There is no Gay Marriage “Slippery Slope”


Rainbow White HouseYesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision approving gay marriage throughout the country is a long overdue recognition that everyone has a right to love and to share marriage with the whomever they like, regardless of gender.

Unfortunately, the decision has already motivated an irrational — and, on the part of some, hysterical — reaction (listen, for example, if you can stand it, to Ted Cruz) by opponents of marriage equality.

For the most part, response to these rantings would be both futile and a waste of time. However, in two respects, it is worth the time and effort to respond — these are the related claims that this decision puts the US on the path to approval of, among other things, pedophilia and polygamy.

Pedophilia

The discussion regarding pedophilia exemplifies two significant rhetorical fallacies — the so-called “slippery slope” argument and another called “moral equivalence”.

In its simplest form, the “slippery slope” argument goes like this, “if A happens, B will happen” (often with disastrous results).

However, except under circumstances where B is inevitable (which are rare), and as long as discretion can still be exercised over whether or not B will happen, the argument fails.

An example of a valid “slippery slope” argument (which will also exemplify why they are rare): “If I jump out of a 10th floor window, I will fall to the ground”. (Likely with those disastrous results mentioned above.)

On the other hand, the suggestion that “legalization of gay marriage will lead to legalization of pedophilia” is a false argument because society (through its various legislatures) still has the discretion not to legalize child molestation. And the likelihood is quite high that no legislature will ever legalize child molestation in part because of the second rhetorical fallacy here:

“Moral equivalence” is an argument that compares two things, implying that they are equal or at least similar, when in fact they are not. The significant difference between gay marriage and pedophilia is that in the former, the two participants are consenting adults who mutually desire to enter into a marriage … while in the latter, one of the two participants is a minor and therefore legally incapable of consenting to any sexual activity (and also probably mentally and emotionally too immature to make a rational decision on the subject in the first place).

Ergo, “gay marriage” is not morally equivalent to “pedophilia” and there is not logical reason to conclude that approval of the former will in any way lead to approval of the latter.

Polygamy

Similarly, the suggestion that “legalization of gay marriage will lead to legalization of polygamy” is a false argument because society also still has the discretion not to legalize polygamy.

Which is not to say that the ongoing changes in societal attitudes that have led first to acceptance of interracial marriage and now to acceptance of gay marriage will not someday lead to acceptance of polygamy … for they surely may. If they do, however, then it will be fair to say that, like gay marriage, perhaps polygamy isn’t such a bad thing after all.

As with the animosity toward gay marriage, the current strictures against polygamy are fundamentally religious in nature, albeit enforced through governmental compulsion. On the other hand, polyamorous relationships are already quite common (in the United States and other countries), even if not legally sanctioned.

Historically, polygyny (the technical name for a single male married to multiple wives), polyandry (one woman married to more than one husband) and plural marriages (families composed of multiple intermarried adult males and females) were quite common throughout the world prior to the rise of the Roman Empire and Christianity. Hindu, Jewish and Chinese history are all replete with examples of men taking multiple wives.

Polygamy is currently legal in several African and Middle Eastern countries and is acceptable in some religions other than Christianity. Muslim men, for example, may marry up to four wives (with the significant caveat that the man has to be able to care for each equally).

One historical reason (the tendency of men to get themselves killed in wars) for the acceptance of polygyny was that it helped to insure that some women and children, who would otherwise lack support, would have a man to provide for them. That historical justification is less valid today, but it remains the case that there are significantly more women than men in the world … which leads inevitably to the conclusion that if each woman is to enjoy the benefits of a legalized marriage, at least some degree of polygyny is not only acceptable, but necessary.

Separate and apart from all of that is the underlying fundamental issue of personal freedom and the right of consenting adults to enter into the romantic relationships of their choice.  If two women want to marry the same man … and he is amenable to that arrangement … it is no business of mine — and, by extension, no business of the government’s — to tell them that they cannot do so.

There are certainly some legitimate societal issues involved, most notably the ability of the polygamous family to be self-supporting, so as not to be a burden on society (see comment above re the Muslim practice). That particular imperative, however, is no more compelling with respect to plural marriages than it is with respect to traditional marriages, into which many people enter despite a lack of financial stability and responsibility on the part of the couple.

Into the Future

It is fairly clear to me that whatever change to American society results from the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision, it will not be the end of the world as we know it.  And, to the extent that it is the end of the world as we know it, we will be a better society — and country — for the change.

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In 2008, when gay marriage was a significant issue in California, I blogged extensively on the subject.  I am not so modest that I cannot observe that now both the California Supreme Court and the US Supreme Court agree with my legal and practical opinions!

My previous gay marriage blogs (which some excerpts):

https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2008/05/15/california-supreme-court-yes-on-gay-marriage/

https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2008/05/16/comment-re-gay-marriage-posted-on-slate/

“Remember these words: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.’

“I see nothing there which justifies a majority of people of any state (or, for that matter, all of the states) in denying to a minority group of people a right which the majority enjoys. Nor is there anything in the Constitutions of the United States or the State of California which would support denying people the right to join in a same sex marriage if they choose to do so.”

https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2008/05/16/will-california-gay-marriages-be-legal-in-other-states/

“… it appears to be the current state of constitutional scholarship (derisive laughter in the background) that ‘full faith and credit’ need not be given by other states to California same sex marriages.

“At least, that is, unless and until the U.S. Supreme Court steps in and recognizes that same-sex marriage is protected by the federal constitution. That court has already held in Lawrence v. Texas that homosexual sex is constitutionally protected, in the process invalidating a Texas law criminalizing sodomy. So it is, perhaps, not that big a step to full-fledged constitutional protection of gay rights and same-sex marriage.

“As an interesting (at least to me) aside, Justice Antonin Scalia, the self-styled “originalist” (his way of saying he’s a “strict constructionist” based on the “original” language of the constitution), dissented in Lawrence. Among other things, he complained that, by its majority opinion in that case, the court had:

“‘… largely signed on to the so-called homosexual agenda, by which I mean the agenda promoted by some homosexual activists directed at eliminating the moral opprobrium that has traditionally attached to homosexual conduct.’

“He also worried that the decision would undermine other state laws relating to sexual activities, including those prohibiting same-sex marriage. So much for ‘originalist’ interpretation of ‘equal protection’ and ‘due process’, never mind what little is left of ‘full faith and credit’.”

https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2008/05/17/redefining-marriage/

https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2008/06/14/randy-desoto-on-gay-marriage/

In which I responded to the following question:

“… if courts were to follow the Supreme Court’s reasoning to its logical ends, how could judges possibly uphold any state or federal law regarding private sexual conduct including incest, prostitution, polygamy, child molestation and child pornography?”

My response:

“The California Supreme Court decision held that consenting adults, even if of the same sex, have a right to marry. There is nothing ‘logical’ about extending that reasoning to such conduct as child molestation or child pornography, in particular, since neither involves consenting adults.

“The argument that this decision could lead to legalization of incest is a ‘slippery slope’ argument — there is a logical legal basis for differentiating between unrelated consenting adults and those whose degree of consanguinity would bring them within the definition of ‘incest’.

“Furthermore, the California court’s decision is based on the right of each individual ‘to establish a loving and long-term committed relationship with another person’, which would hardly seem to include the typical prostitutional relationship.

“The only one of the perceived ‘evils’ which might constitute a logical extension of this ruling is polygamy. That possibility, alone, hardly seems a reasonable basis on which to deny gays the right to marry.

https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2008/06/24/point-counterpoint-with-randy-desoto/

“… proper constitutional interpretation starts not with the question of whether a particular right is ‘granted’ in the Constitution, but whether by anything contained in the Constitution the people have specifically given the government the power to deny the right which is the subject of controversy. In short, not ‘is there anything in the Constitution which gives gays the right to marry?, but rather ‘is there anything in the Constitution which gives the government the power to deny gays the right to marry?’

“… the Constitution is silent on the subject. That being the case, proper constitutional interpretation leads inescapably to the conclusion that the people have not given the government the power to deny gays the right to marry. To the extent that the court in the precursor case of Lawrence v. Texas found a ‘new right’ to make one’s own private sexual choices, it was mistaken … not because there is no such right, but because that right has been there since the day the Constitution was ratified and is not new at all.”

https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2008/06/25/california-anti-gay-marriage-initiative/

https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2008/07/17/california-supreme-court-agrees-with/

“… there is a religious basis for objecting to gay marriage, but religion is perhaps the worst of all foundations on which to base social policy. Which is to say nothing of the fact that our government is constitutionally prohibited from doing so.”

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FLA 69

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Summary of 2nd Amendment & Gun Control Posts


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Rich Estes, one of my West Point classmates and with whom I more often than not agree on political issues, posted the following on Facebook today, saying, “… this pretty well sums up my understanding of the 2d Amendment. I’m interested to hear some rational, well informed comments, pro and con.”

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Thanks to The Knowledge Movement for sharing this...

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In response, I posted a summary of my blog posts here on the subjects of the 2nd Amendment and gun control.  Having done so, it occurred to me that re-posting that summary here might help others follow the discussion as well.  So, here it is:

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My first post on the subject was in 2008, shortly after the US Supreme Court decided in the Heller case and contrary to the interpretation contained in “What the 2nd Amendment REALLY Says”, that the “right to bear arms” is an individual right, independent of the establishment of any militia:

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https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2008/06/26/supremes-uphold-individual-handgun-ownership-right/

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After taking a long break from blogging, I resumed in late 2012.  On December 29th, shortly after the Sandy Hook murders, I wrote in part:

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“… in the absence of an amendment to the Constitution modifying its terms, the Second Amendment means that the government (federal directly and state/local through the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment) has no authority to “infringe” (per Merriam-Webster online Dictionary:  “to encroach upon in a way that violates law or the rights of another”) on the right of individuals to keep and bear arms.  Period.  Not handguns.  Not rifles.  Not shotguns.  Not even “assault weapons”, regarding which, by the way, there really is no such thing.  When the federal government passed the so-called “Assault Weapons Ban” in 1994, Congress had to make up a definition of what constituted an “assault weapon” within the meaning of the law.”

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After discussing various gun control issues, I concluded: 

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“We should not be teaching our children to live in fear.  And, as horrific as were the events in Sandy Hook, the occasional occurrence of such events is one of the prices we pay … and must pay … to live in a truly free society.”

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The full discussion is here:

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https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/what-now-for-the-second-amendment-gun-control/

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That discussion prompted a comments and questions by another classmate, Terry Atkinson, who’s opinions I value highly.  In response, I wrote a lengthy analysis of the language of the 2nd Amendment and what it meant at the time it was written:

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https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/more-on-the-2nd-amendment-and-gun-control/

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I wrote there that my own “strict construction” interpretation of the 2nd Amendment would “… exclude from constitutional protection such weapons as fighter aircraft, naval ships and weapons, artillery pieces, napalm, nukes & other bombs, as well as even such lesser weapons as 50 caliber machine guns, shoulder mounted rocket launchers, flamethrowers, hand grenades and most other military-style weapons.”

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(As a side-note, I have since come to realize that the term “military-style weapons” is a poorly worded attempt to describe the kinds of weapons used by the military.  It is probably more useful to simply use the term “fully automatic”.)

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I also concluded there that “… a strict construction of the 2nd Amendment would also require that … the mentally ill, like convicted felons, can be thought of as not having any 2nd Amendment right to be infringed by governmental action.”

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Other gun-related discussions on my blog include:

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https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/dispelling-the-myth-that-more-guns-more-murders/

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… in which I contend and explain the basis for the contention that:

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“… proponents of more restrictive gun control laws rely on a bald-faced lie to support their efforts to disarm law-abiding citizens.  That lie, of course, is the claim that possession of more guns by private, law-abiding citizens results in more violent crime and, in particular, more murders … and the corollary thereto, that reducing the number of guns in the possession of such citizens will reduce violent crime and murder.”

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This blog post motivated objections from classmate John Douglas, which led to an even more detailed discussion, which appears here:

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https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/the-advocates-for-self-government-on-guns-gun-control/

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This post includes a number of contemporary (or shortly thereafter) historical references to the meaning of the 2nd Amendment, several of which make the point that the right to bear arms is as much for protection against the government as for any other purpose.  It also includes an analysis of gun violence statistics and their meaning.

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Other posts:

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https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2013/01/19/assault-weapons-band-aid/

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… which is a discussion of why the 1994 so-called “assault weapons ban” was ineffective.

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https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2013/01/25/the-advocates-for-self-government-on-guns-gun-control/

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… for the Libertarian view of guns & control.

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https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/gun-control-and-your-right-to-defend-yourself-your-home-and-your-loved-ones/

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… regarding the use of firearms in self-defense and in cases of large-scale regional or national emergencies.

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https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/no-one-is-coming-to-take-your-guns-yet/

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… on why we should be concerned about governmental confiscation of firearms.

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https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2013/04/02/the-virtual-president-of-the-united-states-on-gun-control/

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… which discusses and links to the absolutely brilliant “Virtual President’s” state of the union address on guns.

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https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2013/04/15/trashing-the-constitution-on-hbo-bill-maher-wrong-again-wrong-again/

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… a response to Bill Maher’s claim that “the Second Amendment is bullshit”.

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https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/2nd-amendment-letter-to-the-editor-june-17-2000/

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… which reproduces a letter to the editor I wrote in 2000 regarding gun control.

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https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2012/12/30/congressman-ron-paul-is-a-voice-of-reason/

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… on Ron Paul’s Libertarian take on gun control and personal security.

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… and finally:

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https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/powerful-congressional-testimony/

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… a link to powerful congressional testimony about the 1991 Luby’s Cafeteria murders in Killeen, Texas.

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Would be happy to hear any response anyone might have to any of these discussions.

Why You Should Never Talk to the Cops


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A post today on the “Personal Liberty” Facebook page on the subject of how to interact with law enforcement prompted me to both respond there and to address the subject here.

In his interesting interview about how to respond to attempted over-reaching by law enforcement officials, Attorney Evan Nappen emphasized three responses with which I agree — invoke your right to remain silent, demand your right to speak with an attorney and never consent to anything until you have spoken with an attorney.

Expanding on those basics a bit:

Never submit to a police interview, even if you are innocent. I have seen many cases in which innocent responses to accusatory questions were twisted to make the suspect look guilty. Even statements which you believe to be exculpatory can ultimately be used against you. On the other hand, anything you say which is truly exonerating is generally not admissible in court, so you can’t help yourself by talking to the cops.

Contrary to popular belief, if the cops have enough probable cause to arrest you, you are not going to be able to talk your way out of that arrest.  And don’t even think about believing it when a cop says he can help you out if you talk to him or that you can help yourself by doing so.  The only objective of a police officer interrogating a suspect is to gain additional evidence to make proving the case easier.  Furthermore, cops have no authority to make “deals” about criminal prosecutions;  only the prosecutor’s office can do that.

Even denying that you committed any crime won’t help.  For starters, the cops won’t believe you … and the denial will not be admissible in court, so you gain absolutely nothing by making such a statement.

There are other good reasons for not talking to the cops — even if you’re innocent, you might tell a small lie or even just make a mistake, either of which can be used against you in court.  And, unless the statement is being video or audio recorded, the cop may mis-recollect or even lie about what you said.  I recently tried a child molestation case in which my client said within hearing of a police officer, “I just tickled her”, but the cop who heard the statement testified that he said, “I just diddled her”.  The statement was not recorded and the jury believed the cop’s version.  In the end, this made a huge difference in the minds of some of the jurors.  Maybe the cop mis-understood what was said and maybe he lied about it.  In either event, this damaging statement could not have been used against the defendant if he hadn’t made it to begin with.

By the way, this is true even for such simple situations as traffic stops. For example, if a cop stops you and asks if you know why, do not answer because whatever you say can be used against you if you decide to fight the ticket. If you feel coerced by his position of authority into answering, the only acceptable answer is “no”.

Because of the inherent dangers in speaking with the cops, always invoke your rights to remain silent and to speak with an attorney before answering any questions.

Never consent to anything. Without a warrant, police cannot enter your home. So, if they ask if they can come in, the answer is “no”. If they ask you to step out of your residence, the answer is “no”. If they ask you to open the door to your residence, the answer is “no”. If you’re in a vehicle and they ask if they can search it, the answer is “no”. If they ask if they can search your person, the answer is “no”.  Do not let them intimidate you into consenting, either.  Politely suggest that if they think they have grounds to conduct a search, they can get a warrant, at which point you will let them search.

If the cops have probable cause to arrest you, they will do so and you’ll have to go with them involuntarily. If they don’t have probable cause to arrest you, they cannot compel you to go anywhere with them. So, if they ask if you’re willing to go to the station to be interviewed, the answer is “no”.

Also, do not be fooled by the old, “if you have nothing to hide, you’ll talk to us” trick. If you have nothing to hide, refusing to answer questions, consent to a search or go with the cops cannot hurt you. Answering questions, consenting to a search or going with the cops can hurt you even if you have nothing to hide.

Finally, even if you’re actually guilty, don’t admit it to the cops.  There will be plenty of time later, during plea bargaining between your attorney and the prosecutor, for you to accept responsibility for your actions.  The terms of any plea agreement … and, in particular, the amount of time that you might have to spend in jail or prison … may well depend on the strength of the prosecution’s case.  So, don’t help them increase your ultimate punishment by making incriminating admissions.

So, to reiterate the primary points, never talk to the cops, always invoke your rights to remain silent and to consult with an attorney, and never consent to anything, particularly searches by the cops of your person, vehicle or residence.

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For a detailed constitutional discussion of the 5th Amendment and why you should never talk to cops, see this video by Regent Law School Professor (and former criminal defense attorney) James Duane:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6wXkI4t7nuc

For more on why you should not talk to the cops, also see this video of my KRON-TV (Channel 4) interview on June 23, 2010, uploaded on YouTube November 29, 2010. In it, I discussed the impact of the US Supreme Court case of Berghuis v. Thompkins, which was decided on June 1, 2010.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KqY2smL1oJo

Berghuis essentially held that individuals must affirmatively and unambiguously invoke their rights.  Simply remaining silent and declining to respond for an extended period of time (3 hours in this case) is not, by itself, enough to constitute an invocation of rights.

For the full text of the Berghuis decision, see:

http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/html/08-1470.ZS.html

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The “Personal Liberty” Facebook page is here:

https://www.facebook.com/personalliberty

And the article on the “Personal Liberty” webpage with the interview of Attorney Nappen is here:

http://personalliberty.com/2013/03/21/interview-attorney-evan-nappen-explains-the-moore-ordeal-and-how-to-protect-yourself-from-unconstitutional-activity/

My Facebook page is here:

https://www.facebook.com/jamest.reilly.3

Ongoing Debate re 2nd Amendment & Gun Control


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My earlier post here “Dispelling the Myth that More Guns = More Murders” …

https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2013/01/14/dispelling-the-myth-that-more-guns-more-murders/

… generated considerable discussion among my West Point classmates.  One of them, John Douglas, is also an attorney with whom, on political issues, I more often than not agree.  On this subject, however, he disagrees with both my interpretation of the language of the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution … discussed in detail at …

https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2012/12/29/what-now-for-the-second-amendment-gun-control/

… and my position on gun control.

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The “plain language” of the 2nd Amendment

In response to my comment that proponents of gun control demonstrate an “inability or unwillingness to read and comprehend the plain language of the 2nd Amendment”, John replied:

… the 2d Amendment has a contradictory construction, a tortured legal history and is notably devoid of “plain language.” The Amendment (in the version ratified by the States) reads, “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”  According to gun rights advocates, this Amendment that speaks so highly of regulation clearly prohibits regulation of guns.  Hmmm.  Whatever it might have meant back then or should mean now, “the” meaning is hardly “plain”.

As I have said previously, I believe that the introductory clause to the 2nd Amendment is just that — an introduction which explains the reason for the right which is protected in the second clause, “the right to bear arms”.  The fact that the introduction refers to a “well-regulated militia” implies regulation of the militia (that is, the body of non-military citizens who can be organized, if necessary, for military service), not a limitation on the rights of the individuals who comprise that militia.

I replied to John:

In any event, the “tortured” historical interpretation of the 2nd Amendment came to be only because representatives of the government contorted what is, on its face, clear and unequivocal, so as to make it possible for the government to impose controls which would otherwise have been impermissible.

A detailed explanation of my “plain language” interpretation of the amendment is here:

https://freelegaladvice.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/more-on-the-2nd-amendment-and-gun-control/

John then responded:

I don’t think the tortured history of the Second Amendment is due to ‘contortions by representatives of the government’, but is rather due almost entirely to the amendment’s obtuse wording.  I’m told the former headquarters of the NRA had on the side of the building: ‘THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE TO KEEP AND BEAR ARMS SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED.’  That is, of course, only half the amendment.  So far as the NRA and like-minded folk were (and mostly are) concerned, that’s the whole amendment.  Except it isn’t.

The next most important factors in the tortured history would be the historical evolution of gun ownership in the US and the role of gov’t here.  In our early years, the federal gov’t’s role with guns was not particularly controversial.  Early on it mandated musket ownership by all military age males AND regulated that (by requiring regular musters for inspections of the muskets & registration of the same).  Despite what some now argue about prohibitions on regulations on ownership, our Founding Fathers actually altogether prohibited some classes of people from owning guns (such as slaves and even white males who refused to swear allegiance to the country).  We have had many changing alliances and understandings regarding the roles of guns in our society (particularly those that followed the upheaval of the Civil War), which have accompanied the evolving and multifaceted interpretations of the 2d Amend.  The short of it is that neither the wording of the Second Amendment nor the varying historical understandings of it are ‘plain’ or simple.

1792 Militia Act:  It is true that in 1792, Congress passed a law essentially requiring, with some exceptions, all able-bodied white male citizens and residents between the ages of 18 and 45 to acquire and maintain a musket, related supplies and other military equipment.  This law was poorly and unevenly enforced and did not, in fact, prohibit ownership of guns by slaves;  it simply did not require them to have guns.  Restrictions on gun ownership by slaves were imposed in the slave-owning states, but not by federal law.  Of course, under the constitution, slaves were not considered citizens (or even “whole” people, counting as they did under the constitution as only “three-fifths” of a person each), so would not have been covered by the 1792 militia act in any event.

Commentary by St. George TuckerA good indication of what the 2nd Amendment “plainly” meant can be ascertained from the early legal commentaries on the subject.  The earliest known such commentary was written in 1803 by St. George Tucker, whose annotated five volume edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England contained the observation that the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment was not subject to the restrictions that were part of English law:

The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed … and this without any qualification as to their condition or degree, as is the case in the British government ….”  (emphasis added)

Tucker went on to express the hope that Americans “… never cease to regard the right of keeping and bearing arms as the surest pledge of their liberty.”

Commentary by William RawleIn 1825, William Rawle, in A View of the Constitution of the United States of America, characterized the second clause of the Second Amendment as a general prohibition against government control of private gun ownership, saying:

No clause could by any rule of construction be conceived to give to congress a power to disarm the people. Such a flagitious attempt could only be made under some general pretence by a state legislature. But if in any blind pursuit of inordinate power, either should attempt it, this amendment may be appealed to as a restraint on both.

Rawle’s comment is particularly interesting in its suggestion that the 2nd Amendment could be relied upon to restrain state laws infringing on the right to bear arms.  This comment presaged the limitation on state power ultimately included in the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, which was not passed until 43 years later.  Section 1 of the 14th Amendment provides in part, “… nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”.

Commentary by Joseph Story:  In 1833, Joseph Story published his Commentaries on the Constitution. As expressed in those “commentaries”, his view the meaning of the Amendment was clear (and “plain”):

The importance of this article will scarcely be doubted by any persons, who have duly reflected upon the subject. The militia is the natural defence of a free country against sudden foreign invasions, domestic insurrections, and domestic usurpations of power by rulers. It is against sound policy for a free people to keep up large military establishments and standing armies in time of peace, both from the enormous expenses, with which they are attended, and the facile means, which they afford to ambitious and unprincipled rulers, to subvert the government, or trample upon the rights of the people. The right of the citizens to keep and bear arms has justly been considered, as the palladium of the liberties of a republic; since it offers a strong moral check against the usurpation and arbitrary power of rulers; and will generally, even if these are successful in the first instance, enable the people to resist and triumph over them.  (emphasis added)

In short, one of the primary purposes of the 2nd Amendment was to enable the people to protect themselves, if necessary, against the government.  That objective can hardly be accomplished if the government has the power to constitutionally infringe on the right of those same people to bear the arms needed for that very protection.

It was not, in fact, until after the American Civil War and on into the 19th century that legal scholars and commentary began to call into question whether the 2nd Amendment provided an individual right to bear arms or merely a “collective” right of the people to maintain an armed militia.

And that question, of course, was finally answered by the U.S. Supreme Court in its 2008 decision in  District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the full text of which can be seen here:

http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/search/display.html?terms=heller&url=/supct/html/07-290.ZS.html

In this decision, the Supreme Court held that the 2nd Amendment does protect an individual right to possess firearms unconnected with service in a militia;  that such weapons may be used for “traditionally lawful purposes”, such as self-defense;  that the first clause of the 2nd Amendment “announces a purpose”, but does not limit the second and operative clause of the amendment;  and that the text and history of the phrase “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” indicates “an individual right to keep and bear arms”.

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The effects of gun control

John Douglas also took exception to my discussion of the statistical evidence regarding the effects of gun control, saying:

I am also immediately turned off when a gun rights advocate attacks statistics on the effects of gun control with the ‘there is no evidence’ chain of reasoning.  One of the reasons we have limited evidence on the effects of gun possession in the US is the NRA’s successful stifling of research in the area – and, indeed, in the very collection of data upon which research might be done.  At the peak of gun violence in the early 90s, research results were released showing the higher death rates in homes with guns.   (emphasis added)

John then cited two studies funded by the Centers for Disease Control in support of that conclusion, studies the results of which are available at:

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199310073291506#t=article

and

http://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJM199208133270705

The first of these studies addressed homicides in three American counties (Shelby County, TN;  King County, WA;  and Cuyahoga County, OH) during the years 1987 through 1992.  This study notes that more than 24,000 homicides were being committed across the country every year, indicating that approximately 120,000 homicides were committed during the five years addressed by the study.  However, the study actually considered just 420 homicides, or roughly 1/3 of 1% of the total U.S. homicides committed during those years.

Regarding the 420 homicides that were considered, the study noted:

Two hundred nine victims (49.8 percent) died from gunshot wounds. A knife or some other sharp instrument was used to kill 111 victims (26.4 percent). The remaining victims were either bludgeoned (11.7 percent), strangled (6.4 percent), or killed by other means (5.7 percent).

The study ultimately concluded that there was an increased risk of homicide in the home if guns were present (though it is readily apparent that even without guns, if people wanted to kill other people in their homes, there were a variety of other effective means available for that purpose).  However, the study also concluded that there were other factors which were “strongly and independently associated with an increased risk of homicide in the home”, including rental rather than ownership, living alone, previous violence in the home, previous arrest of any resident of the home and drug use in the home.

In fact, four of these five other factors were found to have created a greater increased risk of homicide in the home than did the presence of guns. Use of drugs created an increased risk of homicide that was more than double that of the presence of guns in the home;  previous violence and living in a rental home each created a risk of homicide in the home 63% greater than the presence of guns;  and living alone created a risk of homicide in the home 37% greater than the presence of guns.  The only characteristic that created a lesser increased risk of homicide in the home than the presence of guns was the prior arrest of a resident in the home.

The sample in this study was so small as to be virtually meaningless in the big picture of gun violence and control.  Nevertheless, if taken at face value, it indicates that it is more important, in terms of reducing homicide in the home, to control drug use and violence in the home than it is to control the presence of guns.  In fact, if governmental policy is to be based on this type of statistical analysis, it would also appear to be more important to prohibit people from living alone or renting homes than it is to control the presence of guns.

In other words, this study isn’t very helpful in determining whether or not increased gun controls are useful in preventing homicides in the home or generally.

The second of the two studies John cited addressed 554 in-home suicides in two counties (Shelby County, TN, and King County, WA) over a 32 month period from 1987 to 1990.  Of these suicides, approximately 58% were committed using firearms.

While this study found an increased risk of suicide based on a gun being kept in the home, four other factors were found to have an even higher correlation to increased risk of suicide than the presence of a gun.  Use of prescribed psychotropic medication created an increased suicide risk 7.5 times that created by the presence of a gun; previous hospitalization for alcohol use more than three times;  use of drugs more than double;  and living alone slightly higher than the presence of a gun in the home.  Even failing to graduate from high school had a correlation to an increased risk of suicide that was almost equal to that created by the presence of a gun in the home.

In short, this study is even less useful than the other in determining whether or not greater government control of guns would be appropriate or effective at achieving the desired goals of gun control.

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A straw man argument?

John also took exception to my discussion on another ground:

Finally, and perhaps most egregiously, you set up a straw man argument and, not surprisingly, defeat it, when you claim that gun control advocates are asserting that an increase in the number of guns – irrespective of all other variables – leads to an increase in crimes, especially murder.

To which I say, anyone who contends that reducing the number of guns in the possession of law-abiding citizens will reduce violent crime and murder is also necessarily claiming that an increase in the number of guns will have the opposite effect.  If you don’t contend that reducing the number of guns in the possession of law-abiding citizens will reduce violent crime and murder, then what is the purpose of imposing new laws and regulations designed to accomplish that goal?

John added:

I’m sure there are a few ill-informed fringe gun control advocates who think that way, but no reasonable proponents do.  We all have to recognize that violence levels have many causes. 

And to that I say, exactly.  And that is in fact the primary point of my opposition to the reflexive response of so many that simply imposing stricter gun controls will substantially reduce or even eliminate violent crime.  Interestingly, the two studies cited by John above actually support the conclusion that there are other factors which are much more important, at least with respect to deaths in the home, whether homicides or suicides, than the mere presence in the home of firearms.

John also disagreed with the statistical analysis I presented in “Dispelling the Myth …”, suggesting that the best comparison regarding prevalence of guns and murder rates is not between the U.S. and countries such as Mexico and Honduras, but “comparable” countries like Canada (even though Canadians have no rights comparable to those granted to Americans by the 2nd Amendment).  He notes that Canada is 31st in “homicide rate” (below the U.S., which is 14th), while the U.S. has a homicide per 1000 guns rate that is  7 times that of Canada.

And yet, the overall homicide rate in the U.S. (4.8 per 100,000 people in 2010) is just 3 times that of Canada;  meaning, of course, that Canadians are easily finding other ways, in the absence of ready access to guns, to kill each other.  Just as Americans would if they did not have access to guns.

There are other considerations which must be accounted for in any comparison between the American and Canadian gun-related and overall homicide rates.  For example, while it is true that the homicide rate is higher in the U.S., the overall difference in the rate of violent crimes, including homicides, has decreased, as the rate of violent crimes dropped faster in the U.S., during the 1990’s and 2000’s, than it did in Canada.

Other factors have a significant impact on the relative homicide rates for reasons that are largely unrelated to access to or possession of guns.  The U.S. has more cities with large, concentrated populations, and cities almost invariably have higher murder rates than rural areas, even in countries with strict gun controls and relatively rare private gun ownership.  The U.S. also has substantially more and a higher rate of both gang activity and drug related crime than does Canada; each of these criminal activities contribute disproportionately to the rate of gun-related homicides.

Elimination of the “insane war on drugs” and adoption of social policies designed to reduce gang activity would each do more to reduce the “gun-related” homicide rate in the U.S. than any of the proposed “gun control” measures.

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Conclusion

John wrapped up his comments by saying:

As for the effects of gun control, I harbor no illusions that implementing even draconian restrictions would quickly alter our level of gun violence, since we are awash in guns and it would take decades to ‘drain the swamp’.  The modest restrictions on gun ownership that have been implemented here and there in the past, and that are likely in the future here, are mostly band-aids on a large open wound and will have at most a modest effect on gun violence.  To me, that’s sad, but that is the political reality. 

However, despite my pessimism on what can be done in the US, I stand by what I regard as the clear balance of evidence in regard to the relationship between the level of violence and the prevalence of guns.  When you compare countries with comparable levels of development and comparable social structures, the ones with much lower levels of gun ownership have much lower levels of gun violence.

And I stand by my own analysis in this regard, though I have to agree with the ultimate extrapolation of John’s concluding comment.  That is, there can be no doubt that if there were no guns in the U.S., there would be no gun violence in the U.S.  That, however, is not really the point, as we are never going to have a society in which there are no firearms, nor would or should we want to have such a society.

Furthermore, neither I nor John have addressed the issue of gun control from the perspective of those who have actually used guns in defense of themselves, their homes and their loved ones.

Or why and under what possible future circumstances the availability of firearms for such protection be desirable, if not essential, to the survival of not only individuals, but our society as a whole.

I will address both of these subjects in future discussions here.

Flag-Burning is Still a Crime in Texas …


… despite the famous U. S. Supreme Court decision of Texas v. Johnson, in which the court held the Texas law against flag-burning is an unconstitutional restriction on First Amendment freedom of speech.

While doing some research on Texas law for another reason today, I ran across Texas Penal Code section 42.11, which not only makes it illegal to “damage, deface, mutilate or burn” the American flag, but also the Texas state flag.

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Supremes Uphold Individual Handgun Ownership Right


In a major victory for the rights of individuals, the U.S. Supreme Court today held in a 5-4 decision that the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does indeed protect the right of individuals to “bear arms” even if they are not part of a “well-regulated militia”.

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U.S. Supreme Court: Child Porn Purveyors Beware


The U.S. Supreme Court today warned purveyors of child pornography to beware, holding that the 2003 PROTECT Act constitutionally criminalizes promotion of such material.

In an opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, the court held 7-2 that “offers to provide or requests to obtain” child pornography are not protected by the First Amendment, even if no actual child pornography is involved in the proposed transaction.

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