Tag Archives: Gun Control

Election 2016, Reflections

Election 2016, Reflections

by: john harrison

Even before the 2016 presidential election the GOP controlled 68 out of 98 partisan state legislative chambers — the highest number in the history of the party. Republicans held the governorship and both houses of the legislature in 23 states, while Democrats had that level of control in only 7 states. In political terms the Republican Party had much more to lose in this election than the Democratic Party did.

This widespread strength gave the Republicans control over the redistricting process of House districts across the country. This control has enabled Republicans to entirely restructure the House of Representatives in their favor, but it has also resulted in the election of many very independent, only nominally Republican, House members that are not responsive to the Republican leadership. However, the initial large number of viable Republican presidential candidates in 2016 also reflected the Republican party’s geographically broad based, deep, political strength.

The entirety of the popular vote difference of about 2.5 million votes in Sec. Clinton’s favor comes from California. It signifies nothing, but it helps hide a distressing truth for the Democratic Party. Essentially in at least this election, the Democratic Party has withered to a very large, regional political party with its strength concentrated mainly in large cities generally located in the Northeast and far West coasts and particularly in three of the most populous states, California, New York and Illinois. The Democratic Party has fought also populous Florida to a virtual tie in the last two presidential elections, but it has not a chance in Texas, the remaining member of the top five states in population.

In spite of raising and spending an incredible amount of money, far more than the Republicans, and creating a superb professional political machine focused on getting out the Democratic vote, Sec. Clinton nonetheless posted the lowest Democratic vote total since 2008. This should be very disturbing to the party, but all that most Democrats seem to want to talk about is that she won the popular vote nationwide. On the other hand, but more important even though it too makes no difference, Mr. Trump scored the largest Republican popular vote total ever.

A vote comparison that is useful, is that in only 14 states did Sec. Clinton receive more than half or the votes cast, while Mr. Trump exceeded that goal in 24 states. In a republic with an electoral college these numbers have much more significance than the total popular vote.

Reflecting intense voter dissatisfaction with both major party candidates almost 6 million votes went to third party candidates. Unlike several years ago when Mr. Perot ran, my view is that almost nobody voted “for” any of the 3rd party candidates this time. They voted against both major party candidates, but more apparently voted against Sec. Clinton than against Mr. Trump.

This seems clear from the vote totals. Mr. Trump substantially increased his party’s vote totals while Sec. Clinton was unable to repeat even the lowest of President Obama’s vote totals in spite of a huge and very successful effort to register new, presumably Democratic, voters.

This voter apathy, sometimes antipathy, toward Sec. Clinton and her running mate was also visibly reflected during the campaign in the lack of crowds at their events unless a rock star or President Obama also attended. Although conspicuous, this lack of enthusiasm for the Democratic candidate was ignored by her campaign and deprecated by the media as “not important” or at least, over shadowed by the great Democratic “ground game” coming in the general election.

The numbers in gross should be even more distressing for the Democratic Party. Starting in 2000 about 101 million Americans voted in that year’s presidential election. In 2004 about 121 million voted. In 2008 President Obama’s first term a record 129 million voted. In 2012 about 126 million voted. However, in 2016 in another record, 134 million Americans voted. Mr. Trump’s total vote of almost 63 million set a new record for the Republican Party, but Sec. Clinton’s 65 million was well below President Obama’s total vote in both of the two preceding presidential elections. That is, even though the total votes cast in 2016 increased by about 8 million votes, the total vote for the Democratic nominee actually went down for the second straight election.

In the main these new voters went to either Mr. Trump, or to the two major third party candidates who received almost 6 million votes in 2016. Clearly whichever party can capture the allegiance of these new voters will win the presidency in 2020 and both parties have ample room to broaden their respective bases.

While many, particularly in the media, talked of the apparent disintegration of the Republican Party during the campaign, it appears that it was the Democratic party that did not succeed in uniting or broadening its base. If this persists it is in real danger of becoming nationally irrelevant as a political party. Structurally, for the same reasons that Mr. Trump won the electoral college vote while losing the popular vote, the Republicans hold a distinct advantage in the House. They have resurrected in part the “solid South” which formerly belonged to the Democratic Party. These were very real Republican advantages in the 2016 election, and will likely continue.

This time the traditional wedge issues of the past, particularly gun control, women’s reproductive rights, immigration, etc., apparently produced more active opposition for Democratic candidates than they did active support for Democratic candidates. The key here is the word “active” because active supporters vote. A close race, such as the 2016 election was in many states, gives such single issue voters, active voters, even more importance. In 2016, they held the balance and then they gave it to Mr. Trump. Why?

Never have the pundits and professional politicians been proven more uniformly wrong. Say what you will, Mr. Trump first defeated a large Republican group of well financed, experienced, successful politicians many with national recognition. Then, he went on to beat the Democratic nominee handily in the electoral race which is the only one that counts. How did that happen?

2016 was not the first time the Democratic Party has suffered a humiliating loss when led by a politician named Clinton. After the similar disaster at the polls in 1994 people in the Democratic Party began looking for the reason. It was not hard to find. Everybody agreed then that the assault weapon ban had cost the party at least 40 seats in the House, including that of the Speaker of the House, Tom Foley.

The political price for passing the assault weapon ban in 1994 was the loss of Congress to the Republicans. Not only that, but it endangered all of Bill Clinton’s and therefore the Democratic Party’s, agenda for the rest of his presidency. In large part the aftermath of election of 1994 was the partisan conditions on Capitol Hill that produced Clinton’s own impeachment. Even Clinton himself, looking back on the assault weapon ban in his memoir, My Life, concluded that he had likely “pushed the Congress, the country, and the administration too hard.” Thereafter for Bill Clinton, gun control became the deadly third rail of politics.

How then did gun control arise again in a Clinton campaign? Probably it can be traced back to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting which occurred on December 14, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children between 6 and 7 years old, as well as 6 adult staff members that began the resurgence of gun control as a national political issue. On the one hand are the parents of the slaughtered children. On the other hand was a follower of political activist and theorist Saul Alinsky who taught that even the most horrible tragedy should be used, and who stated:

“The despair is there; now it’s up to us to go in and rub raw the sores of discontent, galvanize them for radical social change.”- Saul Alinsky

For a big part of the country, the problem had a simple solution—protect the schools, post armed guards. This is the rational and so far only effective way to protect anything. This is why both large amounts of money and presidents always travel with armed guards.

Again for a large part of the country, they wondered in light of all of the previous shootings at schools why there had not already been an armed guard there at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Who could be dumb enough to think that a “Gun Free Zone” sign on an all glass door would work?

That is when they found that they were not dealing with reason. Many in Connecticut and elsewhere protested against posting armed guards at schools even after the shooting at Newtown. Rather than sue the officials who had left their children and teachers entirely unprotected even though schools were a well recognized risk, the parents sued the gun manufacturer. They were undeterred that all of the guns used had been stolen in course of a homicide where the killer had murdered his own mother.

A large part of the country found this reaction of demonizing guns rather than the murderer to be completely idiotic. More important, it scared them. They want their children to be protected, and they do not much care how it is done, as long at it is done.

While reason, as they viewed it, ultimately prevailed, the Connecticut schools finally hired armed guards and the suit against the gun manufacturers was thrown out of court, the horrific memories remained for both sides. They still produce almost Pavlovian responses.

For example, former Vice Presidential candidate and current Democratic Senator Tim Kaine recently posted:

“Deeply saddened by the senseless act of gun violence at Ohio State this morning. Praying for the injured and the entire Buckeye community.” (Emphasis added)

However, the only “gun violence” was when an alert policeman, an armed guard employed by the university, shot and killed the knife wielding terrorist who had first used his car as a weapon.

People who want their children protected, by guns if necessary, are deathly afraid of people like Senator Tim Kaine. In 2016, like in 1994, in their view the Democratic Party rejected them. The Democratic candidate for president literally, deplored them.

The next issue was abortion. If anyone wondered how a woman could vote for Donald Trump they need look no further than the abortion issue.

The voices of reason on this issue, and there are few, said that abortion must be looked at realistically. Realistically, the wealthy have always had access to safe, sometimes even legal, abortions. However, those that did not have access to legal abortions often died. The rational said that if you are with the idea of a legal abortion in the cases of rape, incest and/or the health of the mother, then abortion can no longer be a black and white, moral issue. As soon as you agree to exceptions, you are no longer talking about right and wrong, you are weighing options. It can no longer be a moral choice.

All of this ignored that for many voters, abortion is a black and white issue, and this includes many women voters. While exact numbers will never be available since for many this is a distinctly private issue, some women are in favor of abortion regardless of the circumstances, a point that Sec. Clinton endorsed in the last debate, and some women are opposed to abortion, again regardless of the circumstances.

Even between these two extremes, a lot of women are still single issue voters. That is why nothing that Mr. Trump, generally an opponent of abortion, said in the campaign swayed many women in particular from voting for him.

Because they believed that voting for a man like Mr. Trump to be clearly irrational behavior, Sec. Clinton’s advisors discounted it. They simply did not believe that any woman could vote for such a misogynist.

They forgot that this particular misogynist opposed abortion, except in the cases of rape, incest and health of the mother. In contrast to all of the other Republican candidates, he opposed shutting down Planned Parenthood as well. That is Mr. Trump took the more or less middle ground, the most generally acceptable anti-abortion position. While Sec. Clinton was on the extreme end of the debate, Mr. Trump got a lot of votes because of his much more moderate position.

What’s troubling for the future is that a wide swath of supporters on both sides of abortion and gun control still view these particular issues as moral imperatives, as matters of basic human rights. In this view, gun control and abortion are not clashes of competing political and legal issues, to be sorted out with data and evidence. It is Good vs. Evil; Enlightenment vs. Barbarism; Life vs. Death.

Phrasing them this way makes the advocates of stricter and looser laws feel better. We all need a villain. But unlike truly moral issues, claiming the moral high ground on these issues makes it less likely to pass better laws, less likely to end the logjam in Congress, even less likely to win elections because the attitude itself motivates both sides.

If Sec. Clinton had moderated her party’s stand on gun control or abortion, or had at least taken a more nuanced approach, like Mr. Trump did, as strange as that is to say that about Mr. Trump, when he refused many times to endorse the idea of ending Planned Parenthood, it is hard to say what would have happened. That is why these issues have been called the third rail of politics. There is no safe side.

In 2008 President Obama accurately if disparagingly identified the Democrats’ 2016 problem with the voters:

“They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”

Eight years later, now President elect Trump played repeatedly on those issues. He played on them just like Jimi Hendrix played the guitar, with originality and power. They propelled him straight to the White House.

The Democratic party must find an acceptable answer on these issues. If the Democratic Party is going to return as a truly national party it is going to have to change its approach to something different on at least some of these issues. There are very real political risks if it does not.

For example, in the 2016 presidential election the Democratic Party enjoyed an immense lead with Hispanic voters. However, while Hispanics have favored the Democratic Party over the Republican Party in every presidential election since at least the 1980s, their electoral impact has long been limited by low voter turnout and much more important as this election has proved, a population concentrated in non-battleground states. This support was so even though Hispanics are generally Roman Catholic and the Catholic Church takes a very dim view of abortion. This creates a huge opportunity for Republican politicians like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to penetrate Democratic strongholds just as Mr. Trump penetrated traditional Democratic states in 2016 with his message on job losses.

As for Trump and the Republicans, I was as dumbfounded as most were by his nomination and then by his election. He tapped into long simmering voter anger and exploited it ruthlessly. It remains to be seen whether this compulsive dealer can retain his support as he actually begins to make choices, to make deals. It will also be interesting to see if Speaker Ryan can deliver the votes necessary to create a Trump Administration program.

For my part, I remain as doubtful of the success of a Trump presidency as I was of his candidacy. As an American I hope that I am wrong again.

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Guns, Gun Control and the Second Amendment

I would be more receptive to the gun control advocates alleged concern about human life if it in fact they were concerned about life at all. However, their concern appears to be only about guns, and the money they can generate because of people’s fear of guns, and it must be said that the other side makes money by stoking the fear that their guns might be taken away.

  • Would any additional law have stopped the Sandy Hook killings? No, for example gun ownership is far more regulated in Norway than would ever be tolerated in America, but even such strict regulation of firearms did not stop a similar atrocity there.
  • Would an expansion of background checks, or closing the “gun show loop hole” have made a difference in any of the recent mass shootings? No. None of the shooters were on any such list. None of the shooters acquired their gun at a gun show. Nor are any of the shooters ever likely to be on such a list in part because of doctor patient confidentiality rules. Since no one can tell when a looney-toon is about to become a dangerous looney-goon, doctors do not typically report their patients to the police.
  • Would a law that made it more difficult for the Sandy Hook killer to get 3 guns have stopped him, or would fewer guns have slowed him down? No, like many criminals he did not acquire his guns legally. He killed his mother and stole her guns. In any event, since he could only shoot one or at most two guns at a time any more than that just got in his way. Under one gun every thirty days laws, it would take him at most sixty days to get the 3 guns which he had with him if he did it legally.  Such mass killings are not usually spur of the moment.  So, such a law even if he abided by it would not stop a tragedy.
  • Would a law that made high-capacity magazines illegal have resulted in fewer deaths? No. For example, it was a malfunction in his high-capacity magazine that slowed the shooter down in the Aurora shooting and allowed him to be stopped. That is why the military does not use such magazines. The 20 round magazines I carried in Viet Nam were never loaded with more than 18 rounds and the thirty round magazines that were available then were rarely loaded with more than 25 rounds. The more rounds in a magazine, the more likely a malfunction. On the other hand, when cavalry men in the Civil War wanted more fire power, like the Sandy Hook killer, they just carried more guns. This meaningless focus on magazine size is very likely to drive such shooters to use much more effective shotguns instead. That will not be an improvement.
  • Would a law against “assault rifles” have reduced the carnage in Sandy Hook? Not likely, a professional would probably have used a shotgun and killed or wounded more people. In any event, assault weapon clones are rarely used in crimes. Among other reasons, they are rarely used by criminals is because they are so hard to hide.
  • Has the “gun lobby” distorted the Second Amendment? No. the Second Amendment was written by a group successful revolutionists that profoundly distrusted the executive branch of government. Any reasonable person reading the Second Amendment’s history will see that its clear purpose is an armed citizenry ready to resist an oppressive or coercive government. It is not for self-defense or hunting, it is for resistance to the government.

Here are a few facts that are also instructive.

The U.S. is the 12th in “Total firearm related death rate in the world” not first as is generally believed. The U. S. rate is about 1/7th of the leading countries rate (South Africa) but it is about double the rate in Canada. While you would not know it from the news media gun homicide in the United States is actually down 49% since 1993 as the number of privately owned guns has skyrocketed and right to carry laws have expanded across the nation.

The U. S. has a much higher gun homicide rate than Canada, the Canadian’s have a gun suicide rate of about 60% of America’s. For many, it is suicide that is the real gun problem. About three quarters of the people killed by guns in the US every year are suicides. However, when Australia profoundly reduced its gun suicide rate by buying up a lot of guns and making guns difficult to get, total suicides actually went up by 10%. Removing guns was not a cure for suicide. It had no effect at all.

While each is a tragedy, accidental gun deaths are statistically negligible in both Canada and the United States. For example, in 2007 there were 617 accidental gun deaths in the U S, but some 29,846 accidental deaths by poisoning. If saving life was really the issue, we would have safe pill bottles.

The number of handguns used in crime (approximately 7,500 per year) is very small compared to the approximately 70 million handguns in the United States (i.e., 0.011%), but it is handguns that are used in the vast majority of gun crimes, gun suicide, etc., not rifles of any type.  It is impossible to justify by the numbers any additional restrictions on long guns or on magazines for long guns.

According to the FBI, every year about 60% of the justifiable homicides in the US are by the police, and about 40% by gun owners protecting themselves and their families. The important point here is that in each of these justifiable civilian homicides, a dangerous crime was thwarted by the presence of a privately owned gun. The police almost always arrive after the fact, after the crime.

According to a recent CDC report guns are used in the US probably at least several hundred thousand times a year by law-abiding people to protect themselves from criminals. Therefore, it appears to be a mathematical certainty that any restriction on gun ownership is going to result in additional deaths and injuries that would have been prevented had an effective weapon been available to the victim for their protection.

Where is the balance?  Is anybody even interested in the facts about guns and gun use in the United States?

The shooter attacked the Sandy Hook elementary school because essentially he was a coward and he was certain that there would be no guns there. He did not want a fight, he wanted to kill defenseless kids and the laws of the State Connecticut made them available for him to do exactly that. Why? Given all of the prior school shootings, the recent school shootings, why didn’t the people of Connecticut rise up in anger at those that put their children at risk? What idiot seriously thought that a “Gun Free Zone” sign would protect these children from a lunatic? Nobody responsible for the safety of children has the right to be that stupid.

In Israel since the school shooting at the Ma’alot massacre in 1974 there have been no more mass school shootings. Why? Golda Meir, as the PM immediately ordered armed guards posted in every school and allowed teachers in the schools, who are almost all reservists in the IDF, to bring their weapons with them to school. Now the terrorists in Israel go after busses because if they go to a school they know they will be shot. Finally, after a lot of useless posturing, the people of Connecticut have realized that it takes armed police to protect schools and they have provided them. Why did it take so long?

The shooter at Sandy Hook elementary school was 20 years old. He carried two pistols as well as a rifle. Since he was under 21, it was already illegal for him to be in possession of the two pistols. It was also illegal for him to kill his mother in order to get her guns. Any additional law restricting guns would not have had any effect on him at all. This harsh reality must be faced and understood, or any new gun laws will not have any protective effect.

The constant in such cases is not guns. Even if you could get rid of all the guns lunatics will find a way to hurt people. One lunatic in China slashed 22 kids and an adult recently with a knife. Two bozos blew up the Federal Building in Oklahoma several years ago with high nitrite fertilizer. The Boston Bombers also used bombs, as did the killer in Norway.  The killer in Norway blew people up before he went to the island to kill kids. In Israel right now Muslim fundamentalists are driving cars into groups of people in order to maim and kill them.  If guns are not available these looney-goons will find a way to hurt, maim and kill defenseless people. And that is one of the most important but often overlooked constants, they are looking for defenseless people.

What are the real constants? Mental illness is certainly one of them. Another constant according to a recent magazine article are the drugs that are used to treat mental illness today. These drugs may also be part of the problem. Many of these powerful, often beneficial, psychotropic medications already carry a warning about an increased risk of suicide, should they also carry a warning about increased risk of homicide? Gun free zones are also a constant. These killers are not looking for a fight. Schools are often a target as well.  Killing kids makes headlines.

The lunatic in Norway killed a bunch of kids on an island with a gun. There is little likelihood that Norway’s strict gun laws will ever be enacted in the US. If Norway’s strict laws did not stop a lunatic from getting a gun, what will it take?  The killers of cartoonists in France had no trouble getting automatic weapons for their recent rampage and France has very strict gun laws.

Israel stopped school attacks–they put armed guards in schools and many of the teachers carry guns. If someone has a better idea for protecting schools now would be a good time to bring it up-but if you are serious about protecting children, only Israel’s solution has actually worked so far. Not putting armed police in schools is a recipe for recurrent tragedy as well as being profoundly stupid, but many, even in Connecticut, nonetheless objected to it and pilloried the NRA for even suggesting it.  Who values ideology more than protecting kids?

The reality is that even with gun ownership in the United States increasing almost every year, gun crime has gone down every year since 1993. However, for a while Richmond, with some of the least restrictive gun laws in the nation battled Washington, DC, with the most restrictive gun laws in the nation for the title of Murder Capitol USA. Now Chicago, a city with very restrictive gun laws is awash with gun crime.  Why? The real answer is that nobody knows why, and unfortunately nobody cares enough to want to find out why. They would rather be for or against guns when it is violence that is killing people.

Short of outright confiscation, the CDC has stated that gun laws cannot be statistically proven to have had any effect on gun crime, total suicides or mass shootings. Think about that the next time a politician says that they are in favor of “sensible gun safety laws.” How “sensible” can a law be that has been proven time and again not to work? As of today the only gun safety laws, sensible or otherwise, that have been proven to be useful would be to require mandatory gun safety courses for everybody because these can be shown to reduce total gun accidents.

Two things seem clear: guns are not the problem; guns are not always the answer. People that blame modern violence on guns are either ignorant or they are lying, as are the people who say more guns will cure violence. Guns can and should be used to protect those that we love, but they cannot do more than that. Actually doing something useful about violence in our society will take work and a willingness to be objective.

Unfortunately, the reality is that a lot of people would rather use the bodies of dead children to make money by scaring people rather than actually working on the root problem of violence in modern society. Just like the shooter uses these childrens’ lives to give a terrible meaning to his own.