Second Amendment reality

Garrett Epps with far and away one of the better pieces I’ve read on the 2nd Amendment in a while.  Strongly asserts some important facts that are all too readily ignored in the current political debate and makes a strong case for a more sensible constitutional interpretation:

The courts have not, to date, interpreted the Second Amendment beyond the right of (in Stephens’s phrase) “owning a handgun for self-defense,” and, in fact, of owning that handgun in the home. “[W]e hold,” the Court wrote in Heller v. District of Columbia, “that [D.C.’s] ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense.” Justice Scalia’s opinion set out careful limits:

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues. Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

So throwing up our hands and proclaiming that we can’t move forward without a “constitutional fix” is a flawed response; so is responding to gun-control proposals with outlandish claims of constitutional protection. We have the Second Amendment; rather than engage in loose talk, we should look at its text carefully…

That contextual reading is quite enlightening; it strongly suggests to me that the main—indeed, almost exclusive—purpose of the amendment was, in fact, to protect the rights of states to maintain and arm militias. There’s certainly enough evidence to support an argument for some reference to personal possession—but noconvincing proof that personal possession was the main focus, or that personal possession was intended to be unqualified.

That reading makes sense in a larger context—that of the constitutional situation at the time of the Philadelphia Convention. Of all the changes the new Constitution made in the relations of state and nation, the new central government’s arrogation of power over the militia was the most radical single feature of the new system…

All told [under the Articles], the arms and the military power remained solidly in state hands, with the confederation government taking over only in the direst circumstances, and after humbly asking the states for permission.

In the Constitution of 1787, by contrast, the federal government would control virtually every aspect of war, peace, and military structure. The new Congress could declare war, raise an army, or both, by a bare majority and without consulting the states; Congress was in charge of training and arming the state militias, and could call the militia into service without state permission or even state consultation…

All told, the text lays out a stunning power grab. To much of the revolutionary generation, a standing army was the mortal enemy of freedom and self-government. Those ratifying the Constitution had vivid memories of red-clad professional soldiers—some speaking German—swarming ashore to enforce British tax laws, and then to try to crush the Revolution. Now a new government—without so much as saying “by your leave”—could create such a force at pleasure, and send it, and their own militias, to crush any state that did not obey federal ukase. That must have raised hackles from Lexington to Savannah…

That’s the context. To me it suggests that, in adopting what became the Second Amendment, members of Congress were attempting to reassure the states that they could retain their militias and that Congress could not disarm them. Maybe there was a subsidiary right to bear arms; but the militia is the main thing the Constitution revamped, and the militia is what the Amendment talks about.

I’ve devoted years of my life to studying such ideas as the “original understanding” or “original public meaning” of constitutional provisions. No matter what anyone tells you, no one (and I certainly include myself) can really know the single meaning of any part of the Constitution at the time it was adopted.

Anyone who claims that the text of the amendment is “plain” has a heavy burden to carry. The burden is even heavier if an advocate argues that the Second Amendment was understood to upend laws against concealed carry or dangerous weapons—both of which were in force in many parts of the country long after it was adopted.

Anyway, lots of good stuff in here.  And lots of good ammunition (sorry, couldn’t resist) should you ever get in a debate about the 2nd amendment.

ACA eight years later

I don’t usually post my blog to Facebook, but looks like I did 8 years ago today in honor of ACA passing.  Was pretty interested to see how my thoughts then held up:

1) Hooray!!!  This is a very big deal. This is hugely important legislation and it is damn good legislation.  Sure, it’s not perfect– what is– but it sets down a structure that can be improved upon.  Want a public option to compete with private insurers in the exchange– it can be done.  Want to open up the exchanges to all employers to start moving us away from an employer-based system– it can be done.  Want to implement more Medicare-based priced controls to drive the market– it will be done.  And, there’s a good chance these things will happen in the medium-term.  [emphasis now] This bill extends health coverage to millions of Americans who otherwise would not have it– that saves lives and makes many, many lives a hell of a lot better.  It also makes a very important start on cost controls.  This part needs some work, but the CBO estimates on cost control are pessimistic, if anything, and very importantly, we’ve got basic structures in place that make getting costs down further much more technically and politically feasible.

Well, I pretty much stand by that.  What I obviously completely failed to anticipate was ability of the Republican Party to completely hinder any improvements and even just needed technical adjustments.  Still, I’d say we’re way better off than if this bill had failed in 2010.

2) The Republican party has absolutely embarrassed themselves on this issue.  They’ve completed foregone any shred of intellectual dignity they have had.  From “death panels” to arguing about a “socialist government takeover” of medicine, their rhetoric has been absolutely absurd and intellectually incoherent.  We could have actually had a better plan, e.g., a more effective excise tax, more movement away from an employer-based system, if the Republicans did not demagogue the issue so.  Of course, in many ways, given the stunning ignorance of so many Republicans in Congress, I’m not sure it could’ve been any other way.  In his recent visit to NCSU, David Frum suggested that their might be only a dozen or so Republicans in the House who truly understand policy.  I won’t even waste but a sentence on the tea-baggers.  Talk about embarrassing– what complete and total ignorant buffoons they are (oh, and racist, too).

Uhhh, yeah, that holds up.  And they’ve only gotten worse.

4) It was an interesting development the way in which abortion, which really has nothing to do with this bill, almost brought it crashing down.  In the end, Obama’s executive order was nothing but a face-saving move for Stupak and friends to walk back from their intellectually untenable position. What I’ll take away from this aspect…the US Conference of Catholic Bishops behaved in a shockingly ignorant and immoral (yes, immoral, damnit) manner.  They were willing to sacrifice the lives of tens of thousands already-born Americans for legislation, which, in all likelihood would diminish, rather than increase abortions.  Also, the institutional right-to-life movement showed themselves to be nothing more than an arm of the Republican party.  A recent NRLC committee claimed this to be the “most pro-abortion legislation” in history.  Talk about a lack of intellectual credibility.  I actually used to be somewhat sympathetic to the pro-life movement, but they have shown repeatedly that their interests in life end at birth and that they have decided whatever is good for the Republican party is good for them.

Kind of amazing to realize that abortion politics almost sunk this bill when it is such a tiny, tiny thing of what that ACA is all about.

5) The Democrats are going to lose a lot of seats in 2010.  But not because of the health care vote.  The economy is still very weak and the Democrats are overextended after two very strong Congressional elections.  It’s inevitable to lose a lot of seats.  They would be so much worse off if health care reform had failed.  That would’ve have allowed Republicans to completely define the issue and why it failed; and showed the Democrats to be completely ineffectual.  I think I heard EJ Dionne on the radio say today something to the effect of, the only thing worse than a socialist is an ineffectual socialist.  The press and the country for the longest time has been totally focused on the process.  We’re done with the sausage metaphors!  Except this: sausage is awfully tasty.  Of course, a lot of the taste doesn’t kick in till 2014, but we’ve got some good nibbles to take effect soon (e.g., closing the Medicare donut hole; allowing young adults to stay on parents’ insurance until 26).  The Democrats can now actually defend a good solid bill, not just mythical abstractions and lies (not that the Republicans won’t keep lying, but at this point the media can be much more straightforward in rebutting lies).

Well, the Democrats did lose a lot of seats and certain political scientists to remain nameless ended up arguing that the health care vote did directly cost seats:

We investigate the relationship between controversial roll call votes and support for Democratic incumbents in the 2010 midterm elections. Consistent with previous analyses, we find that supporters of health care reform paid a significant price at the polls. We go beyond these analyses by identifying a mechanism for this apparent effect: constituents perceived incumbents who supported health care reform as more ideologically distant (in this case, more liberal), which in turn was associated with lower support for those incumbents. Our analyses show that this perceived ideological difference mediates most of the apparent impact of support for health care reform on both individual-level vote choice and aggregate-level vote share. We conclude by simulating counterfactuals that suggest health care reform may have cost Democrats their House majority.

Of course, most of those seats would have been lost for the reasons stated above, but health care does seem to have made the problem worse and perhaps worse enough to be the difference in majority control.

Anyway, obviously I’ve missed some stuff, I’d say most of what I wrote held up.  I should probably check back on myself more often.

What is it about white Americans that didn’t go to college?

Well, I’m not going to call them racist, but I will suggest they are extra-susceptible to racialized, demagogic, political appeals.  Let’s just go right back to the Pew.  And unlike Millennial women, non-college white have sure gotten Republican:

And this time I’ll farm out the commentary to Drum:

Two things happened around 2010 that could have affected voters strongly: the Great Recession and the presidency of Barack Obama. However, the Great Recession affected everyone fairly equally: high school grads saw an income drop of about 7 percent while college grads saw an income drop of 5 percent (between 2008 and 2012). There’s no special reason that high school and college grads should have reacted in violently opposite directions to that.

So that leaves Barack Obama. White high school grads saw a black Democrat in the White House and fled from the Democratic Party. White college grads saw a black Democrat in the White House and stampeded to the Democratic Party.

Note that among high school grads, Donald Trump really had nothing to do with this: they had already abandoned the Democratic Party by 2015 and nothing much changed over the next two years. Among college grads, however, the change of party ID accelerated when Trump took the stage. This suggests, perhaps, that Trump hasn’t done much to attract more white votes to the Republican Party, but he has done a lot to lose white votes. This is not good news for Republicans in 2018. As Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham so vividly said once, “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” We can hope he was right.

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