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Gun absolutists have NO good arguments left against sensible restrictions

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Gun absolutists have NO good arguments left against sensible restrictions

Another week, another psychotic shooting spree, this time in Orange, Calif., where among the four killed last Wednesday was a 9-year-old boy. It was sobering to learn that this murdered child, with whom I share a first name, died at the same age I was when the Columbine shooting happened in 1999.

Predictably, the killer used a semi-automatic handgun, a type of weapon the vast majority of civilians don’t need and which is far too easy to obtain in this country.

Yet even the most moderate and sensible calls for restrictions on firearm ownership continue to be met with the same tired objections. The people who moo along with these talking points, which ultimately trace back to the $62 billion gun industry and profit-protecting astroturf lobbies, all seem to be under the impression that their claims are unanswerable.

Are they, though? Let’s see whether it’s possible to handle them all in a single column.

“Our Constitution explicitly protects gun ownership.” Sort of. What it protects is the right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of membership in a well-regulated militia.

The idea that this unequivocally means individuals have a right to keep arms to defend themselves as opposed to their country or state is tendentious and modern. In fact, it is no older than D.C. vs. Heller, which the Supreme Court decided in 2008. Before that, the high court had consistently held that the Second Amendment referred to membership in state militias.

If the Framers had intended to create an unlimited personal right to gun ownership at the federal level, they could have echoed the language of numerous state constitutions at the time or adopted proposals such as the one from New Hampshire ignored by James Madison, which read: “Congress shall never disarm any citizen unless such as are or have been in actual rebellion.”

Instead, the Constitution’s language reflected late-18th century fears of standing armies. We have had the latter since 1792, and something tells me we aren’t about to replace our boys in Afghanistan with self-trained citizen patrols.

Speaking of Afghanistan, did you know that you are more likely to die from gun violence in the United States than you are there or in Iraq or Yemen or Sudan? “America isn’t the only country with these problems” is an argument that doesn’t work the way its proponents think. Ditto the ubiquitous “Look at Mexico! Gun control doesn’t work.” Of course it doesn’t in a country that has a porous border with the United States and drug cartels whose rapaciousness is the result of another destructive American addiction.

A better point of comparison would be virtually anywhere in Asia or, better yet, Europe, where individual gun ownership for non-hunting purposes is basically nonexistent and the likelihood of being killed by a gun vastly lower. Gun control might not be appealing or easy, but it does, in fact, work by definition. Can’t have gun violence without guns.

“It’s impossible to draft targeted gun-control legislation” is yet another tired favorite of sophists who pretend that the law can’t distinguish between weapons of war designed to inflict terror with their very appearance and hunting rifles because of certain shared features. You might as well say that we can’t draw legal distinctions between a 401(k) and insider-trading schemes or between cocaine and Cocoa Puffs.

“Americans use guns for self defense!” is something we are told over and over again by people whose views owe more to Charles Bronson movies than statistics. In the real world from 2007 to 2011, for example, less than 1 percent of victims in violent crimes attempted to defend themselves with firearms. During the same period, only 0.12 percent of property-crime victims protected themselves with guns or even threatened to do so.

“Background checks are an invasion of our privacy” is also a ludicrous claim that has no basis in the modern world, where virtually every commercial transaction is recorded, analyzed and used to try to sell you more stuff. So is the argument that compared with, say, diabetes or even Alzheimer’s, guns don’t kill that many people. Would anyone not abolish these horrible diseases tomorrow if it were possible?

This might not exhaust all the possible arguments for unrestricted gun ownership. But the one I suspect most Second Amendment absolutists really want to make is familiar to all parents of toddlers: “I don’t want you to take my toys away!”

To which the answer in many cases is: too bad.

Matthew Walther is editor of The Lamp magazine.

Twitter: @MatthewWalther

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Opinion

COVID can’t unfairly let pols treat believers like second-class citizens

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COVID can’t unfairly let pols treat believers like second-class citizens

When Christians met in each other’s homes for prayer or Bible study, they had to be careful. Such gatherings were illegal, and the organizers never knew who might inform the authorities.

Although that sounds like a scene from the Soviet Union, it in fact describes the situation in California under COVID-19 regulations that the Supreme Court blocked last Friday. By issuing an injunction against Gov. Gavin Newsom’s restrictions, the Supremes reaffirmed that politicians must comply with the Constitution when they decide how to deal with a pandemic.

The main rule at issue in this case limited at-home religious gatherings, whether inside or outside, to people from no more than three households. If two people from different households joined a host for a prayer meeting or Bible study session, for example, no one else was allowed to come.

As the petitioners noted, that limit “does not permit an individual to gather with others in her own backyard to study the Bible, pray or worship with members of more than two other households, all of which are common (and deeply important) practices of millions of contemporary Christians in the United States.” Meanwhile, California was allowing much larger groups to gather in other settings: inside stores, barbershops, nail salons, tattoo parlors, movie studios and (in some counties) restaurants, for example — or outdoors at restaurants, wineries, gyms, movie theaters, zoos, museums, sporting events, concerts, political demonstrations, weddings and funerals.

The upshot was that Californians could “sit for a haircut with 10 other people in a barbershop, eat in a half-full restaurant (with members of 20 different families) or ride with 15 other people on a city bus.” But they were not allowed to “host three people from different households for a Bible study indoors or in their backyards.”

Justice Elena Kagan, who objected to the Supreme Court’s injunction in a dissent joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor, argued that the Golden State’s regulations did not implicate the First Amendment to the US Constitution, because they were neutral and generally applicable. The state “has adopted a blanket restriction on at-home gatherings of all kinds, religious and secular alike,” she noted.

The petitioners argued that Newsom’s rules nevertheless amounted to “a subtle but unmistakable religious gerrymander.” Five justices were inclined to agree, concluding that the plaintiffs were likely to prevail in their claim that the restrictions on private religious meetings violated the First Amendment.

This isn’t the first time that the high court has called attention to the impact of COVID-19 control measures on religious freedom. It blocked enforcement of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s onerous restrictions on houses of worship in New York last November, vacated a decision upholding Colorado’s limits on religious services in December and reached similar conclusions in four cases involving state and local regulations in California two months later.

By now, the court said, it should be clear that public-health regulations are subject to strict scrutiny “whenever they treat any comparable secular activity more favorably than religious exercise,” and that the relevant consideration is “the risks various activities pose, not the reasons why people gather.” To pass strict scrutiny, a state has to “show that measures less restrictive of the First Amendment activity” — such as face masks, physical distancing and more generous group limits — “could not address its interest in reducing the spread of COVID.”

Kagan is certainly right, based on the court’s pre-pandemic precedents, that disease-control measures can be constitutional even if they incidentally impinge on religious freedom. But Kagan, Breyer and Sotomayor always seem willing to accept politicians’ public-health judgments, even when they are scientifically dubious, change in the midst of litigation or result in policies that privilege politically influential industries or explicitly treat religious gatherings as a disfavored category.

At this point, it isn’t clear that Kagan and her allies on the high court can imagine any disease-control policy that would violate the Free Exercise Clause, provided it was presented as necessary for the protection of public health, as such policies always are.

Twitter: @JacobSullum

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The mindless mask regime might be here to stay, unless YOU resist it

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The mindless mask regime might be here to stay, unless YOU resist it

The masks might be forever. We have to come to terms with the fact that a large chunk of the US population will be wearing masks in public for years, maybe even decades to come.

Even if we unquestionably achieve herd immunity, even if 100 percent of the population is vaccinated, even if COVID cases nationwide drop to zero and even if the coronavirus by some miracle learns to communicate in a human language and tells us, forthrightly, “Well, you beat me,” some Americans, especially those in blue metropolises, will continue to cover their faces — and shame you for not going along.

It’s a massively depressing thought.

For more than a year, public-health authorities have urged us to put up with temporary inconveniences, always with the soothing promise that it will be only a little while longer. But recently, NPR cheerfully reported about the growing number of people who see masks as a source of Permanent and Absolute Safety.

Flu and other respiratory illnesses are down this year owing to our ubiquitous face coverings, our state-run news agency tells us, so maybe we should just keep wearing them. Meanwhile, the rapper Will.i.am and Honeywell have introduced a super-duper smart mask that runs $300. The “Xupermask” allows the wearer to chat on the phone or listen to some dulcet music while signaling her virtue.

None of this should give anyone the slightest bit of confidence that the days of ubiquitous mask wearing will soon be behind us.

Yes, masks reduce the transmission of airborne illnesses. You know what else reduces transmission? Staying in a protective plastic bubble in your living room and never venturing into the dirty, filthy, infectious outdoors. And even if it makes sense to wear a mask in tight indoor quarters, it is utterly unscientific and, yes, moronic to wear them outside, and yet blue-state denizens insist.

Sigh. The mask fanatics — some of whom hold advanced degrees that make them no wiser as human beings — can’t be reasoned with.

The awkward moments with double-masked parents at kids’ birthday parties, the ridiculous restaurant rituals, the seething public glares from masked to maskless on our streets — all will continue. They will say it’s but a small price to pay for Health Most Holy and Sacred Safety. Huge swaths of Americans will literally be lost to our sight and recognition.

It’s a sinister phenomenon that runs radically counter to our cultural history.

Many cultures embrace face covering. Western culture, however, isn’t among them. Western culture revels in the human face and form. That is why “Westernization” is so often associated with immodesty in the East (often unfairly, for celebrating the face needn’t entail baring the backside or plunging décolletage).

A future in which millions hide behind protective masks as they wander around is a steep departure from the Western ideal, rooted in both the Greco-Roman celebration of the human form and the Genesis teaching that God formed man and woman in his image.

The typical conservative reaction — to blame government — doesn’t quite apply here. It’s mainly cultural forces that promote masking in needless places. And private actors have lined up eagerly, with Big Tech actively suppressing science that questions the efficacy of mask-wearing.

Yet we still can resist the phenomenon. We can fight against this faceless future with our own refusals. We can proudly display our lipstick, smile at a passerby and even be understood clearly when we speak. Put simply, we can go back to a normal past, when people’s faces brightened our day instead of terrifying us.

Of course, there is some marginal safety upside to wearing a mask; there always has been. But in the more sensible recent past, most people realized that such small protection wasn’t worth hiding our faces night and day.

We should treat with compassion our fellow citizens who sheepishly embrace the forever-mask regime — but not too much compassion. Those of us who value things like basic human interaction shouldn’t feel shy about mocking those who cling to the facial security blankets or who don high-tech, celebrity-endorsed visage eviscerators. It’s OK to acknowledge that a world without faces isn’t one we want to inhabit.

So let’s bare our faces to the nice, fresh air, pucker and smirk at every available opportunity. Don’t be daunted by the masked masses. Plenty of us want to see your face.

Twitter: @BlueBoxDave

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Post-Wright mayhem helps no one — yet cynical pols fan the flames anyway

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Post-Wright mayhem helps no one — yet cynical pols fan the flames anyway

Outrage at the death of Daunte Wright is warranted, but rioting and looting only make everything worse — as do fan-the-flames comments from cynical politicians.

Video footage strongly suggests the shooting was accidental: The Brooklyn Center officer, Kim Potter (who stepped down Tuesday “in the best interest of the community”), thought she was firing her Taser instead of her gun as Wright resisted arrest.

It’s all horrible: Wright was just 20. Yet the mayhem that followed was terrible, too. Within hours, hundreds of “protesters” gathered. Some threw bricks and cans at cops, jumped on their vehicles and even “shot up” a police station, as the chaos spread to Minneapolis and beyond. The ensuing looting rampage all but destroyed several businesses, including a Foot Locker, a T-Mobile and a men’s clothing store.

This isn’t protest, it’s jumping on an excuse to run amok. (Same in Portland, where the folks who’ve been doing rolling riots for months now used the excuse to shoot fireworks and other objects at cops, smash windows and try to set a dumpster on fire.)

This, when local authorities are rushing to do the right thing: conduct a full investigation, figure out what went wrong and take steps to prevent a recurrence. Even if Potter were a racist murderer — and there’s zero sign of that — burning everything down only hurts the community.

Yet politicians holding top jobs couldn’t resist fueling the fire. As news of the shooting broke, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz immediately tweeted about “another life of a Black man taken by law enforcement.” New York’s scandal-swamped Gov. Andrew Cuomo tweeted, “We cannot stand by and watch as a flawed system again and again devalues the lives of Black men & women” — essentially egging on the violence.

Most cynical were “Squad” members Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.): Wright’s death “wasn’t an accident” but “government-funded murder,” Tlaib insisted. “From slave patrols to traffic stops,” Pressley said.

Their prescription? “No more policing, incarceration and militarization,” declared Tlaib. Lunacy: Minority communities resent crime as much as any other, if not more so. In a Gallup survey last year, more than 80 percent of blacks and Hispanics nationwide said they want at least as much, or even more, policing in their neighborhoods. So why does the Squad want to deny them the protection they seek — and need?

Because their shtick is to play to radicals (mostly white ones) nationwide. Riots and looting that set back minority neighborhoods are just the necessary price for forwarding . . . their own personal ambitions.

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