Thursday, August 9, 2012

Wisconsin Sikh Shooting, Gun Control, Wade Michael Page and Profiling

When the shooting in Aurora occurred a lot of people (especially NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg) ran to the nearest microphone or blog and spoke or wrote with heartfelt indignation of their beliefs that no one needed an "assault rifle" and such things were only good for killing mass numbers of people, only the military or police should have "assault rifles" or large capacity magazines, and that those people who supported the right to own "assault rifles" had blood on their hands and so forth and so on.

These people gingerly ignored the fact that the overwhelming majority of homicides carried out with guns are done with handguns, not rifles of any kind. These people also neglected to notice the inconvenient detail that the Founders did not want an unarmed populace and an armed to the teeth military and police.

Now we just had the neo-nazi nut in Wisconsin who appears to have used a legally acquired handgun with normal capacity magazines to kill six people and wound four. The man was being monitored by certain private groups that keep an eye on noticeable hateful individuals mostly of the right-wing variety.  There is of course a legitimate question, given how the right reacts to mass murders carried out by non-whites, if whiteness as a concept needs to have the same criticism directed at it as other nationalist or racially based identities. As the United States continues to change demographically will there be other such incidents? I don't think so but you never know...

There are conflicting reports as to whether or not the FBI or other government agencies were aware of Page and his views. The slaughter caused an increase in tension with the Indian government and Indian citizens who burned US flags and said that the US needed to do more to protect Sikhs.

The Indian government rushed its consul general from Chicago, N.J. Gangte, to Wisconsin. India’s foreign minister, S.M. Krishna, said the government was awaiting the results of the U.S. investigation and he criticized the gun culture in the United States.

‘‘The U.S. government will have to take a comprehensive look at this kind of tendency which certainly is not going to bring credit to the United States of America,’’ he said.
I'm not so sure that a country which regularly persecutes Muslims and Christians and has frequent mass outbursts of horrific violence directed at those groups has any room to lecture the United States about "culture" but whatever. India's murder rate is comparable to that of the United States and the actual number of people killed is about three times higher than in the United States. And for the most part missionaries in the US don't have to worry about being burned alive by people of different religions. People in the United States don't often become so livid that a Jehovah's Witness knocked on their door, that they gather a whole bunch of friends and start pogroms against Jehovah's Witnesses. But you know how it is, everybody thinks their own stuff doesn't stink. As a NYT column cogently pointed out we simply do not live in a society that allows punishment or incarceration for bad thoughts. With only a few exceptions, you can't incarcerate people for what they might do. Page had the freedom to be a Nazi and a white supremacist. He had the freedom to think that non-whites were inferior. He even had the freedom to call for unspecified action. It's only when you either take action or make a specific threat or plan of action that the authorities can legally intervene. There are of course many sting operations that the government carries out against groups it considers to be fringe or dangerous but one man's legally justified sting operation is another man's example of an out of control Leviathan government determined to criminalize political dissent and crush opposition by fair means or foul. And even in the sting operation you usually have to DO something illegal. As the NYT column points out, there are a lot of things to take into account when we start to consider ways to prevent crime. These aren't easy questions to address. No, not by any means.

The perfect prevention of crime asks us to consider exactly how far individual freedom extends. Does freedom include a “right” to drive drunk, for instance? It is hard to imagine that it does. But what if the government were to add a drug to the water supply that suppressed antisocial urges and thereby reduced the murder rate? This would seem like an obvious violation of our freedom. We need a clear method of distinguishing such cases.
One way is to keep in mind the distinction between thoughts and actions. A traditional rule in criminal law holds that there can be no crime unless the defendant committed some act: mere thoughts, no matter how horrific, are not sufficient. Thoughts cannot be regulated; everyone has a right to think what they wish without government intrusion.
As far as the gun, again it is important to point out that the gun was purchased legally. It is not illegal to be a tattooed Nazi and own guns. You can purchase hate literature and associate, date, marry or reproduce with someone who feels the same way that you do. You can teach your children racial hatred. You can spread racial hatred through your books, audio tapes, websites, speeches, music and radio or television shows. You can unabashedly call for expulsion and/or genocide of people who don't look like you.

That is what freedom means. It's not just about the Second Amendment. It's about the entire Bill of Rights, which taken in whole, effectively indicates that you have the right to think what you want, say what you want and must be left alone by government except under very particular circumstances. If you're comfortable with the idea of getting rid of the right to bear arms are you also comfortable with the idea of government prior restraint on "bad" ideas? Or is that an assault on your freedom? I may not think anyone "needs" to listen to hate music. Do you want me deciding what hate music is? What test to purchase a gun could you devise that Page would fail and that other people would pass? Ironically this racist garbage was a Stevie Ray Vaughn fan.  Stevie Ray Vaughn was a white man who openly admitted his love for black music, performed with black musicians and who created music that spoke of peace, love and brotherhood. How does a hate rock performer idolize such a man? Again, is there necessarily any music association test we could create that would be able to predict Page's actions?

The "cost" of this freedom, bluntly, is that some people will use it for evil. There is no way to prevent this without tearing up the entire Constitution and starting anew with a radically different understanding of the proper relationship between the state and the individual. Maybe we should do that. I don't think we should. Even a much more interventionist and restrictive government can not prevent people from doing ill. So you may not like to hear that but unless you want to live in a A Clockwork Orange type of society, in a very real way evil is the price of freedom. I'm willing to pay that price. We can't un-bite the apple. Our eldil is bent and that is that.

What's your take?

Was there any way this massacre could have been prevented?

Should hate speech be outlawed? Should the First Amendment be repealed?

Should preventive detention be widely used?

Should the federal government infiltrate and destroy fringe groups?

Should handguns be banned?

blog comments powered by Disqus