Nicholas D. Kristof appears unclear on the Constitutional concept

“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.”

If it wasn’t for the fact that he’s a committed gun control guy, I might have mistaken Nicholas Kristof’s NYTs column today for a perfectly realized, Iowahawk-esque gun control parody.  He opens, of course, with the “How did Jared Loughner get a gun” question.  He does not answer that question by pointing to the fact that local law enforcement, led by that colorful liberal Sheriff Dubnik, had let Loughner run wild for years.  That would have been a good answer.  Instead, he goes directly for the gun kill (pardon my metaphoric language):

To protect the public, we regulate cars and toys, medicines and mutual funds. So, simply as a public health matter, shouldn’t we take steps to reduce the toll from our domestic arms industry?

To prove his bona fides to ask this insanely (and inanely) silly question, Kristof waffles on for a couple of paragraphs about his youth with a gun in his hand.  He also acknowledges that guns are less of a risk than swimming pools (and, one might add, bathtubs and cars), but that doesn’t stop him.  Having cleared the decks, he takes the momentous leap to compares America’s gun situation to Yemen’s:

(The only country I’ve seen that is more armed than America is Yemen. Near the town of Sadah, I dropped by a gun market where I was offered grenade launchers, machine guns, antitank mines, and even an anti-aircraft weapon. Yep, an N.R.A. dream! No pesky regulators. Just terrorism and a minor civil war.)

How to solve this crisis:  Treat guns like toys.  Kristof doesn’t mean, of course, that every kid should find one in his Christmas stocking.  He means that the government should regulate guns like crazy:

• Limit gun purchases to one per month per person, to reduce gun trafficking. And just as the government has cracked down on retailers who sell cigarettes to minors, get tough on gun dealers who sell to traffickers.

• Push for more gun safes, and make serial numbers harder to erase.

• Improve background checks and follow Canada in requiring a 28-day waiting period to buy a handgun. And ban oversize magazines, such as the 33-bullet magazine allegedly used in Tucson. If the shooter had had to reload after firing 10 bullets, he might have been tackled earlier. And invest in new technologies such as “smart guns,” which can be fired only when near a separate wristband or after a fingerprint scan.

Not content with roping Canada into the discussion, Kristof also cites to Australia’s gun control efforts to make his case.

In Kristof’s column, however, one word is conspicuously absent:  Constitution.  Perhaps Kristof figures that, if he just ignores it, no one will notice that he doesn’t deal with an explicit Constitutional limitation on government power.  He’s probably right, too, insofar as his column is read almost entirely by people who share his sentiments about guns.  Heck, 20 years ago, I would have agreed with him.  If asked, at that time I would have said that the Second Amendment is so narrowly written that it requires people to train with a militia as a prerequisite for them to have guns.  If they’re not going to train (a la the Swiss model), the government gets to take their guns away.  It didn’t occur to me that a militia is a citizen military regardless of training or, more importantly, that the whole point of the Second Amendment is to protect the people from their government, not to allow the government to decide which of its citizens gets guns or to take those guns back at will.

As far as I know, there is nothing in the Bill of Rights that mentions toys.  Or maybe I just missed the Second and a Half Amendment, the one saying that “A well-adjusted, exhausted, entertained child population being necessary to the happiness and security of a free State, the right of America’s children to play with any damn toy they so desire shall not be infringed.”  Nah.  I don’t think I missed it.  It doesn’t exist.  That’s why citizens are fairly sanguine about federal safety rules when it comes to toys — toys aren’t an explicitly protected product under the Constitution, one that cannot be the subject of government meddling and restrictions.

The Founding Fathers, however, did see fit to exempt guns from government control — not just federal control, but any government control.  One could make a very good argument that even the gun laws we currently have (registration, waiting periods, etc.) violate the Constitution.

It’s true that the Founding Fathers did not envision the gun world we have today, one that makes guns easy to manufacture or that produces an astonishing variety of guns, some of them with more lethal efficiency than others.  Their inability to predict the future, though, does not give Progressives the right simply to ignore them.  The Constitution is the contract between government and people.  This marvelous contract has within it mechanisms for amending it if it no longer serves the people.

Simply ignoring the Constitution is not one of the contractual options.  If Kristof is interested in having guns regulated in precisely the same way toys are, perhaps he should spearhead a Constitutional amendment that repeals the Second Amendment.  Should he do so, I don’t wish him success, and I don’t see him having much luck, but that’s still what he should do.  To write an entire column comparing a Constitutionally protected instrument to a toy is just fatuous and stupid.

UPDATE:  Thanks, pst314, for bringing my attention to my horrible Kristol/Kristof mixups.  I’ve corrected them all, but I’m really embarrassed.  Sometimes my brain and my fingers live lives independent of each other, but that’s no excuse for making such a heinous error.

Reading the Constitution in Congress

My daughter’s 8th grade history class is studying the Constitution.  With the Republican House’s plan to inaugurate its majority by reading the Constitution aloud, I had a little talk with her about the Constitution.

Me:  Can you tell me what the Constitution is?

Daughter:  It’s a document that tells the government what to do.

Me:  That’s a good start in thinking about it.  Basically, it’s a contract between the government and the people that sets out the powers and limitations of the federal government.

Daughter:  That sounds like a good idea.

Me:  It is.  So tell me, what are you supposed to do if you don’t like a part of this contract?

Daughter:  I don’t understand.

Me:  If you don’t like part of the contract should you just ignore it?

Daughter:  No.  That’s wrong.

Me:  Should you pretend it means something different than it says?

Daughter:  You can’t do that!  (I refrained from saying here “you wanna bet?”)

Me:  Did you know that there’s a mechanism within the Constitution itself for making changes?

Daughter:  No.

Me: It’s called the Amendment process.

Daughter:  Oh, right!  I knew that.

Me:  Can you give me an example of an amendment?

Daughter:  The Bill of Rights?

Me:  That’s a very good example.  The Bill of Rights is the first ten amendments to the Constitution.  How about an example of a part of the original constitution that was wrong and that got changed?

Daughter:  Slavery?

Me:  Yup.  The government used the Constitution’s own rules to change a part that wasn’t right.  Now, with all this in mind, I have a question for you.  Today marks the start of a new Congress.  The Senate is still going to have a majority of Democrats, but the House is going to have a large majority of Republicans.  Indeed, the last election saw the biggest turnover since 1938.  That means that, not only did the majority party switch as a result of the election, but it switched by huge numbers as the voters rejected the governing majority party.  The first thing the new Republican House is planning on doing is having someone read the entire Constitution.  Do you think that sounds like a silly political stunt, or a waste of time, or a good idea?

Daughter:  That sounds like a really good idea, since the Constitution tells them what they can and can’t do.

Me: I agree.  And how about this — The new Republican House has promised that every bill it writes (and a bill is what becomes a law if it gets the vote) will have at the top a statement about which Constitutional power the House believes authorizes it to pass that law.  Do you think that’s a good idea?

Daughter:  That’s a wonderful idea!

The liberal media may be outraged that the current House is going back to the seminal contract that defines its powers, duties and limitations, but at least one future voter likes the idea that her government is trying to follow the rules.

The New York Times has a temper tantrum

Today, the GOP takes over the House.  The New York Times is not pleased and wrote what is quite possibly the most ungracious editorial ever.  How can you top this for snark:

Those who had hoped to see a glimpse of the much-advertised Republican plan to revive the economy and put Americans back to work will have to wait at least until party leaders finish their Beltway insider ritual of self-glorification. Then, they may find time for governing.

I won’t quote any more.  Suffice to say that it all falls in the same vein.

The alleged pompous behavior, of course, is to read aloud the Constitution — you know, the seminal American document that simultaneous grants and limits power to the federal government.  As young Ezra Klein revealed, nothing irks Progressives more than people who actually think the Constitution means something.  To the extent they think it’s a cross between a relic and toilet paper, aggrandizing it by parading it around Congress is an insult.

The sad thing is that most NYT’s readers will nod their heads sagely and agree with the editorial.  Some, I hope, will be disgusted and seek other reading material.

Young Ezra Klein *UPDATED*

I’m late to the party on this one, but I still wanted you all to read, if you haven’t already, Don Surber’s post about Ezra Klein, a Progressive who shocked the world (at least the Leftist world), by honestly stating that he believes the Constitution simply isn’t a relevant document.

It’s so old, you see.  Kind of like the old Bible, and old Shakespeare, and all those other old White Men books of time-tested wisdom.

UPDATE:  Whatever Iowahawk is drinking, I want the same.  The man is just a bottomless well of satiric brilliance.  No surprise then, that his Ezra Klein takedown is a masterpiece.  (Hat tip:  Soccer Dad)

Republicans = slavery lovers (or so saith an article in the NYT)

Every summer for the past several years, we’ve gone to a local (and wonderful) Civil War reenactment.  Without exception, the people who have chosen to reenact the Southern side will tell one, quite earnestly, that the Southern side was about states’ rights, not about slavery.  Even 145 years after the war ended (or perhaps I should say, especially 145 years after the war ended) there is no other line to take to justify dressing up in the gray, even for the fun of playing with fake guns and cannon on a large field on a hot, sunny day.

In Saturday’s New York Times, there is an opinion piece saying that this modern-day point of view is a mythological revision, and that the Southern secession and the subsequent war arose solely from slavery, and had nothing to do with states’ rights.  In other words, says the author, Edward Ball, all those who seek to dress the South’s side in the Civil War as a 10th Amendment issue are lying, to themselves and to everyone else.  To prove this, Ball quotes from the secession documents themselves:

But a look through the declaration of causes written by South Carolina and four of the 10 states that followed it out of the Union — which, taken together, paint a kind of self-portrait of the Confederacy — reveals a different story. From Georgia to Texas, each state said the reason it was getting out was that the awful Northern states were threatening to do away with slavery.

South Carolina: “The non-slaveholding states … have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery” and “have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes.”

Mississippi: “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery — the greatest material interest of the world. … There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union.”

Georgia: “A brief history of the rise, progress, and policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the Federal Government has been committed will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia.”

Several states single out a special culprit, Abraham Lincoln, “an obscure and illiterate man” whose “opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery.” Lincoln’s election to the White House meant, for South Carolina, that “the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.”

Up to a point, I don’t quibble at all with Ball — the South wanted to keep its slaves.  Its entire economic structure was built on slavery, and it did not want to experiment with a true capitalist system based on freely exchanged labor.  Feudalism is addictive for those in the power seat.

The fact, though, that the Southerners had morally nefarious ends doesn’t mean that they were wrong about their means.  Constitutionally, under the 10th Amendment, the federal government probably didn’t have the right, unilaterally, to do away with slavery.  The only way to do that would have been through an Amendment — and that’s precisely what the federal government ultimately did.  It ended slavery, not by fighting the South, but by enacted the 13th Amendment and then, through brute force, dragging a protesting Confederacy back into the Union, only subject now to the 13th Amendment.  The 13th Amendment, in other words, was a tacit admission that the slaveholders’ procedural argument was the correct one.

What this means is that, if reenactors want to hide behind states’ rights to justify their gray uniforms in the 21st Century — that is, if they want to say that they believe in the 10th Amendment — they are free to do so.  That is partly honest.  Total honesty, however, would require them to acknowledge that way too many in the Confederacy used states’ rights — that is, they used a legitimate constitutional measure — to justify a heinous institution.  The two are separate — slavery and states’ rights — despite being combined to a malevolent end in the mid-19th Century.

This last distinction is a significant one because Ball, having made a good historical point (that slavery was a driving force behind secession, with states’ rights as the procedural vehicle), then uses it to launch a cheap and false low blow at Republicans.  Because modern-day conservatives believe in the 10ths Amendment’s literal meaning (“The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”), Ball implies that they must also somehow be allied with slavery:

It’s peculiar, because “states’ rights” has become a popular refrain in Republican circles lately. Last year Gov. Rick Perry of Texas wondered aloud whether secession was his state’s right in the aftermath of laws out of Congress that he disliked.

As I said, this is a cheap shot.  That the Confederacy used the 10th Amendment (which occupies a significant position as the last amendment in the Bill of Rights) to justify an evil institution does not invalidate the Amendment itself.  To hold otherwise degrades both the Constitution itself and political debate with the United States.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

Resist the urge to savage Christine O’Donnell regarding her understanding of the 1st Amendment *UPDATED*

Two of my absolute favorite political writers, Peter Wehner and Jennifer Rubin, have chastised O’Donnell for her recently reported constitutional error.  I think that, perhaps, they’re being unfair.  It’s clear from reading the news reports that the Constitutional portion of the debate was intended to be a pile-up on O’Donnell:

Also during the debate, O’Donnell stumbled when asked whether or not she would repeal the 14th, 16th, or 17th Amendments if elected.

“The 17th Amendment I would not repeal,” she said, before asking the questioner to define the 14th and 16th amendments, adding: “I’m sorry, I didn’t bring my Constitution with me.”

The 16th Amendment allows Congress to raise taxes without apportioning them among the states or tying the taxation to Census results. The 14th Amendment grants citizenship to everyone born in the United States. The 17th Amendment established direct election by popular vote of two U.S. Senators to each state.

I’m a lawyer and, beyond the 1st ten Amendments, plus the 13th and 14th, I too would have trouble nailing any given Amendment’s substance just by numerical reference.  Knowing the Constitution and “speaking the code” are two different things.

As for O’Donnell’s alleged ignorance about the 1st Amendment, I wouldn’t be too hasty.  I haven’t heard the audio from the debate, so I don’t know how exactly it played out.  I’m inherently suspicious of the media’s spin on it, though, simply because I know that they want to paint her as an uneducated hick, unsuited to higher office.  The context was that Coons was pushing the Leftist view, which is that the 1st Amendment essentially outlaws religion in any aspect of public life, leaving it to exist only within the four walls of the Church (or synagogue or temple) or the home.

Coon’s view, although the media heartily approves, is manifestly wrong.  The First Amendment’s carefully phrased language was intended to keep the federal government from establishing a state church, akin to the Church of England that had so recently controlled the colonies.  For those who didn’t worship at its altar, the Church of England still required taxpayer funding and it seriously restricted access to politics, employment and education.  The Founders wanted to ensure that American citizens wouldn’t never be forced to worship in a centralized government faith — or, worse, be penalized for refusing to so worship.  This is a far cry from outlawing faith entirely, which is where Coons is going.

Further, that same carefully phrased language was intended to ensure that local governments could, if they so desired, establish a faith:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion….”  (Emphasis mine.)  That emphasized phrasing makes it plain that other governing bodies can make laws respecting establishment of religion.  And indeed, at the time the Founders enacted the Bill of Rights, several of the States did have official churches.

If you doubt this, contrast the 1st Amendment’s language with that in the 2nd Amendment.  There, the Founders made plain that no governing entity, whether federal, state or civic, could pass any law limiting arms:  “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.”  The 2nd Amendment is one example of passive voice being a good thing.

O’Donnell clearly understands the way in which the 1st Amendment was intended to work — and it’s entirely possible that, in the context of the debate, she was still laboring over these substantive  ideas when Coons, conversationally, threw out his constitutional quotation.  That would explain O’Donnell’s confusion.  Context is everything and, until I hear what happened there, I reserve the right to question the MSM’s reporting.

Even if the MSM is correct, though, that O’Donnell didn’t remember the precise phrasing in the 1st Amendment, the situation between the two candidates, Coons and O’Donnell, is still unequal.  When it comes to the 1st Amendment, Coons knows what it says, but doesn’t get what it means; O’Donnell gets what it means, but doesn’t know what it says.  And given a choice between the two, I’d always take the one who understands the Constitution, rather than the one who parrots it mindlessly and twists it to Marxist ends.

UPDATENeo-neocon caught the same fallacies in both Coons’ and the MSMs’ approach to the First Amendment.  And I should have known Rush would get there first.

UPDATE IIO’Donnell expounds upon her accurate understanding of the 1st Amendment.