A fascinating computer analysis of the linguistic context around the 2nd Amendment

The Second Amendment is perhaps the most controversial part of the U.S. Bill of Rights. But that's not just because of our grander cultural debate around gun rights and gun violence — it's 'cause the damn thing is such a grammatical clusterfuck.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

27 words in 4 dependent clauses with no clear anything to link them. It's not clear if the thing that shall not be infringed is the well-regulated militia, or the right of the people to keep and bear arms, or if it's all dependent upon what is or is not necessary to the security of a free State. And anyone can make any one of those arguments, and have evidence to back it up that can't be definitively refuted, either.

Over at The Atlantic, James C. Phillips, a Fellow with the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford University, and Josh Blackman, a Constitutional law professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston, discuss a novel approach to figuring out what, exactly, the Founding Fathers were actually trying to say: by creating and scanning through a massive database full of more than a billion words culled from formal American and British texts from 1475 to 1800. They specifically searched for instances where phrases such as "bear arms" and "keep arms" were used, and noted the context, the context, and adjacent language that accompanied the phrases to better understand how these terms were actually being used in their historical context. Read the rest

This "bulletproof" hoodie comes with a lifetime warranty

Lest you thought the "bulletproof" backpack trend wasn't heinous and exploitative enough, Wonder Hoodie is now selling a "bulletproof" hoodie.

I use "scare-quotes" here because, like most "bulletproof" products on the market, this hoodie claims to rate a IIIA on the National Institute of Justice's Body Armor Performance Standards. This means that the padding is "Tested to stop .357 SIG and .44 Magnum ammunition fired from longer barrel handguns. No rifle ammunition protection."

So it's not really bulletproof so much as it is bullet resistant for certain handguns. Which ain't gonna help in the occasion someone shows up with an AR-15 or similar semi-automatic rifle. Also, if we're being technical, it hasn't actually been tested and certified by the NIJ, but rather by an independent lab. But I digress.

If it does make you feel comfortable about the statistically likelihood situation of a mass shooting, then by all means, spend the $800 for the adult-sized hoodie, even though you're more likely to die in a boating or a spaceship incident. (To be fair, a deliberate assault by a gun is way more likely than either of these events, though still a lower risk than death from cancer, flu, or falling.) And to make it even more worth the exploitative emotional manipulation investment, the company also offers a "Limited Lifetime Warranty." Here's what that entails:

If you get shot (God forbid) with our hoodies on, we'll send you a replacement hoodie FREE of charge. Just include the police report or news clip.

Read the rest

Gun Violence Isn't a Problem — it's actually 5 Problems, with Different Solutions

I’ve written extensively on gun violence, spoken on international TV and radio on the subject, and even pursued a gun license in the strictest city of one of the strictest states in the country. Despite my first-hand experience, the most ardent defenders of the Second Amendment — like those who marched on Richmond, Virginia this weekend to protest "Jim Crow" gun laws — will still tell me things like, “We don’t need more laws! We need to enforce the laws on the books!” or “We can’t stop every shooting because that’s just the price of freedom.” Those same #2A Avengers will of course acknowledge that yeah, okay, maybe NICS has some problems, or maybe those Parkland cops should have done something earlier, and then swiftly retreat back into the same tribalistic mindsets that always prevent human progress.

So I wrote this essay, hoping to have a rational conversation. It was originally published on Medium in 2018, but it remains frustratingly relevant, so I'm posting it here.

Naming something gives you power over it.

That’s the basic idea behind all the magic in every folktale dating back for centuries, from “Rumpelstiltskin” to the Rolling Stones’ “Hope you guessed my name.” Ancient shamans didn’t practice “magic”; they just had knowledge, and names for things like “eye of newt” that no one else could understand. To name something is to know it, and knowledge is power.Think about the relationship between “spelling” and “spells” and you won’t be so surprised that Harry Potter has been all over the gun violence conversations lately, on both the Left and the Right—which makes sense, considering that they have a word you memorize and practice reciting in order to kill people. Read the rest

Most "black market" guns in America are purchased legally across state lines

States' rights are one of the greatest impediments to reducing gun violence in the United States.

This was something I noticed when I chronicled the journey of getting my gun license in Boston. It's also all-but-confirmed by the recent release of the ATF's gun tracking data. From The Trace:

According to the most recent ATF statistics, released in August, the bureau traced 332,101 guns in 2018. The average time-to-crime of those weapons was 8.8 years. That’s why a particularly short time-to-crime raises red flags for law enforcement, since it often suggests the weapon was acquired for criminal purposes.

[…]

In California, for example, 12 percent of the guns recovered in the state had a time-to-crime of less than one year. When you isolate only those guns that originated in Nevada and were recovered in California, the figure jumps to 23 percent — almost one in four. (Nationally, 10 percent of all guns had a time-to-crime of less than one year.)

For the pro-gun NRA crowd, this essentially proves that gun regulation doesn't work; that's a reason they love to talk about Chicago so much, even though most of the illegal guns there come from Indiana. But I don't actually buy that at all. The issue is and always been about ease of access. Most people aren't going to go out of their way to navigate the black market, trading Bitcoin over Silk Road just to get a gun. If you live in California, and have a cousin in Nevada (or even just know a guy who knows a guy), it becomes less of a "black market" trade, and more of a favor. Read the rest

Seattle authorities used "Red Flag" gun laws to disarm a Neo-Nazi

Kaleb J. Cole (aka "Khimaere") is the 24-year-old leader of the Washington State cell of the Atomwaffen Division, an international network of violent Neo-Nazis. Aside from generally spewing hateful rhetoric, Cole had also been seen participating in Atomwaffen's "Hate Camps," sharpening his rifle skills for more extremist violence.

Fortunately, he no longer has access to any guns. From The Daily Beast:

[Cole] had his guns seized on Oct. 1st, according to King County Court records. The move came after the Seattle Police Department filed a 62-page “Extreme Risk Protection Order” petition against Cole on Sept. 26, according to electronic court records. Among the weapons that had been in Cole's possession were a pistol and an AK-47 variant with a high-capacity drum magazine.

To be clear, Cole has not been charged on any specific crimes. As far as anyone's aware, he hasn't killed anyone—at least not yet, although there is arguably reason to believe that he plans to. In addition to the target-practice videos where he can be seen chanting "Race war now" with the rest of his buddies, Cole has openly admitted to his fascist beliefs, and support for armed insurrection.

Again: not technically crimes. But valids cause for concern. That's where the "Red Flag" or "Extreme Risk" laws come in. They're basically restraining orders, but for guns.

One of the biggest struggles with reducing gun violence in America is that a lot of the proposed legislation also infringes on civil liberties. For example: the various "No-Fly Lists" that the government maintains have no clear criteria or due process, which ends up punishing people innocent Muslims, government employees, and literal fucking babies. Read the rest

Is this the most effective political ad of 2016?

US Senate candidate Jason Kander was consistently trailing incumbent Roy Blunt in the Missouri race until this month. Many attribute the shift to a simple and memorable ad in response to criticism of Kander's position on gun background checks. Read the rest

Christians ‘serious about their faith’ should get a handgun carry permit, says TN politician

Just days after yet another mass shooting in America, Tennessee's Lieutenant Governor says Christians who are ‘serious about their faith’ should consider buying guns. The unbelievably idiotic decree to God-fearing citizens by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey (R) was delivered via Facebook, where indeed, so many idiotic decrees are delivered. Read the rest

The 17 states where guns kill more people than cars do

Motor vehicle deaths continue to drop in the US this century. Firearm deaths continue to rise. If the CDC's WISQARS data holds its path since 2013, guns will soon be America's top killing machine. The 17 states (and one district) in order are: Read the rest

NRA's top lawyer was convicted of murdering his girlfriend's mother in 1964

The cover story for Mother Jones this month is about Bob Dowlut, NRA's general counsel, "who for 30 years has been the architect of the National Rifle Association's legal and cultural agenda." (Gawker) Read the rest