, Bill and Melinda Gates, and a liberal Seattle venture capitalist and given an emotional push by shootings at a nearby high school. Washington remains a concealed-carry state.

Minimum wage

Politically, this is a lost issue for libertarians. On Nov. 4, Arkansas voted to raise its minimum from $7.25 (the federal minimum) to $8.50 by 2017; Alaska, to raise its minimum from $7.75 to $9.75 by 2016, and index it to inflation; Nebraska, to raise it from $7.25 to $9 by 2016, and South Dakota, to raise it from $7.25 to $8.50 by 2015, then index it. These measures passed by 65% in Arkansas, 69% in Alaska, 59% in Nebraska and 54% in South Dakota.

In Massachusetts, voters approved Question 4, mandating paid sick days in private business. The yes vote was 59%.

Governance

In Oregon, voters rejected the sort of “top two” election system operating in neighboring Washington. In that system, anyone can file in the primary and declare their party allegiance, and the top two vote-getters, irrespective of party, advance to the November election, which becomes a run-off. California has a similar system. Little parties like the Libertarian Party hate it, because it keeps them off the November ballot except in some one-party districts.

Oregon voters were offered a top-two system in 2008 and voted 66% against it. This time, for Measure 90, they voted 68% against it.




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You CAN Take It with You

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In DC after the Heller decision, you could keep, but could you bear?

I recently wrote about Peruta, a California Second Amendment case originating in San Diego County and decided in February. That federal appeals court decision surprised a lot of people, because it was the Ninth Circuit saying that California’s gun laws were unconstitutionally illiberal, and it seemed to go beyond Heller, the Supreme Court decision on which it heavily relied.

Heller was a District of Columbia case that was appealed to the Supreme Court. It said that the Second Amendment right to bear arms was an individual right, not only a collective right (for militia), but its holding was limited to DC’s laws against keeping handguns at home. It did not directly address prohibitions on carrying guns in public.

Once the Supreme Court finally said that the Second Amendment granted an individual right, that right could not be kept indoors.

But the Ninth Circuit said in the Peruta decision that Heller implies “a law-abiding citizen’s ability to carry a gun outside the home for self-defense fell within the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense.” In other words, the reasoning of the Heller case goes beyond the actual holding of the case, beyond possession of guns at home.

If we forget about the anti-gun culture that predominates in most big American cities and about the decades of anti-gun legislation that we have gotten used to, it’s hard to disagree with Peruta. Once the Supreme Court finally said that the Second Amendment granted an individual right, that right could not be kept indoors. In the Constitution, there is simply no mention of any limitation of gun rights to the home. “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” In fact, “keeping” might be something you do only at home, but “bearing” sounds like something you do in public.

A federal trial court in DC has just agreed, in the case of Palmer v.District of Columbia.(554 U.S. 570 [2008]). The decisionfollows the California casein applying Heller to a question almost identical to the one posed in Peruta.

A pattern has emerged. Civil libertarians (with glee) and gun-control advocates (with dread) might agree that the slope is slippery. Before Heller, DC’s laws were less liberal than California’s. DC “totally ban[ned] handgun possession in the home” and “require[d] that any lawful firearm in the home be disassembled or bound by a trigger lock” (Heller, 554 U.S. at 603, 628). That is, no handguns at home in any condition, and other guns such as rifles or shotguns stored in pieces or with a trigger lock. You couldn’t get much closer to a total gun ban. I think that’s what forced the hand of the Supreme Court in the Peruta case. It had to decide whether the Second Amendment meant anything for individuals. Once it did that, and overturned DC’s handgun ban, San Diego’s effective ban on carrying guns openly or concealed seemed the most offensive to Second Amendment rights. The Ninth Circuit had to apply Heller, or at least the logic of Heller. Then the district court in DC followed with its decision in Palmer.

Seven years ago in DC you couldn’t keep a handgun at home. Now, if Palmer holds up, you can take it with you.




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Post-Traumatic Story Disorder

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The latest of our nation’s mass-media-broadcast shootings took place yesterday (April 2) at Fort Hood, where a gunman—according to reports, one Ivan Lopez—murdered 3 and wounded 16 before killing himself.

Given the ghoulishness of the 24-hour-cycle press, it’s unsurprising that their first, hopeful question was whether this was a terrorist attack. Given their stupidity, it’s also unsurprising that, once they found out poor Lopez was just some guy possibly suffering from PTSD following a stint in Iraq, they reached precisely the wrong conclusion: that this wasn’t about terrorism after all.

You idiots. Of course it’s about terrorism. It’s all about our government’s stupid, belligerent, macho response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, knocking over countries with little or no connection to those attacks, in the mistaken belief that we could run those countries better than they were already being run. It’s all about how Congress and the military have removed hundred of billions of dollars from the American economy in order to build and maintain palatial outposts of Empire, only to strand our people there at the first sign of trouble. It’s all about how we continued to recruit unfledged and underemployed men and women and dispatch them into conditions that favored the advancement of sadists and psychopaths, places where anyone of normal disposition would end up damaged in mind, if not also in body.

When the networks say it’s not about “terrorism,” what they mean was the shooter wasn’t Muslim, or they can’t connect him to any extremist groups at home or abroad—more’s the pity for them, deprived of their latest bogeyman, their newest Tsarnaev or Nidal Hasan. Lopez, if it is him, is just some schmuck they can’t fit into a preexisting narrative; at least, not one they’re willing to broadcast. But the story’s clear enough to anyone who doesn't purposefully blind themselves to it.



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Mr. Yee’s Profession

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The day after Leland Yee was arrested, I was listening to a fill-in anchor on my favorite Southern California talk show. She started discussing the arrest, and I was shocked to hear her say that she had, until that moment, never known of Leland Yee. How, I wondered, could anyone not know this man, and despise him?

California State Senator Leland Yee is a man who crusaded against the Second Amendment with a host of bills designed to make owning a gun as pleasant for a law-abiding citizen as falling into the hands of the Spanish Inquisition. Leland Yee is a man who tried to ban “violent” video games, and who, in response to objections, said, “Gamers have got to just quiet down. Gamers have no credibility in this argument. This is all about their lust for violence and the industry’s lust for money. This is a billion-dollar industry. This is about their self-interest.”

Occasionally someone wonders whether politicians mean what they say. This time it was the FBI.

Leland Yee is the sole Democratic senator who voted against the very, very liberal, Democrat-written state budget, because it didn’t spend enough. Leland Yee is the man who for many years persecuted the University of California, a constitutionally independent entity, attempting to subject it to governance by the legislature. (I freely concede that on this issue I may be biased; I am employed by the University of California. I seek to lessen my appearance of guilt by observing that the state’s contribution to the University’s income is less than 10%, and falling; as the percentage falls, politicians like Yee try even harder to subject the institution to themselves.) As reliably reported, seven of the top eight contributors to Yee are labor unions.

Yee got awards from journalists’ associations for his crusade on behalf of government “transparency” and “open records.” What interested these journalists was the fact that Yee got upset when one of the state colleges paid $75,000 to a certain politician to come and deliver a speech, and the college gave him a hard time when he wanted to find out about it. I don’t think any politician should be paid anything to give a speech to anyone, much less to the hapless denizens of a college, but Yee didn’t object to that sort of thing when members of his own party received honoraria. He got upset when it was Sarah Palin. So he demanded documents and documents and documents from the college, which successfully resisted. It’s at that point that he became an addict of transparency.

The episode that really tickles me, however, was, or started out to be, purely horticultural. Environmental fanatics attempted to remove “exotic” and “intrusive” plants from Golden Gate Park, demanding that the area be restored to its original condition (which was, by the way, mainly a bunch of sand dunes). Yee objected — but you probably won’t guess what his objection was. He didn’t say that cypress trees are pretty, and the climate is exactly right for them, and people like to see them, so why take them out? Oh no. He took the whole thing as an attack on Chinese Americans, who, he said, are regarded by some people as “exotic” and “intrusive.”

If somebody wanted to erect a monument to intrusive self-righteousness, Leland Yee could pose for the statue.

Given this history, I was not unhappy when, on March 26, Leland Yee was arrested — for, among other things, conspiring to traffic firearms illegally.

Take a moment to savor that. Yee was one of the nation’s leading opponents of people’s right to keep and bear arms. He claimed that guns made him want to cry, thinking of his children and other children, and how children are so often victims of gun violence.

But there’s this about transparency: occasionally someone takes it seriously. Occasionally someone wonders whether politicians mean what they say. This time it was the FBI, which infiltrated the social circle of a leading San Francisco gangster, looking for dirt on him, and also on Yee. The investigation may have started because, some years before, Yee had spontaneously decided to visit John Law to dish the dirt on one of his former political disciples, a San Francisco supervisor named Ed Jew . People think that was because Yee didn’t want any political competition. Anyway, Jew got sent to federal prison, and Yee ended up looking funkier than he had ever looked before. He’d had a few scrapes with the law, but nothing had happened to him, what with his being the last advocate of morality and transparency and diversity and the Children and all of that.

Nobody seemed to wonder how Yee could have so many possessions, despite having done nothing but hold “public service” jobs the past 26 years.

Now, however, Yee was being seriously investigated. According to the US Attorney’s affidavit, he and his friends liked to talk with gangsters, and they sounded a lot like gangsters themselves. One of the friends was Keith Jackson, who has now been charged with participating in a murder for hire plot. Jackson is a former president of the San Francisco Board of Education. His story is amusing. Then there was Marlon Sullivan, a sports agent and “consultant” who has advised big-time basketball players. Sullivan said he didn’t need to commit crimes; he just enjoyed doing it. He called it a “power and challenge thing” and said “it was fun” (affidavit, p. 88).About murder for hire, he said, “It’s easy work. . . . I will put eyes on the guy and have my boy knock him down” (88).

As for Yee, he is alleged to have said a lot of fun things. From the affidavit:

  • Yee on his role in supplying illegal arms: "People want to get whatever they want to get. Do I care? No, I don't care. People need certain things” (94).
  • Yee on opportunities to practice crime: "There's tremendous opportunity in local levels . . . because whoever's gonna be the mayor controls everything.” Yee was running for mayor of San Francisco. Should he become mayor, he said, “We control 6.8 billion man, shit" (106, 107).
  • Yee on evading political contributions laws: "As long as you cover your tracks . . . you're fine." Asked how someone could make large donations to him without getting caught, Yee suggested giving to the campaign, supported by (guess who?) Leland Yee, on behalf of a ballot measure to raise money for schools (106, 107).
  • Yee on contributions from gangsters: "By helping me get elected means, I'm gonna take actions on your behalf." "Just give me the goddamned money man, shit. . . You should just tell them, write some fucking checks, man" (127).
  • Yee on political virtue: "Senator Yee attributed his long career in public office to being careful and cautious" (95).
  • Yee on his beloved children: “Yee told [a secret agent] he would take the cash [for illegal activities] and have one of his children write out a check” (102).

It never ends. For starters, see some othertip-of-the-iceberg reports on Yee.

Well, Yee was hauled into court in shackles. Along with 20-plus other defendants, he pleaded not guilty. Unlike the rest of them, however, he was released on a $500,000 unsecured bond. Didn’t have to pay a dime. I guess that’s because he’s such a distinguished citizen.

That very afternoon, the Democratic leaders of the state Senate, suddenly sensitized to public opinion by the fact that during the past couple of months two other Democratic members of the Senate had been hit with criminal charges (and had been allowed to take “leaves of absence”), held a press conference in which they demanded that Yee leave the Senate, now. Never mind about that “innocent until proven guilty” stuff; they needed to protect “the institution.” When, oddly, he didn’t leave, they “suspended” him (and finally, the other two also). The Democratic mayor of San Francisco lamented the damage done to Yee’s many years of “public service.”

Yee on his role in supplying illegal arms: "People want to get whatever they want to get. Do I care? No, I don't care. People need certain things.”

To me, the most interesting remark was made by one Jackie Speier, a Democratic state representative from a wealthy Northern California district. (Did I mention that wealth is liberal? Did I mention that Yee represented western San Francisco and an even wealthier part of San Mateo County? Did I mention that nobody seemed to wonder how he could have so many possessions, despite having done nothing but hold “public service” jobs the past 26 years?) Ms. Speier, who like a lot of people claims never really to have known Mr. Yee — "I don't think anyone knew him," she said — was full of sympathy for politicians in general: "It's always sad for all of us in the profession, to see individuals who lose sight of what the public trust is all about."

The profession. For these people, their life (not that of the guy who fixes roofs or the gal who runs a restaurant) is a public service; their jobs are institutions, like the art museum, the church, and the medical school; and their cheap, stupid, boring existence — cadging money, sitting on committees, giving awards to one another, spreading “outrage” in exchange for votes — is a profession.

As my grandmother used to say, that takes the cake. But what I’d still like to know is this: How could Leland Yee have disgraced thatprofession?




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The Latest Victory for the Second Amendment

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In theory, the bold, frequent use of civil liberties tends to protect them. But it’s no guarantee. Both of these statements find support in the recent history of gun-related legislation in California.

It was 2010. I was on the phone with a journalist. He was looking for comments on some proposed legislation that had been in the news. An assemblywoman from San Diego, Lori Saldaña, wanted to do away with Californians’ little-known right to carry unloaded guns openly. “She says it’s dangerous, because a cop might shoot one of those guys with guns on their hips; what do you think about that?” He was asking me for a counter-argument.

At that time, the California legislature was considering Saldaña’s bill to ban the open carry of unloaded firearms. The attempted legislation had been prompted by outraged reactions in California to the nationwide open-carry movement.[1] In the two years or so before the proposed ban, advocates of gun rights in California had been organizing small marches and meetings where they would very carefully and very openly exercise a right that few people in California knew they had — the right to openly carry unloaded firearms. Picture a half dozen men and women at a Starbucks with holstered, empty semi-automatic pistols on one hip and holstered, full clips of ammunition on the other. California law (with exceptions that aren’t important here) went like this: concealed carry of any gun, loaded or not, is illegal without a permit, and open carry of loaded guns is illegal without a permit. In most counties of California, permits were very hard to get. You had to show “cause,” and cause seemed to be whatever the issuing authority thought it should be. That left only the rarely used right to carry unloaded guns in public openly, without a permit.

The argument was, in fact, as stupid as it sounded.

“That argument is ridiculous and illogical,” I said to the journalist. “Cops are supposed to know the law and enforce it, not shoot people who are doing nothing wrong or illegal. The solution is to change the cops, not to change the law. You don’t take away rights just because the police are surprised to see somebody exercising them.”

This was in response to arguments advanced to support Assemblywoman Lori Saldaña’s bill to prohibit open carry. That bill didn’t pass, but soon a similar bill, AB 144, was introduced. The author of that bill, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, made similarly bad arguments in its favor. For example, in an interview with Reason.tv, he said, “Just because one person is comfortable with their weapon, doesn’t mean that that gives that person the right to infringe on the rights of other people who aren’t comfortable.”[2] Was that some kind of sophisticated argument about competing civil rights: the right to bear arms and the right to be comfortable? No. There is no constitutional right to be comfortable. The argument was, in fact, as stupid as it sounded. Portantino also made and, finding it very clever, frequently repeated, a classic straw-man argument, saying “you don’t need a handgun to order a cheeseburger,” as though gun-rights activists were complaining that they could only get fast-food service at gunpoint.

AB 144 passed and was signed into law. The right to open carry (unloaded) was gone.

Something similar happened in California in the 20th century. By the 1960s, in urban areas of California it was rare to see people carrying loaded firearms in public. At the time, they had a legal right to. The law didn’t change, but the culture did. The Black Panthers knew this when, in 1967, they marched on the California state capitol toting loaded rifles and shotguns. They were not committing a crime. Public reaction to that scene made it easy for the legislature to pass a law banning open carrying of loaded guns.

Some civil libertarians thought that what the Black Panthers did in the 1960s and what the open-carry advocates did just a few years ago were counterproductive, because they provoked anti-liberal legislation. I disagree, for a couple of reasons. First, a civil right is of little value if nobody uses it. Second, Edward Peruta v. County of San Diego.[3]

Edward Peruta applied to the San Diego sheriff for a permit to carry a concealed firearm. The sheriff denied his application. Peruta then (2009) filed a lawsuit against the County of San Diego. He lost at trial and appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. A panel of the Ninth Circuit found that San Diego’s process for granting and denying gun permits infringed the Second Amendment. The court’s summary of its opinion begins in this way: “The panel reversed the district court’s summary judgment and held that a responsible, law-abiding citizen has a right under the Second Amendment to carry a firearm in public for self-defense.” Wow. If anything, the body of the opinion went further.

When the Black Panthers marched on the California state capitol toting loaded rifles and shotguns, they were not committing a crime.

My first reaction was astonishment. In California of all places. In the Ninth Circuit of all jurisdictions. Wow, again. Reading the case, I soon saw the connection between AB 144 and Peruta. The legislative history of AB 144 shows that the NRA and the California Rifle and Pistol Association were prescient. They registered this argument against the bill:

In most areas of California, CCW [concealed-carry weapon]permits are rarely issued, and are usually reserved for those with political clout and the wealthy elite. Because of this reality, "open carrying" is the only method available to the overwhelming majority of law-abiding individuals who wish to carry a firearm for self-defense. Accordingly, by banning the open carrying of even unloaded firearms, SB 144 effectively shuts the door on the ability of law-abiding Californians to carry a firearm for self-defense at all.[4]

The California legislature heard that argument and replied, “so what?” The bill was law when Peruta reached the appeals court.

I believe that if open carry were not banned, the Ninth Circuit would not have overturned San Diego’s permitting rules and procedures for concealed carry. The court’s reasoning is almost mathematical. It relies heavily on Heller,[5] a 2008 Supreme Court decision that, according to the Ninth Circuit, implies that “a law-abiding citizen’s ability to carry a gun outside the home for self-defense fell within the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense.” Then the Peruta court repeatedly points out that California bans open carry and severely restricts concealed carry.

The math goes like this:

(A) Heller = the Supreme Court says that the Second Amendment means individuals (versus “militia”) have a right to carry firearms in public for self defense.

(B) San Diego’s implementation of California’s concealed-carry laws + California’s ban on open carry = a general prohibition on carrying firearms in public for self defense.

(A) + (B) = unconstitutional.

It’s an amazingly simple and far-reaching opinion. It will be reheard by the Ninth Circuit sitting en banc. It will reach the Supreme Court. But right now, it’s the law in California. The state must permit law-abiding citizens to carry firearms in public for self defense, either openly or concealed or both.




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The Babble about “Gun Violence”

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When I was driving to work the other day, the only thing on the radio was a discussion of the latest crazy-high-school-student shooting. Two “newscasters” with, apparently, no news to cast were babbling about how terrified parents “across the nation” must feel about learning that someone, somewhere had used a gun in one of America’s 100,000 public schools. Of course, the babblers didn’t make the common-sense observation that such terrified parents need to calm down, the better to notice what their own kids are doing and think about whether some of them might need some mental help.

The thing that struck me most was the lead babbler’s constantly repeated query, “Why are Americans so violent?” If this query prompts you to ask, “So violent, compared with whom?”, he had an answer. Compared with the Europeans. “When you talk to Europeans, they all wonder why Americans are so violent, when in Europe, they don’t have this violence at all.” Presumably, murdering hundreds of millions of your fellow Europeans, until the Americans come in and teach you better manners, doesn’t count as “violence.” Presumably, soccer riots don’t count as violence. Presumably, the Europeans’ until-1989 addiction to the institutionalized violence of communism doesn’t count as violence.

But there was another example. “I’ve talked to Pakistanis who ask why America is such a violent country.” Oh you have, have you? Isn’t Pakistan one of those countries that has trouble turning terrorists away? And the Pakistanis think we’re violent.

In fact, the murder rate in the United States (4.7 per 100,000 population) is very far beneath the world murder rate (6.9), beneath the murder rate of a number of countries in Europe, beneath the murder rate of dear old Pakistan (7.8), and beneath the murder rate of scores of other countries and “countries” — virtually none of which, so far as I know, are habitually or even occasionally criticized for their violent dispositions. But as usual, America loses the game of cultural comparison, the function of which is never to make any society look bad except ours.

Here is Wikipedia on the recent execution of the uncle of the current dictator of North Korea:

On 12 December 2013 state media announced he had been executed, claiming that "despicable human scum Jang, who was worse than a dog, perpetrated thrice-cursed acts of treachery in betrayal of such profound trust and warmest paternal love shown by the party and the leader for him." The 2700 word statement detailing the accusations also included other charges such as placing a granite monument carved with the supreme leader's words "in a shaded corner," "let[ting] the decadent capitalist lifestyle find its way to our society by distributing all sorts of pornographic pictures among his confidants," and "half-heartedly clapping, touching off towering resentment of our service personnel and people" when one of Kim Jong-Un's promotions was announced.

Reading this kind of thing, almost everybody laughs and says something equivalent to “there they go again.” That’s just how the North Koreans are, isn’t it? The high-class babblers then take to their computers to consider whether such events increase or decrease the possibility that North Korea will attack its neighbors with nuclear bombs, or simply continue starving its own people. There is no analysis of why the North Koreans are so violent, any more than there is any analysis of why the Pakistanis, the Mexicans (23.7 murder rate), the Hondurans (91.6), or any other people are violent — not to mention the South Africans (31.8), among whom even a man accused of helping to burn two other men to death with a necklace of burning tires can rise to the exalted position of fake sign-language interpreter at the funeral of the national hero. But there is always plenty of analysis of what is psychologically, socially, and spiritually wrong with “American exceptionalism,” the idea that the United States is in some way better than other countries. America is allowed to be exceptional in only one way — its amazing level of “violence.”




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Why Is Arms Control for Civilians Only?

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In the early morning hours of New Year's Day, 2009, Oscar Grant III was killed by an overzealous transit cop in Oakland’s Fruitvale BART Station. He was 22 years old, the father of a four-year-old daughter. Grant and his friends were returning from watching the New Year's Eve fireworks when an altercation started among the revelers on the train. The fight had already ended before the cops arrived, but they still wanted to assert their thuggish authority. Grant was lying face down on the platform when he was shot. Several bystanders caught the arrest and shooting on their cellphones, and these grainy images of the actual event are seen at the beginning of "Fruitvale Station," which tells the story of Oscar Grant's final day of life.

The film is a lot like Gabriel Garcia Márquez's Chronicle of a Death Foretold in that we know from the beginning that Oscar (Michael B. Jordan) is going to be shot, just as we know from the first sentence of Chronicle that this is the day when Santiago Nasar is going to be killed. Nevertheless, both stories are taut and suspenseful because they focus on the "who" and the "why" of the stories rather than the end result. Fruitvale Station is a moving character study of the young man, and of the socioeconomic conditions that influenced his life and death. It is an important film for today, when stories appear of a 95-year-old man who refused medical attention being killed by cops with a beanbag round propelled from a shotgun, and an 18-year-old skateboarder being killed by another taser-happy cop after spraypainting an abandoned building. What ever happened to due process?

Oscar is presented as a generous-hearted young man, the kind who notices others and goes out of his way to help them in simple ways — he's that guy who will reach something from the top shelf of the grocery store for a stranger, or pick up something you need on the way home from work and not let you pay him back. He likes being a nice guy.

But we see a darker side to Oscar, too. He wears a mask of easygoing generosity, but behind that mask he is worried, and he is lying. He has lost his job at the grocery store, and he doesn't want anyone in his family to know it because he doesn't want to disappoint them. He has already disappointed them enough; we soon discover that he has done time in prison for various offenses, including drug dealing. The sad fact is that 40% of black males aged 18–26 are unemployed today, and a large proportion will spend time in prison. When they get out, their chance of finding employment drops even more. Dealing drugs is the fastest and surest way to make some quick cash. But it's also the fastest and surest way of ending up back in prison. Oscar doesn't want to go back.

Without the cellphone record, Oscar's death would likely have been reported as just one more former felon "shot while resisting arrest."

The conflict between the good man Oscar seems innately to be and the outlaw he is struggling to leave behind makes this film much more than a diatribe against police brutality. One of the most powerful moments in the film occurs when Oscar suddenly dons his "prison mask" during a visit with his mother (Octavia Spencer). Another inmate challenges him in the visiting room, and Oscar immediately becomes vicious and challenging in return. In the next moment he is a little boy again, desperate for his mother's understanding and affection. He is like the small dog who bares his teeth and growls menacingly when a larger dog enters his territory. It is a defensive stance, intentionally aggressive and defiant in order to avoid an escalation to physical violence. We see that mask once more during the film, and both times it is a stunning piece of acting.

There are many heroes in this film, but Oscar is not one of them. The film honors his memory, but he is a victim — a victim of poor education, of cultural poverty, and ultimately of random circumstances that put him on that train car in that station at that moment with a scared young cop who didn't know his taser from his service revolver. The true heroes are the ordinary citizens who pulled out their cellphones and began filming the event, even as cops yelled at them to put the phones down. Without that record, Oscar's death would likely have been reported as just one more former felon "shot while resisting arrest." Good riddance. And his friends who were on the platform with him would likely have ended up in jail instead of being released hastily when the police realized they were in deep trouble.

As the late Andrew Breitbart maintained, we have become a militia of journalists, armed with our cellphone cameras and ready at a moment's notice to protect the strangers around us by documenting many kinds of abuse.

Recently when I was picking my son up at the airport, I dutifully circled the terminal at least half a dozen times while waiting for him to arrive. Finally he called to say that he had his luggage and was ready to be picked up. As I pulled to the curb, however, the airport cop yelled at me, "Move along! This area is only for active loading!" I pointed toward my son and opened my door to get out. "Stay in your car and move along!" he yelled again. I pointed again at my son. "I could have you arrested,” he threatened.

"For what?" I demanded. "For picking up my son who is standing right there?"

The cop's arm twitched backward toward his holster. Seriously. For an alleged parking offense. (Maybe that's where he kept his citation pad . . .) At that point the officer noticed that my daughter was filming the whole event on her cellphone. And suddenly his whole demeanor changed. "I'm sorry Ma'am," he said. "It's been a long day. I'm at the end of a double shift." Smile, copper. You're on candid camera.

The film is NR (not rated) because of pervasive ethnic street language that would have garnered an X (filmmakers will opt for NR to avoid the deadly X rating) but for the fact that the language is realistic and appropriate to the cultural environment. Frankly, I'm amazed that the word "nigger" blaring from the hip-hop songs on Oscar's radio would be considered worse than the gore and nudity that earns an R rating, but hey — I don't let the Hollywood police tell me what to watch anyway.

Fruitvale Station won both the Drama Grand Prize and the Audience Award at Sundance this year. It is a powerful film, well worth seeing.


Editor's Note: Review of "Fruitvale Station," directed by Ryan Coogler. The Weinstein Company, 2013, 85 minutes.



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The Zimmerman Verdict

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The trial of the decade (so far) has ended and George Zimmerman is a free man. What are the important points we should take from this?

First, it’s clear that the system worked. Zimmerman received a fair trial. A jury of his peers found him innocent based on the law and the evidence presented at trial. Obviously, Zimmerman was foolish to ignore police advice and continue following poor Trayvon Martin. But he committed no crime in doing so. His actions provoked the confrontation that ended in Martin’s death, but again, under Florida law he was justified in shooting Martin in self-defense. The jury believed that Zimmerman feared for his life, and that’s enough in Florida to justify taking a life, even if the killer instigated the events that led up to the killing.

This trial was not a repeat of the first Rodney King trial, in which a jury consisting of ten whites, one Hispanic, and one Asian was almost certainly blinded by a conscious or unconscious fear of blacks. Nor was it OJ all over again, with a panel practicing jury nullification in support of the defendant. It did, however, resemble the OJ case in that the prosecution was quite inept. The prosecutors were ineffective in all phases of the trial, possibly because they had a weak case to begin with. The defense on the other hand hardly put a foot wrong, aside from the unfortunate knock-knock joke in its opening statement. The authorities also overcharged the case — there was never any prospect of finding Zimmerman guilty of second-degree murder. (Overcharging, by the way, is a tactic used by prosecutors all over the country as a means to get defendants to plead instead of going to trial. As such, it represents a major perversion of our justice system.)

We all should have the absolute right to defend our homes and families from aggression. But public spaces are a different matter.

We can be thankful that the verdict did not lead to major violence. The small-scale thuggery seen in Oakland and L.A. does not compare to the barbarism displayed in South Central L.A. after the King verdict. President Obama, who seems increasingly irrelevant both at home and abroad, performed a useful service by urging calm. On the other hand, the lack of a video in the Zimmerman case may have had as much to do with the absence of major violence as the measured words of America’s mixed-race chief executive.

Millions of people, both black and white, are deeply dissatisfied with the verdict. Many are urging the Justice Department to bring a civil rights case against Zimmerman. Such a case would be very hard if not impossible to prove. This analyst believes Attorney General Holder will decide not to bring a civil rights case against Zimmerman, for the simple reason that it would probably fall apart in court, embarrassing both the Justice Department and the president. That the Attorney General is an African-American probably makes it easier to resist the temptation to file federal charges against Zimmerman. An administration in which all the key players are white might very well feel compelled to do so.

Holder, like the president, has been a moderating voice in the wake of the verdict. This has been his finest hour — or rather, his first fine hour after four-plus years in office. In a recent speech he questioned the concept of Stand Your Ground laws, maintaining that people have a duty to retreat if they can safely do so — but adding the important qualifier, when outside their home. There needs to be a serious debate nationally about the concept of Stand Your Ground. In Vermont, where I live, the law says I should retreat even if a criminal comes onto my property or enters my home. This, to me, is crazy. The idea that I must flee from my home rather than subdue or kill someone coming onto my property with criminal intent repels me. But then Vermont is a crazy place.

In my view we all should have the absolute right to defend our homes and families from aggression. But public spaces are a different matter. It’s true that Zimmerman’s defense team never invoked Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. Nevertheless, that law hung like a storm cloud over the proceedings. The principle of stand your ground as applied to public spaces has led, in this case, to the death of a young man who was simply returning from a trip to the store. A cop wannabe decides to follow a teenage boy (whom he may or may not have racially profiled) despite police advice to desist, and thereby provokes a fight that leads to his shooting the kid to death. Despite these circumstances, the wannabe is innocent in the eyes of the law. The kid is dead; the wannabe walks. Surely in this case the law is an ass.




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Fish in a Barrel

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Many leftist “progressives” are determined to disarm the populace. They can’t fathom why anyone might find this strange. Their hearts brim with concern for women, gays, people of color, and the poor! But their efforts, if successful, would leave these people more vulnerable to violence than they are right now, and probably more than anyone else.

Our self-appointed benefactors want us to depend on them. Keeping us from depending on ourselves for our own protection is naturally part of the plan. Citizens without recourse to effective self-defense are like fish in a barrel. The barrel may be easy to protect, but the fish are easy to kill.

Over a period of several months, when I was a teenager, I would hear heavy footsteps on the walkway outside my bedroom window. I never so much as caught a glimpse of who was out there. But something drew him back to my bedroom window time after time.

Then one evening I was home alone, sitting in the very den where I now write this essay. It had to be pretty obvious I was sitting there, at a well-lit desk. All at once, the window began to slide open. I ran down the hall to my mother’s bedside table, opened the drawer, and got out the .25 caliber pistol. Meanwhile, back in the den, the uninvited visitor was struggling to pry open the window all the way. I entered the room, picked up the phone, and loudly called the police.

Could I have fended off the prowler without a firearm? I’m glad I never had to find out.

Sounding bored — as if she didn’t believe me, or simply didn’t care — the dispatcher told me she would “send someone out.” The prowler had to hear my end of that conversation, but it did nothing to stop him from trying to get in. I flipped open the curtains, pointing the gun out into the darkness beyond the window. All I saw of him was his shadowy backside as he turned and fled.

About forty minutes later, a police cruiser rolled lazily by. It slowed very slightly in front of my house, then sped on. No one stopped. Nor did anyone from the police department even bother to call and find out if the issue had been successfully resolved — in short, whether I was alive or dead.

I don’t think I heard those footsteps during the next few nights after the near break-in. But a few days afterward, a young man was arrested only a couple of blocks from our house. He’d allegedly beaten his mother to death because she wouldn’t give him money for drugs. I do know I never heard the footsteps after that.

If the mother-murderer and the prowler were one and the same, could I have fended him off without a firearm? I’m glad I never had to find out. But without a gun, against a man big enough to murder a grown woman with his bare hands, a teenaged girl would have had less than a fighting chance.

A quarter century later, when my father suffered a heart attack, I moved back into my childhood home to help care for him. When he died, the house became mine. Though it is in an upper-middle-class neighborhood, there have been several break-ins on my street. Never have the police shown up until after the prowlers have fled. In every case, it has been the homeowner or a neighbor who has driven them away.

It warms my heart that progressives care so much about my safety. Are they right that I don’t need a gun because they’ll protect me themselves? I hope I never have to find out about that, either.




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