Welcome Adam Winkler, (blog) and Host Mark A. R. Kleiman, (blog).

Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America

Host, Mark Kleiman:

Adam Winkler’s Gunfight is a book of contradictions: a dispassionate book about a passionately debated topic, a sane book about competing insanities, a page-turner about legal doctrine and obscure bits of history, a piece of serious scholarship combined with journalistic flair. Someone coming into the debates about gun policy would have no problem following the argument; I, as a minor-league expert on pieces of the topic, learned something new to me on about every second page, on average.

The topic is the gun-rights-advocates vs. gun-controllers front in the culture wars. The narrative thread concerns the Heller case which finally led the Supreme Court to say that – yes indeed – the Second Amendment confers an individual, and not exclusively a collective, right “to keep and bear arms.” Ironically, the National Rifle Association, the heart of the gun lobby, did everything it could to derail the case and to take it away from the obscure young lawyer who first brought it.

The author, by no means a fan of the gun culture, argues that the gun-rights folks had by far the stronger historical and textual argument on the meaning of the Second Amendment. He convinces me, though I don’t know the topic well enough to have an expert opinion. Moreover, he claims – and here I emphatically agree, from a somewhat deeper knowledge base – that the gun control movement has been ill-served by both unrealistic goals such as eliminating private gun ownership and fixation on symbolic issues such as gun registration. (He doesn’t stress what to me is the other main sin of the gun controllers: their sheer technical ignorance.)

But Winkler also shows how the stubborn opposition of the gun-rights lobby to workable, commonsense gun control measures with massive majority support – for example, requiring background checks for gun purchases – fully justifies the “gun nut” label applied to that faction by its opponents. When a scofflaw gun dealer whose inventory supplied multiple murder weapons in illegal transactions – about which the paperwork was conveniently lost – is elected to the NRA board after his dealing license has been revoked, it’s clear that we’re not dealing with anything approaching a normal political organization.

Winkler also shows that gun control has roots in American culture and American legal history just as deep as the roots of gun rights, and that the NRA itself only became the reactionary lobbying giant it is today after a carefully organized palace coup in the late 1970s.

One word of caution to readers of the book: Don’t pick it up just before bedtime. You might not be able to put it down until dawn.

161 Responses to “FDL Book Salon Welcomes Adam Winkler, Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America”

BevW September 17th, 2011 at 1:52 pm

Adam, Welcome to the Lake.

Mark, Thank you for Hosting today’s Book Salon.

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Bev, thanks for setting this up.
Adam, thanks for writing such a fascinating book.
Like you, I’ve been a critic of both the gun controllers and the gun-rights advocates.

But the book sets up a fairly thoroughgoing moral equivalence between the two: both are unreasonable.

Is that really accurate? Doesn’t the difference between the treatment of David Bellesiles and the treatment of John Lott tell us something? It seems to me that most liberals have backed off extreme gun-control claims – in the face of both evidence and political punishment – while conservatives have embraced more and more extreme gun-rights claims.

azhealer September 17th, 2011 at 2:05 pm

adam- how do you respond to the adage that an ‘armed society is a polite society’?

also, the wild fears of gunfights in bars if guns are legal there have not materialized in az or va… how does this fit with gun controllers?

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:05 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 2

Thank you, Mark, for doing this with me. I’m a great admirer of your work. And thanks too to Bev for having us!

Gunfight argues that a major problem with the gun debate today is that its been dominated by the extremists on both sides. Certainly some gun control advocates have moderated their position; many have given up on the Great Society-inspired dream of a gun-free world. But they still often support ineffective and symbolic gun control that doesn’t help move the country in the right direction.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:07 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 4

I’d add, Mark, that I don’t intend to draw a “moral” equivalency between Michael Bellesiles and John Lott. Both put forward unreasonable claims to a certain extent, but Bellesiles’ fraud was far more serious than anything Lott’s been called out on. Bellesiles was an academic fraud — and, as I tell the story in Gunfight, it cost him his tenured job at Emory.

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 2:08 pm

You’re clearly right that there are still both extreme gun controllers and extreme gun-rights advocates.

Perhaps the difference I see is that extreme gun controllers are now marginalized among liberals, while there’s no gun-rights claim too extreme to count as mainstream within the Republican Party or the conservative movement.

As to Lott, I thought the evidence was fairly overwhelming that he’d faked at least one set of survey results.
Not so?

And yet he kept his job at AEi, while Bellesiles, as you say, was stripped of tenure.

azhealer September 17th, 2011 at 2:08 pm

also

adam- the worst gun violence exists today in inner cities… the very same places that gun ‘control’ is the strictest… wouldn’t smart people who believe in science recognize that these policies are literally killing the low income and poor of our country?

Phoenix Woman September 17th, 2011 at 2:09 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 4

Welcome to the Lake!

Adam, what would you consider ineffective and symbolic gun control?

Phoenix Woman September 17th, 2011 at 2:10 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 6

Exactly. Liberals who lie get punished; conservatives who lie get rewarded. (This holds true in many areas, not just with guns.)

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:10 pm
In response to azhealer @ 3

Thanks for the questions. I’m not a big fan of any of the slogans so often used in place of nuanced argument in the gun debate. Some armed societies are polite: Switzerland and Israel have high rates of gun ownership and little gun violence. The US, meanwhile, has high rates of gun ownership and a lot of gun violence.

You are right that the worst-case scenario fantasies of people hostile to guns haven’t come true. That should be one reason they rethink their knee-jerk hostility to guns.

azhealer September 17th, 2011 at 2:11 pm

pw- that seems rather ad hominem for this discussion.

Romberry September 17th, 2011 at 2:11 pm

I haven’t read the (apparently just recently published) book, but it’s now on my wish list. I don’t know that I have anything to add to the discussion for a book I haven’t read by an author I am not familiar with so I’ll just say this:

A dispassionate look at the history of the second amendment leaves no doubt that it was intended to protect a fundamental right of individuals to keep and bear arms. And even without the second amendment, there would still be a right to keep and bear arms. (Anyone here who thinks that the Bill of Rights grants us our rights or that our rights come from the government gets extra homework.) I’m a staunch pro-2A liberal, just as I’m a staunch 1A liberal. (In fact, I’m pretty staunch for all ten of the A’s.)

That’s really all I’ve got. But I look forward to reading the entire FDL Book Salon. And the book is definitely on my reading list.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:13 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 6

Mark, you are right that the gun control movement is far weaker than the gun rights movement. I certainly don’t mean to claim otherwise. And maybe due to that weakness, gun controllers have gotten, well, gun shy. That’s why Obama hasn’t pushed for serious gun legislation. And Lott’s survey has been questioned, but no one has formally investigated it (to my knowledge) so we don’t really know if there’s anything to the charges.

azhealer September 17th, 2011 at 2:13 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 10

agreed…

it is weird to me that so many liberals are in favor of strict gun control given that gun control, in part, is based on the foundation of racism.

BevW September 17th, 2011 at 2:13 pm

Tech Notes:
As a technical note, there is a “Reply” button in the lower right hand of each comment. Pressing the “Reply” will pre-fill the commenter name and number you are replying to and helps for everyone in following the conversation.

To refresh your browser, PC=F5, MAC=Command+R

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 2:15 pm

Adam, for those who haven’t read the book, could you respond to Phoenix Woman’s question? The book does a fine job at pointing out some merely symbolic efforts.

But to add to that: I think you and I agree that ending the private-sale loophole and requiring all gun transactions to go through background checks would be good policy. But do we have reason to be confident that it would actually prevent violence?

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:16 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 8

One example of symbolic and ineffective gun control is the federal assault weapons ban. It was mostly a matter of superficial features that defined a firearm as an assault weapon and manufactures just got around it by making the exact same gun without the illegal features. Lethality wasn’t the basis of the ban, appearances were. High-capacity magazines could be regulated, but there are so many out there already that we should have a realistic sense of their likelihood to reduce crime.

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 2:17 pm
In response to azhealer @ 14

“X is based on a foundation of racism, and therefore X is substantively wrong,” seems to me like very bad logic. Cocaine prohibition was based in part on Southern fears about “cocainized Negroes.” That doesn’t mean that cocaine is a benign drug.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:18 pm
In response to azhealer @ 7

That doesn’t seem quite right to me. Gun violence is common in these places in part because the criminals have such easy access to guns, not because of gun control. Gun control doesn’t often stop criminals in gangs, and shouldn’t be blamed for the killing.

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 2:19 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 10

Thank you for joining us, Adam and Mark.

Adam, might you speculate as to why the US has such a high rate of gun violence? Might it have to do with both myth and the lack of technical knowledge and social awarness on the part those who wave guns around, foolishly?

Let me be clear; I am not in favor of taking guns away from people … unless they are incapable of using such weapons properly … which mostly means, not at all, where human beings are concerned.

Better we disarm hostility and ignorance, methinks.

DW

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 2:19 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 17

There are a couple of papers floating around suggesting that exports of semis with high magazine capacity to Mexico soared right after the AWB expired. How confident are we that those papers are wrong?

realitychecker September 17th, 2011 at 2:20 pm

Self-defense, being necessary for self-preservation, is the most basic and fundamental principle that exists in nature. In a society that has made clear that there is no governmental duty to protect any individual, the last line of self-defense protection must be provided by the individual him/herself. That cannot be done without allowing possession of the basic tools to accomplish that mission. But it also makes sense that some show of proficiency and judgment may be required to be demonstrated to prevent harm to the innocent.

azhealer September 17th, 2011 at 2:20 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 18

mark- cocaine laws are not used to keep minorities from defending themselves.

guns laws in many cases actually were (and are).

false equivalencies I think for you to make thus claim…

also, as Jeralyn at TL would speak to- both whites and minorities are victims of absurd cocaine sentencing laws.

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 2:21 pm
In response to realitychecker @ 22

Well said, rc.

DW

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:21 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 16

The federal background check has led to over a million people who tried to buy guns being stopped — at least temporarily. There are 280 million guns in America and any gun control will be less effective at reducing crime with supply so abundant. Yet we should do whatever we can — consistent with the Constitution — to make it as hard as possible for criminals to get their hands on guns. Let’s also be realistic about the criminal law: it doesn’t stop crime. It provides a basis for punishing socially undesirable behavior. We don’t eliminate rape laws because people still rape. We shouldn’t get rid of gun control just because people still misuse guns.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to Romberry @ 12

One of the common mistakes we make is to think of gun rights solely on terms of the Second Amendment. But, as I discovered writing Gunfight, the Fourteenth Amendment was also designed to protect the right of people to have guns for personal self-defense. The Fourteenth Amendment — which is the jewel of the Constitution, and the basis for landmark civil rights cases like Brown v. board — was ratified after the Civil War to prevent southern states from restricting the rights of the freedmen. One of those rights identified frequently by the drafters of the Fourteenth Amendment was the right to have guns — a right that southern states restricted in the infamous Black Codes.

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
In response to realitychecker @ 22

A bit of reality-checking here: most countries in Europe allow far less private gun ownership than is allowed in the U.S., and have far lower rates of homicide. The claim that governments in the United States have abandoned their obligation to protect citizens from criminal violence strikes me as absurdly over-stated.

azhealer September 17th, 2011 at 2:24 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 19

would not end the violence, but law abiding citizens should have ‘a fighting chance’ to defend themselves.

witness the riots in England recently where the police punished the storeowners defending themselves more thanmany of the rioters…

again, nothing magical in my thinking, but only that people should not be prevented from the means to protect themselves from the small number of bad guys out there.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:24 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 20

Most gun killing is caused by people who know exactly how to use guns. Accidents are a tiny fraction of gun deaths. By the way, the majority of gun deaths are suicide, not homicide.

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Another question for Adam:

One of the most fascinating stories in the book – against tough competition – is the story of the NRA trying to derail the Heller case. Could you tell that story briefly?

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:26 pm
In response to azhealer @ 23

Gunfight traces the many ways in which race and racism has influenced the story of guns in America. Some of America’s earliest gun control laws were racially discriminatory. The Founding Fathers who wrote the Second Amendment also supported racially discriminatory laws that barred slaves and even free blacks from possessing guns. Did you know that the KKK began as a gun control organization? During the Civil War, blacks in the south got their hands on guns for the very first time. Racist whites formed posses like the KKK to go out at night and confiscate those guns from the freedmen. If blacks were disarmed, they wouldn’t be able to fight back.

And the dynamic continues into the modern era: in the 1960s, a series of gun control laws were passed to restrict access to guns by urban blacks and radicals like the Black Panthers. Ironically, it was these laws – which were supported by conservatives like Ronald Reagan – that sparked the rise of the modern gun rights movement, which is known for being rural, white, and politically conservative. White conservatives thought the government was coming to get their guns next.

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Question for all the gun-rights advocates in the conversation:

Most of the same folks who hate gun control also claim that the government should be subject to the same rules it imposes on citizens.

So: Do you believe that the Second Amendment allows me to bring my semi-auto rifle with sniperscope and high-capacity magazine into the Vistors’ Gallery in the House of Representatives? Into the Oval Office? To the Republican National Convention? All three of those areas are gun-free zones. Why not allow citizens to bring their weapons, and (e.g.) Congressmen to arm to defend themselves?

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:29 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 27

England, for example, began seriously regulating guns when there were only a few hundred thousand of them. With 280 million guns in the US, that ship has sailed for us. European style gun control just isn’t a viable option in the US, whether politically or practically.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:30 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 30

One surprising thing about the Heller case was the NRA’s vehement opposition to it. At nearly every turn, the NRA tried to scuttle the lawsuit. The purported reason was that the NRA was afraid of losing. The organization didn’t want it’s view of the Second Amendment rejected by the Supreme Court – especially this Supreme Court, with a majority of conservative-leaning justices. Alan Gura, the lawyer who brought the Heller case, suspected there was another reason: the NRA was afraid of winning. The NRA thrives on crisis-driven fund-raising, constantly warning gun owners that they better contribute now or the government is going to come and take away your guns. If Gura won, however, government would be constitutionally barred from disarming the people. What would happen to the NRA fund-raising machine?

eCAHNomics September 17th, 2011 at 2:31 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 26

The 14th amendment has been used far more effectively to create corporate personhood than it’s ever been used for civil rights.

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 2:31 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 31

Adam, isn’t it inflammatory to call the Klan a “gun control organization”? It was in fact an armed and lawless private army, using its weapons to disarm others. That’s really not the same as advocating for gun control laws.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:33 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 21

I have no reason to doubt such studies and, indeed, they make perfect sense. If you can’t sell a weapon here lawfully, fewer will be supplied to Mexico from US sources. But anyone who visited a gun store in the ten years of the AWB knows that it hardly put a dent in the number and availability of semi-automatic rifles. In fact, semi-autos weren’t banned — only ones with certain more or less superficial features.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:33 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 35

That could be my next book!

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:35 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 36

Well, perhaps I’m stirring things up a bit. It was an organization, though, and it was committed to gun control — black gun control. They did support gun control laws, like the Black Codes that barred blacks from owning guns. And the reason I call them a gun control group is because they set out to disarm blacks.

Before the Civil War, blacks in the South were not allowed to own guns. But during the war, blacks got their hands on guns for the first time. Racist whites began to form posses, like the KKK, that would go out at night terrorizing blacks, invading their homes in order to take way those guns. Whites knew if they disarmed the freedmen, they wouldn’t be able to fight back. Indeed, as I show in Gunfight, the history of guns in America has been deeply intertwined with issues of race and racism.

realitychecker September 17th, 2011 at 2:35 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 27

Sorry, Mark, but you are the one who needs to do the reality checking on this one. I’m a lawyer with decades of interest in the self-defense issue. The case law is overwhelming. There is no governmental duty to protect any SPECIFIC individual, and no action will be supported on that basis. (As opposed to your general category of “citizens.”) Look it up.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:37 pm

If I haven’t answered your question, be sure to ask it again. There’s a lot of text on my page and I may have inadvertently skipped your question.

azhealer September 17th, 2011 at 2:38 pm

adam- is there any evidence that there is an association of the use of military or militaristic or gun analogies in media or by elected officials that can be tied to patterns of gun violence?

realitychecker September 17th, 2011 at 2:38 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 32

That is a ridiculous and unworthy argument. All Constitutional rights are subject to reasonable regulation.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:40 pm
In response to realitychecker @ 40

realitychecker is right on this, Mark. There is no legal obligation to protect people from crime. Nor should there be. (Imagine the big brother world we’d have to live in if governments were so responsible.) Mark is right, however, that governments do provide police and do much more today than a century ago — and far more than the Founding Fathers — to protect the citizenry. It’s not working too well!

realitychecker September 17th, 2011 at 2:41 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 35

Ain’t that the truth. Corporations as historical victims of oppression? Gimme a break.

eCAHNomics September 17th, 2011 at 2:41 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 38

Howard Zinn has already written it.

My slices of perspective on gun control are (1) when I lived in Manhattan, I didn’t worry about it bc I didn’t live in a neighborhood where guns were a problem and (2) now in the the mid-Hudson, I know a lot of hunters. The one I let hunt on my property owns 24 guns and has been shooting as a sport since he was a kid. He also does bow&arrow hunting. He’s reasonably liberal and pointed out to me that his type of gun owners could be very attracted to the environmental movement bc they want open space to hunt. But they are often put off by irrational fear/hatred of guns among many in the environmental movement.

A Q related to those observations. Where is gun violence a problem, under what circumstances, are there more effective ways of dealing with gun violence so that we can stop arguing about “gun control,” which somehow seems like a red herring for the real problem.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:41 pm
In response to azhealer @ 42

Not that I know about. Sarah Palin did not cause the attempted murder of Gabrielle Giffords. That said, we might all benefit from a bit more civility in our dialogue. Calling Obama a “socialist” or GW Bush a “fascist” really doesn’t help solve any problems.

azhealer September 17th, 2011 at 2:42 pm

and adam-

one very big story here in the southwest is the fast and furious (gunwalker) story — the US attorney here just resigned over it… and the story is spreading…

my sense is that it will not go away — and become a case history in gov’t malpractice, in this case, with deadly weapons…

my question is whether there are other examples of government state or federal of attempting to engineer gun policy with disastrous results, and whether there was ever any accountability taken by the leaders who oversaw these programs?

Phoenix Woman September 17th, 2011 at 2:42 pm
In response to azhealer @ 7

Here are the gun crime statistics from the FBI for 2009:

New York has a far lower firearms murder rate (4.47 per 100,000 population) than does Louisiana, Alabama or Mississippi. In fact, aside from Michigan (4.49 per 100,000 residents), all of the states with higher gun-violence rates than New York are in the southeast region of the US — this includes DC.

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 2:44 pm
In response to realitychecker @ 43

And, as Adam points out, frontier cities such as Dodge decided that it was a reasonable regulation to forbid the carrying of firearms within city limits. Why were they wrong to do so?

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:45 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 46

Gun violence is a problem everywhere in the US, in the sense that suicide is a national problem and guns are the best way to kill yourself. There are about 16,000 gun suicides each year. It’s hard to imagine any kind of law that would stop these killings. Then there’s homicide, which is especially prevalent in urban communities with gangs. There are laws to help keep gangs disarmed — concealed carry permits, for example — and other strategies of targeting gangs (injunctions, stakeouts, etc.) One difficulty for gun control is that in a federal system with porous state borders, state-level laws won’t be terribly effective.

realitychecker September 17th, 2011 at 2:45 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 44

Small comfort to the individual who is under attack, isn’t it, that police protect better than in the past, generally speaking? We each have only one life to lose. That’s the bottom line.

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 2:46 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 29

I would suggest that many shootings, some that result in death but many which result in wounding, occur in the commission of other criminal acts. I have witnessed individuals brandishing guns in such fashion as to suggest that they had no real idea of the consequences which discharging their weapon would bring.

And I have heard that suicide by gun is more prevalent than homicide, which goes directly to the issue of psychological health and the sense of personal well-being and human security in this nation.

And I do feel that the Federal governmentt of the US is making life very cheap indeed, internationally, through warfare and the use of drones.

My question about myth had specifically to do with notions of the “wild west” which you and I both know was not what it has been portrayed as being for approximately one hundred years.

DW

greenwarrior September 17th, 2011 at 2:48 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 32

Used to be, a person or a lobbyist could bring money onto the floor of the Texas legislature, including during a vote in progress.

Seems like bringing guns to the table might could have some influence on the influence of money in our government. /snark.

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 2:48 pm
In response to azhealer @ 48

Notice that on the “gun rights” theory the Fast and Furious operation – which allowed gun trafficking into Mexico in an attempt to make criminal cases against gun traffickers – was completely benign. All it did was supply weapons. But guns don’t kill people; people kill people. If the bad guys hadn’t gotten guns from the undercover agents, they would have gotten guns from somewhere else. No harm, no foul.

Fast and Furious was only a scandal if you think that arming Mexican drug gangs is wrong. But the very people who are now scalp-hunting around Fast and Furious also want to make it impossible to enforce the law against U.S. gun dealers who are cheerfully and profitably arming the Mexican drug gangs.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:49 pm
In response to azhealer @ 48

I’ve written about the Fast & Furious scandal for the Huffington Post. I don’t think that scandal is going away and the administration does not seem to me to be handling it well. A lot of stonewalling going on.

Government programs with disastrous results? Hard to believe…. I discuss in the book the ineffectiveness of the DC handgun ban. Funny thing is, the council members who voted for the law knew it wouldn’t be effective. But they supported it, with the idealism typical of some in the gun control community, in the hopes it would start a national trend of disarmament. Within a decade, of course, DC was the murder capital of the US.

realitychecker September 17th, 2011 at 2:49 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 50

Because an absolute ban is not reasonable regulation of the Ssecond Amendment right, that’s why. Your emotional bias is showing on this one. That’s why these gun discussions get so frustrating.

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 2:50 pm
In response to azhealer @ 48

Great questions, azhealer.

DW

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:51 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 53

We all know the image: a gun-slinger walking around a Wild West town, six-shooters on each hip, a rifle in each hand, and a duel on Main Street every day at high noon. One of the remarkable things I discovered writing Gunfight was that our popular understanding of the Wild West couldn’t be more inaccurate. The frontier towns – places like Dodge City, Deadwood, and Tombstone — had the most restrictive gun laws in the nation. Everyone had guns in the untamed wilderness, but when you came into town, where the civilized folk lived, you had to check your guns like you’d check your coat at a Boston restaurant in the winter. When residents of Dodge City formed their municipal government, do you know what the very first law they passed was? A gun control law! And there was very little violence in these towns, which saw an average of less than 2 murders a year. Turns out there wasn’t much reason to “get out of Dodge.”

eCAHNomics September 17th, 2011 at 2:51 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 51

Don’t understand why people have a problem with suicide; seems like it should be a personal decision, not one society should take an interest in. (Note: my husband shot himself.)

WRT gangs, I was thinking more along the lines of policies that would make gangs less prevalent like better schools and after school programs in those neighborhoods, legalizing mj, etc., rather than concentrating so much on controlling guns, which are a symptom, not a cause.

Phoenix Woman September 17th, 2011 at 2:54 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 55

Exactly. They’re like the Virginia gun show dealers who sell guns to certain people knowing full well these guns will wind up going to New York City.

realitychecker September 17th, 2011 at 2:55 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 55

We sent guns into a sovereign nation where they are illegal. Could be viewed as an act of war. I’ll go somewhere else now so I don’t have to keep doing this to you. Carry on.

Brett Bellmore September 17th, 2011 at 2:55 pm

But, Mark, the question isn’t whether “reasonable” regulation is constitutional, but what’s “reasonable”. I think we may one day realize that “reasonable regulation of firearms” is similar to “separate but equal”; The regulations are never reasonable, just as separate was never equal, because the people who want them don’t want to be reasonable.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:55 pm

Our image of the Wild West is so wrong largely for the same reason frontier towns had gun control: economic development. The residents of Tombstone enacted gun laws because they wanted what most small towns want, to grow and prosper. What businessman was going to open up a store in Tombstone if every time he tried to deposit the week’s earnings in the bank he was going to be robbed? Small towns on the edge of civilization wanted to become cities filled with civilized people. Then…once the frontier was closed, the goal of economic development led boosters to romanticize their supposedly violent past to attract tourists and the businesses to serve them. That’s why today in Tombstone you can still see a reenactment of the “Shootout at the OK Corral” several times a day. Don’t forget to buy a souvenir!

Micheledocla September 17th, 2011 at 2:57 pm

We here in Oakland CA have a big problem with gangs and shootings. Our murder rate is five to six times the national rate (about 25 homicides per 100k population).

I was just at an anti-violence rally in front of City Hall on the very topic of what to do.

We have lots of anti-violence programs for kids, MJ is virtually legal here, etc. What I think is lacking, as a former family therapist, is early intervention with dysfunctional families. We intervene here with kids 12 and up (the same kids who are the shooters and shootees); we should be intervening with kids 5 to 12 and their families.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 2:57 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 61

Far too many suicides are young people. They may be above the age of consent, but also lack the perspective necessary to understand their situations. We should try to help these people, provide resources to help them through tough times. We shouldn’t just ignore them and say it’s their business — at least I don’t think so.

greenwarrior September 17th, 2011 at 2:58 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 61

In the same way that programs might help mitigate gang violence, there might be programs that could help people who feel isolated and depressed enough to want to take their own lives.

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 2:59 pm
In response to Brett Bellmore @ 64

So, Brett, the law forbidding me to own a machine gun is per se unreasonable?
How about a nuclear weapon?

Phoenix Woman September 17th, 2011 at 2:59 pm
In response to realitychecker @ 57

Irony: Tombstone, Arizona, has far laxer gun laws now than when Wyatt Earp was sheriff. It also has a higher violence rate than does the rest of the state.

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 3:01 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 59

Now how would Zane Grey or the movie moguls of Hollywood portray that reality?

And yes, regarding Dodge City, I did know that, Adam, as it has been of some interest to me, over the years, to discover and understand how myth shapes human beings’ “sense” of themselves. I am firmly convinced that many of our national myths are destroying reason and humanity, not to mention the environment which most hunters, as eCAHN has alluded, greatly appreciate. The myth behind that destruction, at its base, is, truth to tell, “biblical” … which book or its “interpretations”, of course, is and are the source of many damnable myths. The “Peculiar Institution” owes its existence to such self-serving “thinking”.

DW

eCAHNomics September 17th, 2011 at 3:01 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 67

The would be a family matter, not a govt one. How old do you have to be to buy a gun?

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 3:01 pm
In response to realitychecker @ 63

Yes, please don’t let the door hit you on the way out.
If it’s an act of war to send guns to Mexico where they’re illegal, then what is it to allow private citizens to send those same guns to Mexico? Fast and Furious was a (bungled) attempt to prevent gun trafficking into Mexico. The people now trying to make political hay out of it oppose all efforts to prevent gun trafficking into Mexico.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:02 pm

There’s been some discussion of what counts as “reasonable” gun control. That’s a difficult question and generations of Americans have answered it differently. In writing Gunfight, I was surprised to find that the Founding Fathers who wrote and ratified the Second Amendment had a lot of gun control. They barred large portions of the population from possessing guns, including slaves, free blacks, and even white men who opposed the Revolution. I’m not talking about traitors, I’m talking about law-abiding citizens who were exercising their freedom of speech to argue that the Revolution was a bad idea. The founders also had severe militia laws which required gun owners to appear at public gatherings, where their guns would be inspected and registered on state rolls. They even had a version of the “individual mandate” that’s proven so controversial in Obama’s healthcare reform: the founders required citizens to arm themselves with military-style firearms. The Founders did not see the Second Amendment as a libertarian license for anyone to have any gun, anywhere he wanted. If Madison were running for office today, the NRA would surely refuse to endorse him.

greenwarrior September 17th, 2011 at 3:02 pm

It seems to me that earlier in the conversation, Adam, you said there were 280 million guns in the U.S. Am I remembering this correctly? How many gun owners are there? Is that also known?

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 3:02 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 67

Agreed. Of course, Adam.

DW

eCAHNomics September 17th, 2011 at 3:03 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 68

There are plenty of such programs, and pharmaceuticals, and help lines already. Don’t know whether there are too few and more might reduce the suicide rate, but the programs do exist.

Very much unlike good schools, etc. in poor neighborhoods, which don’t exist at all.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:06 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 75

The statistics are all just estimates because we don’t require registration of guns. Surveys show that about 35% of homes have guns in them, and about 4 million or so new guns are introduced into the American marketplace each year.

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 3:09 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 73

Okay, Mark, then if it is not an act of complete idiocy to send guns into a fire zone, when done by individuals, who in some cases the US governmnet prosecute as “aiding terrorism” then what, properly, is it to be called if the governmnet does it?

(BTW, as a “professional”, such a doorish comment as you made to reality checker, no matter how vexed you may feel, or peeved, is somewhat beneath what is expected of those who converse at FDL.)

DW

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:09 pm

The question of machine guns is very interesting. Today, they are rarely used in crime. Does this show that we don’t need limits on machine guns? Or does it show that gun control can work? As I discuss in the book, the 1920s saw a huge wave of machine gun crime (the Tommy gun being the weapon of choice for mobsters and desperadoes), and strict laws were enacted to limit civilian access.

greenwarrior September 17th, 2011 at 3:10 pm
In response to eCAHNomics @ 77

Agreed that there are relatively few programs in poor neighborhoods. At the same time, it also seems like the programs that exist for preventing suicide aren’t as effective as one might like.

greenwarrior September 17th, 2011 at 3:12 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 73

Yes, please don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

I’m more than a little uncomfortable with a book salon host being uncharitable. i’m hoping you can find your way to apologizing.

eCAHNomics September 17th, 2011 at 3:13 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 81

Suicide is a taboo subject, so very little decent work has been done on it. It’s been awhile since I did my reading on it, so maybe more has been learned in the interim, but when I read news accounts of suicides, it doesn’t seem so. IMO, unpreventable for those who are determined, given the lack of knowledge about it. YMMV.

stewartm September 17th, 2011 at 3:13 pm

Adam,

The author, by no means a fan of the gun culture, argues that the gun-rights folks had by far the stronger historical and textual argument on the meaning of the Second Amendment.

I’m not sure I agree with this. I still think the 2nd Amendment is about militias. I would almost rephrase the intent as “The defense of the US shall largely be based upon state militias”. That’s because the Founders had a fear of a large, professional, standing, military and wanted the defense of the government and country to be based upon ordinary citizens via the state militia system.

Mind you, I also believed that the Founders thought these militias would include people bringing their own private firearms (though in fact arms were rare enough that Congress often had to purchase them for the state militias in the early 19th century). The two issues are connected because of that. But I also don’t think that the majority of the Founders would have had a problem with denying specific individuals access to firearms nor think of it as an essential liberty. How could it be, when guns themselves were not in easy supply? How could something be essential when most people lacked it?

I think there was also always a tension between the military officers of the US, and politicians with military experience, about this issue. Those with military training or experience knew that a defense based on militias (despite the lore) was lacking. They knew that you couldn’t just toss of group of ordinary citizens with guns together and have them fight effectively–they had seen them break and run all too often during the Revolutionary War.

I think it took the US Civil War, with mass conscripted armies, where many ordinary citizens did receive military training and saw with their own eyes how military worthless many militia units would be in actual combat to change. Also, since being an effective military force (which is what the militia is supposed to be, right?) later required things such as heavy artillery and armor and even (later) air support, the National Guard was indeed the logical extension of the original idea.

I’ll shut up now, and hear your rebuttal.

-stewartm

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:14 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 79

Personally, I am not troubled that the government sold weapons to the cartels as part of a gun sting. What troubles me is why the guns were allowed to disappear. What happened there? I would imagine the administration didn’t approve that part of it, or wasn’t aware of that aspect when they approved the program. But we just don’t know. And it seems to me worth finding out. When government makes big mistakes, it warrants investigation. And, Mark, aren’t congressional investigations always a bit political? That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have them. Can’t take the politics out of a politician!

realitychecker September 17th, 2011 at 3:14 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 73

Thank you for the cheap shot at a departing back, Mark. I use a scalpel, you use a shovel. Never the twain shall meet, I guess. I suggest you get Adam to educate you, since he knows what he’s talking about but you don’t. And that would include your apparent penchant for posing extreme straw man arguments, like possessing a nuclear weapon. More light, less heat. That’s what we are used to here.

[Let's stay on the topic of the book - mod]

realitychecker September 17th, 2011 at 3:17 pm
In response to Phoenix Woman @ 70

Sorry to disagree with you, PW, but your points are non sequiturs as they relate to my position, which I laid out clearly at #22, above. Perhaps you did not read it. I usually have to agree with most of your views. I’m truly gone now.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:18 pm
In response to stewartm @ 84

Great point. The Founders certainly thought that the Second Amendment was primarily about militias. But the way they protected militias was guaranteeing individuals the right to have guns. Regardless of whether you support the individual rights theory or the militia theory of the Second Amendment, we should agree that the Founders thought that the federal government should be barred from disarming the people.

And I chide my friends on the left: where’s your living constitution when it comes to the Second Amendment. Truth is, none of our constitutional rights are limited to what the Founders thought they should be. And American society has clearly spoken on their longstanding view that individuals have a right to bear arms. It’s in nearly every state constitution — where there is no question its a personal, not militia, right — and the Fourteenth Amendment was passed in part to protect the freedmen’s right to have a gun for personal use.

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 3:19 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 85

Would not a real, and genuine, investigation be amazing?

I think of several investigations, say, the assassination of JFK and the circumstances surrounding 9-11 as suggesting that “politics” has more than a little to answer for. Which answers are necessary if this nation is to move forward and not just look “forward” … oh, yes, that reminds me of torture …

DW

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 3:21 pm

.

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 3:22 pm
In response to realitychecker @ 86

[Please show respect for the author and his book - mod]

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:22 pm

Earlier, we began to talk about the NRA. The NRA was not always the die-hard, no-compromises opponent of gun control we know today. The NRA was founded after the Civil War – ironically by a reporter for a newspaper not known today for it’s support of gun rights, the New York Times. In the 1920s and 30s, the NRA was at the forefront of the gun control movement, drafting restrictive gun control laws and promoting them in state after state. When Congress was considering the first major federal gun control law, the president of the NRA was asked whether it violated the Second Amendment. Today, his reply is astounding: “I have not given it any study from that point of view,” he said. Indeed, before the 1960s, the NRA’s publications rarely mentioned the Second Amendment at all. As I explain in Gunfight, It wasn’t until the NRA was transformed in the 1970s that the Second Amendment became the organization’s heart and soul.

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 3:23 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 91

Perhaps, if reality checker is no longer honoring us with his presence, some other defender of gun rights might respond in his behalf. Are there no legitimate limits on the right to bear arms? If so, what defines them?

gigi3 September 17th, 2011 at 3:23 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 27

“The claim that governments in the United States have abandoned their obligation to protect citizens from criminal violence strikes me as absurdly over-stated.”

While they may not have “abandoned” their obligation, they are not necessarily bound to protect citizens.

Warren v. District of Columbia, 444 A.2d 1 (D.C. Ct. of Ap., 1981).

Riss v. City of New York, 22 N.Y.2d 579, 293 NYS2d 897, 240 N.E.2d 860 (N.Y. Ct. of Ap. 1958)

Keane v. City of Chicago, 98 Ill. App.2d 460, 240 N.E.2d 321

DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services, 109 S.Ct. 998 (1989)

There are many more cases that could be cited. Then there is a U S Supreme Court decision reported by the NYT in 2005.

“The Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the police did not have a constitutional duty to protect a person from harm, even a woman who had obtained a court-issued protective order against a violent husband making an arrest mandatory for a violation.”

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/28/politics/28scotus.html

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 3:23 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 90

[Please show respect for the author and his book - mod]
DW

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 3:24 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 92

And, as you note in the book, the NRA was not only the proud possessor of a Congressional charter, but the beneficiary of repeated handouts from the Federal government.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:26 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 96

The NRA did not always act like government was the enemy!

Brett Bellmore September 17th, 2011 at 3:27 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 69

Set aside for the moment that there is no (federal) law prohibiting you from owning a machine gun. (They’re just taxed to an absurd extent, because they hadn’t yet rationalized at the time that they could ban things.) Why not time place and manner restrictions, instead? Perhaps because the people writing the law didn’t regard infringing on the 2nd amendment as a cost, but instead a benefit?

I can give you a laundry list of flatly absurd gun laws to defend, if you like, and really feel like defending all existing gun laws as “reasonable”.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:28 pm
In response to Brett Bellmore @ 98

There are specific reforms we could adopt — like requiring background checks for every gun sale — but the bigger agenda must be to change the dynamics of the gun debate. There are many people in the gun community who support gun control, but worry that gun control proponents are really out to take way their guns. The only way we will restore reason to the gun debate is by sincerely embracing the right to bear arms. Only once gun lovers believe their basic rights are secure will they be able to support effective reform.

Besides, there are 280 million guns in America. We tried to ban alcohol with Prohibition and drugs in the War on Drugs. They were both complete failures. We can’t ban small, easy to conceal things people feel strongly about. If we can all agree that the guns are here to stay and that gun owners shouldn’t be demonized for exercising their constitutional rights, we may have a chance to break through our current impasse on guns.

Kelly Canfield September 17th, 2011 at 3:29 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 85

What troubles me is why the guns were allowed to disappear. What happened there? I would imagine the administration didn’t approve that part of it, or wasn’t aware of that aspect when they approved the program.

Also, I know that AG who was forced to resign – Dennis Burke. (We went to high school together.) And Dennis is just simply not the kind of person who should have been forced to take the fall for this failed operation.

I’ve emailed him after waiting a decent period from his resignation to ask what’s the “story behind the story” here, and haven’t heard anything yet. But my gut hunch is as titular head, he was forced to “get on board” and then not afforded adequate control and essentially made the fall guy for a failed operation.

Romberry September 17th, 2011 at 3:29 pm
In response to stewartm @ 84

I still think the 2nd Amendment is about militias.

Doesn’t matter if it is. Our rights are not granted to us from the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Our rights exist inherently. In fact, the rights that exist for Americans and which are (or were) protected by the Constitution exist for all people everywhere, regardless of their citizenship or nation or residence and regardless of whether their own government (or even they) recognize those rights or deny them. If there were no 2A, the right to keep and bear arms would still exist just as if there were no 1A, the rights of free speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion and petition of the government for redress of grievances would still exist.

There was great debate over whether a Bill of Rights should be agreed upon and added to the Constitution. Those opposed feared that many would take a Bill of Rights and construe it to mean that only those rights which were enumerated existed, or that a Bill of Rights would be misconstrued to mean that our rights were granted to us by the government rather than existing inherently.

We can argue until the cows come home over the 2A and why it is you think that “the right of the people” means “the collective right of the states” and not “the people.” But it doesn’t matter. The right exists regardless.

tjbs September 17th, 2011 at 3:29 pm
In response to stewartm @ 84

And how do you propose to regulate an overdeveloped overbearing Militia without guns, knives ?

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 3:30 pm

It’s worth noting, in response to the oft-repeated claim that gun control laws are intended to deprive minority groups of their capacity to defend themselves against non-minority aggressors, or actually have that effect, that black people who shoot white aggressors often find themselves on trial for murder. Abolishing gun control laws is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for abolishing racism. And of course the vast majority of violent acts are intra-racial.

stewartm September 17th, 2011 at 3:30 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 88

And I chide my friends on the left: where’s your living constitution when it comes to the Second Amendment. Truth is, none of our constitutional rights are limited to what the Founders thought they should be.

But in some ways some of the Founders wanted to go further. (The 11th amendment proposed by Jefferson and Madison to prohibit “monopolies in commerce” and to band corporations from trying to influence the political process).

But, in terms of civil liberties and human rights: if one believes that in general. easy access to firearms by anyone increases violent crime, which in turn leads to calls for restricting every other right of the accused and right of those convicted—well, how much of the rest of the Bill of Rights is going to be sacrificed on the altar of the current interpretation of the 2nd amendment?

I mean, most every “gun nut” when asked about “what to do about crime?” starts yapping about “criminals having too many rights”.

-stewartm

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:30 pm

The, um, disagreement between our esteemed moderator and our engaged commentators reminds me of the question I address at the end of Gunfight. Is the gun debate in the US hopeless deadlocked? I don’t believe so. Let me explain.

In Gunfight, I talk about one of the most famous photographs in American history. It was taken in 1957, when 9 black teenagers arrived to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. The photo shows a black girl in a white dress clutching her schoolbook and she’s surrounded by an angry mob of whites. What’s so memorable about the picture is that the white people’s rage and hatred is so clear you can feel it. If you and I were standing on the street corner that morning watching that scene and I told you we would one day move beyond the extreme polarization of the race debate in America, you’d have told me I was crazy. Yet look at how far we’ve come. Race is still an issue, and sometimes a hot-button one. But we’ve made incredible strides in how we talk and think about race. We can do the same for guns.

How? The civil rights movement offers some guidance. One reason racial hostility subsided was the forceful rulings by the Supreme Court that firmly protected blacks’ constitutional rights and made separate but equal an insupportable policy. Heller, the Supreme Court case featured in Gunfight, offers the possibility of doing the same for gun rights. That case held that individuals do have a right to own guns, yet also accepted the legitimacy of many types of gun control. By protecting the basic right to own a gun, that case may in the long run help calm the waters that roil the gun debate.

Louis September 17th, 2011 at 3:31 pm

I know I’m getting into this late, but a good friend of mine (Mike Merrill) was one of those killed in what’s called the 101 California [Street] Massacre in San Francisco in 1993. Mike was not a direct target of the deranged killer. After the killer killed his intended targets, he still had plenty of ammo and so went to other floors in the building, killing others, easy to do if you have an automatic weapon and ammo.

Activism after this led to the federal ban on assault weapons which lasted only 10 years (Bush let it expire).I don’t understand how it’s legal to ban tommy guns but not any other.

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 3:31 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 99

Very well said, Adam, all of it.

The pathway of reason is open before, should we but dare to take those first steps.

DW

stewartm September 17th, 2011 at 3:33 pm
In response to Romberry @ 101

Our rights exist inherently

I’m not about to start debating metaphysics, but–no they don’t. Not in the actual, real, world.

-stewartm

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Thank you for that insight, Kelly.

It is much appreciated, and suggests great cowardice abounds among “higher-ups” in the Federal Government.

DW

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 3:34 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 99

Off-topic for this discussion, but the claim that drug prohibition is “a complete failure” has to deal with the fact that the one addictive intoxicant we re-legalized – alcohol – does more damage, causes more crime, and leads to more incarceration than all the illicit drugs combined. The fact that drugs are still available no more proves prohibition a failure than the fact that murder still exists proves that murder laws are futile.

We could certainly run drug prohibition more effectively, with greater benefits and lower costs. But that’s another story : my book, rather than yours.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:34 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 107

Over the past thirty years, extremists on both sides of the aisle have dominated the gun debate with their simplistic slogans and unreasonable positions. Gun rights hardliners view all gun control proposals as an infringement of the Second Amendment, while Gun control zealots support any regulation of firearms no matter how ineffective and deny the existence of one of our oldest, most established constitutional rights. The two sides draw different conclusions, but they both begin with the same premise: gun control and the right to bear arms cannot coexist. We must choose one or the other. Gunfight shows how a more balanced understanding of the right to bear arms has prevailed over the course of American history. The right to bear arms is one of our constitutional rights. Yet we have always had laws regulating guns to promote public safety. Gunfight shows that gun rights and gun control are not incompatible. They have lived together side-by-side since the birth of America.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:35 pm
In response to stewartm @ 108

Those Founders we love so much did call them “inalienable rights.” But could We the People eliminate the right to own a gun? I believe so, but it’s never going to happen. If we haven’t noticed before, the country has gone very much in the opposite direction!

Brett Bellmore September 17th, 2011 at 3:36 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 91

He asserted that any regulation of weapons ownership was per se unreasonable.

Not at all. What I asserted was that, just as in practice “separate but equal’ was never really equal, in practice “reasonable regulation” of firearms isn’t reasonable. Not because it’s impossible to, say, build two identical drinking fountains, and label one “For Whites”, and the other “For Blacks”. Because the people actually pushing the legislation don’t want to be reasonable. They are motivated by an animus towards the right in question.

Do you want that laundry list?

stewartm September 17th, 2011 at 3:36 pm
In response to tjbs @ 102

And how do you propose to regulate an overdeveloped overbearing Militia without guns, knives ?

You do know that early in the US’s history, those arms were often purchased for the state militias by the US government? (Not unlike as the case with the current National Guard). I fully agree that the militias were conceived as including people volunteering with their own private arms but it was also recognized that many did not have them.

-stewartm

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:37 pm

In Gunfight, I tell the story of one of the most amazing spectacles in the history of the gun debate [was] the day in May, 1967 when 30 members of the Black Panthers marched right into the California capitol building openly carrying loaded rifles, pistols, and shotguns. They weren’t there to commit violence, they were there to protest a proposed gun control law. Conservatives in California sought to disarm the Panthers. In fact, the late 1960s saw a number of gun control laws enacted to restrict access to guns by black—laws supported by social conservatives like Ronald Reagan. Ironically, it was these laws that fueled the rise of the modern gun rights movement – a movement that is famous for being white, rural, and politically conservative.

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 3:39 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 105

Let’s imagine, for the moment, that African-Americans in the South had decided to defend themselves against lawless official oppression (including, of course, by law enforcement agencies) and lawless private violence by exercising their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms and organizing self-defense units. That is, imagine that Martin Luther King and the Gandhian wing of the Civil Rights movement had lost out to the CORE/SNCC/Panthers “by any means necessary” wing.

Does anyone believe that race relations in the U.S. today would be better than they now are? That the result would not have been a war of extermination by Southern whites against Southern blacks, with the Federal government either wringing its hands ineffectually or forced to fight a second Civil War?

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 3:39 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 111

It is to be hoped that such reason may finally be heard, respected, and appropriately reponded to, Adam.

Truly well said. And VERY much appreciated.

DW

stewartm September 17th, 2011 at 3:39 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 112

Adam:

Those Founders we love so much did call them “inalienable rights.”

Sigh, I agree that they did. But it’s empty verbiage. A la the Laurie Anderson song, saying that God or Nature or the Universe supports a “right” to have or to do something doesn’t help you one iota if the rest of society has decided that you don’t.

What’s worse, ironic, and tragic, is that we now live in a society where gun ownership is more of a recognized right than voting is. More people are being denied the franchise than are being denied access to guns.

-stewartm

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:40 pm
In response to stewartm @ 118

Guns may be more effective at getting what you want! ;-}

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 3:42 pm

Well said, Brett. And totally true.

Much appreciated.

DW

Kelly Canfield September 17th, 2011 at 3:42 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 111

So what is the correct model for the controls?

I’ve thought of many over the years, and then abandoned as impracticable, but the outlines of one model stays with me:

Why not like cars? For instance there is a certain “lethality” built into car model/types for actuarial purposes for insurance. You know motorcycle insurance is higher than than autos, and bigger cars are cheaper (insurance wise) than less protective type cars.

So a method of registration and testing for ability, like DMV, then requiring insurance based on lethality, and penalties for events outside that sphere would seem to me something that people are quite used to.

A .22 is way different than a .357 and one could argue the sole purpose for a .357 is death and actuaries could really make a difference in a logic based control argument.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:42 pm

We haven’t discussed the Heller case too much, but that litigation really drives the narrative of Gunfight. One of the best parts about the case was the involvement of Alan Gura. Clark Neily, who came up with the idea of a Second Amendment lawsuit at a happy hour, and Bob Levy, who financed the case, hired Gura, a young libertarian lawyer who believed in the cause and was willing to work for “subsistence wages.” Four years later, when the Supreme Court agreed to hear the case, Levy’s friends in the gun community pressured him to replace Gura with Ted Olson, Ken Starr, or another Supreme Court expert. Levy, however, had promised Gura that this case “would be his baby.” Meanwhile, the legal team for the District of Columbia, which was defending the city’s ban on handguns, was in disarray. The original lawyer brought in to argue the case was fired abruptly in a personnel shakeup unrelated to the gun case just days before the city’s brief was due. Walter Dellinger was a last minute replacement. Of course, Gura had help. In addition to scores of supportive amicus briefs, Justice Antonin Scalia carefully guided Gura, from the bench, through the barrage of questions the other Justices threw at him at oral argument. Scalia apparently was unwilling to leave the fate of the Second Amendment to a Supreme Court rookie.

stewartm September 17th, 2011 at 3:42 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 110

Off-topic for this discussion, but the claim that drug prohibition is “a complete failure” has to deal with the fact that the one addictive intoxicant we re-legalized – alcohol – does more damage, causes more crime, and leads to more incarceration than all the illicit drugs combined.

I’ve read your article on this, and quoted it several times on FDL and elsewhere. The real story of Prohibition is a compelling and thought-provoking read. Very good.

-stewart

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:46 pm

I don’t think there one “correct” model for controls — especially given the fact that, with so many guns already in circulation, any model will be somewhat undermined. Our goal should not be to get rid of civilian guns, but to make it more difficult and expensive for criminals to use guns. Criminal misuse of firearms should be the primary basis of regulation. The problem with the car analogy is only that there’s no constitutional right to drive a car. Any gun regulation must meet the demands of the Second Amendment or state constitutional provisions. Interestingly, few gun control regulations in American history have been overturned by courts.

stewartm September 17th, 2011 at 3:47 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 119

Guns may be more effective at getting what you want! ;-}

Remember, despite the lore, dictatorships often don’t bother to ban firearms. Hitler didn’t (in fact, gun owners voted for him because the Nazis were going to *relax* the firearm laws, not to repeal guns, though of course the Nazis did limit it to “citizens” which Jews weren’t after they took power.) Nor did Ferdinand Marcos.

The state has many means of repressing dissent if they so choose. Violent resistance against a government whose police and military have not been defeated in war fails more often than it succeeds–largely for the same reason I cited earlier, that militia soldiers don’t perform very well.

-stewartm

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 3:47 pm
In response to stewartm @ 118

And the fearless defenders of Second Amendment rights are the strong political allies of those trying to chip away at the right to vote. It’s certainly true that many liberal legal academics act as if the Bill of Rights is sacred, except for the Second Amendment, and Adam is right to call them on their inconsistency. But it’s also true that many gun rights advocates are happy to interfere with every other personal right enumerated in the Constitution.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:49 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 116

Certainly the freedmen who armed up in the South after the Civil War discovered that there was no fighting back against white racism. Their guns didn’t help them. This may have more to do with numbers — the white population was just too big and too wealthy for blacks to have any chance. And we should all be thankful that armed revolution didn’t come in the 1960s. It would have been ugly. Just because you have a right to have a gun doesn’t always mean you should use it.

Kelly Canfield September 17th, 2011 at 3:50 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 124

Yes – I didn’t state a goal of removal of weapons though. And I agree with you, as I stated “penalties for events outside that sphere.”

But as reasonable regulation is acceptable as regards Constitutional rights, I don’t see any reason why some sort of actuarial lethality table could not be a better/more accurate part of crimes-committed legislation than it is today.

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:50 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 126

Isn’t it time we respected the whole Constitution? And for my Tea Party friends, I include in that the 14th Amendment, the 16th Amendment, and the 17th Amendment!

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:54 pm

As our time is running out, I just wanted to mention what has for me been the most satisfying thing about the reviews of Gunfight so far. Mark sets the tone when he warns not to open the book before bed because you may not be able to put it down. One review called the story “Grisham-like,” another said it was, a la Mark, a “can’t-put-down.” Everyone loves the fascinating stories that lie at the heat of the book – stories about how race and guns have been intertwined; about how the NRA used to support gun control that it now seeks to overturn; about how America has been shaped by the effort to balance gun rights with gun safety. As a law professor, I wasn’t expecting anyone — including my own mother — to like the writing. But I tried hard to make this book an entertaining read.

BevW September 17th, 2011 at 3:54 pm

As we come to the end of this lively Book Salon,

Adam, Thank you for stopping by the Lake and spending the afternoon with us discussing your new book and the right to bear arms.

Mark, Thank you for Hosting this great Book Salon.

Everyone, if you would like more information:

Adam’s website and book

Mark’s website and blog

Thanks all,
Have a great evening.

Sunday:
Dean Baker / The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive; Hosted by William D. Cohan

Just quick reminder:
Membership drive! Are you an FDL member? If not, please join and help keep FDL delivering kick ass activism and independent journalism. You can join HERE.

stewartm September 17th, 2011 at 3:55 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 129

Isn’t it time we respected the whole Constitution?

The problem is, that if generally true that having guns readily available increases violent crime, there will be a political pushback to do something about it. People want liberty, but they also want safety.

And when it comes to that, the gun owners have a bigger constituency and more money than do those accused or convicted of a crime. By several orders of magnitude too, I’d say.

So in essence–we do end up trashing the rest of the Bill of Rights for the 2nd.

-stewartm

stewartm September 17th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Thank you, Adam and Mark, for an entertaining and enlightening blog/interview.

-stewartm

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

Actually, that kind of information should be used. Gun policy should be rational, based on facts and not slogans. We don’t need more gun control or less gun control — we need better gun control. I’d like to see background checks expanded (just please don’t call it the gun show loophole, which isn’t accurate!), while at the same time the law banning all felons, including those who committed non-violent crimes like perjury or obstruction of justice, narrowed. Maybe the introduction of the federal courts into gun policy will help this by considering the evidence more dispassionately.

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 3:57 pm

One of the little-discussed aspects of gun policy is crime-gun tracing. When Susan Ginsburg was at the Treasury Department during the Clinton Administration, she was able to set up a system that greatly increased the chance that a gun used to kill someone could be traced back to its last lawful sale. But that accomplishment took place in the face of fierce opposition from the NRA and its allies, and the “jack-booted fascists” at ATF are still absurdly limited by statute in their use of modern data-processing technology. That’s one of the things that keeps gun traffickers in business. Another is the absurdly light penalties: so small that they actually discourage prosecution.

This is genuinely a case of needing, not new laws, but enforcement of existing laws. And yet there’s no political consensus to support more effective efforts against gun traffickers.

Like Adam, I would have hoped that the Heller ruling would have created political space where such policies could be discussed on their merits, without the specter of “gun-grabbing.” But no such luck, so far. Adam, are there grounds to be hopeful?

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Thanks to all for the discussion. If you live in a major city, chances are I’ll be there this fall talking about Gunfight. Drop me an email at winkler at ucla.edu and I’ll let you know when I come to your town!

Adam Winkler September 17th, 2011 at 3:59 pm
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 135

It’s a long run dynamic, Mark. Brown hardly calmed the waters of race right away. But it certainly has that effect today.

Mark Kleiman September 17th, 2011 at 4:00 pm

Terrific job, Adam! I hope the book gets the attention it deserves.
And thanks to FDL for hosting and to the participants who made this such an exciting session.

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 4:00 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 129

Well, as long as the 14th is to apply to flesh and blood human beings and not to fictitious “persons” … I most certianly agree, Adam. In fact, Constitutional rights should be extended to all whom this Nation “deals” with … as well as those who are, now, still treated as second-class citizens.

(Though I am not a Tea Partier, I do have friends of that persuasion.)

;~DW

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 4:01 pm

Thank you, Adam and Mark.

Please come visit again, both of you.

And thank you, Bev, as always …

DW

bigbrother September 17th, 2011 at 4:04 pm

Guns are regulated by penalty if used in a crime and background checks if you want to purchase.
I am concerned that different states citizens go into other states with differing laws regarding gun use, carry, kind of bullets and amount of bullets.
In CA AZ drivers may carry while we don’t. Some endangerment or vulnerability occurs over these inequities.
Any thoughts?

Brett Bellmore September 17th, 2011 at 4:05 pm

The problem is, it’s not *generally* true that having guns readily available increases violent crime. It’s *locally* true, perhaps, but there are plenty of jurisdictions which combine high rates of gun ownership with rock bottom violent crime rates. The violent crime rate varies from place to place across this country by at least three orders of magnitude, and it sure isn’t the availability of guns driving that, if you look at the detailed distribution of violent crime.

As for how to do “reasonable” regulation of firearms in this poisoned atmosphere… hard to say, except that it can’t come from the same people who were pushing the unreasonable regulations not so long ago. No sane gun owner would trust them.

Just leave the subject alone for a generation, and let people who haven’t earned distrust tackle it. That’s my advice. It’s not like there’s a lack of ways to address crime that don’t involve infringing on 2nd amendment rights.

bigbrother September 17th, 2011 at 4:11 pm

Robert Ruark wrote a book “Something of Value” that was made a movie in 1950s. About Africans not being allowed to bear arms. Had to do with the Cukuyu revolt aqainst the Brit colonists.

defogger September 17th, 2011 at 4:19 pm

Gun control is virtually meaningless as long as the profit motive created by drug prohibition sustains a domestic market worth a half-trillion annually.Guns regulate market share,litigate disputes,impose justice against informants and other market impediments,and cultivate an aura of intimidation to enhance free trade.Racism in gun laws pales in comparison to the inherent Jim Crow fibre of the drug-war farce.

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 4:27 pm

I see the excellent, thought-provoking comments continue …

My appreciation to all, to bigbrother, Brett, and defogger.

Well said, all of you.

DW

realitychecker September 17th, 2011 at 4:58 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 119

LOL. You can get more with a kind word and a gun, than just a kind word. ;-)

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 5:03 pm

Glad to see yer back, rc.

;~DW

realitychecker September 17th, 2011 at 5:06 pm
In response to Adam Winkler @ 130

You have been marvelous in every respect, sir. Thank you very much for your very thoughtful presence and your views, which I think really needed to be heard here.

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 5:18 pm

I’ll happily second that appreciation, rc, such views really do need to be heard … here, as well as in other places.

DW

realitychecker September 17th, 2011 at 5:21 pm
In response to DWBartoo @ 147

I always come back, DW, can’t get rid of me for long. Like a hemorrhoid, I guess, in the view of some lol. Took a long walk on a beautiful afternoon with my lady and our dogs. Muy beneficial. Didn’t want to stay and be a skunk at the party, I could see how it was going to be, been in so many of these discussions over the years. Adam was really remarkably good, well-informed, balanced and logical, IMHO. I would note that the late unpleasantness was not started by me. It’s never a good idea to characterize my arguments with the word “absurdly” when I am completely right in the point being made lol. Warms my heart that some cared enough to defend my back, though.

DWBartoo September 17th, 2011 at 5:40 pm

;~DW

greenwarrior September 17th, 2011 at 6:16 pm

For what it’s worth, I also left the discussion. When no apology was forthcoming I decided to go enjoy the sight of the rain outside. VERY rare here in Central Texas. It was much more enjoyable than mean-spiritedness.

realitychecker September 17th, 2011 at 6:34 pm
In response to greenwarrior @ 152

Hugs to both you and DW.

tongorad September 17th, 2011 at 6:47 pm

Does your book discuss gun ownership and gun rights advocacy in relation to class?
Also, our gun culture/gun rights advocacy in relation to American exceptionalism and our imperial foreign policy?

Redwolf September 18th, 2011 at 1:42 am

About the question of owning a Nuke. No you can’t.

There is a simple test to determine if an arm would fall under the 2ed amendment: Would a Militia have such a weapon? When it comes to Militia/National guard the primary armaments has and always has been the battle musket/rifle and assorted gear(Probably includes grenades). Now when it comes to other arms police officers themselves are Militia dedicated to the internal law and order of a state. As such a citizen should be armed as well as the police and in contexts and ways the police are so armed.

So if the boys in blue carry it then I should be able to as well and if the national guard uses it then I should be able to own and to practice with it. You can of course limit what contexts I could carry national guard type weapons as the use of such are intended for state defense efforts and not personal defense per say. So no automatic weapons in the court houses but if the cops can be trusted with a weapon then so can I in the same context that cops are trusted. Cops should never be considered more trust worthy than the average Joe.

maa8722 September 18th, 2011 at 4:11 am

Gun opponents such as myself have been handed two stern slapdowns from SCOTUS in recent years, which leaves some of the discourse irrelevant and a waste of time except in a theoretical sense.

The questions going forward would regard what sort of gun control there can be, which can have different answers in different locales, but which cannot amount to an outright ban most anywhere.

NRA seems to chose its challenges carefully. Following the most recent case they have been on the watch for proxy bans which might now be ripe for challenge. Those would include unreasonable permitting expense or long permitting wait times, required training which is excessively expensive or difficult to reach or with scant scheduling, etc.

It seems NRA is pushing for “shall issue timely” policies absent only a specific circumstance which would preclude a permit on an individual basis, and permitting procedures which are mostly standardized to preclude capricious denials by officials at the local level. Such a denial would get promptly bumped up to the state level for review.

NRA seems to be soliciting input from pro-gun individuals to report permitting difficulies which will pass muster as challenges in court going forward. They can’t afford to lose a single case in this. Nor can we, judging from the last two cases, and who would rather see the guns gone altogether.

George Lyon September 18th, 2011 at 5:54 am
In response to Mark Kleiman @ 73

Mark there is no basis to suggest that gun rights activists oppose efforts to stop firearms trafficking to Mexico. They do oppose efforts to prohibit non-dealer sales of firearms. It is not the same thing. You refer to fast and furious as “bungled.” How was it “bungled.” There was never any way to trace those guns other than having them show up at crime scenes in Mexico and the US after being used in a crime. What is the legitimate law enforcement purpose in that? The evidence I have seen at this point suggests that whoever came up with this idea — and Justice has not disclosed who that was — intended those guns to support a sedond so-called assault weapons ban. Tell me any other logical explanation.

stewartm September 18th, 2011 at 7:16 am

The problem is, it’s not *generally* true that having guns readily available increases violent crime.

It’s not? Then how do you explain this?

http://i211.photobucket.com/albums/bb262/netnguy01/sm%20album/gundeathsvsgunownership.jpg

I’m not so bold as to say that there’s no other principle components involved, but it does seem from that graph that the % of households owning guns is one of the stronger ones.

Just leave the subject alone for a generation, and let people who haven’t earned distrust tackle it. That’s my advice. It’s not like there’s a lack of ways to address crime that don’t involve infringing on 2nd amendment rights.

By that time, the rest of the Bill of Rights will be so shredded that the TV Cops shows will show Rodney King beatings, every day.

The public’s desire for safety and perception of crime is what drives the shredding of the Bill of Rights. Rather than to take preventive action that will actually likely lower the crime rate, we are sacrificing all the rest of the Constitution to protect a particular interpretation (which I believe false) of the 2nd Amendment. I say this even though the statistics show that most crime is falling; what counts is the public’s perception of the situation.

-stewartm

stewartm September 18th, 2011 at 7:28 am
In response to Redwolf @ 155

About the question of owning a Nuke. No you can’t.

There is a simple test to determine if an arm would fall under the 2ed amendment: Would a Militia have such a weapon? When it comes to Militia/National guard the primary armaments has and always has been the battle musket/rifle and assorted gear(Probably includes grenades).

The militia of the Revolutionary War also had artillery. So self-propelled 155 mm howitzers would be good–and so, by extrapolation, any other types of armor.

But your whole argument is flawed because of this: the Founders considered the militia to be an actual militarily-capable force. The militia was supposed to have the arms to fight professional forces. Granted, most militias of the Revolutionary War made quick exits from the battlefield when they first confronted British regulars, but hypothetically they *could* have fought them toe-to-toe based on their equipment. And in a few cases, where they did actually regularly meet and train, they did.

So–really–if one is construing an individual right to own weapons based on the 2nd Amendment, unless one is going to be completely arbitrary and also invent a laundry list of weapons an individual can and can’t have out of thin air, I see no reason why an individual can’t also own tanks, RPGs, heavy artillery, you name it. There would be practical constraints (most people couldn’t afford to maintain a tank) but not legal constraints if you say the 2nd protects an individual right. And heck, I’m sure the Koch brothers could field their own armored division.

(And hence, we head right back to neofeudalism).

-stewartm

Redwolf September 18th, 2011 at 9:43 am

@ stewartm 158
Private citizens already own all those things. They bring them out to the range from time to time.

What I’m talking about is context and location. I don’t mind someone owning an RPG. I would mind them owning an RPG and bringing to the court house. There’s no point to an RPG in a court house unless you plan to blow it up. You limit where and when you can carry and use militia type weapons.

Now cop weapons on the other hand should be carried anywhere a cop can carry them. Cop weapons are clearly intended for personal defense and such should be allowed to all regular citizens. If you don’t want them in the court houses, make the regular cops disarm when going in as well. Use something like the gun check ins the city of dodge used to use.

Creating a 2 tiered society were the cops can defend themselves at will and I have to beg for their protection is master and slave society. I prefer to be a freeman.

stewartm September 18th, 2011 at 12:05 pm
In response to Redwolf @ 160

What I’m talking about is context and location. I don’t mind someone owning an RPG. I would mind them owning an RPG and bringing to the court house.

Then would you also say that you can prohibit someone from packing a pistol to the local public library? You’ll run afoul of the NRA on that one.

If you don’t want them in the court houses, make the regular cops disarm when going in as well.

Maybe, though occasionally someone in the court house will have to be restrained. (Like, when they attack one of the lawyers; or the judge, such things have happened). Then the cops would need to carry non-lethal weapons, at least, which again would create the two-tiered system that you argue against. I don’t see any way around that.

Creating a 2 tiered society were the cops can defend themselves at will and I have to beg for their protection is master and slave society. I prefer to be a freeman.

Hate to disappoint you, but any idea of of you and the state being equals in the use of deadly force, even strictly for self-protection, is a fantasy. That bridge was irrevocably crossed a long time ago.

-stewartm

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