A curious argument is starting to turn up in the wake of the Wisconsin shooting. Okay, some people are starting to acknowledge, there was no way to prevent a dirtbag like Wade Page from obtaining a firearm simply because there was no legal reason to deny him a sale.
|Jack Higgins, Chicago Sun-Times; click to enlarge.
And yet, here are allegedly scores of photographs of Page displaying hate symbols, whatever that might mean, and fronting a band known for White Supremacist messages, and tattoos, and making it very clear in hindsight that he was potentially a threat.
The argument goes like this: given that he made no secret of his hatreds, shouldnt this be a reason to deny him a firearm? In other words, if you make it clear that you have an unhealthy fascination with violence, cant that come up in a background check and convince a seller to deny the sale of a firearm?
Make no mistake: this argument is gaining popularity, although it seems unable to gain credibility. Says columnist Jacob Sullum:
The SPLC and government agencies such as the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security already monitor the online activities of violent extremists. How hard would it be to use that information to check whether a would-be gun buyer harbors views that make him prone to murder?
Once the database is created, it could be regularly updated with the names of people who express views like Page’s — who talk about tyranny, hypocrisy or a “sick society,” for instance, or who quote inflammatory proclamations like this one, frequently seen on the T-shirts and signs of right-wing lunatics: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants.” I don’t mean to imply that violent extremism is limited to the right; when you consider the ideas expressed by Ted Kaczynski, a k a the Unabomber, it is clear that left-wing critiques of capitalism also lead to murderous violence.
I am not saying people do not have a right to express these alarming views — just that if they do, they should not be surprised if they are turned away when they try to buy a gun. The Supreme Court has said that the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms is subject to reasonable regulations aimed at protecting public safety. What could be more reasonable than stopping dangerous people from buying dangerous weapons?
There is nothing reasonable about this suggestion; indeed, it is fascism with a smiley face.
First, it conflates the FBI and DHS efforts to track domestic terrorists, who are fishing for explosives and massive tools of destruction, with merely keeping tabs on angry people. This fallacy already dismantles this ridiculous notion. But leave it to a Progressive (and Sullum espouses some right-wing ideology, reminding us that right wing progressives do exist) to assume that a database will magically keep those tabs on people. Question for Sullum and his fellows that never seems to get asked enough: what is a database? Is it some miraculous piece of software, like Excel, that knows what is in the heart? The Czar cannot even get Excel to keep the same size window settings each time he launches it.
For most people, a database is a collection of data in one or more sets that allows for information retrieval based on specific selection criteria. For Sullum, a database is an autonomous, sentient panacea that does not make mistakes and eliminates the need for pesky human interaction. The next time Mr. Sullum gets a piece of exotic junk mail with his name misspelled, he can appreciate how great databases are.
His next thought is utterly alarming. Anyone who engages in talk he finds alarming should be tagged? The Czar suggests that someone who advocates elimination of rights based on undefined or ill-defined concepts a threat to liberty. Perhaps Mr. Sullum should enter his own name into his black ops database, alongside B. Franklin and T. Jefferson, who also threatened tyrants from time to time.
Finally, how fascinating that Mr. Sullum, who engages in what passes for journalism these days, is brave enough to defend to someone elses death a lunatics right to free speech…but is willing to sacrifice another right by the same token. Notice how he picks his specious favorites here: you have a right to say violent, extreme things, but it can cost you your right to possess a firearm.
By equally valid transitive logic, how about this: Wade Page can buy a firearm, but he cannot be allowed to express violent or extreme views? How about we take away his First Amendment rights in defense of his Second Amendment rights? Mr. Sullum would no doubt object to the lunacy of this idea; yet, it is a simple flip of his own ideameaning that he should now appreciate how utterly silly his own suggestion is. Sadly, we tried something like this once or twice with other sets of circumstances. Indeed, you would be hard pressed to find an example of the restriction of Constitutional rights that ever wound up going well.
Sure, Mr. Sullum is certain to argue, that we already set limitations on rights. You cannot yell fire in a theater, or any of the other trite misunderstandings people have about Con Law. Mr. Sullums analogy is that he doesnt want certain people in his theater unless they are certain to enjoy the movie. Thats the analogy.
Perhaps we need another consideration besides all-seeing databases, and computers making decisions over whether someone merely hates tyranny or really hates, you know, tyranny, and address what is really at issue here.
There are crazy people loose all over the world. Loughner in Arizona lives in a paranoid and delusional world and was clearly in need of medication. Holmes was unable to distinguish reality from fantasy, but otherwise is able to function and reason. Page was very likely a suicidal sociopath who expected to kill himself or suffer suicide by cop. Virginia Techs Seung Hui Cho suffered from selective mutism and depression. These are all different mental states.
What they have in common is that mental health officials recognized them as in need of care, but were unable to sustain that care or enforce treatment after a certian point. And this problem is going to get worse. Imagine a doctor being able to identify a patient going into cardiac arrest, but unable to call for help except to go through a lengthy referral processand the hospital may not take him unless other doctors are consulted on the infarction; you begin to understand the intense frustration that people in the mental health treatment community experience with existing laws and regulations.
Mental healthcare reform is a more substantial argument that the inevitably unsuccessful gun control concept or this ridiculous idea about thought crimes being a legitimate method of curbing rights.
Божію Поспѣшествующею Милостію Мы, Дима Грозный Императоръ и Самодержецъ Всероссiйскiй, цѣсарь Московскiй. The Czar was born in the steppes of Russia in 1267, and was cheated out of total control of all Russia upon the death of Boris Mikhailovich, who replaced Alexander Yaroslav Nevsky in 1263. However, in 1283, our Czar was passed over due to a clerical error and the rule of all Russia went to his second cousin Daniil (Даниил Александрович), whom Czar still resents. As a half-hearted apology, the Czar was awarded control over Muscovy, inconveniently located 5,000 miles away just outside Chicago. He now spends his time seething about this and writing about other stuff that bothers him.