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The Prospect's politics blog

The Uses and Limits of Knowledge About Guns

Flickr/Simonov
We're about to start the portion of this debate where we begin discussing specific actions the government might take to address gun violence. And as we do, particularly when it comes to those measures that concern the guns themselves (as opposed to measures focused on the people who can get them or the conditions of their purchase), it's likely that gun advocates will start complaining that there's a problem with all these effete urban northeastern liberals making laws governing guns they know nothing about. This isn't new; for instance, gun advocates have long hated the term "assault weapon," since it doesn't mean anything in particular (after all, every gun is a weapon designed for assault). We should be very wary of the argument that people who have a lot of experience with guns have some kind of greater moral claim to a voice in this debate (and we should also be wary, as Elsbeth Reeve writes , of coastal urbanite conservatives claiming to speak for "real America" about guns). Yes...

John Kerry, the Most Progressive Pick for the State Department?

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Flickr/U.S Embassy Kabul Afghanistan Senator John Kerry and Afghanistan President Hamid Karzain in Kabul in 2009. T he optics of Susan Rice’s withdrawal from consideration for secretary of State are disheartening. Ruth Marcus of The Washington Post and Representative Marcia Fudge of Ohio attributed racism and sexism to the campaign against Rice, with Marcus writing that “the attack had something to do with Rice’s gender, and her sharp elbows and sometimes sharper tongue,” while Fudge said “[ Republican senators ] have never called a male 'unqualified,' 'not bright,' 'not trustworthy,' …there is a clear sexism and racism that goes with these comments.” Given that foreign policy circles are among the worst in terms of gender diversity, Rice’s withdrawal from consideration is a tough blow for the representation of women and minorities in top leadership positions. Even so, John Kerry may be a better secretary of State for progressives when it comes to philosophical approaches to military...

Putting the NRA on Defense

AP Photo/St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Christian Gooden
Every mass shooting, there’s a brief flare-up of discussion about gun control, followed by an inevitable dropping of the subject as liberals give up hope that anything can be done about guns when conservatives control the discourse so thoroughly . It’s become so predictable that even lamenting the process has in itself become a cliché. The notion that owning semi-automatic assault rifles that can shoot off six rounds a second is a “right” has become so embedded that many people, including our president, have calculated that it’s fruitless to even try to start drafting legislation that would restrict the sale of such weapons. Facing this stalemate, it’s time for gun control advocates to start changing the conversation. I propose we do this by starting attacking not the guns themselves, but gun culture . And we can start by calling for restrictions on the advertising of guns. A lot of liberals aren’t tuned into this, because they live in their own enclaves and absorb media that doesn’t...

Social Security: Will Obama Cave?

AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak President Barack Obama looks toward reporters shouting questions at him regarding the fiscal cliff as he walks to the White House after attending a holiday party for the National Security Council. O nce again, President Obama seems to be on the verge of folding a winning hand. Widely leaked reports indicate that the president and House Speaker John Boehner are making a fiscal deal that includes hiking tax rates back to the pre-Bush levels with a threshold of $400,000 rather than the original $250,000, and cutting present Social Security benefits. Obama, the reports say, will now settle for as little as $1.2 trillion in tax increases on the rich rather than the $1.6 trillion that he had originally sought. The difference, in effect, will come out of the pockets of workers, retirees, the young, and the poor. Especially foolish is the cut in Social Security benefits, disguised as a change in the cost-of-living adjustment formula. Before getting to the arcane...

Guns Are Different

Flickr/xomiele
It's safe to say that we've had more of a national discussion about guns in the last four days than we've had in the last 15 years. The particular measures to address gun violence that are now in the offing run from those that are well-intended but likely to be ineffectual (renewing the assault weapons ban, for instance) to some that could have a more meaningful effect even if they're difficult to implement (universal background checks, licensing, and training). But the most useful change that may come out of this moment in our history is a change in the way we look at guns. By that I don't mean that Americans will suddenly stop fetishizing guns, or that everyone will agree they're nothing but trouble. But if we're lucky, perhaps we could come to an agreement on something simple. Yes, our constitution guarantees that people can own guns, much as many of us wish it didn't. But even in the context of that freedom, we should be able to agree that guns are different. The freedom to own...

Republicans Float Plan to Make Electoral College More Unfair

Google
Google Republicans decide to go the dastardly route. Since their across-the-board defeat in November, Republicans have talked a great game about reform and outreach, with presidential hopefuls Paul Ryan, Marco Rubio, and Bobby Jindal leading the charge. But the actual actions of the GOP belie this stated commitment to change. According to National Journal , for example, Republicans are planning a big push to change how states distribute their electoral votes. Currently, most states have a winner-take-all arrangement—if you win the majority of votes, you take all of the electoral votes. For all but voters in deep red or dark blue states, this is unfair—the 48 percent of North Carolina voters who supported Barack Obama in this year’s election are all but irrelevant, since their votes play no part in the Electoral College distribution. Some reformers want to solve this problem with a national popular vote, others with nationwide proportional distribution of electoral votes. Republicans,...

Taking the Broad View on Guns

President Obama wipes away a tear as he discusses the shooting in Newtown.
Up until now, Barack Obama's record on guns has been one of the biggest disappointments for his liberal supporters. In his first term he signed two laws on guns, one allowing people to take their guns into national parks, and one allowing people to take their guns on Amtrak trains. But now there are some hints that the administration may be open to some modest measures to reduce the easy availability of some of the deadliest means of killing large numbers of people at one time. In particular, we could see a renewal of some version of the assault weapons ban that was in place from 1994 to 2004. That law used a somewhat complicated flow chart of features to define an assault weapon, and also banned magazines that held more than ten rounds. A ban on high-capacity magazines may be the easiest thing to pass today, because it's not hard to define and they are almost impossible to justify for any purpose other than killing people. The easy argument against any new law, and one we'll...

Even America's Safest Places Need Better Gun Control

(AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
Flickr/Doug Kerr A garden in Newtown, Connecticut I f you ever have the chance, you should visit Newtown, Connecticut, a “picture-postcard place in New England, especially in the fall.” Or so urges Sperling ’s Best Places to Raise Your Family , which included the town among its 100 best spots to have kids, ranking it among the top ten where you could “keep your door unlocked.” The guide book for families looking for the ideal hometown also notes that Newtown is among its top ten of its 100 picks in terms of having a high percentage of households—44—that have an annual household income above $100,000 per year. No one could predict the tragedy that would befall this bucolic suburb of Danbury. The senseless murder of 20 six- and seven-year-old children and seven adults at Newtown’s Sandy Hook Elementary School has nothing to do with the fact that the town is scenic or expensive, but it is worth noting that a number of the horrendous shooting sprees that have taken place since the nation-...

While You Weren’t Looking, Michigan Turned Into Texas

Flickr/CedarBendDrive
The Michigan legislature’s lame duck session is only three weeks long, but the state house didn't need more than 18 hours to move the state sharply to the right. During a marathon session Thursday and Friday, the state house passed a variety of very conservative bills on issues from abortion to gun control to taxes. You can’t say they’re not efficient. The state, which favored Obama by 9 points and has long been home to a moderate-progressive movement, may now have a set of laws that puts it on America’s more conservative end. Perhaps most shocking for pro-choice advocates was the effort to restrict abortion rights—or, as Mother Jones put it, “ the abortion mega-bill. ” Assuming the governor signs the bill into law, women in Michigan will now have to buy separate insurance policies to cover abortion. Otherwise, even in cases of rape or miscarriage, the abortion will not be covered. Clinics that provide more than 120 abortions a year will now face significantly more stringent licensing...

Newtown: A Midnight Letter

(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
(AP Photo/Jason DeCrow) A young boy places a candle with others at the base of a flagpole outside Newtown High School before an interfaith vigil with President Barack Obama, Sunday, December 16, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Friday and opened fire, killing 26 people, including 20 children. I t’s almost midnight and my seven-year-old is finally asleep. Tonight, she and I had the usual arguments about her taking a bath, about when she would go to bed; as it happens I’ve been a single dad the last several days, so we’ve argued more than usual. Two days ago was her Christmas play at school, at eight in the morning when her second-grade class sang, “All I Want for Christmas Is a Hippopotamus,” and it wasn’t until I was back in the car afterward that I heard on the radio about Sandy Hook. By the time I got to lunch there was nothing else on the news. It would be an overstatement to suggest that all of the restaurant had come to a...

A National Gun Policy: Here Is Where We Start.

Flickr/World Island Info
Flickr/Sari Dennise "Non-Violence" a k a "The Knotted Gun" by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, given to the United Nations by the government of Luxembourg in 1988 I n the wake of Friday’s gruesome tragedy, in which a presumably mentally ill shooter killed 26 Americans in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut—including 20 children between the ages of six and seven—it has never been more evident that our nation’s gun laws are in desperate need of reform.Thanks to years of relentless propaganda by the National Rifle Association (NRA) the American people no longer care much for the phrase "gun control," but they do support specific policy proposals in overwhelming numbers. For example, swing-state exit-polling data from the 2012 election indicates that 90 percent of gun owners support requiring background checks on all gun sales, including private sales. Republican pollster Frank Luntz has conducted additional surveys showing broad support for common-sense gun laws even among NRA members...

A History of Violence

In the wake of Friday's mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, the latest in a year filled with massacres occuring at distressingly regular intervals, President Barack Obama called for "meaningful action" and said in a vigil in the small, quiet town on Sunday, "Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose? ... if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change." We here at the Prospect have thought that things have needed to change with American gun policy for years, and have many suggestions for how Congress and the White House should move forward on this issue. Here's our best coverage on guns and gun policy: A Tragedy Made in the USA , Steve Erickson Ten Arguments Gun Advocates Make, and Why They're Wrong , Paul Waldman How Should We Approach Gun Control? , Jamelle Bouie Yes, We Should Keep Talking about Our Gun Laws ,...

Gun Control, No Longer the Dems' Electoral Kryptonite

Lawrence Jackson / White House
The most notable thing to come out of President Obama’s speech last night—eulogizing the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut—was his unambiguous commitment to pursuing new gun regulations in the coming weeks. Granted, he didn’t use the word “gun,” but the implications were clear: If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try. In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such...

Ten Arguments Gun Advocates Make, and Why They're Wrong

Flickr/SpecialKRB
There has been yet another mass shooting, something that now seems to occur on a monthly basis. Every time another tragedy like this occurs, gun advocates make the same arguments about why we can't possibly do anything to restrict the weaponization of our culture. Here's a guide to what they'll be saying in the coming days: 1. Now isn't the time to talk about guns. We're going to hear this over and over, and not just from gun advocates; Jay Carney said it to White House reporters today. But if we're not going to talk about it now, when are we going to talk about it? After Sandy hit the East Coast, no one said, "Now isn't the time to talk about disaster preparedness; best leave that until it doesn't seem so urgent." When there's a terrorist attack, no one says, "Now isn't the time to talk about terrorism." Now is exactly the time. 2. Guns don't kill people, people kill people. Maybe, but people with guns kill many, many more people than they would if they didn't have guns, and guns...

Obama, Crying

White House
While plenty of people criticized President Barack Obama’s speech yesterday—“I react not as a President, but as anybody else would—as a parent"—I was less bothered by what he said than I was relieved by what he did: choke up, take a minute to gather himself and, through the rest of the press conference, wipe back tears. Of course, I thought. Crying is the appropriate response to have to a day like this. Mia Farrow tweeted that it was the first time she’d seen an American president cry, and she might be right. It’s a significant step. In most of politics, and most of public life, we’ve been taught that emotion is the opposite of reason, that our feelings will cloud our judgment, and that the last thing an American president should ever do is trade swagger for sentiment. It was this view of emotion, of course, that helped justify the barring of women from public office. She just can’t handle it, was the refrain. The view of women as inherently more emotional than men is one feminists...

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