Advertisements

“Bump Stocks” Take a Dive

Every mass shooting incident is inevitably followed by a renewed push for stricter gun control laws, but so far none of them have brought about any significant policy changes. Sunday’s record-setting massacre in Las Vegas, though, seems likely to result in some sort of ban on something called a “bump stock.”
Despite the public’s natural instinct to do something to after a mass shooting, gun control advocates have been unable to come up with anything short of a total ban on private ownership that would have averted or mitigated the tragedy. A total ┬ában on private gun ownership would require two-thirds of the states ratifying a constitutional amendment to repeal the Second Amendment, which isn’t going to happen in any living American’s lifetime, followed by a nationwide confiscation program, and you don’t have to be paranoid about your gun-owning neighbors to foresee how that would wind up with a lot of guns being pried out of a lot of cold, dead fingers, so the proposals have mostly been limited to background checks and waiting periods and limits on the number of bullets in a magazine and bans on certain types of guns, along with other assorted tweaks. Background checks and waiting periods are already law, though, magazines can be so quickly replaced that limits are ineffective, and the deadliest firearms have been banned for decades.
Partly because gun control advocates are proud they know nothing about guns, and gun enthusiasts pride themselves on knowing everything about them, the Second Amendment has largely survived all the debates, even when the Democrats were in charge. The longstanding attempts to re-ban “assault weapons” have faltered when the gun enthusiasts rightly noted that it’s a meaningless term, sometimes used to describe rifles that are no more deadly than your pop’s hunting rifle but have certain scary-and-military looking features, and the gun control advocates seemed not understand the difference between the now-common semi-automatic weapons and the long-banned fully automatic ones.
“Bump stocks” blur that distinction in a deadly way, though, and both sides of the debate seem to understand that. It’s news to us, as well as to many far more enthusiastic gun owners than ourselves, but a “bump stock” is a gizmo that allows one to alter a perfectly legal semi-automatic rifle so that with one pull of the trigger it fires bullets as rapidly one of those long-banned fully automatic rifles. As of now the sale and purchase of these gizmos is legal, and although actually using one is a felony the fellow who killed 59 people and wounded more than 500 others in Las Vegas also decided to break that law. Such a deranged person would have broken any gun law you might have passed with any guns he could have gotten his hands on, of course, but it seems certain that he wouldn’t have killed and wounded quite so many people if a law had deterred someone from selling him those gizmos that he used on his armory of legally-acquired weapons.
The Democratic Party in general and its gun control advocates in particular sense a rare winning issue, and the Republican Party in general and its gun enthusiasts in particular don’t seem eager to fight this battle. The Speaker of the House has signaled his willingness to ban “bump stocks,” and even the National Rifle Association has agreed the Bureau of Alcohol and Tobacco and Firearms should tweak their interpretations of existing law to stop people from selling the gizmos. In the past they’ve taken a never-give-an-inch stance on any gun control regulation, with a plausible argument that it might wind up with a police state confiscating guns from cold, dead fingers, but the starting point on slippery slope has been a ban on fully automatic weapons ever since they were first banned in the 1930[s after the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and were more fully banned during the Reagan years, so they’re not giving much ground this time around.
Those sorts of gun enthusiasts who are preparing for a revolution against the better-armed “deep state” or the Zionist Occupying Government or a mass shooting on some public square will object that their Second Amendment rights are being violated, but we’d like to think that the vast majority of our gun-owning neighbors have no need for a “bump stock.” No one uses them for hunting, our more knowledgable gun-owning friends tell us that home defense is probably best handled with a semi-automatic hand gun with a full magazine, and for now we’re not ready to foment any armed revolution in the country. Let the gun-grabbers win this battle, as far as we’re concerned, and let a reasonably-interpreted Second Amendment win the war.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

Tragedy, Obituaries, and the Public Relations Fallout

Life itself is ultimately tragic, as our jaded souls know all too well, but the news from the past few weeks have brought more than usual amount of tragedy.
Two historic hurricanes brought death and devastation to densely populated parts of Texas and Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands and pretty much wiped out a few Caribbean countries you probably couldn’t name, two successive earthquakes killed hundreds in Mexico and therefore went largely unnoticed in America, a third deadly hurricane left Puerto Rico flooded and without power or potable water, and a severely troubled soul in Nevada killed at least 59 of his fellow human beings and wounded more than 500 others. Not to mention the sudden plausibility of a nuclear exchange with a nutcase dictatorship in North Korea, the normal and quotidian slaughter on America’s streets, and the names you can’t help noticing for some personal reason in the always full obituary page.
That’s an awful lot of tragedy to comment on, especially if you want to do so with the requisite respect and dignity and humility, and we’d never be so boastful as to claim being up to the job. Therefore the job instead falls on President Donald Trump, who is not known for being respectful or dignified or humble, and as much as we hate to cast stones we think he could have handled it better.
The historic hurricanes went about as well as can be expected in Texas and Florida, with the long and arduous rebuilding process and the requisite federal assistance coming along so far and so good despite all the legislative rigmarole, and except for the usual unpersuasive carping about climate change there was no way to blame Trump for the storms. Trump seemed to be taking a bit too much credit for things going as well as can be expected, with not enough credit given to the state and county and civic officials and plain old citizens who were pulling one another out of the water, but other than that he did well enough.
After that hurricane in Puerto Rico, however, Trump gave his critics plenty to work with. Trump “tweeted” boasts about how the governor of Puerto Rico had praised the federal response, but his Homeland Security secretary described the federal response as a “good news story,” so when the mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital and most populous went viral with her answer that its a “people-are-dying” Trump wound up in another bad news cycle. Trump “tweeted” his criticism of her leadership abilities, but the unfriendly media had footage of her wading in chest deep water while Trump was hosting a fancy golf tournament, and the three-star general who turned around President George W. Bush’s Hurricane Katrina disaster was on the ground in Puerto Rico and noting the difference, and Trump continued to “tweet” about Puerto Rico’s debt and effect on the American budget and an insinuation that Puerto Ricans are too lazy to save themselves from nature’s fury.
As bad as the public relations disaster was for Trump, he was temporarily rescued by all the media attention paid to that troubled soul who killed at least 59 people in Las Vegas and the wounding of at least 500 others. Trump offered a a very respectful and dignified and humble statement about the victims, lowered all the nation’s flags to half-staff in honor of the victims, and handled the tragedy as well as can be expected. He put off the inevitable debates about gun control to another day, which is probably the best that can be expected, and until that inevitable debate happens we think he did well enough.
Trump was in Puerto Rico on Monday to convey his sympathy to the quasi-Americans on the island, though, and that gave all his critics even more work to with. He once against boasted about how the governor had praised the great federal response, this time with looking rather embarrassed as he sat beside him, and made a joke about how much Puerto Rico was costing America that left everyone looking pretty darned embarrassed, and boastfully compared the death toll of 35 — which he understated at 16 — to the thousands of deaths of deaths that resulted from a “real catastrophe” such as fellow Republican President George W. Bush’s Hurricane Katrina, which actually resulted in slightly fewer than a thousand deaths. He was overheard offering praise to a ran Puerto Rican for the mayor of the island’s capital and most populous city, and had an awkward handshake with her, but we doubt it played well with anyone in Puerto Rico and Americans other than Trump’s most loyal supporters.
Puerto Rico has in fact racked up an irresponsible debt, neglected to maintain up-to-date electrical grids and plumbing systems and other crucial infrastructure, and that plucky and telegenic if crazily leftist mayor does bear some responsibility for that, but with the island still largely without power or potable water this seems an inappropriate time to bring that up. The Puerto Ricans and the rest of the Democrats can also plausibly argue that past American laws that made them a temporary tax haven for foreign investment enticed them to rack up all that debt, that a later American law denying them the same bankruptcy protections afforded to other American jurisdictions and certain Trump casinos had made the debt unsustainable, so it’s a complicated debate that’s best left to less emotional times.
When Trump touches down in tragic Las Vegas the inevitable debates about gun control will still be best left to less emotional times, and we hold out hope he’ll strike the right note with a respectful and dignified and humble tone in a scripted and stuck-to speech. The victims were all country music fans, even the mainstream media has found that all of them were sympathetic no matter what you think of country music fans, so we count on Trump being appropriately respectful and dignified and humble. That inevitable debate about gun control will hang over the event, but Trump should be able to delay that for at least a respectful interval, but there’s going to be some serious arguments about the commercially-available ways to convert to semi-automatic to more-or-less automatic weapons that will be hard to win.
Despite all the tragedy we note that many of our Facebook friends are also focused on the death of Tom Petty, who was a rock ‘n’ roll star of some note, so we’ll take a moment out of these past few dreary months to note his passing. We were never such ardent fans as so many of our dear friends, but Tom Petty and His Heartbreakers did cut more than a few true blue rock ‘n’ roll tracks we remember well, and along with everyone else we mourn his passing.
Not so long ago we were at a local dive and ran into an old friend with excellent musical taste, and she recommended we check out an obscure guy named Charles Bradley, who turned out to sing sweet soul music the way remembered it from the glorious but tragic late ’60s and early ’70s. Looking up this valuable information we also discovered that Bradley had died last months after 68 tragic years of life, just a couple of years of slight recognition for his musical talent, and we also mourn his passing. Before he died he sang a song called “Why Is It So hard,” and for now we’re finding it more comforting than anything Trump or any of his critics might say.

— Bud Norman

On the Murders Sunday in Las Vegas, Lawrence, and Elsewhere in the United States of America

Three people were killed and two others were injured early Sunday morning when at least 20 gunshots were fired on a crowded downtown street in Lawrence, Kansas, but you probably didn’t hear about it. Later that same day a shooter in Las Vegas killed at least 59 people and injured another 500 or so, setting a new American record, so that understandably took up almost all of Monday’s news.
By now mass shootings are almost numbingly routine, and despite the outrage and heartbreak they always provoke most Americans would be hard pressed to recall any details of the last one or the one before that, but this time might prove more memorable. There’s the record-setting death toll, the apparent use of a fully automatic weapon, the much older than usual age of the shooter, and an especially frustrating lack of any plausible explanation.
There’s never an adequate explanation for these slaughters, of course, but usually there’s some detail or two in the initial stories that gives some clue what going on the deranged mind of the shooter. Sometimes they’re named Mohammad and shout “Alahu Akbar” and had posted Islamic screeds on their Facebook pages, other times they’re white guys with haircuts and Facebook postings that announce their racial grievances, the guy who shot up the a Washington, D.C., softball field and wounded a Republican congressman had a deep-seated hatred of Republicans, and the guy shot up a political rally in Arizona and wounded Democratic congresswoman apparently did so because she had failed to an incomprehensible question he’d asked at a town hall, and usually they turn out to be kind of crazy that family and friends and neighbors had long noticed but never knew quite what to do about it.
None of that amounts to an adequate explanation, but it’s something to cling to as we humans instinctively search for some reassuring reason when tragedy occurs.
This time around the Islamic State terror gang claimed the shooter was a recent convert who had heeded their call to jihad, but they always they do that whenever someone kills random people, and it’s quite unusual for recent converts to any religion to keep quiet about it and so far everyone who knew the shooter says he never expressed any religious opinions at all. The target of the shooting was an outdoor country music festival, so there was immediate internet speculation that the shooter was someone who wanted to killed a lot of Republicans, which quickly led to some irresponsible right-wing sites fingering an innocent fellow with a lot of pro-Democratic Facebook postings, but apparently this shooter never expressed any political opinions of any sort, and was said to be a country music fan himself. According to everyone the armies of reporters have rounded up to interview, the shooter was an undeniably odd duck but not in a way that made you think he’d spray automatic rounds at a crowd of random strangers.
According to the neighbors he mostly kept to himself in his comfortable gated over-50 community in rural Nevada, and was often away from home for long periods of time during high-stakes gambling binges in Las Vegas. He’d apparently done well as an accountant and made some savvy real estate investments, and without any children to worry about he could afford the indulgence and still lavish gifts on his mother, so neither the neighbors nor his family found it worrisome. His brother gave a lengthy interview to a cluster of news cameras and microphones that was clearly too distraught to be at all disingenuous, and he was clearly surprised to learn that shooter had acquired a veritable armory or deadly weapons.
The usual post-mass-shooting debates about gun control are already underway, but this time around they’re all the more complicated for both sides. Apparently all of those weapons had been acquired legally, with the shooter’s previously pristine legal record and lack of any noticed mental health problems carrying him through all the required background checks, and automatic weapons have long been illegal, it’s too late to charge the now-dead-by-self-inflicted-gunshot shooter with the apparent crime of altering his semi-automatic rifles to fully automatic, and it’s hard to think of anything that would have stopped this guy without imposing onerous restrictions of the rights of the vast majority of peaceable gun owners. Those peaceable gun owners have long made the reasonable argument that if there’s some crazy guy shooting up a crowd you don’t want him to be the only one there with a gun, but in this case he was shooting from 400 yards away where none of those of presumably gun-toting country music fans would have known where to shoot, and if any of them had drawn their weapons during the panic the police and security on hand would have been well within their rights to shoot them.
The same dreary arguments will continue, nonetheless, along with the ancillary debates about why so many Americans wind up getting shot to death every year. Across most of America the murder rate has happily declined over the past few decades, those mass shootings and the daily carnage in Chicago and a couple of other cities notwithstanding, but the numbers are still high by first-world standards and merit national concern. Those mass shootings are by now a longstanding problem, too, dating back at least to a sniper attack from the University of Texas’ landmark tower in Austin in 1966, and back in ’76 a guy started shooting from the balcony of what was then the tallest building in our hometown of Wichita, and there was a kid shot up his junior high school in a nearby suburb back in ’85, and when we think about we can recall the schoolyard in Connecticut and the homosexual nightclub in Orlando and far too many details of other mass shootings.
An autopsy showed that the Texas shooter had brain disease, that guy in Wichita had just been jilted by his girlfriend, the junior high kid in the nearby suburb had endured the usual junior high bullying, the Connecticut shooter was so clearly crazy his mom had been warning the cops about him, the homosexual nightclub was another one of those “Alahu Akbar” incidents, and when we think about we can recall some semblance of a reason for all those other mass shootings. According to the police in the normally placid university town of Lawrence those three victims who died there early Sunday morning weren’t random targets, and that the violence was the result of some beef between low-lifes who have always used guns to settle their differences, and we note that the incident followed a rap concert at the school’s arena, so we’ll make the same stereotypical assumptions that some people make about country music concerts, and hope it’s all enough to satisfy our all too human need for some reason that tragedies occur.
None of it amounts to an adequate explanation, though, and we hope that America in its extraordinary greatness will take time out from the usual political to ponder why it has such a persistent and extraordinary problem with Americans getting shot to death, and how it might be addressed without stripping the vast majority of cherished rights.

— Bud Norman

The Latest Episode of the GOP Turns

The latest episode of the long-running reality show that is the Republican presidential nomination race aired last night, and we found it most entertaining. There were the usual reality show spats, although more serious policy discussion than usual, and we think it even advanced the plot a bit.
The thus-far star of the series, real estate mogul and reality-show veteran Donald Trump, had a rough night. During the serious policy discussion part of the proceedings he was asked which leg of the nation’s nuclear triad he thinks needs the most attention, and he answered “the nuclear part,” allowing Florida Sen. Marco Rubio to patiently explain “to those listening who might not be familiar with the terminology” that all the parts of the land-sea-and-air triad are nuclear. Eager to demonstrate that whatever he might lack in familiarity with defense terminology he makes up for in toughness, Trump also promised to not only kill any terrorists who attack the United States but to go after their families as well, thus ushering in the Cosa Nostra Doctrine of American foreign policy. He also sounded rather sanguine about the continued existence of the Assad regime in Syria, as well the benefits that delivers to an even peskier Iranian regime, and his “one thing at a time” explanation suggests he might not be up the multi-tasking that foreign policy sometimes requires.
Trump didn’t even fare well during the usual reality show spats, and judging by the live audience’s reaction his shock jock shtick seems to be starting to wear thin. During an entirely unnecessary confrontation with the increasingly irrelevant former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Bush got a far bigger round of applause that his dwindling number of supporters could have possibly provided by saying “You can’t insult your way to the presidency.” The never-back-down Trump even backed down from his recent criticisms of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’ confrontational legislative tactics, which were widely criticized by the crucial conservative talk radio hosts who egged Cruz on, and we expect it disappointed the loyal Trump fans who are already concocting “birther” theories about Cruz while doing little to win over those put off by Trump’s own confrontational style.
Worst of all for Trump, the intriguing subplot involving Rubio and Cruz drew much attention. Both of the first-term Senators are quite good at this debate stuff, Rubio has lately displaced Bush as the “establishment” candidate while Cruz has become the most formidable “anti-establishment” alternative to Trump, so their frequent clashes made for good television. Cruz scored with jabs against Rubio’s past heresies on the all-important issue of illegal immigration, Rubio came off tougher on national security because of Cruz’ past opposition to some data-gathering programs that used to be an important issue, and our guess is that Cruz got the better of it.
Some of the supporting cast were also good, but we can already see them being written out of future scripts. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is also good at this debate stuff, and his background as a federal prosecutor on terrorism cases served him well in a debate focused on national security, and his tough-guy is far more charming than the others’, but he’s way too northeast for a party that’s dominated by flyover country voters to have a chance. Former high-tech executive Carly Fiorina turned in her usual strong performance, and she does tough guy as well as any of the guys, but at this point she seems to be running for vice-president. Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson, who has been dropping in the polls ever since the terrorist attacks on Paris and San Bernardino pushed security issues to the forefront of the campaign, probably helped himself with some credible answers in the serious policy discussion part and a reassuring promise that his nice-guy persona won’t stop him from inflicting some collateral damage if he’s forced to.
Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul were also involved, some reason for another, but we expect this will be their last appearance.
The best news was Trump’s seemingly sincere promise that he won’t launch an independent run if he’s denied the Republican nomination, which would have guaranteed that next season’s general election reality show would end badly for the Republicans. There’s still hope for a happy ending, and that’s what keeps viewers tuned in.

— Bud Norman

Explaining Harry Reed’s Face

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada showed up in Washington earlier this year with a face that looked like it had been worked over by some brass-knuckled mobsters, along with an improbable explanation about a rubber band snapping on an exercise device in his bathroom, and most of the media were content to leave it at that. The general public and those pesky bloggers are more curious about such things, however, so there was eventually talk that the improbable tale of the exercise device in the bathroom was too improbable to be true and that maybe the rumors circulating in Las Vegas about Reid being worked over by some brass-knuckled mobsters were at least somewhat more probable.
Such gossip has now reached a point that the impeccably liberal Matt Yglesias at the impeccably liberal Vox.com site acknowledges it has “migrated from the water cooler to the mainstream,” the Bloomberg news service feels obliged to give it a “second installment of ‘Whoa, If True,’ an occasional look at the conspiracy theories that migrate from the wilds of the internet to the well-covered tundra of presidential campaigns,” and the left-wing Wonkette.com web site gave it the full snark. None of Reid’s defenders can definitively disprove the beaten-up-by-mobsters theory, of course, and none of the right-wing crazies being criticized for perpetuating the theory have actually said that Reid actually was beaten up by mobsters, just that it sure looked like he had been beaten up by mobsters, and that it seemed somewhat more probable than that obviously phony-baloney story about rubber bands and exercise devices in his bathroom, but such is the state of modern journalism, and the state of modern American politics.
Ordinarily we would feel some sympathy for any person forced to defend himself against fact-free slander, even a politician, but Reid is not an ordinary case. Among the myriad characters flaws that have made Reid one of the most odious public figures of his generation is his tendency to level the most outrageous accusations against his political opponents with no proof but full confidence that the target won’t be able to disprove them in time to ward off electoral defeat. The most notable example occurred during the 2012 presidential election when Reid took to the Senate floor to declare that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney hadn’t paid federal income taxes in several years, which was not a mere mistake or slight exaggeration or the usual election-year rhetoric but rather an outright lie, and in a recent interview with CNN he said “They can call it whatever they want. Romney didn’t win, did he?”
So if that’s the standard Reid wants to set, we’ll go ahead and figure that he got roughed up by some mobsters that he double-crossed. Come to think of it, it does seem at least more probable than that rubber band in the bathroom story.

— Bud Norman