Some Pearls From the Old Setting the Record Straight

—Some we find were amazingly prophetic, illustrating how little we learn and change. They serve well our mantra, “Those who cannot remember history are condemned to repeat it.” —George Santayana

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The latest hate shooting in Colorado Springs tells us nothing has changed over the years. We are reminded once again that one factor has long been common in most of the mass killings of people in various venues—schools, random public places and outfits the target of those simple people who simply hate. The common element is guns.

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Guns For Self-Defense Myth

News item: Man stabs to death at least five officers inside Shanghai police station. Chinese police are well-armed. If they were unable to defend themselves with their handguns, what chance does anyone else have.
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia rests much of the 5-4 majority opinion of the court in D.C. v Heller on the alleged right to have the right to one’s defense of one’s self defense. Supposedly, if one has a gun, one can protect oneself against attackers, intruders and all sorts of evil-doers.
A check of blogs and pro-gun Web sites leading up to and including the court’s decision showed this is not an issue for the weak at heart.
Our take on the d.c. v heller gun-control issue before the court attracted the ire of so many gun nuts, we were drawn into reading their comments and blogs and checking out their Web sites.
A check of blogs and pro-gun Web sites leading up to and including the court’s decision showed this is not an issue for the weak at heart.
We were struck by two factors–how borderline illiterate so many of the gun-nut bloggers are (not just on this issue, but others as well) and how many expressed macho boasts, such as “you’ll have to pry my gun from my dead, cold hands,” aping the John Wayne-type post of the late National Rifle Association figurehead, Charlton Heston.
If anyone were ever in favor of gun control, knowing such people are out there with guns in their hands is justification enough.
But since our mantra is to be informed, we checked out to the best we could what is known about the success of gun possession in fending off various criminals.
The evidence is sparse, and what there is of that is old, but it puts the lie to the claim that personal possession of a gun is an effective defense.
Although one would presume that a person who uses a gun successfully to repel an intruder or an attacker would then report the incident to the police, if for no other reason than to seek to put the perpetrator in jail.
A cursory search turned up no research, not even U.S. Justice Department tracts based on voluminous federal, state and local crime reports, that compares the claims of self-defense with police reports of such claims.
What we are left with is old research, much of it based on telephone interviews in which respondents merely state their experience, with no followup or comparison with other records to determine if the claims fit a pattern.
The most credible of that research (federal studies of statistics and peer-reviewed journal work) suggest there is no self-defense value to keeping a gun at home.
The best comparison was reported back in 1986 by the New England Journal of Medicine, which compared police information with stated claims in one Washington county. Of 743 firearm-related deaths over a six-year period (70.5 percent involved handguns), 398 occurred in the home where the firearm was kept, but only seven people were killed in self-defense, and only two of those killed were shot during attempted entry. Nine were accidental (the gun-owner or someone else in the home was the victim). Researchers concluded a gun in the home is 43 times more likely to kill someone other than an intruder, i.e., a member of the household or friends.
Indeed, there have been incidents where a gun has been used successfully in self-defense, but those cases are rare, and most of those involved a perpetrator who was not armed.
Justice Department surveys from the mid-1990s show that just over a third of American households contain a gun, but three-quarters of those claim they have one for self-protection.
Another chant of gun nuts is that if guns are taken away from them, only criminals will have guns. Federal statistics show that 340,000 crimes each year involve the theft of firearms, two-thirds of them during household burglaries. It appears it is legitimate gun owners who are supplying the criminals with guns.

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 Scalia’s Gun-Control Vote

The next time you hear Justice Antonin Scalia call himself a con- stitutional “originalist,” laugh out loud. As we suggested in the previous piece he might, Scalia tortured the words, twisting them this way and that to make them support an ideologue’s view of the Second Amendment. That four others followed him down that road is a shame that has resulted in nothing but turning the Constitution into a pretzel.
The nation’s gun nuts, and their few rational supporters, are celebrating the decision, but they don’t realize that lower courts are going to be hard put to make any sense of it. Those courts’ conclusions are likely to be in such disagreement with each other, the issue may be back before the Supreme Court in much less than the nearly 70 years it took to review the issue this time.
One of the first such questions raised by the ruling is its application beyond the District of Columbia, whose laws are within federal grounds, not a state’s. On its face, the ruling applies only there and nowhere else, but similar laws exist in other cities. Does the tortured Scalia explanation justifying the ruling actually have any impact on other jurisdictions? The lower courts will have to sort that out.
An originalist view, as we said earlier, would read the same nexus between a right to bear arms and a state-run militia, as all the court’s precedents have read. An originalist view would hold the Constitution to mean only what it meant to the authors at the time they wrote it, with any other interpretation to be embodied only in changes in constitution- ally allowed law or changes in the Constitution itself.
In his majority opinion, as we suggested he might, Scalia has thrown all of that out the window, or as in today’s tabloid-cable vernacular, under the bus. And, as we suggested he might, Scalia has twisted words into pretzels to make them fit his ideology.
He refers to the opening clause of the Second Amendment as “prefatory” and then ignores its existence, leaving an unrestricted right to bear arms. But with his pretzel words, he then suggests that well, this isn’t actually an unlimited right, that governments can still restrict some gun ownership, but not others, with no support for that conclusion, leaving it to the lower courts to figure out, court by court by court.
This is the muddied opinion. For better writing and better judgment on this issue, we recommend the dissenting opinions of Justices Stevens and Breyer at the end.

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