Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Huppke, in his frustration, abandons logic in yesterday's column about the tragic killing of nine innocent people in Charleston last Wednesday. He thinks politicians are being disingenuous in their response to these murders. Huppke asserts they are shedding "Crocodile tears." Let's take a look at the Tribune columnist's argument and see if it holds water.
--Huppke-- 30,000 gun deaths in the U. S. each year
Huppke sees a similarity between the criminal, often gang-related shootings that account for large chunks of the 30, 000, or so, deaths each year in our country and the shootings in Charleston that took the lives of nine black people who were engaged in bible study in a church. The similarity? The weapon used in all those deaths is some type of gun. In Charleston, it was a .45-caliber Glock pistol.
Huppke calls Hillary Clinton's response to the Charleston shootings meaningless, when she said: "We can have common sense gun reforms that keep weapons out of the hands of criminals and the violently unstable while respecting responsible gun owners."
In an effort to be bi-partisan in his criticism, Huppke cites Ted Cruz for cracking a joke in Iowa about gun control: "You know the great thing about the state of Iowa is, I 'm pretty sure you all define gun control the same way we do in Texas-- hitting what you aim at."
As to the Cruz joke-- if it was said in the context of Charleston, and I don't know it was-- well then, it might have been in bad taste-- hardly a "Hanging offense," among presidential candidates.
As to Clinton's statement, there is nothing wrong with it-- it crystallizes the problem facing law makers on the issue of gun control. Life is a series of trade-offs and Hillary's statement recognizes we need to balance a variety of benefits and costs when we assess the efficacy of proposed gun control legislation.
--Huppke: the politicians don't give a damn about the gun deaths
But, to Huppke, such balancing of trade-offs and having a sense of humor mean that Clinton, Cruz and all the other politicians "Don't give a damn" about the 30,000 lives lost annually as a result of gun crimes. Or, at least, they don't care enough about the deaths, says Huppke, to take on "the people who cherish guns as a hobby or who fetishize the Second Amendment [of the U. S. Constitution]. "
This reporter sympathizes with Huppke's frustration. I reminded State Rep. Christian Mitchell (D-Chicago) and State Senator Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) on "Public Affairs," that innocent "Kids are dying out there," when they get caught in the cross-fire of gangbangers. As this reporter said to Senator Raoul, "Kids are going to a slumber party on the South Side of Chicago, in Englewood and even in Hyde Park and they are not making it through the night." [Watch State Rep. Mitchell with Berkowitz at 12:26] ; [Watch State Sen. Raoul with Berkowitz at 14:10]
I was critical of Rep. Mitchell for dithering by doing studies of judicial penalties for gun violence to determine if the judges "Were throwing the book" at gun toting felons. I was critical of Senator Raoul for taking too long and not doing enough to radically improve the deterrence of illegal firearm use coming out of our criminal justice system. I was critical of both for not acting on what Barack Obama, quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, called the "Fierce Urgency of Now."
So, this reporter concedes some of Huppke's passion is needed on this matter. But, Huppke needs to write and think with precision, logic and skill-- not with wild abandon-- as he tries to identify solutions to America's gun deaths, including the tragedy in Charleston.
--Huppke's proposals to reduce gun deaths.
In order to significantly reduce the 30,000 gun deaths each year, Tribune columnist Huppke says we should:
--Restrict access to guns,
--Limit ammunition sales,
--Make the penalty for possessing, selling or giving away an illegal firearm astronomical and
--Spend a lot of government money on bolstering the mental health care system.
Let's take a look at Ruppke's proposed solutions.
--Restrict access to guns?
Well, we have done a lot of that over the last half century and we may have reaped considerable benefits. We have raised the costs to acquiring a gun by those with a criminal history, as well as to those without. Background checks have helped here. And, we might yet plug some holes in those background checks.
But, a great deal of future benefits from further, indiscriminate, large scale attempts to restrict gun access? That seems unlikely. This is the kind of investment that probably gives you 80% of your benefits in the first 20% of your investment. The rest of your efforts produces a slow, trickle of benefits with relatively high societal costs. We have obtained most of that trickle already. There won't be much additional bang for your buck, here.
However, this reporter would listen if Huppke would make a logical argument. He doesn't even try.
Also, this reporter doesn't think Huppke will persuade many to join him by arguing the 2nd amendment is a "Fetish." The right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. says the 2nd Amendment. Those are strong words-- The right to possess and use firearms for self-defense has stood the test of time-- 223 years.
Would Huppke also call the 1st Amendment-- the right to free speech yet another "Fetish." The 4th amendment right to be protected from searches by government without a warrant-- yet another "Fetish?"
I hope not. The U. S. Constitution is not a collection of fetishes. It is the bulwark of the protection of individual rights and the schematic by which our country is governed.
We could pass some laws limiting sales of ammunition, to each customer, that might even be constitutional. But, would they really raise the costs substantially to criminals or nuts like the Charleston killer? Doubtful.
We live in a free country with free markets. You can make something illegal. But that seldom prevents all access to the illegal product and often doesn't even raise the cost enough to significantly deter access or use of the product.
Has Ruppke heard of Prohibition? Marijuana? Cocaine? Meth?
--Make the penalty for possessing, selling or giving away an illegal firearm astronomical?
Astronomical? Really? So, if you execute someone for possessing an illegal firearm, what do you do to deter another individual from using a firearm to kill? Execute him twice?
The concept of marginal deterrence suggests that we legislate criminal punishments that are increasingly severe to match the increasing harmfulness to society of individual crimes.
No rational journalist would suggest making the penalty for possession of an illegal firearm astronomical. What was Huppke thinking?
--Spend more government money on bolstering the mental healthcare system?
Well, society has had a marked upward trend, historically, in government and private expenditures on mental health care. Do we have fewer crazies running around with guns? Doubtful.
But, more to the point, I am sure Rex Huppke and I could agree that Dylann Roof, the 21 year old, white shooter in Charleston, while probably not legally insane (He knows the difference between right and wrong), by most standards, is an out and out nut case.
Roof allegedly believes blacks are taking over the country and they are "Raping white women."
Roof is said to believe his killing nine blacks would start a race war, which is what he would like to see happen.
Yet he reportedly almost didn't go through with his planned shooting of the worshipers at the Charleston church because they were so welcoming to him.
Roof dropped out of school after 9th grade, was currently unemployed and his beliefs are said to be those of a white supremacist.
Now, does the above mean that spending more on government mental healthcare would have cured Dylan Roof from his nuttiness?
Could family and friends have persuaded the 21 year old Dylann Roof to subject himself to mental healthcare treatment? Should they have tried to commit him to a mental hospital?
Could we write a law, consistent with the free, constitutional society that we live in, that would have effectively prevented someone like Dylann Roof from acquiring and using a gun to kill nine innocent people?
None of these questions are easily answered, but they are the questions that Rex Huppke should have thought about before he wrote, incorrectly, that "Politicians shed crocodile tears in the Charleston tragedy."
This reporter thinks that Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz probably know some state legislators who have tried to write laws that would make it more difficult, if not impossible, for a mentally imbalanced, dangerous individual like Dylann Roof to access a firearm. They might even support such efforts. That's the work that will stop future Charleston tragedies, not writing about crocodile tears.
Writing such a law-- that is consistent with the U. S. and State constitutions and our free society-- is not that easy. Now, that's something that Ruppke could try to write that might be constructive.
Go ahead, Rex. Give it a try and write such a law. Go ahead--make my day.
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Tags: 1st Amendment, 2nd Amendment, access to guns, astronomical criminal penalties, Barack Obama, Charles Tragedy, Charleston tragedy, Chicago gun shooting, Chicago gun shootings, Chicago Tribune columnists, crime and punishment, crocodile tears, deterring gun crimes, Dr.Martin Luther King, Dylann Roof, fierce urgency of now, gun control, guns and mental health problems, Hillary Clinton, Jeff Berkowitz, kids are dying from guns, less gun control, limit gun ammunition sales, mandatory gun minimum sentences, marginal deterrence, mental health and guns, more gun control, Public Affairs, Public Affairs TV show, Public Affairs with Jeff Berkowitz, Rex Huppke, Right to bear arms, Senator Kwame Raoul, State Rep. Christian Mitchell, Ted Cruz, U. S. Constitution