Posted tagged ‘Terror’

Beyond The Watch List

June 15, 2016

ETA: As Botsplainer relates in this comment to the mirror post over at Balloon Juice, there is already federal law on gun ownership and domestic violence:  if you’ve been convicted of misdemeanor or felony domestic violence, you can’t own a gun. In certain circumstances and in some states that applies to those under restraining orders.  The law is far from comprehensive, though. For example, partner violence in a couple that hasn’t lived together/shared a child falls through its cracks.

Current law also depends on some basic functions at the state level that don’t always happen, including proper updating of lists of domestic violence convictions/restraining orders so as to invoke the federal ban when an offender sets out to buy weapons.

To be clear: I erred in my first pass at this, caught up in my generalized anger, and I apologize for the mistake.  At the same time a deepened, broadened and intensified approach to the new law that is needed and the application of existing law around guns and domestic violence is absolutely needed.

Back to a corrected version of your previously scheduled program:

I’ve my doubts whether this time will be different, but there are some signs that the Orlando massacre will persuade some (I hope enough) of the GOP of the need for the first baby steps towards a useful gun control regime.

But denying guns to those on the terror watch or no-fly lists — and even a much-less-likely assault weapon ban — will still leave an enormous gateway to murderous violence to be dealt with:

When Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control group, analyzed F.B.I. data on mass shootings from 2009 to 2015, it found that 57 percent of the cases included a spouse, former spouse or other family member among the victims — and that 16 percent of the attackers had previously been charged with domestic violence.

It is, as always, important to note that correlation does not equal cause. As

David_Remeeus_Portrait_of_a_Lady

Reporter Amanda Taub writes,

There are, of course, a tangle of factors behind every murder, especially terrorism inspired by foreign groups. But research on domestic violence hints at a question that often surrounds seemingly inexplicable events like Mr. Mateen’s massacre of 49 people at an Orlando nightclub — what drives individuals to commit such mass attacks? — and sheds light on the psychology of violence.

That is, as Taub argues:

Terrorist attacks and mass shootings garner attention and frighten the public much more than episodes of domestic violence. But domestic violence has a much higher death toll in the United States.

According to the Violence Policy Center, 895 women in the United States were murdered by their current or former intimate partners in 2013 (and this does not include those killed amid mass shootings). That single-year tally is more than nine times the 92 people the New American Foundationhas counted as killed in jihadist attacks on American soil in the past decade.

But there are striking parallels between the intimate terrorism of domestic violence and the mass terrorism perpetrated by lone-wolf attackers like Mr. Mateen. Both, at their most basic level, are attempts to provoke fear and assert control.

Most chilling, this informed speculation:

Paul Gill, a senior lecturer at University College London who studies the behavior of lone-actor terrorists, said that violence was, in a sense, a learned psychological skill: “Having a history of violence might help neutralize the natural barriers to committing violence.”

From that perspective, domestic violence can be seen as a psychological training ground for someone like Mr. Mateen to commit a mass attack.

Read the whole thing — and for a lagniappe, check out Nancy LeTourneau’s gloss on Taub’s piece over at The Washington Monthly.

Here I just want to add to minimal list of necessary gun control measures: full enforcement and extension of federal law prohibiting access to guns — including seizure of weapons already in possession* — not only for convicted domestic abusers, but also and urgently for anyone subject to a restraining order.  As noted in the correction at the top of this piece, there are gaps in the current legal and enforcement system that helps deepen the misery of our existing domestic partner violence.  (See, e.g., this story.)

This shouldn’t be controversial:  if the threat you pose has risen to the level that a judge is willing to bar you from your home and partner and/or family — then the threat is too high to leave you with such ready means to kill.

*this is one of the areas of concern in current law.

Image: David Remeeus, Portrait of a lady with a gold chain and pistol-shaped charm 1597.

 

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Offense, Speech, Redress

January 7, 2015

In the thread below yesterday’s post on the shootings in Paris in its Balloon Juice version, a … lively … discussion broke out around various forms of the question of provocation.  No one, I think, suggested that the murders were anything but grotesque, an expression of evil.  But several people noted that they weren’t surprised that the atrocity occurred, given the known impact of the sort of satire in which Charlie Hebdu traded.

That evoked discussion — and sharp disagreement — about the duty of respect, especially to minority views or senses of identity.  (I’m paraphrasing and drastically shrinking the discussion here.  Feel free to correct, demur, dismiss in the comments.)

My view is pretty simple.  The price to pay for living in an open society is suffering the existence and the independence of those who drive you crazy.  Sort of like being the parent of a teenager.

But I digress.

Bluntly:  the appropriate response to speech that pisses you off is speech.  Nothing else.  I am a cultural relativist in my daily work. (What is a historian, even or especially a popular historian like myself, but someone who tries to grasp that foreign country, the past, in its own terms as well as in our own time’s?)

But that relativism has limits.  It commands empathy, sympathy, the effort to understand; it does not require, or even permit any veto on thought or behavior based on the cultural demands of one group over another.

That’s why anti-abortion groups become terrorists when they shoot clinic workers.  That’s why those who provide public accommodations — bakers, for example — no more get to choose to deny a gay couple a wedding cake than they would an African American one.  And so on.

So, no.  I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the contextualization of the murder of foul mouthed, blasphemous satirists as an extreme (and — everyone agreed on this — utterly unacceptable) extension of genuine grievances.  Even if it is true that France treats its former-colonial Muslim population culpably wretchedly.  Speech is speech.  Murder is murder.  The former never ameliorates, much less excuses guilt for the latter.  It doesn’t, really, even make it comprehensible.  Those who kill over cartoons (or use a cartoon as a pretext for a killing for other ends) are neither sembables or frères

That thought is what, earlier today, led me back to one of the monuments of 2oth century American jurisprudence.  It’s only surprising that the William Rehnquist wrote the opinion in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell in light of the current debasement of the Supreme Court.  I can actually remember when the party identification of the appointing President was not a wholly reliable guide to where opinions would land.

The issue in dispute in Hustler v. Falwell was whether or not the egregious preacher was entitled to damages for emotional suffering imposed by Hustler’s publication of a mock advertisement that showed a drunken Falwell having sex with his mother in an outhouse.

As Rehnquist wrote,

There is no doubt that the caricature of respondent and his mother published in Hustler is at best a distant cousin of the political cartoons described above [works by Thomas Nast and others], and a rather poor relation at that.

Boss_Tweed,_Nast

Nonetheless, crappy, nasty, or downright mean political speech is still vital, Rehnquist and a unanimous Supreme Court (Fat Tony included!) agreed, to the point that the no-doubt sincerely pissed off Falwell had to suck it up:

If it were possible by laying down a principled standard to separate the one from the other, public discourse would probably suffer little or no harm. But we doubt that there is any such standard, and we are quite sure that the pejorative description “outrageous” does not supply one. “Outrageousness” in the area of political and social discourse has an inherent subjectiveness about it which would allow a jury to impose liability on the basis of the jurors’ tastes or views, or perhaps on the basis of their dislike of a particular expression. An “outrageousness” standard thus runs afoul of our longstanding refusal to allow damages to be awarded because the speech in question may have an adverse emotional impact on the audience.

Rehnquist was hardly my beau-ideal of a jurist.  But he was always strong on the first amendment.  And in this  opinion, he nailed the essence of what freedom of speech means and requires from a society that values and trusts itself:

France isn’t the US.  I can imagine a different view of what might constitute shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater if one were in Lebanon, say, rather than the Bronx — or the Marais.  But the underlying theme in the Hustler v. Falwell opinion talllies with the way I believe free societies would choose to live.

It remains vital to have enough sympathy to be able to recognize genuine pain evoked carelessly or deliberately by speech.  It’s an important part of living well to model the best definition I’ve heard for what it means to be a gentleman:  someone who never insults another person unintentionally.

But granting the reality of grievance in the face of either deliberate or ignorant disdain, still Rehnquist had it right:

 

“[T]he fact that society may find speech offensive is not a sufficient reason for suppressing it. Indeed, if it is the speaker’s opinion that gives offense, that consequence is a reason for according it constitutional protection.

Amen and amen.

The full text of the opinion follows below the jump.

Image:  Thomas Nast, Boss Tweed, before 1871.

(more…)

Nous Sommes Tous Charlie

January 7, 2015

By now I’m assuming everyone’s heard about the dreadful attack on the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebo:

Masked gunmen burst into the Paris offices of a French satirical newspaper on Wednesday and killed 12 people, including top journalists and two police officers, before fleeing in a car. The gunmen were still at large at dusk, as an extensive police dragnet spread across a traumatized city.

Among the dead were four prominent cartoonists who have repeatedly lampooned Islamic terrorists and the Prophet Muhammad, leading to speculation that the attack on the newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, was the work of Islamic militants acting alone or in concert with extremist groups.

The gunmen — reports suggest there were three — are still at large, and, according to Times coverage, it remains unknown what group, if any, organized the attack.

Salman Rushdie knows something about words and art and the threat of deadly violence aimed at suppressing it.  He’s one of many who have responded to the attack.  The statement was apparently up at PEN’s site, but that’s down now, and (via a Neil Gaiman tweet) I found it at the Wall St. Journal.  Here it is:

“Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”  –Salman Rushdie

Bad times, sad times.  My thoughts and deepest sympathy to all the families and friends of the murdered.

Chronicles of the Gutless, or When Did the GOP Become Such Cowards? Scott Brown edition

January 11, 2010

Just listened to the last debate in the MA Senate race and caught the exchanges between Scott Brown (R-Soundbite) and Martha Coakley (D).

Lots of stuff to notice — mostly that if I were a committed anti-abortion voter, I would  have no one to vote for in this election, as Scott Brown was for, against, and unsure of what he thought on the issue, especially around his proposal a couple of years back to permit hospital workers to refuse to inform rape victims of the existence of a morning-after contraceptive.  He sponsored the idea, then voted in favor of a bill requiring such information, and finally said he was for Roe v. Wade…or sort of.

I have no idea what he really thinks (and how he would vote), and I’m not sure he does either, but I do know that neither supporters nor opponents of women’s right to make their own medical decisions should have any warm and fuzzy feelings about the man right now.

I also liked the zinger that third party guy Joe Kennedy (obligatory no relation reference here) got off on Brown, noting how he’s against taxes now, but declined to support an anti-income tax measure in the run up to the last election.  I actually think that his was the right position at the time, but he sure is running as if he hopes no one remembers that moment of GOP apostasy now.

But all of that is just the secret sauce on top of what makes me think that Brown is truly in tune with the gutless heart of modern Republican “thought” (sic — ed).

That would be his stance on trying accused terrorists in civilian courts, as opposed to maintaining our version of a no-exit gulag beyond the reach of law.

He said, repeatedly, that he opposed trying such suspects in civilian court at — as he said over and over again — “taxpayer expense.”

The witlessness of that got me, of course:  these dudes aren’t a drain on the American public purse now, Mr. Brown?  You think that all those water bills and their three squares, Guantanamo style, come free?

But more deeply, when did the macho-er-than-thou “Mission Accomplished” GOP become so terrified of a handful of violent men (not to mention all those lumped in with the baddest guys who ended up there by accident, but that’s another story) that the mere thought that the rule of law might apply to their cases would send allegedly grown men and women reaching for their blankies?

That’s the rub, for me.  It has always seemed a fundamental mistake to dignify those who aim to blow up random children, women and men with the epithet “enemy” or “combatant.”

Our adversaries — at least  those who use overstuffed jockstraps as weapons — are not warriors. They are not soldiers to be dignified by any hint of equivalence with the men and women we have sent in harm’s way.  They are mere thugs, and they should be treated as such.

This isn’t mere semantics.

We have done nothing to serve the interests of al Qaeda or its kin as to acknowledge them to the world as enemies capable of inspiring fear.  What a recruiting tool, to enable some persuasive person to proclaim to young men that the world’s only superpower fears its “enemy combatants!”

Add to that the help we have given them as our leaders cowered and then masked their fear in the false bravado of torture.  Abu Ghraib was understood to be what it was: not an aberration, but an expression of the policy of the US government — driven by the fear evoked by the specter of global terror.

And now Scott Brown, with all the deep grasp of the issue that only service to Wrentham and posturing in the rump minority of the legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts can bring, comes along and tells us that torture, and indefinite detention, and the suspension of habeas corpus and all the rest remains the only way to deal with the existential threat posed by this bunch of thugs.

Maybe — if we were truly weak, if we were a  fragile, illegitimate rump state, dependent on every last dirty trick of security-apparats to push off  the throes of disintegration.

But we are not.  We are the United States of America, and if that means anything anymore, after all the broken faith of the Bush years, then it means we are capable of using the law to protect and to punish those who have earned the penalty.

Scott Brown doesn’t think so.  His 30 years of military service seem not to have endowed him with spine, or much of a sense of the Constitution he has sworn to protect.  He’d rather cower, and leave those he fears in the cells forever.

Gutless.

We need better in a Senator.  We need someone who is not afraid of shadows, one who understands that the equal application of the law is a defense against those who threaten the idea of America — and not now, nor ever, our weakness.

My Massachusetts readers:  don’t forget to vote come Tuesday, 19 January 2010.

Image:  Georgios Iakovidis, “Cold Shower,” 1898