What the Doctor Orders

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A recent op-ed in my local paper, Foster's Daily Democrat was headlined When enforced, firearms regulations work.

Oh yeah?

It's by Dr. James Fieseher, a regular on the editorial pages for years. He mostly writes advocacy for single-payer health care. But sometimes branches out to other topics, taking predictable stances.

This column has a unique take, though. And I was irritated enough to once again break out the fisking template. His column is reproduced on the left with a lovely #EEFFFF background color; my remarks are on the right.

“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” ~ Second Amendment to the Constitution 1791.

Dr. F starts out pretty well with a mostly-accurate quote of the Second Amendment. I believe the official version doesn't hyphenate "well regulated". That quibble aside, things go downhill quickly from here.

The insurrection on Jan. 6 could have been much worse.

On that day, insurrectionists were invited to Washington, DC by “the former guy” [in the White House] and they acted on what they thought were his instructions. They planted pipe bombs at both the Democratic and Republican headquarters, perhaps as a diversion tactic. They brought in Molotov cocktails, zip ties, bullet-proof vests, baseball bats, metal pipes and constructed several gallows in an attempt to overthrow the 2020 election and kidnap and kill the Vice President and members of Congress.

As we'll see, when Dr. F says "could have been", he's essentially constructing an alternate imaginary universe where things were worse. Fine, as long as we remember that this universe is built entirely inside his own head.

But even his description of what actually happened needs work.

  • The FBI says those pipe bombs were planted the night before.
  • "Perhaps as a diversionary tactic"? Baseless speculation.
  • Glenn Greenwald has demolished the claim about the rioters bringing zip ties to the Capitol.
  • One (1) guy apparently brought one (1) baseball bat.
  • One (1) guy brought "components for the construction of" eleven "Molotov cocktails" to DC, but (apparently) left them in his truck.
  • I don't know about "several gallows" either. There seems to have been just one. A couple more (apparently impromptu) nooses were noticed, though.
  • There's zero evidence that the mob had any sort of unified purpose whatsoever, outside of a small number of dangerous lunatics. Let alone kidnapping and murder.

Things were horrible enough without inflating the horror.

Some brought in guns, but most of the guns were stashed outside the District of Columbia because of firearms restriction laws.

As near as I can tell, this assertion is evidence-free. And it doesn't really make sense. The folks that Dr. F thinks are bringing bats, Molotov cocktails, planning murder and kidnapping: he thinks they're suddenly scrupulously law-abiding about bringing guns into the District?

In fact, both the Molotov cocktail guy and the Zip Tie guy brought weaponry inside the District. (But not inside the Capitol.)

Without those firearms restrictions, the events of Jan. 6 could have been quite different. We could have lost our Vice President, half of the US Congress and our Democracy itself.

The insurrectionists thought they were patriots. The “former guy” called them patriots.

They believed they were the “good guys with a gun.” If more of them had carried guns during the insurrection, there would have been many more injuries and deaths. The death toll on Jan. 6 was far less than at Sandy Hook, Parkland or Las Vegas. In short, firearms regulations save lives.

We are now back in Dr. F's imagined universe.

It's true that DC gun laws "rank amongst some of the most restrictive in the United States". Do those laws "save lives"?

Unfortunately for Dr. F's argument, those laws don't prevent folks from getting shot in DC. This WaPo editorial notes that DC racked up over 200 homicides in 2020, mostly via firearm. Overall, there were 883 gunshot victims. All this despite "some of the most stringent gun laws in the country". This site puts DC at number 8 in its sorted list of 2019 murder rates. (23.5 homicides per 100K population, far above the 9.6 rate for all US cities with over 250K population.)

Dr. F would no doubt like to think that things would be worse if DC did not have "ome of the most stringent gun laws in the country". There's no reason to believe that.

The Second Amendment calls for “well-regulated militias,” not simply militias. The militias that attacked the Capitol on January 6 were not “well-regulated,” or even “regulated.” They were formed to impose their view of government and society on everyone else, even if it meant destroying the Republic and the Constitution that guides it.

In 1791, the framers of the second amendment wanted to protect our fledgling republic from tyranny. There was no standing Army or National Guard to ensure domestic tranquility or protect us from an invasion from a European monarchy. They needed the militias supplied by the thirteen independent states: the second amendment.

Assigning all-importance to the "well regulated militia" prefatory clause of the Second Amendment is SOP for the gun-grabbers. A good (and, to my mind, convincing) refutation of this argument was made by Brian Doherty in Reason back in 2019: What Is a ‘Well Regulated Militia,’ Anyway? It's long, unsuitable for excerpting, but the bottom line is clear: "The Second Amendment […] guarantees an individual right to the people, no matter how the federal government chooses to regulate the organized militia."

Today, there are literally millions of “militias” in the US as the conservative judges on the Supreme Court have overlooked the “well-regulated militias” portion of the Second Amendment and have allowed each American to be a militia of one if he or she so desires.

I assume Dr. F is referring to the SCOTUS decision in District of Columbia v. Heller. It is simply false that the prefatory clause was ignored in (for example) Antonin Scalia's majority opinion in that case. Read it for yourself.

Today’s guns rights group have adopted the vigilante phrase: “the only thing to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” But January 6 showed us that the concepts of “bad” and “good” are in the eyes of the beholder. Vigilantes see “good” and “bad” in the hands of the gun holder.

Vigilantism aside, it's tough to see how bad guys with guns get stopped without opposing them with equivalent or superior weaponry. Doesn't matter if that's wielded by law enforcement or by a civilian.

Dr. F's attempted "clever" play on words in the last two sentences are so self-evidently stupid that I find it difficult to comment on them.

The firearms regulations in Washington DC limited the tragedy of January 6. When enforced, firearms regulations do work

As noted up there, this is false. Mindless repetition does not make it truer.

For almost 200 years, the Supreme Court interpreted the Second Amendment in the context of well-regulated state militias. It is only in the last 50 years that the concept of state militias has be [sic] reinterpreted by the Supreme Court to mean any individual who wants a gun.

And now Dr. F is back to the Supreme Court. Again, this is a simply false picture of what SCOTUS held in Heller: for example, the decision specifically allowed restrictions on gun ownership by felons and the mentally ill.

Can we enforce the Second Amendment by insisting on well-regulated state militias? Probably not and certainly not with the present composition of the Court.

"Enforcing the Second Amendment" in Dr. F's mind means ignoring that whole "right of the people" clause.

Our only other option is to promote common sense firearms regulations to protect the life and liberty of our citizens. Victims of gun violence lose all freedoms, including their right to bear arms.

We can find ways of preserving the right of gun ownership and still reduce gun violence in the US. If every person is a militia, then common sense firearms laws adhere to the Second Amendment’s call for being “well-regulated.”

Jan. 6 has shown us that to do otherwise would mean the loss of life, Congress, our Republic and the Constitution itself.

Doc, you know what "common sense" tells me? It's that people who claim to favor "common sense" regulations are begging the question. Your argument only works if you start out by assuming that gun control laws are efficacious; then, when high levels of gun violence happen anyway, you can fall back on claiming "well, it would have been worse without those laws."

And probably go on to say: "This shows that we need more laws."

Congratulations, you've convinced yourself.

In the wake of horrific events, it's pretty common for people to make opportunistic arguments. "This shows that the policies I've always been in favor of need to be enacted now." Dr. F is no exception, but trying to shoehorn a gun control argument into the January 6 riot is ludicrous.

It would have been worse, except for DC's gun laws? The DC gun laws are the ones that rioters were afraid to run afoul of?

Please.