On The Anti-Gun “Weapons Of War” Talking Point

I’m moving this essay up in the queue, because while walking my dog in the rain—such rote activities like dog-walking, showering and driving often trigger “right brain” activities and inspirations—it all became clear to me for the first time.

One aspect of the argument being offered by anti-gun zealots following this school shooting that is new compared to Sandy Hook is the sudden popularity of the term “weapons of war.”  it was used multiple times at the very start of the CNN “town hall,” for example. Rep. Deutch:

But, beyond that, the best way for us to show that is to take action in Washington, in Tallahassee, to get these weapons of war off of our streets.

and…

…and the answer to the question is, do I support weapons that fire-off 150 rounds in seven or eight minutes, weapons that are weapons of war that serve no purpose other than killing the maximum number of people they can, you bet I am.

…and

And that is making sure that we take action to keep our kids and our schools safe and to get dangerous weapons of war off of our streets. That has to be our priority and we’ve got to do it now.

My interest is not whether it is a wise or good thing to ban semi-automatic weapons. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit ruled last year that Maryland’s ban was constitutional, and the Supreme Court, so far, at least, has not chosen to review it. A national ban, however, would certainly require SCOTUS assent, and my guess is that such a law would fail, and as I will continue to explain, should fail.

“Weapons of war” is nowa pejorative phrase designed to make the most popular rifle in America sound as if owning one is perverse. “Weapons of war” suggests not just self-defense, but active combat, and it certainly doesn’t mean hunting deer and rabbits. Following Sandy Hook, a lot of the anti-gun rhetoric, as from New York Governor Cuomo, involved the deceitful (or ignorant) argument that you don’t need a semi-automatic rifle to shoot a deer. This vigorous false narrative is as old as the Left’s anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment movement itself.

Thus  “weapons of war” is now the phrase of choice to persuade moderate, uncommitted citizens considering the gun controversy that it makes no sense to allow citizens to own such weapons. Hunting weapons, sure (at least until there’s a mass shooting in a school using those). A registered handgun to shoot a burglar, a rapist or a home invader?  Fine. But “common sense gun controls” can’t possibly allow citizens to have “weapons of war.”

The problem is that allowing private ownership of weapons of war is exactly what the Founders intended. The Second Amendment was devised to ensure that citizens would  not be disarmed by a government that needed to be overthrown, or, in the alternative, that some citizens wanted to overthrow, but wrongly.

The Founders were, it should not be necessary to say, revolutionaries. They believed that citizens had the right and even the obligation to bring down abusive  governments. Jefferson stated it directly in the Declaration of Independence:

“Prudence … will dictate that Governments long-established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

Jefferson was a brilliant man, and no dreamy-eyed idealist. He could not have assumed, feeling the way he did about governments, government power, and the men who come to possess such power, that governments could always be dissolved peacefully. As a prudent and practical man, he was also saying that it is unwise to seek to change a government every time it fails or disappoints, and that long-standing systems deserve the public’s tolerance, patience and forbearance. Government should be a contract of trust, and that when that trust is irreparably broken by abuses of power, the people must have the right, and must have the ability to activate that right, to demand a new form of government.

This is, of course, exactly what the 13 Colonies did. The Constitution they adopted when they began their experiment in democracy naturally and necessarily included a crucial right without which future generations of Americans would not be able to “throw off” a government whose abuse of power had become odious. That was the right to bear arms, embodied in the Second Amendment. The arms one had the right to bear had to be weapons of war, because fighting—civil war, revolution, wars of resistance—was their explicit purpose. Continue reading

Morning Ethics Warm-Up: July Fourth, 2017

Good Morning, everybody, and Happy Independence Day.

1. A minor item cross-filed under “Twitter makes you stupid and careless,” “Oh, sure, our public schools are terrific!” and “Is we getting dumber?”: Yesterday, whoever the History Channel allows to handle its Twitter account tweeted out the fact that July 3 was the anniversary of the final day of the Battle of Gettysburg, and included a picture of General…George Washington.

2. Is trolling ever ethical? When it’s pointed, clever and deserved, perhaps. Boston-based businessman and inventor V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai,  a Republican who received a Ph.D. and his undergraduate degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is running for the GOP nomination to oppose Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren. He’s running on the slogan: “Only a real Indian can defeat the fake Indian.” V.A. sent Warren a DNA test so she could prove that she’s part Cherokee, as she asserted in the past to get the benefit of affirmative action recruiting programs at Harvard Law School and the University of Pennsylvania. The Senator refused to take the test, prompting her tormentor to tweet,

“I’m deeply saddened @SenWarren refused my thoughtful (gift-wrapped) Birthday Gift: the 23&me DNA Test Kit,” Ayyadurai tweeted Sunday. “Most unfortunate! #FakeIndian.”

He then posted screenshots of the DNA test kit he purchased online.

Why doesn’t Warren just take the test? If it shows she has Native American DNA, then she’s killed an issue that has haunted her since 2012, and will continue to unless something changes. If it shows that she isn’t an “Indian,” then all she has to do is say that she was mistaken, she had bad information from her family, and regrets taking advantage of the affirmative action programs to the detriment of real minority academics. (Harvard listed her as a teacher “of color.”)

The answer is that Warren would rather claim that the Indian issue is a manufactured slur by the right, so she can continue to claim minority status and victim status. The answer is that she’s a cynical, cowardly fraud.

Warren, Hillary, Bernie Sanders, Tom Perez, Nancy Pelosi and Maxine Waters constitute the mots visible leadership of the Democratic Party.

Res Ipsa Loquitur. Continue reading

Unethical Quote of the Week: Dick Cheney

Hello, I'll be your torturer today. Now, if you are innocent, please understand, on balance this works.

Hello, my name is Skug, and I’ll be your torturer today. Now, if you are innocent, please understand, on balance this works.

“I’m more concerned with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.”

—Former V.P. Dick Cheney, giving his reactions on “Meet the Press” regarding the Senate’s critique of the Bush Administration and the CIA’s interrogation methods.

I try to be fair to Dick Cheney, whose character has been distorted beyond all recognition by his partisan foes. Sunday, however, he was apparently attempting to validate all the most terrible things anyone has said about him, as well as providing future students of ethics real life examples of ethical fallacies.

The one quoted above is the pip: so much for the jurisprudential principle that It is better that ten guilty persons escape, than that one innocent suffer.”   Chuck Todd reminded Cheney that 25% of those detained were apparently innocent. The Cheney variation: “It is OK if some innocent persons are unjustly punished as long as the bad guys get what they deserve.”

It is hard to pick the most unethical assertion, however; there are so many horrible statements to choose from. Such as: Continue reading

Ethics Bob Asks: “Did Torture Lead Us To Bin Laden”? My Answer: “So What If It Did? It Was Still Wrong.”

It's all for the best.

It’s all for the best.

The last time my friend “Ethics Bob” Stone blogged about ethics, it was way back in August, and he was writing about some guy named “Romney.” Now he’s back on the job, thank goodness, with a comeback post titled “Zero Dark Thirty: Did torture lead us to Osama bin Laden?”. And he’s ticking me off.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is Hollywood’s treatment of the search, apprehension and execution of Osama Bin Laden. The film suggest that methods of torture were employed by the CIA to uncover crucial intelligence that led to the terrorist mastermind’s demise. Torture opponents, including some U.S. Senators, are alarmed by this, and disputing the film’s account. (Imagine that: a movie that misrepresents history!) Meanwhile, conservatives, neocons, Bush administration bitter-enders, talk radio hosts and admirers of Dr. Fu Manchu and James Bond villains are citing the film as confirmation that they were right all along: torture is a wonderful thing.

I am puzzled that Bob got in the middle of this debate as an ethicist. “It worked!” and “It came out all right in the end!” are not valid ethical arguments or justifications. The first is an embrace of a pure “the ends justify the means” rationale, a favorite tool of Auric Goldfinger and Dr. No. The other is consequentialism. When ethicists and principled opponents of torture allow the issue to be adjudicated on this basis, they are surrendering their principles at the outset. “Torture doesn’t work” is a pragmatic argument, not an ethical one. If the societal consensus regarding torture is going to be determined by how much we can benefit by returning to the rack and wheel, then ethical considerations have already been jettisoned. Continue reading

Exceptionalism and the United States of America’s Grand Ethical Dilemma

Today’s morning headlines were full of violence in Syria, Bahrain, Libya, and the threat of new conflict in Egypt, as popular uprisings against entrenched dictatorships continue to grow. As the U.S. tries to somehow avoid a lead role in the international intervention in Libya, the question looms regarding its responsibility to other nations whose people yearn to be free—or at least freer. As important as what America ultimately decides to do will be for the futures of these nations, the U.S. economy, and foreign relations, something far more important is at stake. These difficult choices once again challenge the United States to affirm or reject its ideals, the very essence of what has made America what it is.

We have come to these crossroads four times before. Continue reading

“Keeping It” in Seattle: Flunking the Duty To Stand Up To Anti-Speech Bullies

Could it be time for an “Everybody Beat on Israel Day”?

Count me out. Still, there is finally an instructive example of bullies who don’t embrace radical Islam causing First Amendment timidity, and raising ethical issues too.

Seattle’s Department of Transportation sells advertising on city buses. When the “Seattle Mideast Awareness Campaign” bought space to condemn Israel’s policies with ads headlined,‘Israeli War Crimes: Your Tax Dollars at Work’ featuring a picture of children next to a bomb-damaged building,” the Department was flooded with protests by Jews and Israel supporters. Most of them were stern, indignant or argumentative, but about 25 conveyed an intention to disrupt or vandalize buses,take violent measures, or suggested that bus riders would soon be at risk.” Some examples:

  • “If you want to see how tough Jews can be, then go ahead and run those despicable ads and we’ll see who has the last word on this. If you run these ads, we will work together with our Jewish friends and others to shut Metro down.”

Home-Grown Mengeles, And What We Must Learn From Them

Josef Mengele: researcher, utilitarian, monster

We knew, or should have known, that this extremely ugly shoe was bound to drop eventually.

Last autumn, when the U.S. apologized for federal doctors infecting prisoners and mental patients in Guatemala with syphilis 65 years ago, it put us on notice that a vile and unethical cultural standard had taken hold of the American medical and scientific communities in the 20th century, one that held  it was “right” for the weakest, most powerless and most disposable of human beings to be tricked, coerced or bribed into serving as subjects for experiments that could lead to miraculous cures and treatments for the rest of the population. This–depriving human beings of their rights and lives in the interest of science—is “the ends justify the means” at its worst. But the Guatemala experiments proved that this was once flourishing and respectable in the U.S. scientific and medical research communities, so it would have been surprising if there weren’t more stories of home-grown Mengeles, and sure enough, there were. The U.S. acknowledged as much when it apologized for the Guatemalan tests. Now we have details. Continue reading

Bush’s Torture Admission, Absolutism, and America’s Survival

George W. Bush, currently hawking his memoirs, has admitted in the new book and in interviews about it that yes indeed, he approved waterboarding of terrorist suspects, believed it was legal, and moreover offers evidence that the information thus acquired saved American lives. W’s opinion on these matter are hardly a surprise, but they have re-energized the defenders of the Administration’s policies of “enhanced interrogation” and rendition of apprehended terror suspects to foreign locales where the interrogation techniques were “enhanced” even more.

“NOW do you agree with the policy?” they ask, as if the answer was obvious. “The information prevented a horrific terrorist attack on Heathrow Airport (in England). See? See?

Let us assume, just to simplify things, that everything is as President Bush represents. Waterboarding was, by some legitimate analysis, legal. The information saved American lives and prevented terrorist attacks. Do these facts mean that the use of torture—and waterboarding is torture, whether one defines it as such or not—by the United States of America was justified, defensible, and ethical?

No. I don’t think so. I believe that for the United States of America to approve and engage in the use of torture is by definition betrayal of the nation’s core values, and thus threatens its existence as the nation our Founders envisioned as completely as a foreign occupation.  I wrote on this topic in 2009… Continue reading

Unethical Post of the Month: Jonah Goldberg

In his latest post on the National Review website, conservative blogger Jonah Goldberg wonders why the CIA hasn’t had the sense to assassinate WikiLeaks founder and current renegade leaker Julian Assange. That’s right: Goldberg believes that in the national interest (for Assange has gathered and leaked massive amounts of classified information relating to U.S. military operations), the U.S. government should murder an Australian citizen without due process, a trial, or anything approaching regard for law, ethics, and human rights.

I make it a rule, in the interest of civility and respect, to control the urge to sink to pure name-calling, but really: what an idiot. And a dangerous one. Continue reading

Ethics Notes on a Busy Week

  • Sen. John McCain, who had well-earned credibility on military matters,  released a statement after the State of the Union address saying that “it would be a mistake” to repeal “Don’t ask, don’t tell” as President Obama pledged, and added…

“This successful policy has been in effect for over 15 years, and it is well understood and predominantly supported by our military at all levels. At a time when our Armed Forces are fighting and sacrificing on the battlefield, now is not the time to abandon the policy.”

John, John, John. You have, in other interviews, stated that you served with many gay soldiers who performed their duties with distinction, so the current policy continues a form of bias and discrimination without any  justification. The fact that it may be “successful” is not sufficient reason to continue a practice that is unethical, unfair, and a violation of the principles of civil rights. Success is no excuse for violating core ethical principles; one of the primary justifications for the U.S. allowing torture, an outright violation of the Declaration of Independence, was that it was “successful,” an argument you properly rejected. Continue reading