Tuesday, October 7, 2014

I'm a Wingnut and a Moonbat: Part 2

In an earlier post, I explained why I might be considered a “wingnut”. Briefly: I don't support the California assault weapons ban because it restricts access to certain firearms based on their cosmetic appearance rather than their functionality. Now I have to explain why I'm a “moonbat”.

When I say that the difference between the murder and assault rates in the US and the analogous rates in Western European countries can be explained almost entirely by economic inequality, I get accused of being a socialist, which I am, although not in the American sense of the word (where socialism is conflated with communism, totalitarianism, and oppression).

The evidence, however, is clear: about three quarters of the variance in murder and assault rates is explained by income inequality. This means that if you want to reduce violent crime in the US, you can address at most one quarter of the problem with all other measures combined: neither harsher sentences, favored by the right, nor gun control, favored by the left, are nearly as strongly correlated with violent crime as income inequality. Neither gun control nor prison sentences are statistically correlated with violent crime rates to a significant degree.

So, if you actually want to address violent crime, the elephant in the room is that you must address poverty, and not just absolute poverty, but relative poverty. To do that, you need to ensure that the distribution of wealth between rich and poor favors the poor more than it has in the past.

What policy changes ought to be introduced to ensure that the poor get a greater slice of the pie, and the rich a smaller slice, is open to debate, but any way you cut it, this sounds far too much like redistribution of wealth for any right-winger to resist the temptation to call me a “moonbat”.

Friday, October 3, 2014

I'm a Wingnut and a Moonbat: Part 1

For those unfamiliar with American political discourse, a “wingnut”, so the stereotype goes, is a gun-totin' redneck Evangelical Christian Republican-voting moron who gets all of his/her opinions straight from Rush Limbaugh. A “moonbat”, by contrast, is a gun-grabbin' city-dwelling atheist Democrat-voting commie who gets all of his/her unconsidered opinions straight from The Daily Show.
Now, you might think that an advocate of evidence-based policy might end up somewhere in the middle and would be neither a wingnut nor a moonbat, but it turns out that such a person is actually both.

Here's one example (I'll address the other side in Part 2)...

California has, arguably, the strictest gun control of any state. I come from a place where firearm licensing is immeasurably stricter, basically the strictest in the world. There is no legal provision for a license for a handgun or a center-fire rifle. You can get a license for a shotgun, double-barreled or pump with a 3 round magazine, or a .22 rim-fire rifle, but that's it and it's not easy. Broadly speaking, as a people, we have no tradition of firearms ownership and we neither need nor want firearms. Our police are mostly unarmed, and we like it that way.

As a person living in the US on a visa, I can't legally own buy (see edit note, below) a firearm. I find them interesting, of course, as any kid who played cops & robbers patterned after American TV shows might, but basically, I have no dog in this fight. I'm undecided whether, if I were allowed, I would end up having a ridiculous arsenal of firearms just because they're cool and fun and I'm a big kid, or I just wouldn't bother because they're dangerous, expensive, and the likelihood of ever actually needing to use one in the wealthy suburban part of California where I live is essentially zero.

But here's the thing. I read California's so-called “assault weapons” ban, and it is, by any objective standard, absurd. It is absurd, not because of its abuse of terminology (it actually bans some facsimiles of assault rifles), but because it regulates the appearance of the firearm, not any feature of its operation. In short, it regulates only the cosmetic appearance of the firearm. Don't believe me?


This is illegal to buy, sell, import, etc. in California (legal to own if grandfathered in). You will probably be charged with a felony (technically, it's a “wobbler”) if you are caught with one of these and can't prove that you bought it before the ban:
Illegal “Assault Weapon” in California
This functionally identical rifle — firing identical rounds with an identical mechanism from an identical magazine down an identical barrel at an identical rate of one per trigger pull — is legal to buy and own in California (assuming in both cases that the magazine holds no more than 10 rounds, despite looking like 20 or 30 round magazines):
Legal “Sporting Rifle” in California
What makes the legal difference?

The pistol-style grip above is illegal; the one below, fused to the stock, is legal. That's the difference. And don't think that federal laws are much better. If you add a handle-like grip to the barrel of either of the above without permission from the ATF and a $200 tax, that's a felony.

This, we are supposed to believe, is what is going to protect children from a Newtown-style shooting: making guns have the right kind of handle and making it a felony to have the wrong kind of handle or, perish the thought, an extra handle.


So now you know why I agree with the gun rights activists and say “the California Assault Weapons Ban is one of the most astonishingly stupid things I have ever heard of”, but only wingnuts say things like that, so I must be a wingnut, right?

Edit: in the original version of this post, I said that (as someone here on a visa) I couldn't legally own a firearm. That's probably not exactly true. 18 USC 922 (d)(5)(B) criminalizes the sale, or other transfer, of a firearm or ammunition to a person “who, being an alien— [...] has been admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa [...]” (that's me). Not that I'd realistically consider doing it, but it might be perfectly legal, at least under federal law, for me to make a firearm (e.g. from an 80% complete lower) and ammunition (e.g. by reloading), since the power that the federal government uses for 18 USC 922 derives from the Commerce Clause and so, strictly speaking, regulates only interstate or international trade. There's even an argument that I could legally purchase ammunition manufactured in California (since it would not involve interstate or international commerce and, therefore, cannot fall under the authority granted by the Commerce Clause). In any case, it's a minor technicality, there's probably some other law that prohibits it at the federal or state level, and I'm not so enamoured with the idea of firearms ownership that I'd bother risking it. Nevertheless, I've changed “own” to “buy” since, as far as I know, that's more accurate.