Posts by Don Emmerich, Jr.

The Gun Debate Is Not About Disarming ‘Good Guys’

Since the Newtown shooting, many individuals, liberal and otherwise, have argued for stricter gun laws. These individuals, at least the ones of whom I’m aware, have not argued that we need to ban all guns. Rather they’ve argued that we need more sensible gun laws, laws that, for example, make it more difficult for criminals and schizophrenics to obtain firearms.

But instead of dealing with these specific arguments, many self-proclaimed gun-rights advocates have been attacking straw-man arguments. In a recent article in The American Conservative, for example, Rand Paul’s media director, Jack Hunter, writes that “[t]he calls for increased gun control after the Newtown shooting” are “demonstrably wrongheaded—and potentially deadly” and that they best way to prevent future Newtowns is to make sure that good guys have access to guns. As evidence for this, he adduces several armed citizens who have stopped gunmen[1] and then concludes:

“Banning knives would not have stopped Jack the Ripper. Banning guns will not stop the crazed few who seek to open fire on the public.

“To the degree that liberals get their way on gun control, there will be more deaths of innocents. I’m not saying that liberals would want the potential murders implied in the examples here to occur. But what they want legislatively would only—inevitably—lead to more killing.”[2]

But again, the liberals I’ve read and listened to over the past few weeks haven’t been arguing that we need to ban all guns. Most liberals seem to recognize that, even if desirable, that’s simply not going to happen, and they have consequently focused their energy on advocating specific, restrained measures, namely:

1) Banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.[3], [4], [5]

2) Requiring everyone to pass a criminal and mental health background check before being able to purchase firearms.

3) Making gun trafficking a felony.[6]

4) Abolishing the Tiahart Amendments, which, among things, largely prohibit states, cities, and local police forces from accessing the ATFs gun-tracing database.[7], [8]

Liberals after Newtown have been focusing on measures like these, not measures that would prevent “good guys” from having guns. If people like Jack Hunter would like to explain why these measures are so bad, then I’d be happy to listen. But they refuse to do this for the simple reason that these measures seem like no-brainers and have consequently gained the support of most Americans.[9]

Which is why extremists like Jack Hunter won’t debate these proposals. They know they’ll lose.

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[1] Not all his examples, I should point out, are valid ones. For instance, he writes: “On December 11 a man opened fire in a mall in Portland, Oregon—that is, until he was confronted by another armed man who had a carry-and-conceal weapon. The gunman who had fired on shoppers then took his own life.” Once you research what actually happened in the Clackamas Town Center, however, you realize that it’s not at all clear that the concealed-carry holder caused the gunman to kill himself. After the shooting started, 22-year-old Nick Meli pulled out his own weapon, but he refrained from firing, afraid that he might hit a bystander. Meli believes that the killer saw him and that he didn’t fire any more shoots, save the one that ended his life, after their encounter (Mike Benner, “Clackamas mall shooter faced man with concealed weapons,” KGW, December 17, 2012). Police were on the scene within a minute after the shooting began and believe that their presence might have impelled the killer to shoot himself (Mariano Castillo and Holly Yan, “Details, but no answers, in Oregon mall shooting,” CNN, December 13, 2012). From everything we know, it’s not clear why the killer shot himself (Anna Griffin, “Clackamas Town Center shooting: 22 minutes of chaos and terror as gunman meanders through the mall,” The Oregonian, December 15, 2012.)

[2]How Gun Control Kills,” December 27, 2012.

[3] The Brady Campaign offers what seems like a pretty reasonable definition of assault weapons (Federal Gun Laws: Assault-Style Weapons: Frequently Asked Questions.”)

[4] In response to those who claim that the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban didn’t work, I would just point out, first, that the ban contained numerous loopholes that greatly hindered it. Assault weapons and large-capacity magazines manufactured before 1994 were exempted from the ban, meaning that more than 1.5 million assault weapons remained in circulation. In addition, the country’s stock of large-capacity magazines actually continued to grow after the ban, because it remained legal to import them as long as they had been made before the ban. The law also inadequately spelled out what constituted an assault weapon, allowing “the industry to continue manufacturing guns similar to those that had been banned.” Second, a 2004 study financed by the Justice Department concluded that the ban did lead to a small reduction in gun crime (Michael Luo and Michael Cooper, Lessons in Politics and Fine Print in Assault Weapons Ban of 90s, New York Times, December 19, 2012).

[5] As proof that assault weapons can have defensive purposes, some have pointed out that during the LA Riots some Korean store owners used semi-automatic rifles to defend their grocery stores. Three points here. First, it’s not clear that assault weapons were used. In the following news clip, for instance, one individual (presumably a store owner or friend) can be seen with a more traditional hunting rifle and another with a handgun: Korean store owners defend their businesses during the 1992 LA riots. Second, it seems clear that assault weapons were not needed for defense. Evidently just displaying traditional rifles and handguns and firing them into the air was enough to deter looters (Ashley Dunn, Looters, Mercants Put Koreatown Under the Gun: Violence: Lacking confidence in the police, employees and others armed themselves to protect mini-mall,” Los Angeles Times, May 2, 1992). Third, even if assault weapons were in fact needed to keep back looters, it doesn’t follow that the benefits of allowing such weapons to remain legal outweigh the costs. As recent events have made clear, assault weapons allow deranged gunmen to murder large numbers of individuals in a relatively short period of time. Making it harder for would-be killers  to acquire such weapons would most certainly save lives, and achieving this goal makes a ban worthwhile, even if every few decades or so such a weapon might be used to keep a group of looters at bay.

[6] Michael Bloomberg, “6 ways to stop gun madness,” USA Today, December 19, 2012. See also Demand A Plan to End Gun Violence

[7] Tiahart Amendment Facts,”

[8] Another action that seems sensible to me: creating a nationwide database to track gun and ammunition purchases (Marc Parrish, “How Big Data Can Solve America’s Gun Problem,” The Atlantic, December 27, 2012).

[9]Poll: More see societal problems in Sandy Hook shooting,” Washington Post, December 20, 2012.
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Some Things to Consider Before Buying a Gun (An Open Letter to a Friend)

So I hear you’re arming up.

I have to admit that I’m surprised. You’ve always struck me as something of a hippy. And I mean that as a compliment. I’ve always seen you as a Jesus-loving, pot-smoking (yes, I know you’ve been trying to stop) type of guy. Someone who isn’t above retweeting cute kitten photos. Again, I mean that as a compliment.

I understand that the Newtown tragedy has you rattled. I’m rattled, too. And I understand your reason for wanting to buy a gun and apply for a concealed-carry permit. I just hope you fully understand what you’re getting yourself into.

Along with its potential benefits, owning a gun comes with many risks. People with guns sometimes have accidents. Sometimes they mistakenly shoot themselves or others. According to the Center for Disease Control, there are around 15,000 accidental firearm injuries each year, around 600 accidental deaths.[1]

When you own a gun you also run the risk of your gun getting into the hands of someone who shouldn’t have it, for example, a child or criminal. Statistically speaking, when you purchase a gun you also increase your chances of committing suicide.[2] I know that your struggles with depression aren’t all that frequent, but at the same time I worry that during your darker moments it might not be good having a handgun so available.[3]

Of course, guns can also save lives. That’s why you want one. I get it. But I think you should know that the odds of this happening are infinitesimally small. You’re just not likely to ever find yourself confronted with a deranged gunman. This country is not nearly as violent as the media would have us believe. Senseless violence sometimes occurs, but the violent crime rate is actually at a 40-year low. The murder rate is lower than it’s been at any point since 1963.[4]

And even if you found yourself in the middle of a Newtown- or Aurora-like situation, it’s highly unlikely that you’d be able to save any lives. You just don’t have the necessary training, experience, and ability. Imagine that you’d been in that Aurora movie theater last year: it’s dark, smoke bombs going off, a gunman in full body armor firing an assault rifle. You really think you would have had any chance of taking him out?[5]

On those rare occasions when armed citizens have taken out gunmen, they’ve usually been individuals with sufficient combat training, usually off-duty police officers or retired soldiers.[6] According to Dr. Stephen Hargarten, a gun violence expert at the Medical College of Wisconsin, armed civilians in such situations are more likely than not to inadvertently “increase the bloodshed.” Even those individuals with the necessary training often fail to respond properly. Take the New York police officers who, while trying to take out a gunman near the Empire State Building last year, inadvertently shot nine bystanders.”[7]

None of which is to say that a gun might not end up saving your life. It might. I’m just not sure that the potential benefits of having a gun outweigh the potential costs.[8] In addition to the problems I’ve described above, having a gun has a way of changing one’s mindset. As Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, puts it, “If all you have is a gun, everything looks like a target.”[9] Having that piece of cold metal strapped to your ankle can engender an inflated sense of fear and paranoia.[10] It can cause you to lose trust in others. (In this beautiful yet tragic world, we need to do all we can to increase, not decrease, our trust in others.) It can cause you to make foolish decisions that you wouldn’t have otherwise made. Indeed studies show that most purported defensive guns uses occur in “escalating arguments and are both socially undesirable and illegal.”[11]

Anyway, I’m done. I’ve given you my two cents. For the record, I think that you, and other mentally-stable, law-abiding individuals, have the right to own guns. I just ask that you carefully think through this issue before proceeding. And if you decide to go ahead with it I ask that you get the proper training, that you keep your gun secure, and that you always follow the four basic rules of gun safety as though your life and the lives of those around you depend on it, for they very well might.[12]

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[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Injury Prevention and Control: Data and Statistics.”

[2] Linda L. Dahlberg, Robin M. Ikeda, Marcie-jo Kresnow, “Guns in the Home and Risk of a Violent Death in the Home: Findings from a National Study,” American Journal of Epidemiology, 160 (10), 2004.

[3] Over 19,000 Americans killed themselves with a firearm in 2010 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Injury Prevention and Control: Data and Statistics”).

[4] Uniform Crime Reporting Statistics, “State and national crime estimates by year(s).” See also Andrew Mach, “FBI: Violent crime rates in the US drop, approach historic lows,” NBC News, June 11, 2012.

[6] Forrest Wickman, “Do Armed Citizens Stop Mass Shootings?” Slate, December 18, 2012.

[7] Mark Follman, “More Guns, More Mass Shootings—Coincidence?” Mother Jones, December 15, 2012.

[8] Some will tell you that citizens use firearms in self-defense over two million times a year, but as far as I can tell this claim has been entirely debunked. See David Frum, “Do Guns Make Us Safer?” CNN, July 30, 2012.

[9] Alan Jacobs, “A Christmas Thought About Guns,” The American Conservative, December 26, 2012.

[10] Alan Jacobs, “Guns, Risks, Safety,” The American Conservative, December 17, 2012.

[11] Harvard Injury Control Research Center, “Gun Threats and Self-Defense Gun Use.”

[12] From Jeff Cooper: Rule #1: All guns are always loaded. Rule #2: Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy. Rule #3: Keep your finger off the trigger till your sights are on the target. Rule #4: Identify your target and what is behind it. 
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Some Thoughts on the Newtown Shooting and Gun Control

Our 300 Million Guns Aren’t Making Us Safer

Ezra Klein points out that “[m]ore guns tend to mean more homicide.” The Harvard Injury Control Research Center, he writes, has “assessed the literature on guns and homicide and found that there

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If the ‘pro-life’ movement really cared about life…

The “pro-life” movement has become a joke. I simply can’t take it seriously. Case in point: Liberty University is again taking the Obama Administration to Court. Fox News reports:

“The school is challenging the constitutionality of the part of [the Affordable Care Act] that mandates employers provide insurance and whether forcing insurers to pay for birth control is unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s free exercise of religion clause.[1]

If abortion is murder, as the Liberty crowd believes, then it should be doing all it can to support the administration’s requirement that insurers pay for birth control. Simply put, when women have free access to birth control, they have fewer unwanted pregnancies. And when women have fewer unwanted pregnancies, they have fewer abortions.

A recent study concluded that—quoting an AP story reprinted by none other than Fox News—“[f]ree birth control leads to fewer abortions.” The study tracked 9,000 St. Louis women who were offered free birth control. In what should have come as no surprise, these women had a significantly lower rate of unintended pregnancies than the general population. Teens in the study had especially low rates: “There were 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers in the study. Compare that to a national rate of 34 per 1,000 teens in 2010.”[2]

The study further found that there were “substantially lower rates of abortion, when compared with women in the metro area and nationally: 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, compared with 13.4 to 17 abortions per 1,000 women overall in the St. Louis region” and “almost 20 abortions per 1,000 women” nationally.

Sarah Kliff recently argued that better birth control methods—namely, intrauterine devices (IUDs)—are the most likely reason that the abortion rate has been falling. (Yes, the abortion rate has been falling.)[3] In the above study, women who used IUDs were 22 times less likely to have an unintended pregnancy than women using the pill. All of which led one of the study’s authors, Dr. Jeffery Peipert, to conclude that if women were given access to free IUDs the national abortion rate could very well drop by half.[4]

Which is why I can’t take so much of the “pro-life” crowd seriously. If they really cared about saving human lives, then they would take actions that would actually save human lives.

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[1] “Supreme Court orders new look at Liberty University’s health care coverage,” November 26, 2012.

[2] Lauran Neergaard, “Study: Free birth control leads to few abortions,” Associated Press, October 5, 2012.

[3]Surprise! The abortion rate just hit an all-time low,” Washington Post, November 23, 2012.

[4] Darshak Sanghavi, “Why Have Teen Pregnancy Rates Dropped?” Slate, July 31, 2012.
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The Case for Boycotting Walmart

1) Walmart does not take care of its workers.

According to IBISWorld, an independent market research company, the average Walmart worker makes $8.81 an hour.[1], [2] This is less than workers make at many competing companies. The average cash…

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Two Myths about Operation Pillar of Defense

Myth #1: Hamas started the conflict.

This has been the narrative of much of the mainstream press. The New York Times, for example, stated earlier this week that Israel began dropping bombs in Gaza “after persistent Palestinian rocket fire.”[1] But, as Paul Pillar points out, “who appears to be retaliating against whom depends on when you start the clock.” Although it’s true that Palestinian militants often fire rockets into Israel, it’s also true that Israel regularly aggresses against those living in Gaza.[2] The blockade itself is a continuous act of aggression, one which continues to cause tremendous suffering among Palestinians.[3]

Pillar further points out that, while many media outlets have stated that the recent conflict began when Palestinian militants attacked IDF soldiers on November 8, these outlets have generally failed to mention that the soldiers were attacked after they, buttressed by four tanks and a bulldozer, invaded Gaza.[4]

Myth #2: Netanyahu just wants peace; he only ordered the assault on Gaza to force Hamas to stop firing rockets into Israel.

If Netanyahu just wants peace, then it’s not clear why he ordered the assassination of Hamas military leader Ahmed al-Jabari on November 14. Jabari’s assassination, you’ll recall, triggered Hamas to declare that “the gates of hell” had been opened and to fire a flurry of rockets into Israel.[5] We now know that on the morning of his assassination Jabari received a cease-fire proposal from Israeli peace activist Gershon Baskin. Baskin has for the past few years served as a liaison between Israel and Hamas and helped secure the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in 2011.[6] Baskin recently learned that Jabari was interested in establishing a long-term ceasefire with Israel, and so he drafted a proposal with Hamas’ Deputy Foreign Minister, Ghazi Hamad. Baskin believes that the proposal had a good chance of working, for, unlike previous proposals, this one “included both a mechanism for dealing with impending terror threats and a clear definition of breaches.” Israeli security officials were aware of the proposal, and yet Israel assassinated Jabari on the very morning he received it.[7]

If Netanyahu wants peace, then it’s also not clear why he doesn’t end the blockade. For a strong case can be made that the blockade is the cause of Palestinian terrorism. Just about any group that was daily subjected to the brutality and humiliation of the blockade would respond by trying to strike back at its oppressors. At the very least Netanyahu could ease the blockade—e.g., by allowing more exports—when Hamas reigns in extremist groups. Hamas has shown that it’s willing and able to reign in such groups, but Israel has given it few incentives to do so. By reversing this policy, Netanyahu could do much to protect Israelis.[8]   

[1] Peter Hart, “When Does Israel/Palestine Violence Start?” FAIR, 11/15/12
[2] “The Symmetry and Asymmetry of Violence in Gaza,” The National Interest, 11/15/12
[3] UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs occupied Palestinian territory, “Easing the Blockade: Assessing the Humanitarian Impact on the Population of the Gaza Strip” [.pdf], March 2011.
[4] See also IMEU, “Timeline: Israel’s Latest Escalation in Gaza,”11/14/12.
[7]Israel’s Shortsighted Assassination,” New York Times, 11/16/12.
[8] Daniel Byman, “Israel’s Gamble in Gaza,” Foreign Affairs, 11/15/12.

Why I’m Voting for Obama

I’m not a fan of Barack Obama. With regards to foreign policy and civil liberties, his first term was in many ways a continuation of George W. Bush’s second term. He escalated the war in Afghanistan. He escalated drone attacks in Pakistan and Yemen. He tried to keep American troops in Iraq. He continued Bush’s policy of due-process-free indefinite detention. He did absolutely nothing for Palestinians. In sum, he largely governed like a sociopath, and if this were a just world he would be standing trial for war crimes.

But it’s not a just world, and Jill Stein doesn’t have a chance of winning. Our choice is between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. And as bad as Obama may be, I believe that Romney would be worse.

First, Mitt Romney’s foreign policy would certainly be more belligerent. Romney has sounded like a neocon throughout much of the campaign, and, although he’s toned it down for the general election, if we want to see how he would govern we need just look at his advisors. His inner circle, Rosa Brooks writes, “looks an awful lot like George W. Bush’s inner circle, mostly because they’re made up of the exact same guys,” people like John Bolton, Dick Cheney, Robert Kagan, Dan Senor, Eliot Cohen, and Eric Edelman. All of which means that a Romney presidency might very well mean war with Iran. It might mean a return to torture, extraordinary rendition, and CIA black sites, all of which Obama banned in 2009. A Romney presidency would certainly mean more money for the defense industry.
Second, Mitt Romney would drastically weaken the social safety net. Although he hasn’t released an actual budget, he’s made it clear that he’s committed to balancing the budget without raising taxes and without cutting Medicare, Social Security, or defense. As Ezra Klein points out, “To make Romney’s numbers add up, you have to assume that by the end of his presidency, Romney will have cut every federal program that’s not Medicare, Social Security or defense spending by 57 percent.” Which means that he would have to impose drastic cuts to programs that benefit the poor; we’re talking things like “Medicaid, food stamps, housing subsidies and job training.” Some estimates suggest that “a Romney victory would deny health insurance to about 45 million [poor] people who would have coverage if he lost.”

Third, Romney’s policies would certainly be much more harmful to the environment. Obama hasn’t been great on environmental issues, but, as Brad Plummer recently reported, he “has taken a few modest steps to curb carbon emissions.” If we essentially continue these policies, we’re likely to see a decrease in carbon emissions by as much 16 percent by 2020. (Obama also invested quite a bit in clean energy in the stimulus.) Romney, by contrast, has made it clear that he would not do anything to reduce emissions.

Again, I wish we had a better choice. I wish Jill Stein were a viable candidate. But she’s not. The American public isn’t yet ready for someone like her. Which means that we have our work cut out for us. We need to continue working to educate people. But in the mean time, I’m voting for Barack Obama, whose policies will certainly harm less people than Mitt Romneys.

“In Swing States, Vote for Obama” by Daniel Ellsberg


It is urgently important to prevent a Republican administration under Romney/Ryan from taking office in January 2013.

The election is now just weeks away, and I want to urge those whose values are generally in line with mine — p…

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Richard Beck on the Nature of Religious Belief: A Summary


Experimental psychologist Richard Beck has spent much of his career showing that Sigmund Freud’s take on religion was partially, but just partially, correct. To be more specific, Beck has shown that not everyone who embraces relig…

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Mitt Romney on Medicare: Facts and Fictions

Mitt Romney:

“There’s only one president I know of in history that robbed Medicare, $716 billion to pay for a new risky program of his own that we call Obamacare” (PolitiFact).

The facts:

1) Under the ACA (Affordable Care Act), Medicare spending will continue to increase, only at a slower rate than it would have otherwise. “[B]efore the health law was passed, Medicare was expected to grow by 6.8 percent a year for 2010 through 2019.  With the health law, that yearly growth rate is projected to be 5.6 percent during that same time frame, according to an analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation” (Kaiser Health News).

2) Thirty-five percent of these reductions come from the amount Medicare “reimburses hospitals and private health insurance companies.” “The health law changed how Medicare calculates what they get reimbursed for various services, slightly lowering their rates over time. Hospitals agreed to these cuts because they knew, at the same time, they would likely see an influx of paying patients with the Affordable Care Act’s insurance expansion” (WaPo) (The reason for this being “the law’s mandate for nearly all individuals to have insurance, which meant that providers and insurers would have millions of new paying patients and policyholders” [NY Times]).

3) Thirty percent of these reductions come from the amount “Medicare reimburses private, Medicare Advantage plans. That program allows seniors to join a private health insurance, with the federal government footing the bill. The whole idea of Medicare Advantage was to drive down the cost of health insurance for the elderly as private insurance companies competing for seniors’ business.” But that’s now what happened. “By 2010, the average Medicare Advantage per-patient cost was 117 percent of regular fee-for-service. The Affordable Care Act gives those private plans a haircut and tethers reimbursement levels to the quality of care administered, and patient satisfaction” (WaPo).

4) None of these reductions come from “the amount of benefits beneficiaries receive.” Moreover, the ACA adds some new benefits, including closing the ‘doughnut hole’ gap in Medicare prescription drug coverage, and new preventive services, such as an annual wellness visit with a physician” (Kaiser Health News).

5) Many analysts believe that reversing these reductions “would hasten the insolvency of Medicare by eight years—to 2016, the final year of the next presidential term, from 2024” (NY Times).

6) Additionally, reversing these reductions would “immediately add hundreds of dollars a year to out-of-pocket Medicare expenses for beneficiaries,” the reason being that “[b]eneficiaries, through their premiums and co-payments, share the cost of Medicare with the government.” So [i]f Medicare’s costs increase—for instance, by raising payments to health care providers—so, too, do beneficiaries’ contributions.” (Moreover, repealing the ACA “would eliminate expanded coverage of prescription drugs, free wellness care and preventive checkups.”) (NY Times)
7) The Ryan/Romney budget calls for the same $716 billion reduction. Romney/Ryan want to put this money “toward deficit reduction while Obama [wants to spend] it on health care for poor people.” Romney/Ryan argue that, because they’re using this reduction to cut the deficit, their plan would “make future cuts to Medicare less likely.

“But Romney/Ryan also add a trillion dollars to the defense budget. And they have trillions of dollars in tax cuts they haven’t explained how they’re going to pay for. So those decisions make future cuts to Medicare more likely. Meanwhile, Obama cuts defense spending by hundreds of billions of dollars, raises about $1.5 trillion in new taxes, and puts all that money into deficit reduction. So that makes future Medicare cuts less likely. So if the argument is that Romney/Ryan protect Medicare by putting the $770 billion in cuts towards deficit reduction, Obama protects Medicare by twice as much by putting the $1.5 trillion in new tax revenues towards deficit reduction. So far as the deficit is concerned, there’s no difference between a dollar from Medicare and a dollar from taxes” (WaPo).