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As was noted in yesterday’s Weekly Briefing, “A Tax Day sermon,” it can be a fascinating exercise to briefly contemplate just how far to the right American politics have been pushed in the last few decades as a result of the influx of big corporate money.

“In 2014, the United States is a place: in which a deranged Nevada cattle herder named Cliven Bundy can defy federal law and be transformed overnight into a far right celebrity, in which the party of Lincoln in one of the stronghold union states of the Civil War can vote to explore secession, in which conservative religious groups who claim to follow the teachings of a humble and un-propertied carpenter can champion tax cuts for the rich and in which North Carolina — one of the old confederate states that has made such great headway in escaping its dreadful and reactionary past – can roll back several decades of painstaking progress toward modernity in as many months.”

Here’s another rather amazing indicator: the nation’s disastrous abandonment of the settled meaning of the Second Amendment. In his new book, “Six Amendments: How and Why We Should Change the Constitution” (an excerpt of which appeared recently in the Washington Post) retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (a 1975 Ford appointee) proposes returning the Second Amendment to its long-settled meaning by adding five words (italicized below) so that it would read:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms when serving in the Militia shall not be infringed.”

Stevens’ proposal makes obvious sense and the fact that we would have to go to such trouble shows just how far out of hand things have gotten. Here’s another amazing indicator from Stevens’ book of our mass, national departure from common sense: a quote Stevens attributes to former Chief Justice Warren Burger — another conservative Republican. This is from Stevens’ book:

“When I joined the court in 1975, that holding was generally understood as limiting the scope of the Second Amendment to uses of arms that were related to military activities. During the years when Warren Burger was chief justice, from 1969 to 1986, no judge or justice expressed any doubt about the limited coverage of the amendment, and I cannot recall any judge suggesting that the amendment might place any limit on state authority to do anything.

Organizations such as the National Rifle Association disagreed with that position and mounted a vigorous campaign claiming that federal regulation of the use of firearms severely curtailed Americans’ Second Amendment rights. Five years after his retirement, during a 1991 appearance on ‘The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour,’ Burger himself remarked that the Second Amendment ‘has been the subject of one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word ‘fraud,’ on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.’” (Emphasis supplied).

To which all a caring and thinking person can add is: “Amen (and amend).”

Independent mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg announced a group that he co-chairs will spend $12 million in a gun control ad campaign that will begin next week.   Mayors Against Illegal Guns is targeting vulnerable US Senators in advance of a likely floor vote in April.  The group is focusing on states where it believes it can have the most impact on the upcoming vote.   US Senator Kay Hagan (D-NC), is among a group of 15 targeted  by the campaign.

The Mayors group has a three point legislative platform:

  1. Require a criminal background check for every gun sold in America
  2. Ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines
  3. Make gun trafficking a federal crime, with real penalties for “straw purchasers”

In a radio interview with Chris Fitzsimon in February, Senator Hagan said she was “looking at all of the proposals” on gun control.  She was non-committal on  policy options that Fitzsimon asked her about and she stressed the need to protect 2nd Amendment rights and use common sense.  Hagan ended by saying the focus had to be on policy that could “realistically become law.”

The ad campaign will rightfully pressure Senator Hagan to clarify her stated position on her website:

“Obtaining a lifetime hunting license is a Hagan family tradition, and her husband is qualified to teach hunter safety. Not only is responsible gun ownership a part of the fabric of North Carolina, but it is also a fundamental constitutional right. Senator Hagan is a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights, and will fight to ensure law-abiding citizens are not restricted in their right to bear arms.”

Her constituents deserve to know her position on criminal background checks and assault weapons and magazines, now, not when the vote comes to the US Senate floor.

 

 

Demand a plan on gunsNew York’s legislature appears to be making some modest progress on complying with the Second Amendment’s demand for a well-regulated militia. According to news reports, state lawmakers have reached a bipartisan agreement with Governor Cuomo to further restrict assault weapons and make it harder for persons with mental illness to commit murders. Good for them.

Meanwhile, here in North Carolina, a handful of local mayors held a press event yesterday to endorse the eminently sane demands of the group Mayors Against Illegal Guns that a plan be crafted to address the nation’s absurd gun-related murder rate.

Finally, if you’re looking for a common sense explanation of what’s at-stake, how truly modest the demands and objectives of the pro-militia regulation forces are and how utterly insane some of the troubled folks are on the other side, take a few minutes to watch Jon Stewart explain it all. Click here for Stewart’s powerful video from last week.

It’s fair to say that when Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner wrote in Moore v. Madigan (previewed here last week) that Second Amendment protection extended to the right to armed self-defense in public, he didn’t anticipate the horrific massacre in Newtown just days later.

But that doesn’t make his words any less offensive, says Garrett Epps, a former reporter for The Washington Post and now professor at the University of Baltimore and author of  a new book called Wrong and Dangerous: Ten Right Wing Myths About Our Constitution.  Writing in The Atlantic this morningEpps likens Posner’s words in that opinion to those used by Justice Antonin Scalia in earlier U.S. Supreme Court cases dealing with the Second Amendment:

Neither the Supreme Court nor the Seventh Circuit displays the slightest concern for the real-world effects of [their] decision[s]. Instead, what matters is a kind of airless, abstract reasoning. To Justice Scalia, it is clothed in the garb of history; to Posner, it represents “pragmatism.” In fact, that callous indifference to consequences — ahistorical and unpragmatic — disfigures both the Supreme Court’s Second Amendment cases and reveals a flip attitude toward the problems of those who must live their lives outside federal courthouses surrounded by metal detectors and marshals.

Both men, Epps continues,  have evolved into the judicial version of “grumpy old men” with little consideration for the real world impact of their decisions:

More and more, the right wing of the federal judiciary is behaving like the nasty old uncle at the family dinner table, grumbling about how stupid young people are today. Why do they need medical care, or contraception, or protections from sexual violence, or anti-smoking efforts, or gun control? We didn’t have any of that stuff when I was a kid, and look how great I turned out!

That avuncular growl is grating at the best of times. In a moment of national mourning, it is repellent.