Law

Can We Live Without the Assault Weapons Ban?

Flickr/mr.smashy

So yesterday, Harry Reid hinted that he'll be introducing a gun control measure that doesn't include a new ban on assault weapons. If we assume for a moment that other proposed measures eventually pass, but an assault weapons ban doesn't, how bad an outcome would it be?

License to Kill

WikiMedia Commons

In a major reportorial coup, NBC's Michael Isikoff has uncovered the "white paper" that the Obama administration used to internally justify extrajudicial killings in the "war on terror." Not only has Isikoff performed a valuable service by making the memo available to the public, this will also be the first time it had been made available to most members of Congress.

How the NRA Is Helping to Pass Gun Control

We're in the early stages of a lengthy process that will involve hearings, competing bills, horse-trading, and the usual ugliness of life in the Capitol Hill sausage factory, but the contours of gun legislation are beginning to take shape. Though President Obama is out campaigning for the full package of reforms he has been advocating, there are indications that the assault weapons ban may get dropped in order to forestall a Republican filibuster in the Senate, and a bipartisan group is about to introduce a bill in the House on gun trafficking and straw purchases. (I'll discuss the assault weapons question in a later post). In other words, the actual legislative process is getting underway.

And though it's by no means assured that some gun measures will pass Congress, if any do, we'll partly have the NRA to thank. That's because, I believe, the organization fundamentally misread the role it plays in the minds of the average voter.

Our Customers Don't Want a Pregnant Waitress

Fox Searchlight

Having a family shouldn’t cost you your job. It does, again and again—especially if you’re female. Which is one of the reasons women’s pay still isn’t equal.

How to Vote Down Voter ID

Minnesotans defeat the GOP’s plan to restrict the franchise.

Flickr/cursedthing

Flickr/cursedthing

New Marijuana Laws: Just a Smokescreen

Flickr/Rupert Ganzer

Before Washington state voters legalized marijuana in the 2012 election, pot was easy enough to access on the black market. Five percent of state residents have used the drug in one form or another while burning through a remarkable 187,000 pounds per year, according to estimates by Washington’s Office of Financial Management. Getting high without getting arrested wasn’t much of a problem, either. Washington decriminalized medical marijuana 15 years ago, and today dozens of dispensaries are operating under protection of state law. In addition, Washington’s biggest city, Seattle, had instructed its police force to treat personal possession of marijuana as the lowest law-enforcement priority.

Why Playwrights Aren't Political Analysts

Flickr/David Shankbone

During last year's presidential campaign, journalist Buzz Bissinger got some attention for writing an opinion piece explaining that he was voting for Mitt Romney because Barack Obama hasn't done enough to end poverty, which is kind of like saying you're switching from salad to Big Macs for lunch because you're trying to lose weight and salad has calories. For people familiar with Bissinger's extraordinary reportage, including books like Friday Night Lights and A Prayer for the City (one of the best books about big-city politics ever written), it was a shock. How could such a great reporter produce something so infantile and bereft of the simplest familiarity with logic? Then people took a look at Bissinger's Twitter feed and discovered that he spews out a puzzling combination of incomprehensibility and general assholishness. (sample tweet: "Romney lost was a suck candidate as it turned out. But every fucking liberal who whines about pro football should be forced to play it." Um, okaaay.) It was so puzzling because the traits that make one a good reporter—curiosity, hard work, a willingness to see things from as many perspectives as possible—seemed to have deserted Bissinger in his non-reporting endeavors. Which brings us to the strange case of David Mamet, one of the most celebrated American playwrights of the last forty years.

Newsweek has just published an article in which Mamet, who became a hard-core conservative some years ago, goes after Barack Obama for wanting to take away his guns. While there may be an intelligent, cogently argued case to make for Mamet's position, this piece certainly isn't it. From the opening cliché about Karl Marx, you know you're not in for something that will change anyone's mind, but it only gets worse. He moves on to insane assertions about government ("'One-size-fits-all,' and that size determined by the State has a name, and that name is 'slavery.'") moves through a comparison of Barack Obama to King George, and then hits you with the kind of "logic" with which any parent of an eight-year-old is familiar. "The Left loves a phantom statistic that a firearm in the hands of a citizen is X times more likely to cause accidental damage than to be used in the prevention of crime, but what is there about criminals that ensures that their gun use is accident-free?" Mamet asks. "If, indeed, a firearm were more dangerous to its possessors than to potential aggressors, would it not make sense for the government to arm all criminals, and let them accidentally shoot themselves?" You really got us there, Sparky. By the time he repeats the NRA's argument that Barack Obama is hypocritical for having the Secret Service protect his children and at the same time wanting some modest measures to limit gun proliferation— measures which, by the way, will restrict David Mamet's ability to buy as many guns as he wants not one whit—you're left shaking your head.

Employees? Consumers? Feh!

Flickr/Scott Lenger

Should the Supreme Court uphold it, last Friday’s decision by three Reagan-appointees to the D.C. Circuit Appellate Court appears at first glance to rejigger the balance of power between Congress and the president. The appellate justices struck down three recess appointments that President Obama had made to the five-member National Labor Relations Board during the break between the 2011 and 2012 sessions of Congress partly on the grounds that Congress wasn’t formally in recess, since one and sometimes two Republicans showed up to nominally keep it in session for the sole reason of denying Obama the right to recess appointments. Two of the three justices went further, ruling that the president can’t really make recess appointments at all.

The D.C. Circuit Court's Chaos Theory

Flickr/Kim Davies

On Friday, a three-judge panel on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that President Obama's recess appointments to the National Labor Relations Board—the U.S. agency charged with remedying unfair labor practices—were unconstitutional. The opinion—written by highly partisan Reagan appointee David Sentelle—would effectively remove the president's power to make any recess appointments at a time when counterbalances to an obstructionist Senate are more necessary than ever.

Freedom to Choose, Freedom to Marry

Is sex evil unless it leads directly to babies? Is marriage only legitimate if it fosters offspring, or is it also for intimacy? The U.S. Supreme Court issued three decisions between June 7, 1965 and Jan. 22, 1973 that collectively give the answer: No. Roe, the last of them, can be thought of as the exclamation mark. As we reflect on the 40th anniversary of that decision, there's another group that has Roe to thank for the rights it enjoys today: LGBT Americans.

Mississippi's Last Abortion Provider

Flickr/kbrookes

Twelve years ago, Dr. Willie Parker was at home listening to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I’ve been to the mountaintop” sermon. Parker had heard the words many times before. But this time, he found himself focusing on King’s interpretation of the Bible story of the “good Samaritan,” who stopped to help a man who had been left for dead by robbers. Though others had passed the man by, the Samaritan stopped, King explained, because he didn’t think about the harm that might befall him if he did. Instead, he asked what might happen to the dying man if he did not.

Bill Clinton, Still Wrong about Guns

Flickr/Tim Hamilton

I've spent a good deal of time in the last year pushing back against the twin myths that the NRA delivered Congress to the Republicans in 1994, and then delivered the White House to George W. Bush in 2000. And no one is more responsible for the propagation of those myths, and the fear they inspire among Democratic office-holders, than Bill Clinton. For years, he has told anyone who'd listen that Democrats lost the House in 1994 because he passed an assault weapons ban and gun owners punished his party for it. He'll also say that guns were the reason Al Gore lost to George W. Bush in 2000. And now, at a moment when the prospects for meaningful restrictions on gun proliferation are greater than they have been in two decades, he's at it again.

What's Left of Roe

Barack Obama's re-election might make the landmark decision safe for now, but its meaning has eroded over the years.

(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, file)

Since the ruling was handed down 40 years ago today, Roe v. Wade—which held that the constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy included a woman's right to choose to have an abortion—has been subject to an ongoing legal and political assault. This assault has not succeeded in getting the decision overturned. But it has caused the scope of the opinion to become narrower in ways that have disproportionately affected the rights of women of color, poor women, and women in isolated, rural areas. The re-election of Barack Obama might make Roe safe for the time being, but it is worth taking stock of how its meaning is being eroded and what the future battles would be.

Here a Gun, There a Gun, Everywhere a Gun

A gentleman exercising his rights in a way that won't make anyone else uncomfortable. (Flickr/Teknorat)

As Jaime and I noted yesterday, many Democratic politicians feel the need to preface any discussion of guns with an assurance that they, too, own guns and love to shoot, as though that were the price of admission to a debate on the topic. But what you seldom hear is anyone, politician or otherwise, say, "I don't own a gun and I don't ever intend to" as a statement of identity, defining a perspective that carries moral weight equal to that of gun owners. So it was good to see Josh Marshall, in a thoughtful post, say, "Well, I want to be part of this debate too. I'm not a gun owner and, as I think as is the case for the more than half the people in the country who also aren't gun owners, that means that for me guns are alien. And I have my own set of rights not to have gun culture run roughshod over me." Let me tell you my perspective on this, and offer some thoughts on the question of what sort of a society we want to have when it comes to the question of guns. Because there are two radically different visions that are clashing here.

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