Frustrated by Charleston, Tribune columnist Huppke throws logic out the window w/his call for more gun control

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.

--Limit ammunition?

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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  • Astronomical might not be the best word for a punishment. How about hefty - say 10 years firm for possession of illegal guns. That's a long time to put someone away and sends a strong message.

  • Well, 10 years is more thoughtful than astronomical, but it still has problems. Do you mean it is a firm minimum? So, if I bought a gun from my neighbor to protect myself and a cop somehow discovered I had the gun but had no firearm owner ID card. Would that be 10 years in the pokey for me? How about the person who tried to rob somebody with a gun? 20 years? Shot somebody in the leg? 30 years? rape, 25 years? involuntary manslaughter, 5 years? murder of one person-- 40 years? involuntary manslaughter is less of a crime than possession of an illegal firearm? So, you see, you need to be aware of marginal deterrence and the whole structure of penalties. You sure you want 10 years? And that doesn't really address Charleston. Thanks for your comment, Jeff

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    Re: “Restrict access to guns,”

    Currently, there are only 2 ways to legally sell a gun in the US to a private citizen. One is a private sale between individuals (typically like between family and friends) or by a gun dealer licensed with a Federal Firearms License (FFL) from the federal BATF. Only individuals with an FFL can run a background check through the government NICS database of prohibited persons. Private citizens cannot. Note that a person can purchase a firearm online, but the physical transfer of the firearm still must go through an FFL at the seller and an FFL local to the buyer. So if you want to improve the process, you should encourage the federal government to do 2 things:

    1) Allow any small gun dealer to get an FFL without having a storefront. Currently, thanks to the Clinton administration’s effort to reduce the supply of guns, you can’t get an FFL if you want to sell guns only at gun shows (See question 18a on ATF form 5310 FFL application at As a result someone that wants to sell guns but can’t afford the inventory costs, zoning challenges and overhead of a storefront has to sell illegally or discretely at the edge of the law as a “private individual” and hence can’t run a background check. Rather than throwing these “kitchen table” sellers out of the system like Clinton did hoping they would go away, they should allow them to get an FFL and subject them to BATF rules, audits and oversight like they were before the Clinton administration let political anti-gun ideology get in the way.

    2) Give anyone free, public, anonymous online access to the NICS database. I don’t understand why a federal database of people prohibited from owning firearms can’t be available in the public domain like federal databases for sex offenders. The NICS system is really a go/no go process and no useful information has to be displayed to facilitate phishing expeditions for identity theft other than what was already known by the user making the query. It’s certainly no more revealing than the FAA’s pilot and mechanic license query system, which provides more detailed information on presumably law-abiding citizens. Once this system is implemented, you then tell private sellers if you sell or give a firearm to someone and don’t retain documented proof that says you did a favorable NICS check on the buyer, you could be held liable if they commit a gun-related crime. This would effectively close the so-called private sale loophole and still preserve the anonymity of the parties involved the same way the current background check system does now. If a private sale firearm shows up at a crime scene, the BATF follows their current procedure of using the serial number of the firearm to contact the manufacturer and ultimately the last FFL that sold the firearm to a private citizen to obtain that citizen’s name and address from the ATF form 4473 the FFL is required to keep on file. That citizen is then contacted and produces the piece of paper from the NICS background check that identifies the second private citizen who is then contacted, and so forth.

    The real benefit of this proposal is how it can help identify the illusive killer with questionable behavior patterns or mental health issues that is causing so many problems. As it stands now there is no easy, fast, non-bureaucratic method for someone to determine if a suspicious person (client, neighbor, employee, student, etc) is a potential threat to society. If someone thinks an individual could be a threat, a query to a public NICS database would at least tell him or her in a few seconds if the individual could obtain a firearm. Then, armed with that information the appropriate authorities could be notified and they could decide if it was erroneous information or whether to investigate further. As it stands now, if you tell authorities you know a suspicious person they will probably ignore you, but if you tell them you know such a person and by the way according to the NICS database he can buy a firearm, they will probably be more inclined to investigate rather than risk embarrassment later if the worst happens. The same would be true if you see a suspicious acquaintance with a firearm when the NICS query says he’s prohibited from having one. It would also help provide piece of mind and a method for victims of violent crimes to ensure their assailants either on parole or still at large have not been excluded from the database because of some bureaucratic foul-up.
    Other specific public safety issues where it would be useful are:

     allow potential victims to vet known stalkers or acquaintances under a restraining order
     allow gun clubs to vet potential members
     allow shooting ranges to vet suspicious customers
     allow mental health workers to vet troubled individuals like the Aurora Colorado theater killer
     allow resource officers and school officials to vet suspicious students like the Arapahoe High School killer in Colorado
     allow police officers to vet anyone they contact - (note the routine background checks performed by police often do not include information about firearms because they don’t directly access the NICS database)

  • JS Smith, thank you for your comment

    I think your proposal strikes a good balance between privacy and society’s interests in gun control, as it promotes more complete coverage of background checks and access to the results of same. Have you sought to see if you could generate support or sponsorship of such legislation from our Chicago metro congressmen, U. S. Senators or candidates for same, e.g., Robert Dold (10th CD), Jan Schakowsky (9th CD), Mike Quigley (5th CD), Senator Mark Kirk, Senator Dick Durbin, Senate Candidate Tammy Duckworth, Senate Candidate Andrea Zopp, etc. and Tribune columnist Rex Huppke? Jeff

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    In reply to Jeff Berkowitz:

    I don’t live in Illinois but I have contacted my Senators and Representatives about it. The problem seems to be the only lawmakers who want to bring up guns are the ones who want to ban everything and in the case of the last attempt at background checks, Senator Coburn (R-OK) had a similar, less comprehensive suggestion but Senator Reid limited the number of amendments and pulled the bill before his amendment could be proposed. On the other side, the pro-gun lawmakers feel gun owners have given in enough times to gun laws that aren’t enforced and hence only apply to law-abiding citizens so when a bad bill comes along they want to kill it rather than try to make it better. If you think it has merit and have any influence with your lawmakers who may be receptive, I’d say go for it. It would be interesting to hear the arguments on both sides of the proposal.

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    Mental health is the avenue to gun confiscation..
    It worked for the communists in Eastern Europe prior to WWII

    American Psychiatric Asso: Half of Americans are mentally ill..

    300 million prescriptions for psychiatric drugs were written in 2009 alone..
    Have You or a family member taken drugs for depression, anxiety?
    Has your child ever taken drugs for ADHD?

    Be careful what you ask for.........

  • Rich, Thank you for your comment.
    I think we are a long way from the Eastern Europe of the late 1930s, thankfully. I believe we have in Illinois some existing laws that may require or permit reports, in certain circumstances, by therapists to the State, about patients thought to be a danger to themselves or others. As a first step, we the citizens, should inquire as to what that legislation is and consider whether it can be improved. Jeff

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    "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."


    We know of no other enumerated constitutional right whose core protection has been subjected to a freestanding ‘interest-balancing’ approach. The very enumeration of the right takes out of the hands of government—even the Third Branch of Government—the power to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the right is really worth insisting upon. A constitutional guarantee subject to future judges’ assessments of its usefulness is no constitutional guarantee at all. Constitutional rights are enshrined with the scope they were understood to have when the people adopted them, whether or not future legislatures or (yes) even future judges think that scope too broad." - DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA v. HELLER (No. 07-290) 478 F. 3d 370, affirmed.

    Rights are beyond that. Get used to it.

  • In reply to Barry Hirsh:

    Barry, thank you for your comment.
    Who said anything about "Freestanding?" How about starting with the actual words of the 2nd Amendment: A well regulated Militia, being necessary in the Security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

    I don't know about you, but I don't see too many militias marching in front of my residence. So, you have to have a little finesse if you are going to construe the U. S. Constitution. A little je ne sais quoi, so to speak.

    For example, even the strongest believer in the First Amendment (and I count myself as one), and strict constructionists and originalists accept the long historical, Supreme Court precedent and doctrine that permits reasonable and necessary restrictions on Free Speech-- To wit: you can't yell "Fire" in a crowded movie theater, unless there is a fire.

    So, to, with the 2nd Amendment, there are no absolutes. Yes, under Heller, Chicago can no longer have a complete, absolute ban on gun possession or concealed carry, but it can and has set reasonable restrictions on both that have and will be upheld by the courts.

    Reasonable is a very useful word: in economics, in law and life. In all these matters, there are no absolutes. Get used to it. Jeff

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    In reply to Jeff Berkowitz:

    The prefatory (dependent) clause announces the reason the guarantee is being enumerated. THAT'S ALL IT DOES.

    It neither creates nor places conditions upon the right.

    The operative (independent) clause declares the right as preexisting, of the people, and sacrosanct.

    "Well-regulated" modifies the noun "militia", not the noun "right". They aren't even in the same clause.

    Dump that "well-regulated militia" argument.

    It's a loser.

  • JSmith,Thank you for your comment.

    Just remember that Republicans now have the majority in both the U. S. House and U. S. Senate (and Senator Reid is on his way out) so proposals for reasonable, federal gun laws that seek an improvement in the general welfare and safety and preserve the rights of those who wish to own, possess and use guns legally and safely may receive a different hearing and response than was the case last year. Jeff

  • Barry, thank you for your comment.

    But, if reasonable restrictions are permitted by the Courts of the 1st Amendment, why not of the 2nd? You don't address that.

    And haven't courts construed Heller as permitting reasonable regulation of handgun possession and concealed carry? And, so far, those restrictions have been upheld by appellate courts, right?. You don't address that, either. Jeff

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    Great article. Thanks for the info, very helpful. BTW, if anyone needs to fill out a ATF form 4473, I found a blank form here:

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