Pride of Ignorance on Firearms

For the sneering consequentialists of the post-constitutional Left, Justice Antonin Scalia is a bogeyman among bogeymen and the Second Amendment is an exasperating relic. It should thus come as no great surprise that Scalia’s considered and thoughtful comments on the future of firearms law, offered in good faith during a speech in Montana last week, were met with brash and injudicious criticism.

As revenge for his responding to the question of whether private citizens could own rocket launchers with the modest answer that this “remains to be determined,” the Daily Kos went so far as to suggest that Scalia, whom the outlet called “Supreme Court Justice Fever Dream,” was a “crackpot” and “not right in the head.” Over at the more moderate Daily Beast, meanwhile, Adam Winkler continued to lie about the nature of the Second Amendment, contending slipperily that the “insurrectionist understanding” is false and advancing without shame the smear that “Justice Scalia, that acclaimed lover of originalism,” is “taking his cues from the Tea Party rather than from the text and history of the Constitution.”

As it happens, Scalia’s view is not crazy at all. Indeed, it is the only supportable one. The Left, whose members are typically not interested enough in the details of firearms law to participate coherently in this debate, has long neglected to examine the historical record, preferring instead to dismiss the notion of the right to bear arms as a check on government as being axiomatically dangerous. This is to its great discredit. Reflexively to reject the notion that, as Thomas Jefferson put it in the Declaration, “whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it” is to ignore not only the principles that undergirded the American founding but also the British common law that preceded it, the recorded debates surrounding the drafting and passage of both the federal and state constitutions, and the bulk of the contemporary jurisprudence.

Winkler’s insinuation that the American compact includes no way out for the oppressed would have shocked its authors and contemporaries. In a much-distributed article published in the Philadelphia Federal Gazette and Philadelphia Evening Post in 1791, the Second Amendment was explained to intrigued citizens as protecting the people from “civil rulers” who “may attempt to tyrannize” and from “military forces” that “might pervert their power to the injury of their fellow citizens.” The author was channeling no less a personage than the drafter of the Second Amendment, James Madison. In Federalist 46, Madison laid out the insurrectionist theory himself, observing bluntly that the states should not fear the tyranny of a federal standing army because the superior state militias and well-armed public could defeat that army by force if, heaven forbid, it became necessary for them to do so.

New Hampshire’s constitution of 1784 put this understanding most explicitly of all:

[Art.] 10. Government being instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security, of the whole community, and not for the private interest or emolument of any one man, family, or class of men; therefore, whenever the ends of government are perverted, and public liberty manifestly endangered, and all other means of redress are ineffectual, the people may, and of right ought to reform the old, or establish a new government. The doctrine of nonresistance against arbitrary power, and oppression, is absurd, slavish, and destructive of the good and happiness of mankind.

Scalia’s suggestion that rocket launchers may well be legally protected sits on equally solid ground. The two most recent Second Amendment decisions — D.C. v. Heller, which confirmed the obvious truth that the Second Amendment recognizes an individual right that is not contingent upon a militia, and McDonald v. Chicago, which incorporated that right to the states — did not address in much detail the question of which weapons may be legitimately banned, leaving the bulk of that work for another day. Progressives think they are being inordinately clever when they ask advocates of the right to bear arms, “So, can you have a nuclear missile?!” They are being no such thing. Like all informed people, Justice Scalia himself concedes that the right to bear arms is not infinite. For the weapon to be protected by the federal constitution, citizens must to be able to “keep” it and to “bear” it — and also to discriminate with it. This is why a handgun is quite obviously protected while a cruise or nuclear missile is quite obviously not. The Heller decisions also included a poorly defined “common use” provision that has not yet been properly tested.

Nevertheless, a significant gray area remains. Are the current federal restrictions on the sale of machine guns permissible? Can a state limit access to so-called “assault weapons” without violating the incorporated right? Can, per Scalia’s own example, the government prohibit private ownership of rocket launchers? These are serious constitutional questions — questions that, as an inevitable consequence of wading into the debate around an amendment that was left largely untouched for two centuries, the court will ultimately be required to address. This, remember, is a constitutional issue. It is not a political one. Contra the zeitgeist, “constitutional” and “unconstitutional” are not synonyms for “things I like” and “things I don’t like,” but statements of legal fact. If the Constitution does prevent Congress from prohibiting rocket launchers, and if this is deemed by a supermajority to be ridiculous, then the Second Amendment can be changed via the usual channels. Until that time, it remains in force and it must be upheld as it was written.

Scalia is by no means outré when he contends that machine guns or rocket launchers may fall on the protected side. A favorite, albeit cheap, argument of gun-control advocates is that “when the Second Amendment was written, there were only muskets!” Conservatives customarily react to this by pointing out that, while true, the jab relies for its power upon an absurd standard that doesn’t apply to anything else. (The First Amendment, for example, quite obviously applies to the Internet and to speech broadcast over the radio.) But the better way to look at this question is not to compare the personal weapons that the citizenry owned at the time of the Founding with the more powerful personal weapons available to the citizenry now, but to compare what personal weapons the citizenry had access to at the Founding with what personal weapons the military owned at the time of the Founding.

If we grant that the Second Amendment covered muskets — which pretty much everybody does — we are granting that the Second Amendment originally applied to the top-end personal military weapons of the time, and that the authors of the Constitution were happy for free Americans to own the same personal weapons as did the government. Sure, they may be “just muskets” now. But at the time? George Orwell, who recognized the importance of all this, explained in his essay “You and the Atom Bomb” just how powerful citizens with muskets had been — and how that dynamic was changing:

The great age of democracy and of national self-determination was the age of the musket and the rifle. After the invention of the flintlock, and before the invention of the percussion cap, the musket was a fairly efficient weapon, and at the same time so simple that it could be produced almost anywhere. Its combination of qualities made possible the success of the American and French revolutions, and made a popular insurrection a more serious business than it could be in our own day.

If we are supposed to apply the “musket” principle today, as the Left insists we must, we should be expanding, not contracting, the list of personal weapons that the people may own. Instead, because the Second Amendment refers solely to discriminating, bearable weapons that can be borne by a militia, great swaths of the U.S. Army’s arsenal will remain unprotected by the Second Amendment. But machine guns, powerful rifles, and, yes, rocket launchers may well not be in that group. Scalia is right: The next big question is “What are the People allowed?” The Court may decide that the scope is limited, and it may decide that it is not. But it will decide. And no amount of historical illiteracy, obtuse outrage, or scurrilous accusations that its members are “not right in the head” will prevent it from doing so.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.


Obama’s New Executive Order Will Kill The 110-Year-Old Civilian Marksmanship Program

The White House announced on Thursday that it intends to “ban almost all re-imports of military surplus firearms to private entities” through executive order, which would effectively shut down the 110-year-old Civilian Marksmanship Program.

In a Fact Sheet published on today referencing the upcoming executive order the ban on importing military weapons is designed to “keep military-grade firearms off our streets.” Exceptions for import may be allowed for museums.

The CMP tightly controls the distribution of obsolete military weapons. The program was created by the U.S. Congress as part of the 1903 War Department Appropriations Act with the purpose of allowing civilians to hone their marksmanship skills, should they later be called into military service.

Participants receiving firearms through the CMP must comply with all state and federal firearm laws and undergo a background check conducted by a dealer holding a Federal Firearms License in order to receive the gun.

Additionally, they must also be a member of a CMP affiliated shooting club, making participating in the program more difficult than anyone trying to purchase a firearm through usual retail channels.

The Civilian Marksmanship Program was administered by the United States Army from 1916 through 1996 when it was changed to the Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice & Firearms Safety, a 501(c) (3) organization federally chartered by the U.S. Congress.

There are no data indicating any of the weapons involved in homicide were imported surplus military rifles. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s homicide crime statistics, rifles accounted for only 323 deaths out of 12,664 homicides in 2011, the most recent data set provided by the FBI.

“Apart from a donation of surplus .22 and .30 caliber rifles in the Army’s inventory to the CMP, the CMP receives no federal funding,” the CMP website states, adding that they have been overwhelmed by requests and orders are taking 30-60 days to ship product.

The rifles that the Executive Order would affect are typically from U.S. allies and are pre-Vietnam era. Without the importation of these rifles, the CMP is likely to become defunct and thus destroying a 110 year tradition of saving military arms and their civilian ownership.


Outlaw Platoon (Part Three)

In 2006 Lt. Sean Parnell and the men under his leadership, known as the Outlaw Platoon, deployed to one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan, less than 10 miles from the Pakistani border. Their mission was to disrupt and destroy this network at all costs – to seek out enemy positions and thwart the movement of insurgent forces into and out of the safe haven of Pakistan. After a year in some of the most intense combat imaginable in a 360-degree battlefield, the only thing Sean Parnell and his men wanted to do was survive.

Statewide Lead Ammunition Ban A Bad Idea

By David Halbrook, Executive Director of the Hunt For Truth Association

There’s been no shortage of passion on both sides of the debate about whether to ban hunting with lead ammunition throughout the State of California via Assembly Bill (AB) 711. But an open, honest discussion has suffered because some facts have been distorted by misleading media reports.

Opposition to AB 711 is far broader than folks have been lead to believe. The Hunt For Truth Association joins with more than 24 other groups, and a diverse cross-section of conservation groups, hunters and California residents opposing AB 711 for various reasons, including:

1. Blood-lead levels in California Condors have not decreased since a 2008 law banned the use of lead ammunition throughout the “Condor Zone” range. The failed program should not be extended statewide.

2. The type of metallic lead used in lead ammunition is not nearly as soluble or bioavailable as the toxic industrial lead contained in legacy paint and gasoline. It does not present the same hazard to wildlife, and should not be subject to the same restrictions.

3. Several eminent scientists have warned that the isotopic compositional analysis being used to trace the source of lead in the blood in condors is not reliable. A similar method that was used to trace the source of lead bullets found at crime scenes was found to be so unreliable that the FBI stopped using it.

4. Researchers at UC Santa Cruz have repeatedly refused to release underlying data needed to scientifically evaluate the veracity of their research being used to justify AB 711.

5. The California Fish & Game Commission expressed concerns about the methods being used to condemn lead-based ammunition, and created a stakeholders committee to evaluate that science. Rather than participate, proponents of AB 711 by passed the Commission by convincing a legislator to sponsor AB 711.

6. The Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) considers many types of non-lead ammunition being touted as a replacement for lead ammunition to be illegal ‘armor piercing” ammunition. Some alternate metal ammunition can also create a fire hazard, and these metals present potential serious toxicity issues of their own.

7. Hunters and sports shooters are major supporters of conservation. The dramatic increase in non-lead ammunition prices will likely mean a decrease in ammunition sales and a decrease in California hunting licenses, resulting in up to $14 million less in corresponding Wildlife Restoration grants.

8. AB 711 could cost the state over 3,000 jobs, cause $320 million in negative economic impact, and result in a decrease in tax revenue of more than $25 million. That’s why labor organizations like the Contra Costa Labor Council oppose AB 711.

9. There are several other sources of lead in the environment that appear to be the real culprit in condor lead poisonings.

10. Scientific studies have proven that there is no human health risk from consuming wild game taken with lead ammunition.

All of these legitimate concerns have been downplayed by most of the media. Of course, it is simpler to vilify lead ammunition, or the NRA, than to admit that determining the cause of condor lead poisoning is a complex endeavor that should be open to public scrutiny.

Harvard Study: No Correlation Between Gun Control And Less Violent Crime

A Harvard Study titled “Would Banning Firearms Reduce Murder and Suicide?” looks at figures for “intentional deaths” throughout continental Europe and juxtaposes them with the U.S. to show that more gun control does not necessarily lead to lower death rates or violent crime.

Because the findings so clearly demonstrate that more gun laws may in fact increase death rates, the study says that “the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths” is wrong.

For example, when the study shows numbers for Eastern European gun ownership and corresponding murder rates, it is readily apparent that less guns to do not mean less death. In Russia, where the rate of gun ownership is 4,000 per 100,000 inhabitants, the murder rate was 20.52 per 100,000 in 2002. That same year in Finland, where the rater of gun ownership is exceedingly higher–39,000 per 100,000–the murder rate was almost nill, at 1.98 per 100,000.

Looking at Western Europe, the study shows that Norway “has far and away Western Europe’s highest household gun ownership rate (32%), but also its lowest murder rate.”
And when the study focuses on intentional deaths by looking at the U.S. vs Continental Europe, the findings are no less revealing. The U.S., which is so often labeled as the most violent nation in the world by gun control proponents, comes in 7th–behind Russia, Estonia, Lativa, Lithuania, Belarus, and the Ukraine–in murders. America also only ranks 22nd in suicides.

The murder rate in Russia, where handguns are banned, is 30.6; the rate in the U.S. is 7.8.

The authors of the study conclude that the burden of proof rests on those who claim more guns equal more death and violent crime; such proponents should “at the very least [be able] to show a large number of nations with more guns have more death and that nations that impose stringent gun controls have achieved substantial reductions in criminal violence (or suicide).” But after intense study the authors conclude “those correlations are not observed when a large number of nations are compared around the world.”

In fact, the numbers presented in the Harvard study support the contention that among the nations studied, those with more gun control tend toward higher death rates.