President Obama Gets Another One Right

There’s one party in the country that cares about gun violence in the US. That’s one of several key issues to keep in mind when voting this November. By Pete Souza (White House (P012813PS-0418)) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
On Tuesday President Obama, speaking to an audience of families impacted by gun violence, outlined several executive orders his administration is making that will increase regulation of gun sales and likely prevent some guns from getting into the wrong hands. In a riveting speech, Obama reminded us of some of the horrific acts of gun violence perpetrated during his presidency, rebutted the claims that he’s coming for law-abiding citizens’ guns, and he challenged the American people to elect a congress that will take the issues of gun violence seriously.

Under no illusions that the current congress will help strengthen and expand his executive actions, Obama nonetheless forged ahead with a plan to make more gun sellers comply with existing federal regulations, give the FBI more staff dedicated to conducting background checks, and make it easier to track down missing firearms, among several other measures. For more details, read this explainer over at Vox.

My own views on guns can be found here and here. Obama’s hands are tied with a Republican-controlled congress unwilling to deal with the issue of gun violence in our country. But I was happy to hear him explain, as I have, that the 2nd Amendment does not have to mean that anyone can own any gun he or she wants, that a self-governing society has the right to regulate the gun industry and gun ownership, and that just because we can currently sell, buy, and own many kinds of assault weapons that doesn’t mean that we should.

Importantly, Obama made this a political issue. Along with many of us, he appears tired of the idea that gun violence tragedies are isolated occurrences and that we just have to throw up our hands and accept these events as part of living in a free society. He reminded us that 2nd Amendment rights do not void other rights enshrined in the Constitution or render meaningless those most important ideals declared in our founding document, The Declaration of Independence: that everyone has the rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Obama called on us to do the hard work of electing a government that will reflect these values, that will find a balance between reasonable 2nd Amendment rights and the outrageous levels of gun violence the US alone among developed countries experiences. Let’s heed his call.


On Finding A Way to Talk About Guns

M&R Photography
Taken at a gun show in Houston. A picture says a thousand words. Four of those words are “Our society is sick.” By ( [CC BY 2.0 (, via Wikimedia Commons
In the last post, I wrote about guns in the US. Since then I’ve heard from a few people I love and respect about how I’m being too harsh on gun owners.  The argument seems to be that owning guns, keeping them locked in a safe place, and using them in controlled spaces only for recreational purposes ought to be considered blameless exercise of 2nd Amendment rights. I’ll grant that, though I’m not sure gun enthusiasts appreciate the full meaning of the amendment, which suggests that the government allows you to keep guns so it is easier to form militias when needed to defend the State (the amendment was written at a time when the new country was not interested in the idea of maintaining a standing army). Gun owners should take that string, pull it, and see if they like the implied consequences (hint: I don’t think the average gun owner wants to be shipped over to Iraq or Syria).

But I don’t really want to write about or argue about the 2nd Amendment here. Maybe some other time. Instead, I’d like to publish my response to one of the gun-owning people I love and respect. I hope it clarifies my thinking and that it comes off as more respectful and reasonable than the previous post. I won’t include links to the statistics but they are real statistics from legitimate sources that I found while writing to the person. Also, there’s some light editing for spelling, grammar, and clarity. Here’s the relevant excerpt:

“Onto guns. I’m mostly trying to push the conversation in what I think is the right direction. There are rarely any policy questions that are black-and-white, and what to do about guns is gray indeed. But nothing happens in American politics without a critical mass, and usually that critical mass has to be a clear majority of voters. Right now, we don’t have that. At best, no more than 50% of Americans support the kind of policies needed to deal with guns effectively.

So, it’s tempting to say that guns are a thing reasonable people can agree to disagree about. Maybe saying people should be ashamed is not a good approach for winning hearts and minds. Maybe we can reach critical mass without a change in the culture surrounding guns.

If all gun owners were like you and the ideally responsible hunter – they kept their guns locked in a safe place and only used them for recreational purposes in a controlled space – then this wouldn’t be an issue. But all gun owners are not like you and the ideally responsible hunter. Why is this? Well, it has fundamentally to do with the nature of the object. Guns are killing machines, period. Guns were invented to kill other beings. Study after study shows that the people who own guns tend to be more prone to violence, gun or no gun, because guns were invented to kill people, and people who want to hurt other people are the ones who tend to own guns.

What about more practical studies? Study after study shows that you are much more likely to be killed by a gun owned by someone you know than by a gun owned by a stranger. One study shows that enough gun owners are so irresponsible about their gun ownership that 43% of homes with guns and kids have at least one unlocked firearm in the house. An experiment suggested that 1 out of 3 boys aged 12 or under who find an unlocked firearm will pull the trigger. Study after study shows that people who live in states with tighter gun control laws are less likely to be a victim of gun violence than in states with easy access.

None of this is to say that you, specifically, are the person we find in these studies. So let’s be clear that I’m not calling you a violence-prone irresponsible gun owner.

I don’t get gun-owning as a hobby. Fine, I like cooking, other people don’t like cooking. But it is definitely within the jurisdiction of a self-governing society to decide what are reasonable limits to the hobbies people enjoy. Reasonable people can disagree about where the limits are, but there can be no disagreement that it’s within a society’s rights to regulate the limits. That’s how we get smoking restrictions, speed limits, licenses required for all kinds of activities (hunting!), etc. If I were the country’s benevolent dictator I would take all of your guns, every single one of them, and tell all of you to find new hobbies. Arms should be a state monopoly. To move people towards this position, I think it could be useful to demonize guns and gun ownership, just like racism or homophobia was effectively demonized. That doesn’t mean I think you’re a demon, or that I think homophobia is exactly like gun ownership.

I’m open to arguments. I recognize that shooting can be a non-violent hobby. Generally, it’s much better if a government allows people to buy what they want and do what they want, as long as it doesn’t harm others. That’s why, practically speaking, I don’t advocate confiscation of all guns and instead would like to see guns well-regulated. In addition to outright bans of certain weapons, I’d like to see people have to carry insurance for their guns where the true cost of gun ownership to society is priced into the premiums (like with cars). There are other policies to consider as well.

What do you think?”

Weekend Links

dali dawn 2015-12-5
Snow on Cangshan in the morning.
dali dusk 2015-12-5
Snow on Cangshan in the evening.

Snow will likely remain on the mountains here in Dali, Yunnan Province, China for the rest of the winter. It’s beautiful in the morning and evening lights. The above pictures taken during my walks to and from work yesterday don’t really do the scenes justice.

While the views are lovely in winter, the season comes with a major downside. As written previously, in this part of China there are no central heating systems installed. This makes life and work indoors really uncomfortable and difficult, even if it’s sunny and temperatures are relatively mild. My wife and I have been using our little space heater at select times for a few days now, and most horrifying of all, we put the electric blanket on the bed last night.

It’s usually sunny and beautiful here in the winter, making outdoor activities like hiking and biking really nice. Visit here in the winter, but I don’t recommend living here through it!

Some links for the weekend:

  • For background, I’ve been saying since August (here and here) that Donald Trump has at least as good a chance as any of the other candidates, if not a better chance, to win the Republican nomination. Now that Marco Rubio seems to be the apple of the Republican establishment’s eye, it’s reasonable to ask how, exactly, Rubio is supposed to win the nomination. Ed Kilgore and Michael Tomasky explain how Rubio’s path to the nomination is extremely difficult, if not impossible. To summarize, how is Rubio supposed to win the nomination if he can’t win a single primary? Things could change, but right now he isn’t looking strong in any state.
  • In the wake of a terrorist attack at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, the Republican-controlled Senate voted to strip Planned Parenthood of its federal funding (which had already been prohibited from going towards abortion services anyway). So now Republicans have put their money where their mouths have been on this issue, and they’ve been using their mouths to spew anti-Planned Parenthood rhetoric that helped incite the attack in Colorado Springs. Nice pro-life movement you’ve got there.
  • On a related note, Republican candidate Carly Fiorina’s lies and rhetoric about Planned Parenthood back in a September debate propelled her into the mainstream and found their paraphrased way into the Colorado Springs terrorist’s mouth. Asked for comment about the attack, Fiorina chose to drag Black Lives Matter protestors into it for some unknown reason. This is the Republican Party.

I’ll leave with a link to one of my almost-daily reads. Run by John Cole, a self-professed right wing nut until various Bush-the-younger-era Republican debacles cured him of the disease, Balloon Juice is a liberal (in the American political sense) blog bringing together an assortment of writers with different expertise, passions, and insights. I link to the site’s homepage because I have to get back to work and don’t have time to find the particular post that got me thinking about the following.

I wonder if dealing with guns in our society through gun control legislation is mostly a lost cause. I wonder if this is an issue, similar in some ways to LGBT rights, where it has to be a battle for hearts and minds. The LGBT rights movement included many legislative and judicial victories to be sure, but the sea change that happened in public opinion was also very important. When people can be made to feel shame and embarrassment about owning any kind of gun other than a hunting rifle, maybe we’ll start getting somewhere. I think this is part of what went on with LGBT rights; a lot of people who did not come to a positive embrace of LGBT rights at least ended up feeling a bit ashamed of their retrograde stances and slunk into the shadows, leaving a minority of bigots powerless to stop the movement.

Of course, we still have homophobes assert themselves from time to time but usually at worst they eat a bunch of chicken or make fools of themselves by proudly refusing to serve pizza at gay weddings. These people will probably never completely go away, but it’s a good thing that there aren’t so many of them anymore and they have less and less influence. The same needs to happen with gun people.

Here’s where I admit that this isn’t apples-to-apples. Whether in the minority or not, gun rights absolutists are still people armed with convenient machinery of death. Homophobes are now too small a minority to really do much except whine impotently. In contrast, well-armed gun rights dead-enders are uniquely positioned to defend their values in ways that are very scary.

Bottom line: a society and culture in which people, including terrorists of any stripe, can legally buy weapons designed to kill people, almost as easily as if they were going out for milk, is a disgrace. Decent people should be repulsed by such a society. If you own these guns or opine about how people should be able to own these guns and that’s just the price we pay for freedom, you should be ashamed of yourself.

Weekend Links

Duck, wraps in the vacuum pack, and sauce in the yellow package.
The treasures: a large cubic zirconia, some kind of Christmas thing that broke, a 2+1 Nescafe instant coffee, and a homemade bookmark, I think.

I had no idea just how powerful this blog could be until yesterday. Recently, I wrote about how we used to have Beijing-style roast duck for Thanksgiving. On Saturday, a student who had just come back from Beijing brought me a duck from the very restaurant about which I had written. No way that kid reads this blog. It must be magic! I guess I need to write a post about how nice it would be to have, oh, let’s say 10 million dollars. No need to be greedy.

One of the perks of being a teacher is getting gifts from students. Another student gave me a gift later that day. You can see it wrapped in one of the pictures above. Since the wrapping was see-through, I just assumed it was a small cake. A bit busy all weekend, I forgot about it until after lunch this afternoon. I noticed it when I was about to head back to work, and noting its existence to my wife, she said I should put it in the fridge. I did, though I’m not really sure why she suggested that or why I obeyed.

I always want to thank students for their gifts because it’s the right thing to do and I’d hate for them to think they aren’t appreciated. So this afternoon I made a point of thanking the student, a 9-year old who goes by the English name Gloria, for her gift, saying it was really tasty. Then she cried out in Chinese that it wasn’t something to eat! I told her I knew that (I didn’t) and that I was just joking (I wasn’t). That’ll teach me to lie to little kids!

I opened the gift after dinner tonight and you can see its contents in the above pictures. Such a sweet collection of little treasures. The kids all know I like drinking coffee as I often use that as a language example. Same goes for reading as one of my hobbies. Christmas is coming soon, I guess. But I’m really not sure what about me says cubic zirconia. It slays me that she gave me such a big one with a nice chip broken off it.

Anyway, I will thank her for the specific contents next week. It’s nice to end the day with such a warm feeling.

So much for the warm feeling. Links for the weekend:

  • Just awful news out of Colorado Springs. If only there was a word that begins with the letter “t” to describe incidents like this one when white men use violence in the pursuit of political aims. Though he didn’t use the word that apparently cannot be used when white men use violence in the pursuit of political aims, good on Obama for not otherwise mincing words.
  • I see already that gun rights absolutists are trotting out different versions of “Guns don’t kill people; people kill people” in response to the shootings. Stop, please. Cars don’t get people to work; people get people to work. Forks and knives don’t cut up food and put it in people’s mouths; people cut up food and put in their mouths. This is asinine. You’re not children. We’re not children. Time to put away childish rhetoric and think about what’s happening out in the real world.
  • Matt Taibbi at Rolling Stone wonders what it means that Donald Trump can lie with impunity and concludes that the media itself is largely to blame. TPM‘s Josh Marshall reminds us why lies, insults, and refusing to apologize for one’s lies and insults works with the Right.
  • I share Marshall’s exasperation with much of the media for belatedly and grudgingly coming to realize that the Trump phenomenon is a thing that is real and that he has a real constituency. The inmates are close to complete control of the asylum and many of us have seen this coming since at least 2010. Even if Trump loses, which Marshall thinks is still likely, the Republican Party is beholden to the people fueling his rise. These would be the people who give us deposed Speakers of the House and government shutdowns.
  • This piece about the stupid pieces about arguing with your racist uncle during Thanksgiving made me laugh a few times. The author, Jeb Lund, says we shouldn’t argue politics at Thanksgiving; instead, save the energy for arguing against deep-fried turkey. Is Lund right? I’ve never actually had deep-fried turkey.
  • Not exactly the kind of positive note with which I want to end these links posts, but a good friend of mine passed on this article about “coywolves.” I want one.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

Morning Coffee in China Links

Taken from my back porch, around 8:30 am.

Working for an English training school in China means teaching on Saturday and Sunday, so my weekend is actually Wednesday and Thursday. It’s a gorgeous day here, as you can see, but I’ve come down with a cold. Better take it easy and catch up on my internets.

  • Like Josh Marshall, I really like Vice President Joe Biden. I also agree that his running for the presidency would only make sense if Hillary Clinton’s campaign somehow implodes, most likely due to scandal, and now it’s looking less and less likely that will happen.
  • Paul Ryan may walk the plank yet. It looks like he’s got enough support now (math explained here in a previous post) to become Speaker with only Republican votes. But the Freedom Caucus won’t go quietly, and I really don’t see how Ryan becomes anything other than Boehner 2.0 as Speaker. If the Freedom Caucus continues to demand government shutdowns and default on US debt in order to achieve its goals, then we’re right back where we started: the Speaker needs Democratic votes to pass clean budgets and clean authorization to pay US debts, will look weak for it, and conservatives will call him a RINO (Republican-in-name-only, i.e. no better than a Democrat) and kill his career… And now I see some conservative groups are already calling Ryan a RINO.
  • A writer I don’t like, David Brooks, is caught yet again peddling his “Oh, where have all the reasonable conservatives gone” bullshit. Corey Robin lets this tired lament hang from its own rope. But if you really want to understand what Robin is getting at, read his lengthy post, or better yet, his book. Conservatism, going all the way back to one of its revered founders, Edmund Burke, has always been about resistance to democratic government and its potential to change the status quo.
  • When will these tragedies ever end? I look forward to the NRA explaining that this 4-year-old would still be alive today if only she had been packing as well.
  • The fight against our country’s sick fascination with firearms and the consequences of said fascination is going to be long and uphill, but Erik Loomis finds some interesting strategies that could make a difference. One interesting idea already introduced in the House is to make all gun owners carry insurance. If done well, this could make the kind of guns most likely to result in harm or death prohibitively expensive for the average gun nut. The prospect of confiscating guns newly made illegal by such a law, however, is fraught with danger.
  • Erik Loomis again, this time about the idea of relative poverty. Here he is previously on the backlash – weirdly enough in some otherwise progressive spheres – against reporting that reveals, shockingly, that poor Americans are poor.
  • Ok, it’s my “Sunday” so I’m going to make some comfort food for brunch. Here are some good recipes I’ve used many times before for biscuits and bacon gravy.