A national conversation about guns

From the last Morning Jolt of the week:

We Need an Accurate National Conversation About Guns

Thank you, Washington Post, for stepping up to the plate and correcting a widely-cited and shared piece of misinformation in the aftermath of the Florida shooting. There have not been 18 school shootings in the United States so far this year.

The figure originated with Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit group, co-founded by Michael Bloomberg, that works to prevent gun violence and is most famous for its running tally of school shootings…

It is a horrifying statistic. And it is wrong.

Everytown has long inflated its total by including incidents of gunfire that are not really school shootings. Take, for example, what it counted as the year’s first: On the afternoon of Jan. 3, a 31-year-old man who had parked outside a Michigan elementary school called police to say he was armed and suicidal. Several hours later, he killed himself. The school, however, had been closed for seven months. There were no teachers. There were no students.

Also listed on the organization’s site is an incident from Jan. 20, when at 1 a.m. a man was shot at a sorority event on the campus of Wake Forest University. A week later, as a basketball game was being played at a Michigan high school, someone fired several rounds from a gun in the parking lot. No one was injured, and it was past 8 p.m., well after classes had ended for the day, but Everytown still labeled it a school shooting.

We keep hearing, “we need to have a national conversation about guns,” and then we keep hearing statements from those same voices that are simply not true. If we’re going to have that national conversation, I want the other side to do its homework first.

I don’t want to hear CNN lamenting that Florida doesn’t require a concealed carry permit for an AR-15 or shotgun. (They are too large to conceal.) I don’t want to hear people referring to the AR-15 as an “automatic assault weapon” and I want them to learn the difference between automatic and semiautomatic, and which kind is already illegal. I don’t want to hear about “the gun show loophole” unless the shooter purchased his gun at a gun show. (To the best of my knowledge, not a single mass-shooter has done so.) I want former presidents to stop asserting that it’s easier for a teenager to buy a Glock than buy a computer or a book.

If someone wants to ban AR-15s, I want them to say so. I also want to know what they want to do about the 5 million to 10 million AR-15s already in private hands. I want them to realize that if they don’t grandfather in the already-owned ones, they will instantly turn millions of law-abiding Americans, who have never fired a shot in anger, into criminals. If a gun control advocate proposes a buyback program like Australia’s, I want that person to recognize that the compliance rate down under was about 20 percent and it created a violent black market for guns. If a gun control advocate calls for law enforcement to confiscate AR-15s from private homes, I want that person to realize that they’re calling for violent chaos. And I want them to know that as long as groups advocate ideas like this, the line “no one wants to take away your guns” is a disingenuous lie.

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Twitter’s fondest wishes to the contrary, govt solutions are hard to find

Writing at NRO, David French

The United States is facing a puzzling paradox. Even as gun crime has plunged precipitously from the terrible highs of the early 1990s, mass shootings have increased. Consider this, 15 of the 20 worst mass shootings in U.S. history have occurred since the Columbine school shooting in 1999. The five worst have all occurred since 2007, and three of those five were in 2016 and 2017.

It’s horrifying, and governmental solutions are hard to find. Twitter’s fondest wishes to the contrary, the unique characteristics of mass shootings mean that they often escape the reach of public policy. The Washington Posts Glenn Kessler (hardly an NRA apologist) famously fact-checked Marco Rubio’s assertion that new gun laws wouldn’t have prevented any recent mass shootings and declared it true. Time and again, existing laws failed, or no proposed new gun-control law would have prevented the purchase.

The reason is obvious. Mass shootings are among the most premeditated of crimes, often planned months in advance. The shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School reportedly wore a gas mask, carried smoke grenades, and set off the fire alarm so that students would pour out into the hallways. Though we’ll obviously learn more in the coming days, each of these things suggests careful preparation. A man who is determined to kill and who is proactive in finding the means to kill will find guns. He can modify guns. He can find magazines.

[The author recounts the profiles of several mass shooters.]

The list could go on and on. In fact, evidence of extended mental-health problems, aberrant behavior, or political radicalization is so common that the absence of such evidence in the Las Vegas shooting renders it the mysterious black swan of mass killings. In 2015 Malcolm Gladwell wrote an extended essay in the New Yorker about school shootings and offered a provocative thesis:

What if the way to explain the school-shooting epidemic is . . . to think of it as a slow-motion, ever-evolving riot, in which each new participant’s action makes sense in reaction to and in combination with those who came before?

Gladwell argues that each new shooting lowers the threshold for the shooters to come. Each new shooting makes it easier for the next shooter to pick up his gun.

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Dangerous lame-duck games

Discussing this with a liberal buddy of mine, he claims it is “only” about distracting from the Mueller investigation.  I countered it was more like a both/and.  I fear some deeply troubling stuff has occurred.

VDH asks, “What is the endgame to never-ending wrongdoing?”

The FISA-gate, Clinton emails, and Uranium One scandals are sort of reaching a consensus. Many things quite wrong and illegal were done by both Hillary Clinton and her entourage and members of the Obama agencies and administration — both the acts themselves and the cover-ups and omissions that ensued.

Remember, in the FISA-gate scandal such likely widespread criminal behavior was predicated on two premises: 1) certainty of an easy Clinton victory, after which the miscreants would be not only excused but probably rewarded for their zeal; 2) progressive hubris in which our supposedly moral betters felt it their right, indeed their duty, to use unethical and even unlawful means for the “greater good” — to achieve their self-described moral ends of stopping the crude and reactionary Trump.

The wrongdoing probably includes attempting to warp a U.S. election, Russian collusion, repeatedly misleading and lying before the FISA courts, improperly surveilling American citizens, unmasking the names of citizens swept up in unlawful surveillance and then illegally leaking them to the press, disseminating and authenticating opposition smears during a political campaign, lying under oath to Congress, obstructing ongoing investigations, using federal funds to purchase ad hominem gossip against a presidential candidate, blatant conflicts of interests, weaponizing federal investigations, trafficking in and leaking classified information . . . The list goes on and on.

Those who still persist in denying the extent of clear wrongdoing will suffer the tragicomic fate of Watergate-era Representative Charles Sandman (an authentic World War II hero) and Rabbi Baruch Korff (who as a child fled Ukrainian pogroms). The last diehard supporters of Richard Nixon as he faced impeachment, they both ended up widely discredited because of their political inability or personal unwillingness to see what was right before their eyes.

After all, professed civil libertarians, hard-hitting investigative reporters, and skeptics of nontransparent and overreaching federal agencies are now insidiously defending not the just the indefensible, but what they have claimed to have fought against their entire lives. Woodward and Bernstein in their sunset years have missed the far greater scandal and in their dotage will likely nullify what they once did in their salad days.

Indeed, absent accountability and punishment, the new modus operandi would be for any lame- duck incumbent administration to use federal agencies to enhance the campaign of its own party’s nominee. It would be only logical to conclude that criminal acts used to help a successor would be forgotten or rewarded under the victor’s tenure.

What is needed? Attorney General Sessions must find muscular, ambitious, and combative prosecutors (preferably from outside Washington, D.C., and preferably existing federal attorneys), direct them to call a Grand Jury, and begin collating information from congressional investigations to get to the bottom of what is likely one of gravest scandals in post-war American history: the effort to use the federal government to thwart the candidacy of an unpopular presidential candidate and then to smear and ruin his early tenure as president.

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“Politics as the crow flies”

Interesting stuff from this week’s G-File:

Saying “something is an abstraction” isn’t the same thing as calling it a fiction. Pure mathematics is an abstraction, but it ain’t fiction. Applied mathematics takes principles found in pure mathematics and applies them to real-world stuff, such as engineering. A perfect triangle exists only in the abstract. But what we learn from the Platonic ideal of the triangle has all sorts of real-world applications — and vice versa. My hunch is that humans figured out how to make fulcrums long before anyone dabbled in geometry.

One of the things I love about conservatism and classical liberalism is that they pan the river of time for the gold of principles amidst the soil of lived existence. These principles don’t always sparkle. Sometimes they are invisible to us, encased in mundane traditions and habits that we take as simple rules. Different thinkers (Burke, Chesterton, Hayek, Polyani, et al.) have different terms for different kinds of knowledge that cannot be simply conveyed with words, such as “tacit,” “hidden,” or “embedded” knowledge. “Washington, D.C., is the capital of the United States” is explicit knowledge. How to throw a curveball involves a lot of tacit knowledge; all the variables that go into the price of a loaf of bed is embedded knowledge; all of the arguments that go into why good manners are valuable is hidden knowledge. The point isn’t that we can’t know some of the factors — the way to hold the ball, the cost of wheat, how to defuse social conflict — that go into these things, it’s just that we can’t know all of them.

As I write at length in Suicide of the West, it took hundreds of thousands of years of trial and error to come up with the ideas bound up in liberal democratic capitalism and modernity. We have no conception of all the trial and error that went into food preparation, monogamy, democracy, written languages, or human rights. We inherited those hard-earned lessons of the past. To be sure, there was a feedback loop with higher, more abstract, thinking. God is an abstraction, and so are concepts such as natural rights and the innate worth of the individual. But we refined both the abstractions and the practicality against each other like a blade and whetting stone. We justify practicalities by appealing to abstractions and vice versa all the time (and sometimes this involves a lot of question-begging, which can raise all sorts of uncomfortable questions).

And what did we do? We bound a bunch of these principles and lessons and made them into an ideology. For our political ideology, we didn’t include the stuff about food preparation (though if you look closely enough you can find some overlap, hence the political campaign-mounting to make Tide pods look less delicious) but in the realms of law, economics, governance, etc., the supposedly abstract ideology that underlies Western civilization — on most of the left and most of the right and everywhere in between — is the greatest achievement of practicality in all of human history.

If you don’t like the word “ideology,” fine. Call it a “worldview” or, if you want to get fancy, Weltanschauung, which just means the same thing in German. “I know conservatives who say yes to Weltanschauung and no to ideology,” Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn once observed, “but they seem incapable of distinguishing between them (not surprisingly, because there is no distinction).”

The benefit of ideology is that it provides time-tested rules to rely upon during the inevitable chaos of everyday life. It operates in much the same way morality does. Morality gives you rules of thumb that prevents you from making bad decisions. Children ask, “Why can’t I steal that pack of gum or cheat on my test if I can get away with it?” When we answer, we leave abstract concepts of good and evil or right and wrong out of it. We tell them that, if you do what’s right, it won’t matter whether you may or may not get caught.

In politics, the worry is very often not that the government will knowingly do wrong but that it will take the shortest path to doing what it thinks is right. This is what Michael Oakeshott called “politics as the crow flies.” Conservative ideology, rightly understood, is the political conscience that counsels against such expedience. “What is conservatism,” Lincoln asked, “if not adherence on the old and tried against the new and untried?”

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Be better

David French wonders why the democrat’s generic ballot lead is shrinking:

Democrats still haven’t understood the extent to which their constant over-the-top attacks on men such as Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan inured the GOP public to further claims of racism, sexism, and xenophobia. So they go back to the same well, declaring that this timethey really mean it, this time there really are racists on the loose.

Yes, both parties have a problem with proportionate response, as the GOP’s stunning overreaction to the so-called FISA-gate brouhaha illustrates, but the result is a kind of endless public screaming, an unmodulated howl that drowns out truth, equalizes the two sides, and renders nothing truly outrageous or disqualifying even as partisans try to claim that everything’s an emergency.

And that brings us to the first lesson: Be better. Talk to most Democrats, and they’re simply flabbergasted that so many Americans did not see Hillary Clinton as possessing the slightest character advantage over Donald Trump. And why would they? The differences often boiled down to style and manners. Trump’s blunt style bludgeoned the truth to death with a verbal hammer. Hillary’s sophistication sliced the truth to ribbons with a verbal scalpel. Either way, the truth died.

In reflecting on the impeachment battles of the Clinton administration, it strikes me that Republicans similarly failed to “be better.” Remember Newt’s affairs? Remember the shocking resignation of his successor, Bob Livingston, over an affair? There were voters who looked at the mess, concluded that both sides were dirty, and shrugged their way to the status quo.

Similarly, I’ve talked to any number of Trump supporters who look at the disgusting predators in Hollywood, the sexual-harassment scandals in Congress, and the pervnado in journalism and believe that progressives are corrupt, that they don’t truly care about character or sexual ethics. If you look at it that way, why would you as a Republican urge the GOP to unilaterally disarm? Why would you sacrifice policies and appointments to simply replace one set of hypocrites with another?

Moreover, the admonition to “be better” applies not just to character but also to policies. The Democratic party is charging left at breakneck speed. Any meaningful immigration enforcement is cast as racist. Likely Democratic presidential candidates are racing to embrace single-payer health care. Every meaningful Democratic constituency is now solidly progressive on identity-politics issues. In other words, moderate or swing voters have to swallow more and more extremism to cast a vote for a Democrat. They’re consistently making it harder for Americans to join their team. If the Democrats truly believe Trump is a unique threat, why can’t they moderate any of their policies? Why can’t they do anything meaningful to reach out to the center?

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Rootedness requires skepticism

Good G-file this week.  Longish excerpt:

EXTREMISM FOR THEE, NOT FOR ME

I won’t explain my original point about Democrats becoming extremists on immigration; I’ll just assert it to save time (and because it’s true). Here’s the thing, though: While some politically literate liberals might understand how rapidly the Democrats have moved leftward, I suspect that most run-of-the-mill activist Democrats don’t really see it. They see the Republican party as having moved farther and farther away from them. And the farther the Democrats drift, the more “extreme” they think the Republican position is.

You can see a similar dynamic on all sorts of issues. As I’ve written 912 times (an admittedly rough estimate), progressives — not conservatives — tend to be the aggressors in the culture war. Gay marriage is the best example. Twenty years ago, the standard conservative position on gay marriage was that gay marriage isn’t a thing. That was the same position conservatives (and nearly everyone else) had had for a couple thousand years. But liberals, and the culture, moved wildly to the left on the issue, and Republicans stood still. Yet, from the perspective of progressives and the media, it was the GOP that became more extreme simply because it didn’t want to get dragged along.

(I should note that some argue that the left–right formulation here leaves much to be desired, since you can make an argument that, in many respects, the move toward gay marriage was a rightward thing. The sexual-liberationist Left in the 1960s and 1970s wanted to destroy the institution of marriage, not rope gays into it by arguing that marriage is such a vital institution. Twenty-five years ago, the stereotypical gay character in popular culture was flouncy and flamboyant. Now he’s a harried dad trying to install a car seat. But you get the point.)

This model holds for feminism, civil rights, and lots of other things. It also works the other way around. Conservatives have moved the GOP rightward on law and economics since the 1960s, while liberals for the most part stayed locked-in to New Deal and Great Society thinking. Both sides called the other “extremists,” but it was the Right that did most of the moving, and eventually the Democratic party moved with it. Bill Clinton did indeed move his party to the right both rhetorically and on many issues, and the early Republican freak-out response to that had more to do with the rage that overtakes partisans when their opponents agree with them and, in the process, take away their favorite issues…

Anyway, the problem with one party veering too far to the right (say, Goldwater in ’64) or the left (McGovern in ’72) is that when one party moves very far in one direction, so does the other party. That’s because in a two-party system, elections tend to be won by whichever party captures the center. If party A moves leftward, abandoning the center square, it leaves it open for party B to take it. Thus both parties move leftward and the political “center” moves with it. There are exceptions stemming from special circumstances, but as a rule of thumb, this dynamic has a lot of explanatory value.

WHAT CONSERVATISM IS FOR

This rule of thumb should be drilled into the brain pan of every sentient conservative. Under George W. Bush, conservatives got too invested in running interference for the GOP. Part of it stemmed from the perceived need to rally around a wartime president. Part of it stemmed from disgust with how Democrats treated a wartime president. But there were other reasons, too. Indeed, to some extent, this sort of thing always happens to some people who are invested in politics.

The point of the conservative movement, however, was never simply to make the GOP more conservative, it was to move the center of gravity in American politics in a conservative direction. One of the first steps in that project was to gain intellectual influence or control over one of the two parties. It wasn’t supposed to stop there — but everyone seems to have forgotten that. Frankly, if I could make the trade, I’d rather the GOP became liberal if in exchange we could have the universities and Hollywood become conservative. But that’s a subject for another day.

A lot of people make all sorts of clever remarks about how Buckleyite conservatism is insufficient to the times. They invoke that famous line from our mission statement about how National Review “stands athwart history, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it.”

The critics make it sound like yelling “Stop” was all Buckley and Co. were interested in. That was never the case, as his entire life story attests. The point about yelling Stop was that the country was drifting away from timeless principles and too few noticed or cared, and too many wanted the drift accelerated.

Buckley wanted to establish a platform — a landmark, if you will — that illuminated a fixed point in space, by which people could judge who was moving and in what direction. When you’re caught in the undertow, the thing you need most is something to grab on to. That was supposed to be National Review.

Now, as I’ve written countless times, National Review back then was wrong about some important things, including, most famously, civil rights (even if that story is more complicated than some claim).

But the larger point is that conservatism is supposed to be rooted in certain truths, even when the rest of society thinks those truths are lies. That is why conservatism is realism: It takes into account the permanence of sin, the crooked timber of humanity, and the inevitable contradictions and trade-offs that are inherent to living in this imperfect world.

Truth isn’t something you vote on. You can vote to treat a falsehood as a truth, and everyone can act like it’s the truth, but that doesn’t mean it is. The only things that can topple a perceived truth are reason, science, or God, because the first two are the means of discovering what exists outside our own perceptions and God can do any darn thing He wants.

Being rooted doesn’t require opposing all change — how any movement dedicated to the free market could be accused of unyielding fixity has always been a mystery to me. Rooted things can grow and change, but they remain attached to the soil all the same.

Rootedness does, however, require skepticism about new ideas, untested by time.

Conservatives believe in progress, but we don’t poll the mob for what constitutes progress, nor do we reflexively defer to whatever definition of progress is fashionable these days, on the partisan left or the partisan right. Nor do we define or decide what is true, or conservative, by the pronouncements of a party or a politician.

Longtime readers will recognize this passage from C. S. Lewis as one of my favorites:

Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer.

If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.

I’d change it only slightly. The truly progressive man, the one who cares about his fellow men and women, doesn’t merely turn around and live out his life in isolation, as part of the remnant. He yells “Stop!” and makes an argument for why everyone else should turn around with him.

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Book review: The Captured Economy

Fascinating book review at NRO, about Image result for the captured economyThe Underlying Cognitive Dissonance of the Left and the Right:

Niskanen Center scholars Brink Lindsey and Steven Teles recently published a new book, The Captured Economy: How the Powerful Enrich Themselves, Slow Down Growth, and Increase Inequality, detailing abusive rent-seeking practices across various sectors of government bureaucracy, including occupational-licensing regimes, zoning rules, and financial regulations.

While the entire book is insightful, among the authors’ most shrewd observations is their pinpointing of the biggest blind spots on the left and right of the political spectrum. According to Lindsey and Teles, the Left misses the logical conclusion of its claim that big money hurts politics, and the Right misses a different conclusion, one inherent to its assertion that big government distorts markets.

Most of us are familiar with the stereotype of conservatives as unfeelingly cerebral and liberals as too emotional. Many unthinkingly repeat the line that the Left is caring and the Right cold. But Lindsey and Teles illuminate a subtler dynamic:

It is also an article of faith among many progressives and liberals that, especially because of the role of money in politics, plutocracy exerts a strong and baleful influence over public policy. If plutocrats are indeed that powerful, does it really make sense that they would only use their power to produce neutral rules that in practice happen to favor the rich? Would it really not occur to them to push for rules that actively redistribute upward?

Indeed, many of the same liberals expressing concern about the undue influence of wealthy donors on politicians also defer to the wisdom and good nature of government. It is as though they are unaware that government is composed of the very politicians they argue are in the pocket of wealthy benefactors.

All too often, the wealthy interest groups that liberals loathe are embedded directly in government…

Liberals must realize that such regulations are not the outcome of benevolent government actors. But of course, it isn’t just the Left that suffers from cognitive dissonanceThe Captured Economy makes clear that the Right, too, has a log in its eye:

Many conservatives and libertarians have taken it as their mission to defend the distribution of income in capitalist societies. Ironically, at the same time many of those same people criticize the enormous growth in government intervention and the resulting absence of serious competition in many sectors of the economy. But if it is true that the state has increasingly warped market competition, then that must show up in the distribution of income. It is no accident, we will argue later, that many of the richest Americans derived their wealth from sectors of the US economy where competition has been stifled and distorted. So conservatives and libertarians should not simply dismiss the subject of inequality as a function of envy or a hatred of free enterprise.

Conservatives regularly lament the size of government and its oppressive influence on business owners and regular Americans. But they are quick to dismiss the systemic inequality of opportunity that results as a myth, ignoring scores of cases like Meadows’s and Montesdeoca’s that prove otherwise. After all, it was the government, not opposition to free enterprise, that denied Meadows the opportunity to make a living by allowing established florists to restrict competition through onerous licensing requirements. And without help from a powerful government actor, Montesdeoca may have been robbed of his opportunity to keep pursuing a cosmetology license despite the altruistic nature of his actions.

The Left complains of the undue political influence bought by wealthy special interests, but it regularly trusts the actions and intent of the very government that is subject to that influence. Meanwhile, the Right complains that big government is overly intrusive and burdensome, but it denies the existence of the systemic inequality that results from its overreach. Maybe we should all focus on correcting our own hypocrisies before we turn to those of our political opponents.

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