Monday, March 25, 2013

Saved by Our Inefficiency

            About 50% of the readers of this blog are located outside the United States.  This particular post is directed primarily towards this audience.  It is a simple attempt to explain to the outsider how political processes in the U.S.  came to be as absurd as they now are.  But readers in the U.S. would do well to read this post as a reminder of just how we came to have the mess that we now have.
               Democracy, especially American democracy, is a very inefficient system.   And it was designed to be.  Our organs of government are so cumbersome that it is nearly impossible to make any rapid changes, especially changes in important socio-economic arrangements.  This state of affairs did not simply happen.  It was deliberately designed to be the way it is.
            In most parliamentary  democracies, a single chamber can pass bills by a simple majority vote---and they become law.  In the United States, to become law, a bill must pass both houses of Congress, and also be approved by the President.  So to make any change, a party must simultaneously control both the Senate and the House of Representatives, and also the Presidency.  Yet no shift in voter allegiance will quickly change control of the Senate, since the six- year terms are staggered, with only one third of the seats up for vote every two years. So to take control of the Senate, a party would have to win the support of a majority of voters in a majority of states---and then keep that majority for six straight years.
             But the Senate is not apportioned according to population.  Each of the 50 states, no matter how large or small their population,  gets exactly two senators.  North Dakota gets the same representation as New York.  But sparsely populated rural states are usually fairly conservative  and rarely shift their political allegiances.  If this situation weren't absurd enough,  the Senate itself has established  rules that requires a 60% vote to bring any bill to a final vote. And  even a landslide shift in voter sympathy will not usually produce an electoral result where either party controls 60% of the seats in the Senate.
            Barack Obama was elected by an overwhelming majority, and in his first two years, his party had a majority in both houses.  But they did not quite have a 60% super-majority in the Senate.  So the Republican minority in the Senate was able to block most significant legislation, and very little got done.  Then, in two years, the Republicans rode to victory in the House, riding a wave of voter anger.  What were the voters angry about?  They were angry that nothing was getting done.  The same Republican obstructionists who prevented action were able to whip up resentment of the inaction which they themselves had caused, and ride it to victory.   How could voters be stupid enough to fall for such an idiotic game?   In any country, about half the voters pay no attention to government until a week before the election.  The other half pays intense attention to government, and knows exactly what's happening.  But the Republican Party was not worried about alienating  this faction because they vote for Democrats anyway.  In America, almost no one with an I.Q. higher than his sock size ever votes Republican, except for the billionaires who own and control that party.    
            In my lifetime, I have seen Democrats  strive to deliver all of the progressive things I ever thought this country needed--- universal health care,  free higher education,  fairer distribution of income, public transportation,  and much more.  All of these goals were shared by a majority of voters, but none it ever happened.  Many times, the Democrats have controlled the presidency and had a simple majority in both houses.  Yet they were stopped every time by Republican obstructionists.  The basic social safety net goals laid out by Roosevelt 70 years ago have still not become a reality, even though they are standard in nearly every country in Western Europe.  To me, this has been deeply disappointing. 
            And yet, if I could change our inefficient system, I'm not sure I would.  Why?  Because while there have been many times when good programs have been thwarted  by obstructionism,  there have also been times when some pretty evil initiatives  have been thwarted as well.   Over the last generation, the billionaires who own and control the Republican party have often had in their grasp the presidency and a slim majority in both houses.   And they advanced an agenda of unspeakable evil.  They attempted to loot and destroy our Social Security system (they called it "privatizing.")  They tried to break unions, with the goal of eventually outlawing them.  They tried to take total control of our educational institutions and turn them into right-wing propaganda machines. They tried to de-fund any government support for public health care,  so that any sick person who could not pay for treatment would be abandoned to die.  And these were just their publically  proclaimed goals.  Who knows what their secret agenda may have been?  But none of it ever happened, at least on the scale which they had intended.  Because liberals can obstruct the wheels injustice just as easily as conservatives can obstruct the wheels of justice.
            In the future, there will certainly be moments when the evil-doers are back in the saddle.  And when that moment comes, we will be well served by the inefficiency which the founders engineered into our system.  Behold; the obstructers shall become the obstructed.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Living With Guns, Part Two. A book review.

Living With Guns, by Craig R. Whitney;
A Liberal's Case For the Second Amendment.
Part Two: What can be done to make living with guns safer?
            (This is the second part of a two-part review.  If you have not read Part One, posted immediately prior to this post, then please do so.) This is a long post, the longest I have ever posted, and I apologize for that. But there are some issues that cannot be explained on a bumper sticker, and perhaps that is why there has been no real discussion of this issue. I promised that I would talk about practical steps that Mr. Whitney suggests could be taken to make living in a well-armed society safer.  I intend to do that.   But before Whitney gets into the particulars of managing our relationship with guns, he lays a groundwork for that discussion by asking a few questions:  He has us consider first, just what is the level of violent crime, and is this rate getting better or getting worse? And to what extent, if any, do stricter gun laws lead to less gun violence?  Do restrictive guns laws actually change the availability of guns to criminals?  Are there factors other than gun availability that determine the probability of violent crime? If so, what are those factors and can we do anything about them?
            Most people today assume that we are drowning in violent crime---that society is disintegrating in a spiral of chaos and violence.  But this not really what's happening.  Violent crime in the United States has been falling sharply since the 1990s, and by 2009, violent crime had reached the lowest level since the 1960s.  In New York City there were 536 murders in 2009, compared to 2,262 in 1990.  But then why does the world seem so violent, if life is really getting safer every year? Perhaps what we are really seeing is more efficient media coverage.
            It would seem that we are trying to choose between having the freedom of fewer gun restrictions--or having the greater security of living in a world where gun possession is severely restricted.  Yet, according to our best statistics, just how much security do we actually get from more restrictive gun laws?   I know this will seem a bit counter-intuitive, but according to the statistics which Whitney presents, the answer in most cases is none whatsoever.   Of course, if you could magically make all guns disappear, there would be no gun violence at all.  No one disputes that.   But passing gun laws does not make guns disappear-- any more than prohibition made alcohol disappear.   Whitney says that it's true that Massachusetts, where gun laws are extremely strict, has a lower murder rate per 100,000 residents than Georgia or Mississippi, where laws are lax.   But the Massachusetts rate is about the same as Vermont's, which has no statewide gun laws at all, and twice as high as Utah, where laws are quite  lax.  Chicago banned handguns in 1982, but the murder rate and crime rate rose steadily in the years after 1982.  The murder rate with handguns in 1983 was 9.65 per 100,000 residents, but by 2008, with the ban in effect, it was 13.88.   (Even though crime rates across the country were dropping throughout most of that period. ) In the District of Columbia, the homicide rate rose in the 80s after the district banned handguns, and rose more than it did in 49 other comparable cities. In 2008 in DC, the rate was 31.4 per 100,000. (In his dissent in Heller, Justice Breyer acknowledged these numbers, but backed the ban anyway.)  New York City also has a very restrictive policy on handguns, and their handgun homicide rate was only 6.3 per 100,000.   Yet in Austin, Texas, where nearly everyone can have a handgun, the rate was only 3.1 per 100,000.
            In considering guns deaths, Whitney points out that a clear majority of those who die by gunfire pull the trigger themselves.  In 2007, of about 30,000 gun deaths, 17,352 were suicides, 12,632 were homicides, and the rest were accidents.  Whitney doesn't mention it, but even some of the "accidents" are surely suicides.   If a person is from a religious background that does not allow suicide, that person may attempt to spare his family embarrassment by staging an accident.  If he lays out some gun-cleaning equipment before blowing his head off, the coroner will probably look at the gun cleaning stuff and say,  "He must have had an accident while cleaning his gun."  The coroner knows perfectly well that shooting yourself in the head with a bolt action rifle is not all that easy, but why make trouble?  If it appears that there was no second party involved, then why not call it an accident?  Why embarrass the family and add yet another level of heartbreak?  But are gun suicides part of a gun problem, or part of a suicide problem?  In looking at gun deaths, should we even include the numbers from suicides?  Surely, if someone has decided to leave this troubled life,  there are a variety of other ways to do it.   And the gun homicide rate itself is in a steep decline, from 12,632 in 2007, to 8,775 in 2010.  Whitney says that no one really knows why this decline is occurring, though there is no shortage of people trying to take credit for it.  Success has many fathers.  Perhaps it's because  the use of certain drugs, especially  crack cocaine,  peaked a few decades ago and has declined ever since.  Perhaps, with the graying of  America, there are simply fewer young males around, and it is young males who commit most of the violent crime.   Perhaps, with longer sentences and higher incarceration rates, most of the people likely to commit a crime are already in prison.  There are many possible explanations, but no one really knows.  
            Whitney says that if you compare the total death rate from firearms in the U.S. to other developed countries,  our rate is double or triple the rate in most European countries, where gun ownership is more tightly restricted. But only slightly over half of our homicides are from guns--and our non-gun homicide rate is also triple the European rate.  So, put simply, we have more murders because we have more murderers.  There may be many reasons why life in America is not comparable to life in Europe:  We have a younger society with more young adult males.   Also, Americans tend to be more aggressive--in business, in sports, and in all aspects of life.  Violence is a form of aggressiveness.  And we have a long history of violence.   Americans have historically committed non-gun homicides at a rate higher than the total homicide rate from all causes in Europe.  Yet Whitney points out that in post-Soviet Russia, the homicide rate is much worse than ours even though there is no place on the planet where private citizens have less chance of being  allowed to have a gun. In short--it isn't just guns.            
            So, what can be done?   We now have in place a system called the National Instant Background Check (NIBC).   Before selling anyone a gun, every licensed gun dealer is required to ask the NIBC data base whether the buyer's name is on a national list of felons, fugitives, mentally unstable persons, drug addicts, suspected terrorists, and others who are forbidden to buy guns.  The dealers all cheerfully comply, but the system doesn't always work. When Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, he had obtained the 9mm Glock and the Walther .22 pistols legally.   He cleared the background check because no one had yet put his name on the list. There are only 22 states that require that information about mental health status be reported to the federal data base, and Virginia is one of those states. But Virginia law did not clearly require the reporting of  people like Cho, who had been ordered into an out-patient  treatment program, but not actually committed to an institution.  Had he been reported, he never could have legally purchased a gun.  And consider the case of Jared Loughner, who killed six people and wounded 13 others, including  Representative Gabrielle Giffords.  Loughner had been suspended from Pima Community college and told he could not return until he had a health exam certifying that he was not a danger to himself or others.  He had tried to enlist in the Army but was rejected for drug use.  Yet he had no trouble buying guns because his name was not on the list.  Both the college and the Army had information about Loughner that should have disqualified him from purchasing guns, but no one reported this information to the database. 
            There are many people who, in their professional capacity, might have information about individuals who should be kept from having guns.  School officials, health care professionals, social workers, police personnel,  or anyone employed in the criminal justice system might all occasionally  have such information.   But under present law, it is not at all clear who is required to report this information.   And some professionals, due to privacy laws, are not even sure they are allowed to divulge such data, and are afraid they could be sued if they ever did.  And since most have never made such a report, they would probably not know how to do so if they ever needed to.   They only people  that federal law clearly requires to be reported are those who are involuntarily committed to an institution.  But what of those who voluntarily commit themselves?  No one really knows. 
      Each state has its own regulations as to how names can be added to the NIBC. In my home state of Iowa, the regulations are so cumbersome as to render the NIBC nearly useless.   According to our local sheriff,  60% of those now held in the county jail are either in need of treatment for mental illness or being treated.   They are in jail because of criminal behavior, usually violent, resulting from that illness. When there are released, since they have a history of mental problems and also violent behavior, the police personnel would really like to see their names added to the NIBC database, but this won't always happen.  In Iowa, adjudication is required to do this.  The police must first objectively prove to a judge, in open court, that the person is dangerous.  This is a difficult, cumbersome, and expensive process, so in most cases, this is not going to happen.   When most of these violent mental patients are back on the street, they will still be free to legally purchase weapons.  Those who do end up on the NIBC  list will do so as part of a court approved plea bargain agreement.  A better solution would make it easier  to put a name on this list, but still with an appeals process for getting off the list if the person believes  that he doesn't belong on it.  I think that any mental patient  convicted of committing an act of violence should be on the list automatically.
           The NIBC works when it's used.  But to be used widely enough to do any good, federal law will have to clarify just who and what has to be reported and who is required to do the reporting.   Such a law will have to indemnify any and all such reporters against privacy law suits.  And all the above named professionals will have to be informed of their responsibility  to initiate  these reports.  But in many states, the state laws will have to be changed to make it easier to actually add a name to the NIBC data base.   And  in any kind of mental competency hearing,  there would be an adversarial process involving testimony from mental health professionals.  These people are highly paid specialists, so any such proceeding is going to cost money, which brings up another problem. Whitney says that even the system we have would work better than it does if it weren't for budget cuts.   But in this age, where any kind of government expenditure is attacked as a form of waste,  don't expect to see improved funding anytime soon.  
     One of the main things we pay taxes for is security--that's what the Army and Navy are all about--and we hand them trillions.  We also spend massive amounts of tax money maintaining courts and prisons.  We do all of this in the name of security.  Yet the relatively small amount that would be spent to improve mental health treatment and to track persons needing that care would be infinitesimal compared to trillions we now sacrifice on the altar of security, yet this would yield  an immediate improvement in our safety.
            But even if cost were no problem, there are other problems that we will have to sort out.  For instance:  Should those professionals making reports to the NIBC be able to do so anonymously?   If not, then no one is likely to make such a report.  Why?  Suppose that you are college teacher who notices that one of your 22 year old male students had started mumbling death threats---something about killing all his enemies.  Assume that this student weighs 225 lbs and is mostly muscle, and could easily kill you whether he has a gun or not.  If your name is on the report, then you have become one of his enemies--and he will surely come back and kill you.  So all reports will have to be made anonymously or the system won't work.  Yet the right to confront our accusers in open court  is fundamental to our entire system of law.  And once a person is placed (perhaps erroneously) on the list of prohibited buyers by reason of mental instability, would there ever be a way to get off that list?  There would be an obvious potential for abuse here, especially in the case of reports made by officials who over-react, or who are simply  vindictive petty bureaucrats.  The NIBC could become a "black list" that could ruin people's lives unless a fair and simple appeals process is in place.  The NIBC could work, and would save many lives if it did.  But there are many, many things that will have to be sorted out to make it work fairly and efficiently.
            After discussing ways we might more effectively keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, he then discusses a few other factors, to which I'll return later.  He then proceeds to talk about the legal thinking underpinning of our guns rights, and then spends a hundred pages exploring the minutia of keeping criminals from legally buying guns.   I won't attempt to summarize  or even characterize this section.  It is pretty tedious reading. If you want to go into it, that would be a good reason to buy his book.  But when we start talking about ways to keep known criminals from legally buying guns, I fail to see the point.  Federal law already prohibits convicted felons from possessing guns--so any felon with a gun already has an illegal gun.  And if you were a criminal who had not yet been convicted of a felony and could still legally buy a gun, you would never use such a gun to commit a crime.  Instead, you would use your underworld connections to buy a stolen gun. Stolen guns cannot be traced.
             He does mention that there may be a problem with "straw buyers," those who buy large numbers of guns, pretending that they are for their own use, and then sell them to people who cannot legally buy them.   This may be a serious problem, and most gun owners and gun dealers would be happy to cooperate in any way they can to help solve it---provided it didn't involve gun registration.  But Whitney seems to have joined the camp who complain that the reason we haven't solved the straw buyer problem is that we don't have a federal data base that lists guns and their serial numbers alongside the names and addresses of owners.  But he bristles at the idea that this is gun registration.  But how could it not be? If you list the names of  gun owners and the serial numbers of their guns, that's what registrations is. It is true that such a data base might be useful in tracking "trafficked " weapons.   But over the last forty years, the apostles of registration and their acolytes have been endlessly inventive in finding new excuses for new registration schemes.   Every few years we hear of another peril we could be rescued from if we could only have a teensy weensy bit of registration.
            On page 159, Whitney take a novel tack.  He notes that cars have become much safer over the years, what with air bags, anti-lock brakes, etc.  So perhaps a government research effort could make guns safer (by designing guns that could not discharge accidently.)  Of course,  for that to work, the department involved would have to collect and store a lot of data.  But the NRA, those scoundrels,  and their friends in congress won't let this happen because they say it's just another way to get registration.  Well, Duh! 
            Precisely what, Mr. Whitney, would such a research project discover? If you want a safe gun, I suggest you buy a Browning 9mm  Hi-Power automatic.  Originally introduced in the 1930s, this weapon was the preferred police pistol in most of Europe, and the pistol of choice for self-defense by knowledgeable consumers in the U.S.    If my information is correct, this pistol has a "4-way" safety system. Besides the regular safety lever, this pistol has a clip safety. If the clip is not inserted, It will not fire.  It also has a hammer safety.  When the hammer is cocked, it cannot release unless the trigger is pulled.  If this pistol is dropped on the hammer, it will not fire.  In fact, you could pound on the hammer with a tire iron till it broke off and the gun would not fire. And it has one additional  safety mechanism whose exact function I will not attempt to explain.  The 4-way safety is one of the reasons  why this accurate, reliable handgun was the choice of police departments and  informed consumers everywhere   for 50 years.  These safety features were also available on the Walther PP, also a police pistol, ever since the 1940s. The point is, we already know how to build guns that cannot be accidentally discharged--and have known it for over 70 years.  Mr. Whitney,  if someone has persuaded you that this would be a valid research project and not merely a subterfuge to obtain a foothold in gun registration, then they have played you for a sucker.  Sorry.
            Mr. Whitney begins his book by explaining that the debate on gun control has become so acrimonious that neither side listens to the other.  But by page 160, he has begun a series of ad hominem attacks on the leadership of the NRA.  If we want an honest dialog, that's not how to get there.  The reason Mr. Whitney does this is that he cannot bring himself to take seriously the stated motives of the NRA leadership when they try to explain why they cannot support any kind of gun registration.  They assert that any such data base, once created, would go on forever, and sooner or later, some ambitious general or politician might be tempted to seize power in a coup because the normal deterrent to such coups, a massively armed civilian population,  would no longer be a potent threat.  This would be true because once you have a data base listing who owns which guns, it's a simple matter to confiscate them all.  Whitney quotes Chris W. Cox, head of the NRA's lobbying branch.  After Senator Frank Lautenberg introduced the "Preserving Records of Terrorist And Criminal Transactions Act,"  a gun registration scheme that supposedly  had something to do with fighting terrorists, Cox issued the following statement to members: [Emphasis in the original]
            "The truth is that this legislation would effectively create a NATIONAL GUN REGISTRATION system. And if this bill becomes law, it could set the stage for gun-banners to achieve their ultimate goal---confiscation of our firearms and the end of the Second Amendment.   Under this national gun registration scheme, your, name, personal information, and gun purchase records will be stored in a centralized database where it can be accessed by countless government officials in Washington D.C. and across the country."   Cox concluded, " Throughout history, freedom-hating tyrants have used gun registration as the key first step in their march to disarm law-abiding citizens.   In fact, there is NO OTHER REASON for the government to know which citizens own guns, and which guns they own."
            Many people, when reading this statement, would think, "Oh My God!" They're even crazier than I thought---they think Obama is about to take over the country in a coup."  No.  Forget about Obama.  This argument was going on before Mr. Obama was born, and will still continue long after his grand-children have died of old age.  Those who defend Second Amendment rights are not just concerned with immediate threats---they are focused on the long arc of history. But sometimes what we do in the here and now can affect our long term condition.   And we liberals ought to know that.  We oppose nuclear power because it will create waste that will still be lethal tens of thousands of years from now.  We want to convert away from burning coal because even though coal is cheaper in the near term, it could trash the planet a hundred years from now.  Yet when confronting the views of gun owners, we assume that since most of these people are blue collar people, they have no long term goals beyond where their next six-pack in coming from.  Let me tell you something:  For 20 years, I was on the negotiating committee form my local union.  The "suits" on the other side of the table only talked about things that might make them a quick buck this year.  It was on my side, the blue collar side, where we worried about keeping the industry alive for our children and grand children. 
            The American blue collar worker views the world through a longer time frame than about anyone on the planet.   One gun owner I once knew put it this way:   "If they take my gun rights, they are not just taking them from me---they are taking these rights from my children and grand-children.  I'm not sure I have the right to let them do this.   Why would I have the right to force my grand-children to live with the kind of hazard that comes with a disarmed society--a society where only the army and the police have guns?  There was a movie about a country where only the police and army had guns--- Schindler's List.  But in America,  we don't have to worry about that .  The founders gave us a precious gift that frees us from all that brutality---it's called an armed citizenry.  Yet it only works if that citizenry is armed continuously, massively, and anonymously.   But it does work---it's worked for two hundred years and it will work forever if they quit tinkering with it. "
            But Whitney cannot bring himself to accept that the real concerns of the NRA leadership are precisely what they say they are---that they refuse to accept any form of gun registration because once created, such a database would exist forever, at some point down the road, perhaps 50 or 75 years from now, some "would be Napoleon" might use the database to seize all guns and impose a dictatorship.  And even if such an outcome never happens, should we unnecessarily force future generations to live in continual fear that it could happen?   But since Whitney cannot, in his heart of hearts, believe that the NRA could have these worries, he keeps looking for some ulterior motive.  So on the top of page 163,  he suggests that Mr. Cox printed his warning because "For the NRA, scaring people is how to raise money."  Hey, I don't send any money at all to the NRA, and it certainly scares the hell out of me.  And, Mr. Whitney, if it doesn't scare you, then you still don't understand most of what you've written.  You still don't get it.  There are many Americans who still don't get it, but they will after I have them read the first half of your book, and then explain to them what it means.   Unfortunately, Mr. Whitney, it looks like I'll have to explain it to you too.  The final quote that convinced me that you do not quite understand what you've written is when you say that the founders were afraid of the army, but today people seem to like soldiers, so what's the problem?   No, Craig, they weren't afraid of the army, they were afraid of the would be dictators that might someday place themselves in charge of that army.  Do you know--for a fact--that the world has seen its last Napoleon?
            The founders were educated men of the enlightenment.  They had studied history.  They knew that in Britain, the experiment with the Commonwealth democracy quickly descended into tyranny when Cromwell (the Lord Protector) disbanded parliament  and proclaimed himself dictator for life. They saw this scenario as not just a possibility, but as the natural fate of democratic experiments unless something could be done to prevent it.  And they devised a way to prevent it.   Believing  that power grows out of the barrel of a gun, they felt that the solution was to have the people armed better than the government.  If what they wanted was a system where the government would fear and obey the people, rather than have the people fear and obey the government, then having  only a tiny standing army, counterpoised against a massively armed civilian  populace  should do the trick.   Surely, there were skeptics who questioned whether it would be safe to have an armed civilian population.  Their  answer:  "It will be much more dangerous not to have an armed population."    So the "armed citizenry solution"  is what they tried, and it has worked.   For two and a quarter centuries, we have not had a single military coup.  Not one!
            Do you fully appreciate what a rarity that is?  How many countries have never been ruled by a military dictatorship.   Just off the top of my head, I can list the U.S., Canada,  Switzerland,  Australia and New Zealand.  Can you think of any others?   Don't count England.  They had the Cromwell takeover.   It was probably Cromwell that the founders had in mind when  they crafted the system which we now have.  And in the late 18th and early 19th century, most of Europe was under the heel of Napoleon.  And in the 20th century, there was Hitler, and Mussolini, and Franco.  And in Eastern Europe, there was Lenin, Stalin, and Tito.  And in the Far East, General Tojo in Japan, and Mao Tse Tung in China.  And in the Americas, no country south of the Rio Grande has escaped this fate.   From Santa Anna to Pinochet,  they have all had one dictator after another for two hundred years.   While having a good constitution is necessary, almost all South American republics started with a constitution almost identical to our own.  What they did not have is a heavily armed population.   So surviving  two centuries without a military takeover is very, very rare.  And the handful of countries that can make this claim all have one thing in common---a well armed population.
            Mr. Whitney, you have written an important book.  It will be useful in explaining  the Second Amendment.  Unfortunately, the real meaning of what you have written will escape many readers, as it seems to have escaped the author.  Let me briefly explain.
1.  The founders believed that governments could not be trusted.  Otherwise, the entire Bill of Rights would not have been needed. They knew that governments are run by human beings and we all are deeply flawed.
2.  They feared that all democratic experiments were fated to descend into dictatorships unless some way could be devised to prevent it.
3. They knew that all political power is ultimately based on force of arms.  Whoever controls the most guns controls everything else.
4. Therefore, a government would have to be "outgunned" by its people,  if that government were to be controlled by the people.  By allowing only a small standing army counterpoised against a massively armed civilian population (the general militia), they achieved this balance of power.  Perhaps "balance" is the wrong word.  It was heavily unbalanced in favor of the people.
5. For almost all of our history, the number of civilians with guns has radically  outnumbered the number of  regular army personnel.  This is a situation which still exists today, in fact, except for a time during and right after WWII, it has always existed.  We typically have one or two million in our armed services, and 50 to 100 million armed civilians, half of whom are veterans.  (At this point, some moron usually protests, "But what about the nuclear missiles and carriers?  Surely, the general militia has nothing to match that!"   Yet these strategic assets, so useful when powerful nation-states are confronting other nation-states, are worse than useless in a civil insurrection.   Imagine a conference between a rogue general who has seized power in a coup and his lieutenants:  "Sir, they are rioting in New York,  Washington D.C., and Chicago.     Which city would you like us to nuke?"    Not only would such weapons of mass destruction be useless,  the dictator would have to deploy most of his available infantry troops to surround and defend these missile sites, because if even one of them fell into the hands of the rebels, that would be unthinkable.   And the same situation would obtain for aircraft  carriers and nuclear subs.  That would all have to be ordered to stand down and return to port and be disarmed, and then be guarded forever by crack marine units.  Even tank units might be useless. In an age where one anti-tank round from a shoulder-fired rocket launcher can turn a mobile fortress into a mobile coffin, tanks can no longer be depended on for controlling rebellious populations.   Right now, civilians have no such rockets, but if even one army unit defected, then they would have them.  In short, in a civil insurrection, battles are fought street by street, building by building.  The only real asset is infantry---boots on the ground--guys with rifles.) 
            Mr. Whitney,  many non-gun owning liberals today say that they must put up with the risk of gun crime, yet since they do not hunt or target shoot or have guns for self-defense, they get no positive benefit from the Second Amendment.  I would say:  Did some jack-booted Gestapo squad kick your door in at 4 AM this morning and drag you to an interrogation center and slowly rip your fingernails out?  No?  Did this fate happen to your parents or grandparents? Has it happened to anyone you know? Then you have already benefited from the Second Amendment.  Do you think such things could never happen in this country?  That's exactly what the people of Chile thought before Pinochet.   The founders had no illusions that, once plunged into a dictatorship, the general militia would quickly rescue us.  Actually, it would trigger a civil war that might go on for a century.  Large numbers would be killed, including the perpetrators of the coup.  It was not a very good remedial strategy---but it was an excellent a deterrent strategy, much like the nuclear standoff of the cold war.  It was mutual assured destruction. They created a doomsday machine---and it works.  We have 300 million guns in civilian hands,  and that's why your door will never be kicked down by storm troopers. But not all of those guns really protect us;  only the unregistered ones do.  Federal law not-withstanding,  many guns have been purchased recently enough that there is a paper trail attached to them. These guns give us no deterrent whatsoever, since they could be confiscated at any time.   It is only the 200 million utterly unknown guns that provide any protective deterrent at all.  Yet even the most modest gun registration scheme, over time, could shift the ratio between known and unknown guns to where the deterrent had become insignificant.  We would then have the worst of all possible worlds.  There would still be enough unregistered guns out there so that any criminal or maniac could  get one, but not be enough to make this country the unattractive takeover target which its founders intended it to be.  The founders deliberatively created a doomsday machine, designed to blow this country apart if anyone ever tampered with it.  You may not have been aware of this, but the generals who have been to the War College are very well aware of it.  
            Doomsday machines are dangerous to live around, and every now and then some well meaning  fellow says, "Gosh, this bomb is dangerous!  Let's de-fuse it a little.   Let's have just a little registration."   The people who advise this are the most well intentioned people on earth, but I hope for the sake of their  grandchildren that they never succeed.  One of the reasons that there is no serious dialogue on gun rights issues is that the two sides operate on vastly different time frames.   One side is focused on the short term risks of a well armed society, while the other is focused on the long term risks of a disarmed society. We are on the deck of the Titanic, and one group scans the horizon looking for icebergs, possibly embarrassing ourselves by stumbling over the deck chairs. And the other side has only occasionally seen the horizon, and has never considered the risks it might contain.  Do you ever think about how extremely rare it is to live in a country that has never been under the heel of a dictator?  Perhaps you should start.