The hacker group Anonymous said it unmasked the author of an offensive Twitter parody account of school shooter Adam Lanza. But did they get it wrong? “Ms. F.” says yes, writes Eli Lake.
They are Anonymous. They are Legion. They do not forgive. They do not forget. They also apparently do not fact check. At least this is the experience of a woman we are going to call Ms. F., who says she is 71 years old and lives with her dog in Saint Charles, Mo.
Lionel Bonaventure/AFP, via Getty
Since Monday night, Ms. F. says, she has received nearly 600 angry phone calls from people blaming her for creating a parody Twitter account of Newtown school shooter Adam Lanza. That account, under the handle @BlastinKids, appeared to celebrate the senseless killings in Newtown with profane references to murder and cannibalism. It was taken down by Twitter on Monday after a surge of protests from other users of the social media site. Twitter didn’t respond to repeated requests for comment.
The calls to Ms. F. began after the collective group of hackers known as Anonymous claimed to have identified the author of the parody Lanza account: a 32-year-old financial asset manager named Jacob. In an Internet posting, Anonymous also included an address, phone number, employer, and Facebook page for this person. Anonymous also embedded a script tag, or a line of code, into the comment section of a Daily Beast article on Monday in an apparent attempt to disseminate the person’s information. The Daily Beast is withholding the last name because it has not been able to verify his identity, or the identity of the person who answered his alleged phone number.
That person, Ms. F., says she is a divorced minister and quilting enthusiast who moved to Saint Charles to be closer to her family. She says she doesn’t know the alleged Twitter, nor does she use Twitter. “I am 71 years old I don’t do social networking,” she told the Daily Beast Tuesday. She said she has tried to contact Twitter about the mix up, but thus far the number she has been calling has been a fax line.
Ms. F. has also called the local police, who are now investigating the case for cyber-harassment. Lt. Craig McGuire of the Saint Charles County Sheriff's Department confirmed that she lives at that address and said the department's cyber-crimes unit is handling the case. "There were hackers who identified what they thought was a good phone number and a good address for this guy on Twitter," he said. "But the phone number is no good and he doesn’t live at that address anymore. Now all these knuckleheads get on there and want to call and have their voices heard and threaten these people," he added. "But we want to tell them you can’t believe everything you see on the Internet.” The head of the cyber-crimes unit, Chris Mateja, said the unit is going through the answering-machine messages to determine whether they constitute harassment.
The ordeal has forced Ms. F to change her outgoing message, she says. It now says, “If you are trying to reach Jacob you have the wrong number. I am a 71-year-old woman living with my dog. All of you who are calling have been fooled into thinking I am Jacob.”
In the interview she said she just wanted all the hateful answering-machine messages to stop. She said she is thinking of adding a new line to her answering-machine message: “When you are leaving threatening, hateful messages that many of you have left, you are perpetrating the same kind of hateful thinking that caused this horrendous event in Connecticut to have happened in the first place.”
Pistols were purchased later.
Law-enforcement officials have determined that all of the weapons used by Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza were bought by his mother over a three-year period starting in 2010. Nancy Lanza purchased the .223-caliber Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle in 2010. In 2011, she added the 9mm Sig Sauer pistol to her collection. In January 2012, she bought the 10mm Glock. According to the Associated Press, authorities have recovered other weapons, including a Henry repeating rifle, an Enfield rifle, and a shotgun. Investigators also said it doesn’t appear that Lanza visited any shooting ranges leading up to the shooting.
If mental illness were the key factor in multiple gun homicides, other countries would regularly experience similar acts of carnage. But they don’t.
In the wake of the terrible events of last Friday in Newtown, which left 27 dead—20 of them young schoolchildren—social media such as Twitter and Facebook played a key role in communicating the shocking news and expressing an international sense of outrage and grief. But they also spread misinformation and misapprehensions just as quickly. The gunman was initially misidentified, and his murdered mother was erroneously connected to Sandy Hook Elementary School. But while these errors of fact were soon corrected, a deeper misunderstanding took hold over the following few days as a shattered nation tried to understand an inexplicable tragedy.
Writing is seen on a home in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 17, 2012. The two funerals on Monday ushered in what will be a week of memorial services and burials for the 20 children and six adults massacred when gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown last Friday. (Eric Thayer/Reuters, via Landov)
An uncorroborated rumor about the gunman, Adam Lanza, suggested that he suffered from Asperger’s syndrome—a now out-of-use term for a higher-functioning form of autism. By Saturday, a blog post by Lisa Long—“I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother: A Mom’s Perspective On The Mental Illness Conversation In America”—had gone viral, been retweeted hundreds of thousands of times, and republished on Gawker, Britain’s Daily Mail, and on the Huffington Post. Long, the mother of a 13-year-old with behavioral problems, argued, “It’s easy to talk about guns. But it’s time to talk about mental illness.”
There are various problems with Long’s impassioned piece when it comes to “talking” about mental illness, partly due to the fact it contained a slew of questionable diagnoses—Autism spectrum, ADHD, Oppositional Defiant, or Intermittent Explosive Disorder—which aren’t recognized as mental illnesses and better described as learning disabilities or disorders. Police Inspector Michael Brown, who runs the highly respected Mental HealthCop blog, called it “potentially the worst article I have ever read about mental health and violence following an atrocity.” Other critics took issue with the way Long had publically demonized her son as a potential mass murderer. While some complained that Long herself was being demonized as a bad mother, the author from Boise, Idaho, issued a joint statement with one of her erstwhile critics about the need for accessible and affordable mental health care in the U.S.
The Huffington Post published a corrective article, “No Link Between Asperger’s Syndrome And Violence, Experts Say.” But to date, the corrective article has only received 2,500 Facebook “likes” compared to the more than a million received by Long’s original piece. The misinformation had circled the virtual world before the truth had even begun to get its cyber-boots on.
By Sunday, the line had grown into a swelling chorus. Erik Erickson, the founder and editor of the popular Republican website Redstate, was averring: “Discussions of gun control are easier to have than discussions about mental health.” The owner of one of the many gun ranges in the rural rolling hills around Newtown, Conn., was telling The New York Times: “A gun didn’t kill all those children, a disturbed man killed all those children.” David Rivkin, a constitutional lawyer who served in both the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations, appeared on the BBC World Service to tell millions of listeners overseas: “It’s not about gun ownership, it is about mental illness.” “If there’s one unifying feature of all these atrocities,” Rivkin stated in an interview for the popular Newshour program on Monday night, “it’s that they were all committed by mentally unbalanced people who need to be confined for the protection of those around them and other people.”
The only problem with this argument is that it has no basis in fact. If mental illness was the key factor in multiple gun homicides like Newtown, then other countries would regularly experience the kind of carnage visited on towns and cities in the U.S. on almost on a monthly basis. But they don’t. In Britain, an advanced study by Manchester University into “Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness” has found most people who kill more than one person are neither mentally ill, nor mental health patients, As Dr. David H. Barlow, a senior expert in comparative mental health-care systems and Emeritus Professor at Boston University, told The Daily Beast, “the incidence of mental illness is quite consistent across Europe and America.” Yet the statistics for the homicide and suicide rates are much higher in the U.S. than most of the rest of Europe, with Americans 100 times more likely to die to a gun-related death than in the U.K.
Despite the promise of a conversation about mental health, misinformation and ignorance became the norm in the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy. British CNN host Piers Morgan suggested that anyone with a history of mental illness should be banned from owning a gun in the U.S., but that would include almost 50 per cent of Americans who are expected to suffer from some condition in their lifetime. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 25 percent of U.S. adults currently suffer from some kind of mental ilnness—though this would include phobias and obsessive disorders. In 2011, government data calculated that around 5 percent of the U.S. population suffered from severe mental illness, while Professor Barlow estimates that somewhere around 1 percent of the U.S. population will be suffering from psychosis—including delusions and hallucinations—at any one time. “But even they show an only slightly elevated risk of violence,” Barlow told The Daily Beast, “with a small increased risk of around 5 or 10 percent above normal.” Meanwhile, those who suffer from psychosis are much more likely to be the victims of homicide or kill themselves.
Stock of “modern sporting rifles” will not longer be on shelves.
Dick's Sporting Goods announced on Tuesday that it would be pulling its stock of "modern sporting rifles" from its shelves in the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting tragedy. Company officials released a statement saying they were "extremely saddened by the unspeakable tragedy" in Newtown and would be suspending sales of all guns in their closest store in Danbury. The company, the first to take such measures, hasn't specified which rifles it will be pulling from its 511 stores across the country. Walmart has stopped selling the Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle, which was one of the weapons found on shooter Adam Lanza.
Armed guards. Metal detectors. How far should we go? Lauren Ashburn on what can be done to improve school security—and the price we would pay.
Driving through the streets of Washington on the way to teach her pre-kindergarten class Monday, Aimee Manning heard a story on the radio about the Newtown shootings.
A memorial at the base of a tree near the Newtown Village Cemetery in Connecticut on Monday, Dec. 17. Six-year-old student Jack Pinto, who was killed Friday when a gunman opened fire inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School, was scheduled to be buried at the cemetery Monday afternoon. (Charles Krupa/AP)
“I was listening to NPR with tears streaming down my face,” says Manning, who teaches 4- and 5-year-olds. “I said to myself, ‘You have to pull yourself together. You have to pull it together.’”
No one is feeling the strain of trying to normalize life more today than teachers, who as they walk in the front door of their schools have to remember how 27-year-old Victoria Soto died on Friday in Newtown. She hid her students in cabinets and a closet and told her killer they were at the gym. He gunned her down and left to find more victims. The children are alive to tell about it.
Every parent, including me, has been agonizing over how our schools can be made safer. We can no longer get on an airplane without taking off our shoes and packing tiny tubes of toothpaste; should Newtown be to school safety what 9/11 was to airline travel? Is it even possible?
Think about the implications: whether gun laws are tightened or not, you would need armed guards at every school entrance in case an intruder tries to shoot his way in. You would need metal detectors in case a disgruntled student tried to smuggle in a weapon. We could make our schools safer by taking drastic measures. But at what price? Would we be robbing our children of their innocence by turning their places of learning into an armed camp?
Tom Fuentes, a former FBI agent, tells me that not only would the armed guards need to be at the entrance; they would have to be “gun ready” for their presence to dissuade an armed intruder. “That’s what the kids would be seeing every day.” Not a pleasant thought.
Ron Stevens, executive director of the nonprofit National School Safety Center, which provides training for school crime prevention, agrees the premise is faulty.
It’s not just rich corporate guys in New York who’ll take a hit when the private-equity giant pulls out of gunmaker Freedom Group. Dan Gross on how the win for gun regulation advocates hurts some civil servants.
It took a while, but the owner of Freedom Group, the weapons conglomerate that makes the Bushmaster weapon used in last Friday’s assault in Newtown, Connecticut, finally said something.
Former Treasury secretary John Snow speaks at the National Press Club on July 18, 2007, in Washington, D.C. John Snow is the chairman of Cerberus Capital Management LP. (Brendan Smialowski/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
At 1 a.m. on Tuesday morning, more than 80 hours after the event, Cerberus Capital, the high-profile private-equity firm that owns Freedom Group, issued a statement. Cerberus expressed sadness and attempted to distance itself from the assault, noting that Freedom Group “does not sell weapons or ammunition directly to consumers, through gun shows or otherwise.” It continued: “We do not believe that Freedom Group or any single company or individual can prevent senseless violence or the illegal use or procurement of firearms and ammunition.”
But you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. Cerberus recognizes that the Sandy Hook even was a “watershed event that has raised the national debate on gun control to an unprecedented level.” And this higher level of public debate is making Cerberus uncomfortable. “As a Firm, we are investors, not statesmen or policy makers.” So rather than get involved in a messy debate, it is cutting Freedom Group loose.
“We have determined to immediately engage in a formal process to sell our investment in Freedom Group.” That way, Cerberus can give the money back to its investors, and go about its business “without being drawn into the national debate that is more properly pursued by those with the formal charter and public responsibility to do so.”
While welcome, the statement is troubling. And while it is tempting, even satisfying, to lash out at a secretive private-equity firm that profits from the sale of automatic weapons, a deeper look should cause us to pose questions to others, and to ourselves. The rich guys in New York weren’t the only beneficiaries of Freedom Group’s growth. In fact, many of the indirect beneficiaries are people of much more humble means.
Let’s start with the obvious. Cerberus claims that “as a firm, we are investors, not statesmen or policy makers.” But of course, Cerberus’s small leadership team includes statesmen and former policymakers like Dan Quayle, a former vice president of the United States, and John Snow, a former Treasury secretary. In recent years, Cerberus has purposely become involved with companies that benefit from, and rely on, public policy. One of its more successful investments has been in Air Canada, for example.
Private-equity executives, including the folks at Cerberus, have very strong opinions on matters of public policy when it comes to tax rates, the treatment of carried interest, and entitlement spending. Cerberus executives, including its founder, Stephen Feinberg, have given heavily to political campaigns (virtually all of it to Republicans). For people who chose to operate in regulated industries, who choose to invest in government contractors, and who participate in the political process at a high level to suddenly plead a lack of interest and competency in such areas now that there’s a national debate on gun control is highly convenient.
Adam Lanza reportedly destroyed his computer’s hard drive before going on a rampage that left his mother, six more adults, and 20 children dead, sources said on Tuesday. “The kid knew what he was doing,” a source told The Daily Beast. “This was a planned event. There is no question about it.” The FBI is trying to retrieve the data, although some tech experts said Lanza may have overwritten the drive, wiping out the data. According to the Hartford Courant, Lanza, 20, used the computer to play violent videogames, but it’s unclear if he used it for anything else.
While district’s other schools reopen.
Funeral services will continue in Newtown on Tuesday, as they will be held for two more victims: James Mattioli, 6, and Jessica Rekos, 6, who were both killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School on Friday after Adam Lanza, 20, opened fire, killing 20 students and six adults before killing himself. His mother was found dead at home after the massacre. Jessica Rekos’s parents said their daughter “loved horses,” while James Mattioli, known as “J,” loved swimming. While Sandy Hook Elementary School will remain closed—it is a crime scene—the district’s other schools will resume classes on Tuesday. Police and counselors will be on hand at the district’s schools.
What if people think my kid will grow up to become a mass murderer? That’s what parents of children on the autism spectrum fear after reports that the Newtown gunman suffered from Asperger’s. Michelle Cottle reports.
Monday morning was unsettling for many moms and dads, as children across the country returned to school under the pall of Friday’s massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. No matter how slim the odds of another attack, the horrific question clawed its way to the surface: What if some monster with an assault rifle storms my child’s school?
Flowers honoring the victims who died a day earlier when a gunman opened fire at an elementary school lay on a bridge near Hawley Pond, on Saturday, Dec. 15, in Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. Inset: Adam Lanza. (Julio Cortez/AP; AP)
For parents like Hillary Toucey, this sort of primal fear is compounded by another, less far-fetched anxiety: What if someone gets it into his or her head that someday my child will become the kind of monster that would storm a school with an assault rifle?
A mother of three, Toucey has two sons who fall on the spectrum of autistic disorders. Her oldest, 12-year-old Jonah, has been diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a “high-functioning” form of autism that received a burst of unfortunate publicity this weekend when it was reported that Sandy Hook gunman Adam Lanza also suffered from the disorder.
Suddenly, Toucey found herself fielding phone calls from friends and acquaintances wondering about the link between Asperger’s and violent behavior. Postings on the LSU-themed message board she frequents were calling for Asperger’s individuals to be locked up. As for the sensationalistic media coverage: “I had to turn the news off. I wanted to punch people in the face, they were so ignorant,” she says. “Some psychiatrist was on CNN, making it sound like people with Asperger’s have violent outbursts all the time.”
This is, in fact, far from the case, say experts.
The vast majority of individuals with Asperger’s are “struggling with a significant disability and doing the best they can. They are not violent. They are not criminals,” says Dr. Fred Volkmar, director of the Child Study Center at Yale University’s school of medicine.
“Having any kind of chronic developmental trouble increases the likelihood of having other troubles,” acknowledges Volkmar, chief of child psychiatry at New Haven Hospital. But he notes that “in kids strictly diagnosed with Asperger’s, the most frequent thing you see is depression.” Unlike lower-functioning individuals, who are often not as aware of their surroundings, kids with Asperger’s “know they’re missing out. They just can’t figure out how to work within the system,” explains Volkmar. “The reality is that they are much more likely to be the butt of jokes or teased or the victim rather than the victimizer.”
As families struggle to cope with the Newtown tragedy, surviving parents and children of people killed at Virginia Tech, Columbine, and in similar shootings talk to The Daily Beast about the horrible events—and how they changed everything.
A sad community—survivors and family members of victims of mass shootings—grew this week. The Newtown shooting, in which Adam Lanza killed 20 schoolchildren and eight adults, including himself—brought members of that group back to where they were on the day when an act of man (and it was all men who pulled the trigger) changed their lives forever.
A mourner pays his respects at one of the makeshift memorials for the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, on Monday, Dec. 17, in Newtown, Conn. Authorities say a gunman killed his mother at their home and then opened fire inside the school, killing 26 people, including 20 children, before taking his own life, on Friday. (Mary Altaffer/AP)
“On Friday I got text messages from people asking, ‘Are you okay? I’m thinking about you.’ Most people would ask why, I just turned on the news,” said Coni Sanders, whose father, Dave Sanders, died in the 1999 Columbine High School shooting. “We don’t have a choice when our trauma is brought up.”
Three members of this group—William O’Neil, whose son, Daniel, was killed in the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech University; Christian Heyne, whose mother was killed and father was injured by a California gunman on Memorial Day 2005; and Coni Sanders, daughter of Dave Sanders, the only teacher to die during the 1999 Columbine High School shooting—spoke with The Daily Beast about how the shootings altered their lives:
William O’Neil’s son, Daniel, was one of 32 people killed by Seung-Hui Cho when the 23-year-old student attacked the Virginia Tech University campus on April 16, 2007. Daniel was 22 and working on his master’s degree in environmental engineering when he died.
We lived in Lincoln, Rhode Island for a long time, our children were raised there. The Virginia Tech massacre certainly had some effect on our decision to move to a town called Westerly, but before the massacre I changed jobs and started working in New London, Connecticut. So moving was as much about convenience as anything else.
I am much more cynical, in general, than I was before. I am not hopeful. I have the feeling that we are willing to sacrifice people every so often in this country so that we can protect our gun laws. Basically, my view of the government is not very positive. Government isn’t the enemy. But I’m cynical about whether the government is going to get anything done and if what they’re getting done is for the benefit of the populace. With this latest horrible tragedy in Newtown maybe we can get some meaningful gun laws.
I’m not opposed to all guns. I understand hunting, I understand that people hunt for good reasons and I even understand people who have guns in their homes for good reasons—though I would never have one. But there is no reason for assault weapons. The only purpose for assault weapons is to kill other people.
How can we curb gun violence? Some claim the Constitution ties our hands. But Michael Tomasky says the right to bear arms can and should be regulated by the states.
So maybe at long last we are at the tipping point in the gun conversation. Maybe, finally, something will be done. But what? Reinstating the assault-weapons ban would be fine symbolically and even to some extent substantively. But there have to be steps taken beyond that. Some people talk, for example, of clamping down on sales of types of ammo. I’m all for it. But let’s think bigger. Let’s put some teeth into the Second Amendment, and specifically, into that lovely phrase about the “well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state.” Let’s make every gun owner be a member of his or her state’s militia.
Mary Kay Zuravleff, participates in a protest organized by CREDO, outside of the National Rifle Association's office on First St., SE. The event was organized to criticize NRA policies in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. (Tom Williams, CQ Roll Call / Getty Images)
Here’s the idea, starting with the historical precedent that suggests what could be done in this instance. In the early 1980s, America was up in arms about drunk driving. You remember, if you’re old enough. Candy Lightner and all that. After much debate and hand wringing about what to do, the focus was narrowed down to younger motorists, who tended, sure enough, to be the more irresponsible drivers.
So Congress—it wasn’t completely paralyzed in those days—actually did something. It passed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act, which told states where the legal drinking age varied: you must raise the drinking age in your state to 21 by such-and-such a date. And if you don’t, the federal government is going to dock you 10 percent of your highway money.
Well, you’d better believe that most states got into line pretty quickly. The law was challenged by South Dakota in short order, but in South Dakota v. Dole, the Supreme Court upheld—this is important to remember—the right of the federal government to influence individual states’ laws. The majority agreed, by a 7-2 margin, that indirect action by Washington toward the end of making states do this or that was within constitutional bounds.
So here’s what should happen now. Congress should tell states, in the wake of this surely worse epidemic of gun violence, that they must put some substance into the phrase “well-regulated militia.” They must define well-regulated militia to include not only the National Guard, but all legally registered gun-owners in the state. If they fail to do so, and in line with the precedent set by the drinking-age act, they risk losing 10 percent of their federal law-enforcement funding.
Why not? Who could argue with such a move? It would be precisely in the spirit of the Second Amendment as worded, in which the right to keep and bear arms is granted within the context of the existence of such a militia. The founders spoke explicitly of said militia. So, let’s make it!
Legally registered gun-owners would become members of each state’s more broadly construed militia. They would not, obviously, be required to report for service on certain weekends like Guard members do. But their membership in this broader militia would come with certain responsibilities.
Think it’s one short sentence that gives everyone the right to bear arms? Think again. Saul Cornell unravels the tangled history of one of our most misunderstood Amendments.
On Sunday, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer went on CBS’s Face The Nation and argued that people who support gun control “have to admit that there is a Second Amendment right to bear arms”.
Schumer’s effort to reach out to the gun-rights community may be well-intentioned, but it is also deeply ironic. If the nation truly embraced the Second Amendment as it was originally written and understood, it would be the NRA’s worst nightmare.
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.
It’s time for a history lesson about one of America’s most popular and least understood rights. It’s also long past time to expose the hollow, ignorant fawning over the Second Amendment by gun-rights advocates for what it is.
In contrast to the libertarian fantasies that drive the contemporary debate about firearms in America, the Founders understood that liberty without regulation leads not to freedom, but anarchy. They understood that an armed body of citizens easily becomes a mob. In other words, a bunch of guys grabbing their guns and waving a flag emblazoned with a rattlesnake is not a militia.
A cursory look at the history of the Second Amendment shows that regulation was a central part of its rationale—putting “well regulated” at the very start of the amendment was no accident. For instance, starting in the colonial period, states enacted a variety of “safe-storage” measures to deal with the danger posed by stored gunpowder. A 1786 law went as far as prohibiting the storage of a loaded gun in any building in Boston.
But many people who defend gun rights today are more than happy to skim over the first part of the amendment in their zeal to embrace the second. (The NRA itself literally chopped off that pesky first half when it chiseled the words on the face of its old headquarters.) As a result, our modern gun-rights ideology is often unmoored from any sense of corresponding civic obligation.
The NRA and paramilitary militia groups have got the Second Amendment all wrong—it’s more about suppressing rebellion than individual gun ownership. By Jack Schwartz.
One of the more execrable responses to the mass slaughter of 28 children and teachers in Newtown, Conn., by a crazed gunman, has been the idea that we’d be safer if we were better armed—that a kindergarten teacher with a handgun would somehow be a match for a determined assailant with automatic weaponry intended for warfare. The general mayhem that might be inflicted on innocent bystanders in the ensuing shootout goes unmentioned in these fantasies.
Dan Cartwright, co-owner of TDS Guns, places a semi-automatic pistol on display at his store in Rocklin, Calif., Friday, July 27, 2012. The California Department of Justice expects 725,000 weapons will be legally purchased in 2012, 100,000 more than last year and nearly twice the 371,000 guns legally purchased five years ago. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
Leaving aside such helpful remedies as former GOP presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee’s suggestion that the shooting filled the vacuum that was left when prayer left our schools, the larger issue for gun advocates is one of our liberties. For them, the right to bear arms trumps any attempt to dilute the Constitution’s Second Amendment with restrictions on who bears arms, for what purpose, and exactly what sort of arms they’re bearing. Any attempt to encroach on it, even by an iota, will ultimately lead to our enslavement by a federal tyranny. If we have to suffer an occasional mass murder, it is a necessary price we must endure to insure our freedom.
But what does the Second Amendment actually say? Here it is, in full: “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.”
By lopping off the first half of the sentence, the pro-gun lobby and its apologists have eliminated the Founders’ rationale for this amendment: That those who bore arms did so as members of a well-regulated militia. This was never a license for freelance vigilantism.
Just months before the Constitution was forged, our new nation endured Shays’ Rebellion of 1786-7, in which a militia had to be called out in Massachusetts to suppress an uprising against the government’s fiscal policies before order was restored. The purpose of the Second Amendment was to subdue violent dissent, not enhance it. At the time, we hardly had an army to speak of, so the safest way to ensure the security of the federal and state governments against subversion was “a well-regulated militia.” It derives from Article One of the Constitution, which gives Congress the power “To provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions.” The Second Amendment says nothing about administering personal justice or taking the law into one’s own hands.
One of the ironies of its deification by the current Supreme Court is that Justice Antonin Scalia, a self-styled “originalist,” has ignored the historical context and the clear intent of the Founders in providing legalistic cover for the gun lobby.
There is, however, one sort of militia that benefits from the arsenal of heavy weaponry available to all comers. It is the paramilitary groups that practice secretly for a final reckoning with the federal government in the name of a “liberty” known only to them. Who else would need such an arsenal? Yet it is these very anarchic groups that the Second Amendment was incorporated to subdue.
The rush by some conservatives to blame the absence of God and guns in schools for the Newtown carnage needs to be called out—and is one reason we can’t build coalitions to fix the problem, says John Avlon.
It’s definitely not too soon to condemn this craziness.
AP (2); Getty
But there are still those on the far right who, when confronted with the killing of classrooms full of 6-year-olds, reached for alternate explanations that could preserve their ideological purity and avoid common sense.
These are not just fringe figures but elected officials and other leaders of the Tea-vangelist wing of the GOP.
Former presidential candidate and Arkansas ex-governor Mike Huckabee instinctively blamed the separation of church and state for the mass murder. “We ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools,” Huckabee said on Fox News. “Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage? … Maybe we ought to let [God] in on the front end and we wouldn’t have to call him to show up when it’s all said and done at the back end.”
Surprisingly, some people had a problem with this.
Those ranks included the always-thoughtful conservative Pete Wehner, writing at Commentary.
Americans anxious to join the fight for stricter gun-control laws in the wake of the Newtown school shooting are finding there isn’t much of a fight to join—and the NRA is supremely organized. David Freedlander reports.
Imagine you live in Connecticut, not far where the Sandy Hook massacre took place. Or, say, Oak Creek, Wis., where a gunman shot and killed six at a Sikh temple in August. Or in Denver, near the Aurora movie theater, where 12 were shot in July.
Protesters outside the NRA's lobbying office in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 17. (Paul J. Richards/Getty)
Fed up, and maybe a little scared for your safety, you decide that something needs to be done. But what? You check out the nation’s most prominent gun-control group, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, hoping to find an organization to join or at least some simple steps you can take immediately to join the fight—a march to attend, a congressman to pressure, news of legislation coming up before key committees in your local state legislature. For each state, the website gives you a generic form to fill out to contact your state chapter, which may be several towns over, a button to donate money to the group, and a link to learn about local gun laws.
Compare this with the National Rifle Association, which for years has been reaching out aggressively to would-be supporters everywhere from college campuses to CPAC by culling conservative email lists and by catching people at the point of sale of a firearm. Indeed, if you are thinking about joining the NRA, it is probably because the group has already reached out to you.
The discrepancy in organizing capacity between the opposing sides of the gun debate has been underscored in recent days, as many Americans have found themselves anxious to join the fight against the NRA and to start pushing for stricter gun-control laws.
The problem is, there isn’t much of a fight to join. Besides the Brady Campaign, dozens of groups are fighting for gun safety, all of which have different agendas, leadership styles, and supporters. The most prominent group of the moment is the Mike Bloomberg-backed Mayors Against Illegal Guns. But if it wasn’t clear from the name, that group is focused mostly on mayors and other elected officials, and less on building a mass movement.
In its six years in existence, Mayors Against Illegal Guns has had a decent run. The group defeated a bill that would have forced states to honor out-of-state concealed-carry permits. It also racked up a handful of victories over pro-gun lawmakers in the 2012 elections after pouring millions of Bloomberg’s money into a super PAC. The group has launched a new ad campaign, and the New York City mayor has pledged to keep his wallet open in the next round of elections —“shame on me if I don’t,” he said at a press conference Monday, surrounded by dozens of family members of shooting victims—but the group hasn’t done anything yet to approach the organizing power of the NRA.
“We thought that what was needed in this broken debate was an outsider,” said Arkadi Gerney, who as a City Hall aide was one of the original organizers of MAIG. “And those outsiders, the core of them, are mayors. If you are a mayor, you can’t ignore the crime issue. And instead of fighting these battles city by city, we bring these ideas to Washington. I think it has helped change the discussion.”
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