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

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

What science says about gun control and violent crime

Does gun control mean fewer guns on the street and less violence? Does encouraging gun ownership mean better protected people and less violence?

I don't think it's too early to be asking questions like this. When you're faced with a tragedy like what happened today at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it's reasonable to start asking questions about violence prevention. It's part of the bargaining stage of grief — wondering if there's something we could have done that would have prevented all those needless deaths. And let's get one thing straight: Everybody wants to prevent what happened today.

So what can be done about it? And what does the science say?

I've been trying to get a handle on that for the last hour or so and here are three things it seems we can definitively say:

• It would be completely accurate for someone to tell you that studies in places like Australia and Austria found that implementing more stringent gun control laws reduced deaths from gun-related suicides and violent crime.

• It would also be accurate to say that a study of the effects of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in the United States showed no big reductions in gun-related deaths, except for suicides among people older than 55.

• And it's also true that a 2003 study of conceal-carry laws in Florida found that they seemed to make no difference one way or the other — neither increasing nor reducing rates of violent crime. Read the rest