Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Predicting the Politics of US Gun Control

Controlling Gun Violence: 
The End of the Beginning 
and the Beginning of the End
How it will be done. What to expect. 
How to help.

[A note from MeanMesa: This posting includes absolutely as little as possible in terms of histrionics about how awful gun violence is or about how vitally necessary Second Amendment "rights" might be for the democracy. We will endeavor to refer to the "pro-gun control" interests as those desiring "less gun fire" and those desiring less gun control as "pro-gun" or "more gun." This post is exclusively all about politics, and we will pursue the politics of the issue in two numbered columns.]

When the Hysteria Finally Dissipates,
the Americans Will Solve the Gun Problem.
The continuously increasing body count will finally bring the "turning point."

Sometimes "Losing it" is the start
 of "finding it."
Americans have developed a rather predictable habit of "indulging" in the "screaming ninny" stage of a response when first confronted with the stark reality of a social challenge. We've seen a repeated occurrence of this phenomenon after a variety of such challenges in our recent national history. The examples should surprise no one -- 9/11, Katrina, Sandy Hook and others. When the recency of such "history" is extended, other similar events join the list of examples. Looking through several decades the AIDs epidemic, the polio epidemic, the Iranian hostages, the Cuban missile crisis and the like can be added quite comfortably.

This is not to propose that any of these were not, in reality, lacking gravity so far as challenges go, but the point here is that in each case a period of hysteria preceded the beginning of the process in our democracy which would ultimately lead to a serious, material response. Although the specifics vary widely, a general pattern seems to settle on a few "stages" [MeanMesa has a "special affinity" for processes occurring in seven steps, that is,  as "octaves"...] through which the public and, hence, the government in its role as the "voice and will of the public," must pass as the Republic responds.

With respect to controlling the gun violence carnage, both the problem and the solution develop through identifiable transformations -- "landmarks" -- and the organization of these shares a common structure with that of other challenges we, as a society, have already successfully addressed in the past. Using an admittedly "broad brush," let's paint a possible picture of how the "gun problem" might be resolved.

The democracy responds to the gun challenge

1. The public is largely unaware.

Actually, the approach of challenges is only rarely a secret. In most cases, instead, the blame can be placed on a lack of awareness, often the public's failure to notice that conditions have changed leaving previous "states of solution" inappropriate or ineffective. With respect to citizen ownership of guns these changes are pretty obvious. While we have always had guns, we haven't always had a population of over 300 million people. Further, we haven't had social forces [such as media, industrial interests and political groups] purposefully introducing a constant stream of fear and stress.

2. A salient event or events occur, revealing the challenge.

As such a "salient" event, Americans have been issued a steady stream of stark "issue" awareness by the sight of corpses piled in grade schools, theaters and colleges. While similar events have occurred before, the shocking scale of the current mayhem is new, and the increased number of gun violence victims cannot be explained as simply a function of the increased population of the country.

3. The public becomes aware.

A very visible part of this new "awareness" is found in the direct, material fear that individual citizens or their acquaintances -- especially relatives and children -- have become potential victims. While the "possibility" of this has been present for a long time, the "likelihood" that an individual citizen will experience this has never been so high. The public has become "aware" of the increased "odds."

4. A period of public hysteria arises then dissipates.

Part of the hysteria is based on the individual realization that the danger can, indeed, visit on an "individual basis" rather than as a "headline" reporting the fate of others. The other component is not so innocent. That part of the hysteria results from the inability of the society to take measures to mitigate the threat. The mere facts that 1. unknown numbers of violent, armed killers are moving around in the society largely unimpeded, and 2. citizens' wishes that this situation be changed or controlled appear impossible to accomplish create an aura [hysteria] of frustration and hopelessness.

This state is especially unsettling for citizens who presume that they are living in a representative democracy where their wishes are honored. [We are in the midst of "stage four" in the country right now.]

5. The challenge is politicized.

Interestingly, President Obama has made a point that it is he intends to  politicize the events of the most recent shooting in Oregon publicly. [MeanMesa understands that this may be expressed in the incorrect tense. The Oregon massacre is the "most recent" at the moment, but subsequent massacres can be anticipated almost daily. They are now occurring weekly or even more frequently.] Making the challenge political is the way that the American democracy advances toward the mitigation mentioned in the following step.

In the democracy all interests have the opportunity to influence policy to the advantage of their respective positions. This kind of influence has been presented very forcefully by the gun lobby, but the President clearly presumes that the countering influence has not. As such, aligning himself with what he calculates as the "under presented" side appears to be good politics. [If we are currently half way through "stage four" (see above), we are currently perhaps 15% of the way through "stage five."]

6. Mitigation policy is decided politically.

Although MeanMesa expects the side of this debate desiring "fewer corpses" to prevail in the end at the expense of the side preferring "more freedom to shoot whatever one wishes," the conditions as the process enters this "stage" will be "everything, including the kitchen sink, necessary" to maintain the perpetual stasis -- and the ensuing complete paralysis -- we see today. Both sides are presently thinking exclusively of "total success" for their respective, conflicting positions and aspirations.

The gun fans believe that the sacrosanct ascendancy of the 2nd Amendment [as conveniently interpreted] exudes more than enough raw Constitutional power as to make it unassailable. The gun control fans believe that -- somehow -- even this amount of power can be overwhelmed by a plebiscite determined to curtail or stop the killing. Such expectations represent an obvious tactical deficiency for both.

We can safely assume that the final resolution of this "loggerhead" will occur in agonizing increments with both sides appearing in each cycle close to alternating outcomes of either success and failure. There will be few "clean sweeps." [Notable "wheeler-dealer" Lyndon Johnson famously remarked that when a bill was passed by more than one vote, too many concessions had been made in its negotiation.]

7. Mitigation policy is implemented

Because one side of this conflict is determined that nothing will change from its present state, we can assume that the "changes" which comprise the mitigation policy will amount to social movement toward some variant of gun control. However, even more important that the precise "identity" of these pieces will be their size. Again, going for very large blocks of change will almost certainly be more difficult than going for incremental changes. Further, even the relative size of these incremental changes should be designed very thoughtfully and very strategically. Inertia is not just something found only in high school physics texts.

Mapping Out the Path to Reducing Gunfire
Items to watch for along the way

MeanMesa would be delighted to spell out every nut and bolt of the journey ahead, but creating such an accurate prophecy would tax even the already world famous reputation for the blog's frightening power of perception. Instead, let's try to settle on a few "stops along the way" which are more reasonably predictable. Of course establishing the precise order of such events would be very difficult at this early date -- it would take all the fun out of the larger process, anyway -- but we can quite reasonably expect that "the list" of what is included might look something like this.

We may as well proceed "by the numbers" a second time.

10 Incremental Events Leading to "Less Gun Fire"

1. The growth of a casual, social expectation that incremental gun control can actually happen
Public opinion that increased gin control should happen is already well documented, but two important words, "casual" and "incremental," describe two necessary facets of public opinion which still need some work. Think about this carefully. By maintaining the idea that the current "extreme" positions are the only ones, the pro-gun interests are also able to maintain the "dreaming the impossible dream" status of the solution's progress.

The "extreme" positions are not a mystery. The gun lobbyists and their industrial financiers repeatedly pose the unlikely scenario that any control whatsoever inevitably leads to Federal enforcers kicking in doors in the wee hours and conducting a top to bottom search looking for weapons -- any weapons. The "extreme" position of the "less gun fire" interests constantly presumes that failure to completely succeed means total acceptance of "open carry" fire arms by everyone from grade school teachers and the nurses tending newborns to angry drunks stumbling out of taverns after last call.

MeanMesa considers this situation roughly equivalent to the "hysteria" mentioned in the first list. Such an absolute bifurcation of possible choices explains the paralysis we see currently.

2. A court case forces the Supremes to interpret the Second Amendment much more specifically.
The Supreme Court, it turns out, is remarkably agile at "dodging" the central, 2nd Amendment aspects of cases which have reached it from lower courts. This is not an exception to the Court's performance in other matters, too. However, at some point a case reaching the Court will require an updated, common sense interpretation of the 2nd Amendment to support a ruling.

There's no telling precisely which case will "trap" the so far incalcitrant Supremes into finally "taking the leap," but polls show that the the pressure to do exactly this is building consistently. Given this Court's craven willingness to "deliver the goods" when the oligarchs command [i.e. Citizens United], such a ruling will sorely test the Court's proclaimed allegiance to the Constitution, the democracy and the citizens -- or to its well connected sponsors.

3. The Congress and the states legislate to resolve the difference between a shot that "hits" and a shot that "misses."
One of the judicial "paradoxes" deeply embedded in the existing criminal "theme" is the interesting contradiction between cases in which a legally culpable shooter takes aim, fires and, then, either murders or misses. In terms of premeditation the intent is equally murderous in either case, but in terms of conviction and punishment the treatment in each instance is significantly different.

This "statutory anomaly" is not generally considered to be a fundamental issue with respect to the wider question of gun control -- i.e. "less gun fire." However, if the consequences of firing a weapon at someone, regardless of the outcome of the attack, come into line with those of actually committing a murder, the frequency of such acts will diminish. A split second of timing or a single degree in the direction of an aim during brandishing do not materially alter "what was premeditated" with respect to intent.

This could make a very large difference. A quivering junkie pointing an old revolver at the teenager behind the counter of a "7/11" has the intention of committing murder whether he fires or not.

4. The Supremes rule that State and Federally imposed background checks for both guns and ammunition are Constitutional.
Every time the latest lunatic is frog marched from a bloody grade school pogrom to a waiting police car, the mere mention of the words, "background checks," quite dependably induces nods of agreement as far as the eye can see, yet the meaning of the term is essentially, completely different in the minds on the opposing sides of the debate.

Here, MeanMesa takes the side of the "less gun fire" crowd completely. In the societies of developed countries where gun violence is far less frequent than here, getting a weapon requires submitting to a grueling process of investigation, records research and, well, everything possible to establish the applicant's maturity and responsibility.

"Easing into background checks," or continuing to leave "loop holes" in them might seem to be a cautious, experimental, legislative approach, but the outcomes will amount to nothing. Think of "not quite pregnant." The absolutely screaming example is the current acquiescence from such regulations for purchases made at gun shows because the purchasers are or will be "responsible gun owners." Whether or not the weapon in the hands of a murderous psychopath was purchased at a gun show is irrelevant. Continuing this is "Mad Hatter grade" madness.

5. The Supremes rule that requiring liability insurance for all firearms is Constitutional.
A. In the case of crimes:
What the Supremes will, most likely, be ruling on is whether deaths, injuries or other damages resulting from crimes involving a gun constitute valid causes of "determined liability" for that reason, that is, because these were the result of use of a gun. When such liability claims are determined to be Constitutional and legal, statutes establishing compensation for the associated damages can be safely legislated -- even by a notoriously timid Congress terrified by the "retributive capacity" of the industrial sponsors of the NRA.

The "range" of these "threads of liability" can be legislated to extend to all the parties involved in placing that weapon in the hands of that criminal. [This is the part that truly frightens everyone from the owners of Grandma's South Side, "Hot Lead" Pistol Emporium to Smith and Wesson stockholders.] Anticipate "soul wrenching, hand wringing" Supreme Court decisions to be required at every step along the way.

B. In the case of gun ownership generally:
Maintaining liability coverage for guns runs along two paths. First, any gun taken beyond the home of the owner should require insurance for the possibilities of accidental damages. Period. Once the weapon is physically introduced into the social environment [beyond the owner's home] where an "innocent passer by" can be killed by it, liability coverage should become mandatory. However, secondly, a gun owner who has, perhaps, carelessly failed to secure a weapon which subsequently kills or injures a family member or visitor should also face the liability consequences for his actions [negligent inaction].

When such situations result in the injury or death of a child, we are currently inclined to consider the matter as a family tragedy. Unhappily, it remains a life changing instance of a maiming or a killing. Further, when a gun owner leaves a weapon "within access" of a minor child, it must come to be legally regarded as an act of statutory abuse or child endangerment.

MeanMesa finds it exceedingly difficult to accept the prospect that a reckless parent will not be charged when a three year old kills a five year old with a loaded pistol recovered from the parent's dresser drawer.

Here is a MeanMesa post from 2012 dealing with liability insurance for guns: MeanMesa Takes A Quick Shot At the NRA

6. Collecting actual statistics on all aspects of gun violence
If a "void" can be the "elephant in the living room," this would qualify. Further, the absence of this collected data is far from an over sight -- it is the material product of cynical weapons makers directing their obedient Congressmen to absolutely prohibit or meticulously defund any such effort. However, collecting crime data from nationwide police reports is only the beginning -- although an important one.

There is more, important information beyond "number of shooters," "identities of victims" and "names of possible witnesses" to be gathered.

High on the list will be nationwide, standardized, comprehensive psychological profiles of shooters -- all directed at the detection of likely "future shooters" fitting the profile before more tragedies occur. This file should include records of "non-shooting" violations, too -- such as violations of the insurance gun liability mandate, suspicious domestic violence complaints or violations of correct, safe gun storage in the presence of children. [A good model of this type of standardization is found in the DSM manuals used by psychiatrists to fill out insurance claims. Once the criteria for various psychiatric disorders became tabulated in this way, researchers became able to conduct statistical analysis based on large amounts of standardized data.]

7. Constitutional guidelines for aggressive investigations to determine access to guns
A few hours after the latest gun massacre -- especially when suspects remain at large and unidentified -- law enforcement would find it very helpful if they were able to review a file of possible "persons of interest" which contained data about each one's access to firearms. This means that if, say, the ex-sister-in-law of a "person of interest" had a weapon similar to the one used in the shooting, this information would be available from the file. Police investigations would benefit from such a concurrence of data if it were available.

Of course the introduction of this kind of records keeping would be particularly provocative to the "more guns" interests, but we can recall that even more invasive data gathering was instituted under the post 9/11 Patriot Act. Compared to that, this case it would have at least some useful, "redeeming social value."

8. An annual gun ownership tax
Because an annual gun ownership tax will necessarily require a statutory mandate for a gun's registration, this part of the solution will be explosively provocative. However, taxes are levied to offset costs being generated by the commodity being taxed. [i.e. gasoline tax for financing highway construction].

A robust set of guidelines would establish the amount of money currently being allocated from the General Fund to pay for expenses directly related to guns. Compensation for uninsured liability claims come to mind right away, but there are many more expenses incurred all around at the social level. For example if a grade school or folk concert is required to hire security guards licensed to carry guns rather than unarmed security, the difference in cost can be attributed to the likelihood that a "security incident" might include an armed suspect rather than an unarmed one.

There are many other similar cases.

9. Establishing a national database of ammunition and firearms
This is different from the proposal for gun ownership registration. In this case ammunition and weapons manufacturers are required to imprint identification on their products as they are being manufactured. [Consider a combination of two existing product identification regimes: 1. the invisible serial numbers jewel cutters inscribe on cut diamonds and 2. the VIN numbers auto manufacturers assign to vehicles. The numbers on the jewels cannot be removed without destroying the diamond. The VIN numbers, once assigned, are required for practically everything necessary to do with the vehicle after it leaves the assembly factory -- including the licensing of it. Eliminating them is even involved in stealing it, but eliminating them is almost impossible.]

This is actually a proposal made recently by Presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton. Her complete proposal can be read in this link: Hillary's Gun Plan Rather than post the entire article [MeanMesa suggests that it's worth the read time. 5 min.], these are the sub-headings which offer an outline of the plan.

Assessing Hillary Clinton's 
New Plan to Stop Gun Violence
October 6, 2015
by Toure, Contributor
  • Universal Background Checks
  • Background checks make common sense, but they are of limited value in a world where the ATF lacks the muscle to protect the spirit of the law
  • Banning Military Assault Weapons
  • Hold Retailers and Manufacturers Accountable for Gun Crimes
  • No industry has the widespread amnesty from litigation that the gun industry currently enjoys

10. Creating a registry containing every gun's history
This is the "final brick" in the three pronged approach to actually creating a comprehensive data base complete enough to guarantee that other provisions of this plan could be universally implemented. For a review the first two steps are detailed in items 8. and 9. [above].

8. An annual gun ownership tax
9. Establishing a national database of ammunition and firearms

This idea is a simple one. It proposes that a universal gun registry would receive information on a gun when it was manufactured. This would trail through the gun's life time until it was ultimately destroyed, and the record would contain information about who owned the gun at each period along the way. If the gun's ballistics surface in a criminal investigation the name of the registered owner would immediately "pop up" to aid the investigators regardless of where they -- and the gun -- might be.

This would eliminate the sudden "realization" that a gun "must have been stolen" or other of the common, "endless threads" leading from one owner to the next but leaving the specific owner at the time of the crime uncertain. MeanMesa is almost positive that the "more guns" interest will find this one almost impossible to accept. 

Importantly, none of these components actually violates the 2nd Amendment -- not even in the weird form of its latest re-interpretation by the gun lobby. Their admittedly paranoid version is all about confiscating weapons or prohibiting them altogether. These ideas regulate them, and make gun ownership a far less destructive presence in our society, but gun owners willing to follow the rules would be completely free to pursue just about any course of action they can legally pursue now.

Think about it. Please don't simply throw your hands up and concede. It's too important.

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