Following post-Newtown massacre items #1, #2, #3, and #4.
1) Maybe this time is different. It's not simply Obama's speech last night, which moved from the standard Presidential post-massacre "we all mourn together" tone to a new "this cannot go on" emphasis. The more significant indicator may be this morning's statement from Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
Who is Joe Manchin and where does he stand with the gun lobby? Consider the way he conveyed his opposition (from a coal state) to cap-and-trade legislation two years ago:
Here he was today, on Morning Joe.
I think this is a quite profound difference, and very promising. As robust a "gun rights" defender as exists in the Senate is weighing in about incremental, practical, reasonable steps to reduce danger and increase safety, and is sounding open-minded rather than line-drawing and absolutist about it. In a part of the interview not included in the clip above he talks about the senselessness of AR-15-type rifles and very high-capacity magazines for normal gun-users' purposes. Good for him.
Joe Scarborough himself also had an eloquent "everything has changed" statement on today's show.
2) Are more guns the answer? Yesterday I hinted at, rather than fully laid out, one of the reasons I am skeptical of the idea that if more Americans carried guns, fewer Americans would die from gun violence. That reason is the likelihood of well-meaning civilians adding to rather than reducing the body count if they tried to "take out" a psychopathic shooter. A reader gives an example from the first of the four mass-shooting events that prompted a commemorative visit by President Obama, the rampage in Tucson early last year that nearly killed Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and did kill six other people:
During the chaos immediately after Giffords was shot, a well-meaning and armed citizen bystander unholstered his pistol and almost shot an undercover cop from close range (story from the Denver post here).
This is an example of what I think is the biggest single reason for stronger gun control--that making lethal decisions "under fire" is a very hard and complicated thing to do. It's hard for our police and military to get the decision right every time, as we sometimes sadly see in the paper, and they are highly trained forces who do this for a living.
Similarly from another reader:
People who believe the only way of halting gun violence is to equip every American adult with a weapon may be well meaning. But they envision a United States populated by Jack Reachers. I think we'd get a United States populated by Barney Fifes.
That's how I see it too.
3) What about the "knowledge gap?" Plus some action plans. I have received a slew of messages on whether gun-safety advocates "know enough" about firearms to make sensible proposals, plus a lot of step-by-step action plans for making a difference. I'll try to wade through them and put them into groups. For now, two samples, starting with one on the knowledge gap:
Regarding the comments by a reader at a university who is also a gun owner. I know next to nothing about firearms. If, as your reader says, too many proposed gun laws have been drafted by people who don't know enough about firearms, then that's a problem that needs to be addressed.
However, I'd ask your reader: during this and other gun debates, we often hear complaints about knee-jerk liberal anti-gun bias and ignorance. But what have thoughtful gun owners done to address gun violence? Have they pushed for legislation they could support? Have they voted for candidates who supported such legislation? In practical terms, how have they separated themselves from the knee-jerk pro-gun insanity represented by the NRA? And more to the point, what are they willing to do now to craft and pass into law effective gun legislation they can support?
That is where comments like Manchin's can be important. To wrap it up for now, here is a combined knowledge-gap, "more guns," and action-plan dispatch from a reader in Virginia:
I do have a sense that there is at least a sliver of possibility that "this time will be different" with regard to gun safety in the wake of the Newtown tragedy. If nothing else, the emergence of reporting on the hard life of gun rights advocates (for example this piece in the Post today ) and their increasingly strident advocacy of a "more guns will make us safer" policy seems to be driven by concern that a shift in the political possible has occured.
I wanted to offer a response to your reader from last night regarding why those in favor of greater restrictions appear to have limited knowledge of fire arms.
First, to establish my gun-totting bonafides (which seems to have become requirement for one's opinion to matter in this debate), I grew up in rural New England in a household that hunted and target shot. My brothers and I learned to shoot rifles and shotguns when we were in elementary school. Handguns were a big taboo for us, as my father felt they served no practical purpose for a sportsman (there was quite a scandal in my family when my uncle bought a pistol because he was going to try bear hunting and was told he should have one in case he ran into a bear and his rifle wasn't enough to take it down). I've since moved to Virginia, and live down the road from NRA headquarters. My wife and I do not have any guns, but go to one of the local ranges to shoot for fun at least a couple times a year.
Your reader is right that there are a limited number of people with serious gun knowledge heard advocating for stricter gun regulation. But the reason isn't because Michael Bloomberg or any snooty liberals are excluding them. It is because the "reasonable" gun owners like your reader have chosen to withold their voices from this conversation. When they do arrive it is to cast a pox on both houses and then recede into the background. And the best they ever have to offer, after whining about how of course they don't think anyone should be able to buy a rocket launcher, is "let's look at magazine size" when that is already the most heavily regulated aspect of guns (alongside the full auto ban).
As the father of a young daughter, I for one do not want her growing up in a world where she is told she has to carry a gun to be safe. The reason why - because it is a recipe for violence. While gun rights activists are happy to talk about the potential for a fellow citizen to live out a Hollywood sequence, they are mute on the thousands who die from gun-related accidents. There is an incredible parallel to those who reacted to 9/11 by advocating people drive more, even though the odds of dying in a car wreck are orders of magnitude higher than dying in a terrorist attack on a plane.
There is another reason against the "more guns at school" argument. My personal lesson from the tragic Trayvon Martin case earlier this year is a reminder of the danger of an armed citizenry that thinks they are empowered to exercise the state's monopoly on violence. My brother is a police officer back in New England, and they go through hundreds of hours of training before they get close to that responsibility. The reason isn't because it is hard to shoot straight or learn how to cuff someone, it is because it is really hard to tell whether someone is about to commit a crime and what is the appropriate level of force and approach to minimize danger for the officer, suspect, and surrounding community.
If someone were to propose giving concealed carry permit holders a 500 hour course with continuing education requirements before they walk into my child's classroom, I will think about it. But even that is the pragmatist in me. If people really think cowboys and posses are the key to public safety try taking a trip to Iraq or the Congo and ask their citizens how that is working out.
Here is a serious proposal for gun safety:
- Privately owned handguns should be limited to revolvers. If you can't defend your home or persons with 6 well placed rounds, squeezing off a dozen in rapid succession isn't going to save you.
- Rifles should be limited to bolt and lever action. Rifles have no place other than hunting or target shooting. If you can't take the kick - and frankly anyone who is properly trained can shoot just about any rifle or shotgun short of a .50 caliber - get something smaller.
- A mandatory safety training course specific to the class of weapon and provided by a state-licensed provider should be required before someone can purchase a gun. Feds should allow portability across State lines, but online courses should be banned. Instructors should receive training in spotting and reporting a high risk student.
- State and federal firearm laws should be fully extended to gun show sales. Seriously, have you ever been to a gun show in the South? I've literally seen a grenade launcher (for $25k!) at one with the seller noting "honey, if you buy this gun we make sure you never have to worry about finding ammo."
Taken together these have the effect of limiting the availability of more dangerous weapons as measured by the number of bullets some one can squeeze out in a minute. That is the real enabler of mass shootings.
I also want to push back on you and many others fatalism that since we already have 300m guns we can never reduce the number. Through out Africa and Asia in a lot of post conflict societies a critical piece of the DDR process is reducing the supply of weapons. How is it done? It is a simple, free market solution. The government offers to buy back anything that is no longer legal to manufacture and sell new post-ban. An AR-15 can be bought for about $1k these days. Offer $2k a piece and they will dry up fast, and the price of one on the resale market will go way up. This also has the added benefit of making them less accessible to unemployed 20 year olds suffering from mental illness. If no one takes the offer - which I doubt, arbitrage is a powerful force - then you take a step back and think about the implications and adjust course.
James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne.
As pay TV slowly declines, cable news faces a demographic cliff. And nobody has further to fall than the merchant of right-wing outrage.
October 7, 2016, will be the 20th birthday of the Fox News Channel, and at the moment, the network is experiencing the soap-operatic highs and lows typical of any teenager on television. In many ways, the summer of 2016 may go down in Fox News history as the company’s nadir. Its founder and leader Roger Ailes has been dishonorably dispatched, the remaining executives are dealing with a flurry of sexual harassment lawsuits, and one of its most public faces, Sean Hannity, has ignominiously remodeled himself as a gutless Trump whisperer.
And yet Fox News’ fortunes are ascendant, at least in the most quantifiable sense. The network’s annual profit in 2015 soared by about 20 percent. For the first time ever, Fox News has been the most-watched cable network among both primetime and daytime viewers for several months, with a larger audience than its nominal rivals, CNN and MSNBC, combined. Led by “The O'Reilly Factor,” Fox News doesn’t just have the best-rated news show on cable television; according to The Wrap, it has the 13 best-rated news shows on cable television.
In the primaries, he avoided policy debates by promising to build a wall—but the general election is forcing him into specifics.
The biggest political story of the last week has been Donald Trump’s flip-flop on deporting undocumented immigrants. This Sunday on CNN, Mike Pence filibustered his way through the subject for almost seven minutes before Jake Tapper finally declared, “You did not address the issue” and moved on. Chris Christie on ABC and Kellyanne Conway on CBS were no more coherent. The Daily Beast summed up the morning with the headline, “Immigration Flip-Flop Leaves Trump Campaign Flailing on Sunday Shows.”
But focusing on Trump’s “flip-flop” misses the point. Trump’s real problem isn’t that he’s changed his position on immigration. It’s that he’s trying to formulate one at all.
What the commentary of the last few days has generally overlooked is that while immigration was key to Trump’s success in the Republican primary, Trump never actually offered an immigration policy. To the contrary, his success rested in large measure on his ability to avoid one. Trump’s strategy on immigration, as on other key issues, was to cut through the Gordian knot of public policy with aggressive, quick fix solutions. Terrorism? Ban Muslims. ISIS? Bomb the hell out of them and take their oil. Loss of manufacturing jobs? Slap massive tariffs on companies that outsource American jobs.
A new anatomical understanding of how movement controls the body’s stress response system
Elite tennis players have an uncanny ability to clear their heads after making errors. They constantly move on and start fresh for the next point. They can’t afford to dwell on mistakes.
Peter Strick is not a professional tennis player. He’s a distinguished professor and chair of the department of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute. He’s the sort of person to dwell on mistakes, however small.
“My kids would tell me, dad, you ought to take up pilates. Do some yoga,” he said. “But I’d say, as far as I’m concerned, there's no scientific evidence that this is going to help me.”
Still, the meticulous skeptic espoused more of a tennis approach to dealing with stressful situations: Just teach yourself to move on. Of course there is evidence that ties practicing yoga to good health, but not the sort that convinced Strick. Studies show correlations between the two, but he needed a physiological mechanism to explain the relationship. Vague conjecture that yoga “decreases stress” wasn’t sufficient. How? Simply by distracting the mind?
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Women engage in indirect aggression and slut-shaming, even in clinical research studies. Why?
One day in Ontario, 86 straight women were paired off into groups of two—either with a friend or a stranger—and taken to a lab at McMaster University. There, a researcher told them they were about to take part in a study about female friendships. But they were soon interrupted by one of two women.
Half the participants were interrupted by a thin, blond, attractive woman with her hair in a bun, dressed in a plain blue t-shirt and khaki pants, whom the researchers called “the conservative confederate."
Recently I sat down with Vice President Joe Biden to explore whether his approach to foreign policy challenges, and his patterns of interaction with global leaders, constituted something distinctive enough to call “The Biden Doctrine,” which I wrote about here in The Atlantic. In a fascinating, wide-ranging discussion that touched on America’s current political contest, the vice president shared some of what he believes are Hillary Clinton’s strengths and weaknesses. And in a powerful ending to our chat, Biden indicted the leadership elites of both parties for looking down on and leaving behind Americans who deserve better. I felt that this material deserved its own space, and wanted to share the larger conversation with readers. The transcript, condensed and edited for clarity, follows.
Every year, hundreds of people attend the Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot, cultivating a love for assault weapons in an era of mass violence.
It was Saturday at the 16th-annual Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot and Trade Show, and I had my thumbs on the trigger of a Browning M1919, prepared to unleash hellacious destruction on an unsuspecting refrigerator.
The Oklahoma Full Auto Shoot is one of several “machine-gun shoots” around the country. For two days in June, hundreds of people traveled to Wyandotte, Oklahoma, for the opportunity to fire nearly every species of automatic weapon from the past century. There were UZIs and M16s, Barrett .50-caliber rifles, WWII-era belt-fed Brownings, and even a Minigun—a giant, chair-mounted cylindrical device powered by a car battery. As of 10 a.m., all 84 firing positions were trained downrange onto a hill stocked with junked cars and dead kitchen appliances, waiting for the starting signal.
An increasing number of respondents are checking “Some Other Race” on U.S. Census forms, forcing officials to rethink current racial categories.
Something unusual has been taking place with the United States Census: A minor category that has existed for more than 100 years is elbowing its way forward. “Some Other Race,” a category that first entered the form as simply “Other” in 1910, was the third-largest category after “White” and “Black” in 2010, alarming officials, who are concerned that if nothing is done ahead of the 2020 census, this non-categorizable category of people could become the second-largest racial group in the United States.
Among those officials is Roberto Ramirez, the assistant division chief of the Census Bureau’s special population statistics branch. Ramirez is familiar with the complexities of filling out the census form: He checks “White” and “Some Other Race” to reflect his Hispanic ethnicity. Ramirez joins a growing share of respondents who are selecting “Some Other Race.” “People are increasingly not answering the race question. They are not identifying with the current categories, so we are trying to come up with a (better) question,” Ramirez told me. Ramirez and his colleague, Nicholas Jones, the director of race and ethnic research and outreach at the Census Bureau, have been working on fine-tuning the form to extract detailed race and ethnic reporting, and subsequently drive down the number of people selecting “Some Other Race.”
The first contest is weeks away, and Gary Johnson and Jill Stein are still pushing to be included.
After sponsoring presidential debates for several cycles in the late 1970s and 1980s, the League of Women Voters quit—with harsh words for a new organization, established by the two major parties, that had worked to minimize its role.
League president Nancy Neuman accused the Commission on Presidential Debates of carefully choreographing an upcoming debate behind the League’s back, thus minimizing political risk for the candidates and creating a dishonest experience for viewers.
“We have no intention of becoming an accessory to the hoodwinking of the American public,” Neuman said at a 1988 press conference.
Nearly 30 years and some half-dozen election cycles have since passed. But U.S. third parties say the commission is still hoodwinking voters. Hampered by the group’s debate-qualifying criteria, third-party candidates have difficulty making the stage, and they accuse the commission of purposefully keeping them out to protect the two major parties. A third-party candidate hasn’t been included since 1992, and at the first general-election debate of 2016, chances are the most viable third-party candidates, the Green Party’s Jill Stein and Libertarian Gary Johnson, won’t be there either.
One black woman tries to reconcile her faith with the institution’s history of discrimination.
It’s been six years since I became a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Each year has been a lesson in faith and doubt, stretching and engaging what it means to be black, a woman, and Mormon. The decision to join on my own was not an easy one. As the child of a Protestant mother and a father who converted to Islam in his teens, I was doing something unheard of in my family by becoming a Mormon. And as a black woman, I had a heightened awareness of what it means to potentially be the only black person in any given congregation in the United States.
As a child, I watched as preachers in my congregation espoused their deepest beliefs about God. They spoke to the horrors faced by black people in the United States in their dealings in life and death. There was intense power in their sermons, one that was complemented by the soft presence of a “Black Jesus,” a savior who understood the plight of African Americans in word and form. He represented the long tradition of resistance within the black church to white-supremacist theology: Racialized violence in the United States was often supported by white Christians who recognized whiteness as good and blackness as evil. Within the walls of my congregation, blackness was not discounted, but embraced in all its various forms from the pulpit to the pews. Islam also informed my faith; I witnessed the immense devotion in my father’s prayers and the care with which he kept his Koran. These two traditions of my childhood shared a reverence for and recognition of a version of God who is not racist.