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Obama’s Audacity Deficit on Guns

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Posted on Mar 17, 2011

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.

“My administration has not curtailed the rights of gun owners,” the president boasted, “it has expanded them, including allowing people to carry their guns in national parks and wildlife refuges.”

No, that wasn’t George W. Bush. It was President Barack Obama in an Op-Ed piece published Sunday in the Arizona Daily Star that practically begged the gun lobby to support modest reforms of our lax gun laws.

He wasn’t even asking for a ban on large gun magazines, a prohibition that would almost certainly have saved lives on that January day in Tucson when six people were killed and Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was among 13 wounded by gunfire.

    What Obama endorsed were, well, baby steps toward strengthening background checks to keep guns out of the hands of “dangerous criminals and fugitives” and those who are “unbalanced.” That’s a fine idea, though his specific proposals—“enforcing laws that are already on the books,” “reward the states that provide the best data,” “make the system faster and nimbler”—were hardly the stuff of political courage.

But if Obama lacked audacity, he was full of hope for a dialogue. “I’m willing to bet,” he wrote, “that responsible, law-abiding gun owners agree that we should be able to keep an irresponsible, law-breaking few ... from getting their hands on a gun in the first place.”

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And the president’s tender approach was promptly met with a slap in the face from the National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre: “Why should I or the NRA go sit down with a group of people that have spent a lifetime trying to destroy the Second Amendment in the United States?”

Undeterred, the White House wants to keep casting the president as the voice of sweet reason in the midst of terrible people who, as Obama put it in his Op-Ed, “shout at one another.” 

Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, explained the approach in an e-mail. “There are real problems that need to be solved, so we could just retreat to traditional positions and rehash the old arguments until we are blue in the face, but we have done that for the last couple of decades,” he said. “Or we could try something different—drain some of the politics from this and look for areas where we can actually get something done.”

A lovely idea, and if it gets us more rational gun laws, I’ll be the first to admit it. But the administration’s growing affection for false equivalences that put positions Obama purportedly agrees with on the same level as positions he opposes is becoming insidious.

Here is the president in his Op-Ed:

“The fact is, almost all gun owners in America are highly responsible. ... They buy their guns legally and use them safely, whether for hunting or target shooting, collection or protection. And that’s something that gun-safety advocates need to accept. Likewise, advocates for gun owners should accept the awful reality that gun violence affects Americans everywhere, whether on the streets of Chicago or at a supermarket in Tucson.”

Excuse me, but gun-safety advocates don’t “need” to accept that most gun owners are responsible. We always have, as the president sort of acknowledges later in his piece. How can repeating NRA propaganda against advocates of sane gun laws be helpful to this debate? It was a bolder Obama who said in 2001: “I know that the NRA believes people should be unimpeded and unregulated on gun ownership. I disagree.” Crisp, clear, and right.

“Assault weapons are not for hunting,” Obama said in 2004. “They are the weapons of choice for gang-bangers, drug dealers and terrorists.” Right again.

Yet in his Op-Ed the president wrote: “Some will say that anything short of the most sweeping anti-gun legislation is a capitulation to the gun lobby. Others will predictably cast any discussion as the opening salvo in a wild-eyed scheme to take away everybody’s guns.”

The first statement is a wild distortion of the position of actual advocates of sane gun laws. They are not seeking “sweeping anti-gun legislation.” They are pushing tame steps LaPierre and his lobbyists reject—thorough background checks and a ban on those big magazines. Yes, restoring the highly effective ban on assault weapons would also be good. But that’s Obama’s own position. Isn’t it?

Obama observed last week that “bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people.” It can also have destructive consequences for politicians. The president could set a good example by standing up to the bullies of the NRA.

E.J. Dionne’s e-mail address is ejdionne(at)washpost.com.
   
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group


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Paul_GA's avatar

By Paul_GA, March 22, 2011 at 7:49 am Link to this comment

getreal1 makes me think of something P.J. O’Rourke wrote: “A little government and a little luck are necessary in life, but only a fool puts his trust in either of them.”

And of two from the late Harry Browne: “The police can’t stop an intruder, mugger, or stalker from hurting you. They can pursue him only after he has hurt or killed you. Protecting yourself from harm is your responsibility, and you are far less likely to be hurt in a neighborhood of gun-owners than in one of disarmed citizens — even if you don’t own a gun yourself.”

“There already are 20,000 federal gun laws and regulations on the books. If those laws haven’t made America safe by now, why should we think 20,001 laws will suffice?”

(For the curious: Mr. Browne was the LP candidate for president in 1996 and 2000; after my disillusionment with the Repubs, I had the honor to vote for him in that second campaign.)

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Alonso's avatar

By Alonso, March 21, 2011 at 11:29 pm Link to this comment

Getreal1:
Here’s my source http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_mur_percap-crime-murders-per-capita
Once again I guess it depends on where you get your numbers. And by the way which country do you live in? I lived in Holland for several years where there’s strict gun control and I witnessed a murder. “I was in the right place but it must have been the wrong time”...

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By getreal1, March 21, 2011 at 3:52 pm Link to this comment

in Alonso, March 21 at 5:12 pm

“it depends on where you get your numbers.”

I backed my statement with a source, I didn’t see yours. and anyway you’re re-framing the argument, the subject is about rights of gun owners, firearms; not about being shot, stabbed, or pushed off a building. as far as being in a safe place, that’s a relative thing. I feel safer where I’m living now than the twenty years I spent in the U.S.

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Alonso's avatar

By Alonso, March 21, 2011 at 1:12 pm Link to this comment

Getreal1, I guess it depends on where you get your numbers. However, if the U.S. ranks 64th on your chart for overall murders does it really matter if Americans perfer to use a gun? Whether one is shot, stabbed, poisoned, or pushed off a building dead is still dead. Also, there are 7 other countries ahead of us on that gun list. In addition there are several countries omitted from that list. India, Pakistan, Ivory Coast, Nigeria just to name a few. I will bet you they rank above the U.S. My point being that this country is still relatively safe in spite of the number of firearms among the population. That is all.

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getreal1's avatar

By getreal1, March 21, 2011 at 11:46 am Link to this comment

In response to Alonso, March 20 at 7:36 - Wrong. US is #8 on the list for murders with firearms, and #64 for murder in general.  Huge difference. 
http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/cri_mur_wit_fir_percap-crime-murders-firearms-per-capita

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By Greg Williams, March 21, 2011 at 7:22 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“My administration has not curtailed the rights of gun
owners,” the president boasted, “it has expanded
them,...


The rights of gun owners are not the president’s to
take away or expand. This does, however, tell us how he
thinks.

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Alonso's avatar

By Alonso, March 20, 2011 at 3:36 am Link to this comment

This gun debate amuses me. We are led to believe that the US with it’s lax gun laws has the highest murder rate in the world. We actually rank 24th in murders per capita .042 per hundred. Highest murder rate is Colombia. Lowest is Qatar. Now having said that I want to state that I’m not a NRA member. I do hold a federal firearms dealer license. I don’t sell assault weapons. Anyone that attempts to take on the police or military with an assault rifle is going to die quickly.
However, those who believe that the police and military are going to keep them safe are living in a dream. Those who want to arm themselves for their own protection will do so legally or not. That’s the way the world works and it isn’t going to change because of political debate. Get over it.

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By Paul_GA, March 19, 2011 at 7:22 pm Link to this comment

As I see it, DEProf06, with respect, there hasn’t been a general uprising by the armed citizenry because the US government, no matter how bad it is, still has legitimacy in the eyes of a majority of the people. As Jefferson wrote in the Declaration of Independence (I’m updating his spelling and punctuation), ”[A]ll experience has shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed”.

But as Bertolt Brecht once said, “Because things are the way they are, things will not stay the way they are.” Folks must’ve thought the Arab street would remain quiescent forever, too ...

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By DEProf06, March 19, 2011 at 12:13 pm Link to this comment

There are a couple of points in this article.  The first is that Americans’ obsession with guns and gun rights is bizarre, and not grounded in reality.  For example, most of the gun culture cling to the bromide that “As long as the populus is armed to the teeth, we’re safe from tyrannical government”.  Well, a good many of our rights have been decimated over the last 20 years, and not a single shot has been fired in their defense.  Most recently, the governor of Michigan signed a bill giving him the power to impose Martial Law on any city he deems to be unable to run itself.  And none of the militiamen and other “patriots” in Michigan had any complaints at all with this.

The other part of the opinion piece is that the president has again chosen to pander to a group of people who hate his guts and will work next year to get him voted out of office regardless of the weakness, stupidity, or corruption of his eventual opponent.  Many are dumbstruck and discouraged by this pattern of behavior.

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By Paul_GA, March 18, 2011 at 5:56 pm Link to this comment

I suspect, clearwaters, that the American Empire will collapse before the government can unleash Blackwater/Xie upon the people—and even if it does, how long will government terror prevail? I personally still believe that the idea of a citizen’s militia is sound, if the country is no longer interventionistic—and I’m confident that interventionism is dying. The only question is, will we put a controlled end to it ourselves, or will it end messily and uncontrollably because of the twin forces of history and economics?

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By BF, March 18, 2011 at 3:32 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Cracks me up when people say we need to ban assault weapons.  How many homicides are committed each year in the U.S. using assault weapons?  Hardly any based on the fact that if there were, it would be story one on all the major news networks.  I’d be willing to bet that more people are killed with a .38 caliber revolver than assault weapons each year.  The truth is most thugs and gang bangers can’t afford them, and they’re really hard to stick in you waistband.  The people who own them in the U.S. ARE typically responsible law abiding citizens!  Why?  Because they like guns and they look cool.  Why do some people own a sports car vs a Ford Taurus?  Because they like cool cars!  Few people drive sports cars on the street at their full potential.  About the only non-military people that use assault weapons to the full potential are drug cartel from Mexico.  Go ahead…waste a lot of time and energy banning assault weapons.  But if you do, just remember that it’s just because you don’t like the way the gun looks.  The bottom line is the most basic gun is capable of killing someone.  So if stopping gun related homicides is your goal, you might do a little research and start with the guns that kill the most people.  You will find it’s the most basic of firearms…which is also why they will likely never be banned, because you would have to pretty much ban all guns.

Sincerely,
A responsible gun owner

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By clearwaters, March 18, 2011 at 3:09 pm Link to this comment

It is absurd, if not an insane notion, that a armed citizenry acts as a deterrent to
corporate militarism. The gun over your door or in the night stand will never stop
Blackwater or any other arm of the US military, if they wanted in your home or in
your bed. The truth is,IMO, a militant oligarchy is best served by a populace who
believes that they can hold the power of life and death in their hands; it validates
the system used to control their lives. It reinforces the concept of perpetual war. It
is a false sense of security that strengthens the advantage of the oppressor. What
the MIC fears most is a citizenry that is empowered by a genuine belief in the
sanctity of life and is willing to stand and march for what they believe in.

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By Paul_GA, March 18, 2011 at 12:29 pm Link to this comment

In Bismarck’s favor, Anarcissie, it should be recalled that in the foreign-policy field, he tried his best after the Franco-German War to keep the peace in Europe. But that he “made Germany great and Germans small”, as Gladstone put it so memorably, is quite true.

And as you say, it’s a shame that the “progressives” are so much in love with the Bismarckian State; 19th-century classical liberalism was not in love with that or any strong State.

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By Anarcissie, March 18, 2011 at 9:47 am Link to this comment

Paul_GA, March 18 at 12:24 pm:

‘... I refuse to accept that the military and police are some sort of “higher order of citizen” because they wear badges or uniforms or both, and serve the State, as Himmler put it in my paraphrase. States need to be disarmed, controlled—not citizens; the greatest mass murderers are States.’

One of the things that troubles me about many of those who call themselves ‘progressives’ is their admiration for the Bismarckian state—submission to a centralized authority in exchange for modest Welfare and illusory security.  The government is thus left free to engage in imperial adventures abroad and persecute radicals at home.  The tragic history of such deals were perhaps not available to the Germans of Bismarck’s time, but they are available to us.

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By Paul_GA, March 18, 2011 at 8:24 am Link to this comment

When I speak or write of the whole country going mad as hatters, drbhelthi, I’m thinking of the old adage, “like master, like man”. Sure, there are some in Washington who are still more or less decent, but there are enough stinkeroos and nuts to justify my favorite nickname for Washington—“Mordor-on-the-Potomac”.

And, Anarcissie, as I wrote in another reply, to one peterjkraus, “The only kind of gun control I’d accept would be if the military and police are subject to the same limitations the citizenry are; for example, if civilians are limited to six-shooters, then the military and police must give up their high-capacity automatic pistols. And if civilians are limited to five-shot bolt action rifles, then such will be the rifles issued to the military and police—no more `assault weapons’.”

I refuse to accept that the military and police are some sort of “higher order of citizen” because they wear badges or uniforms or both, and serve the State, as Himmler put it in my paraphrase. States need to be disarmed, controlled—not citizens; the greatest mass murderers are States.

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By drbhelthi, March 18, 2011 at 4:03 am Link to this comment

“I think of myself as quite sane, EJH, in a country going progressively mad as hatters - - ”  Paul_GA

My view is that the “leadership”, excepting a few, are mad as hatters.  The GHWBushSr entourage accelerated the overtaking of the U.S., when GHWBushSr was “chairman of the board” of the C.I.A., secretively, in spite of formally “appointed” chiefs, the late 1950s - 1981.  Bush Senior´s entry into big oil, and then Texas politics, then U.S. politics and the vice-presidency, accelerated the overtaking of the U.S. by WWII NAZI-types, joined by Zionists.  Bush Junior becoming the gov. of Texas, then president of the U.S. loaded,locked and fired it in place with the assistance of the Israeli MOSSAD insiders, and the Patriot Act.

If you “google” the two words, “Bush NAZI,” you will pull up more info than you care to believe, I suspect. If you are native Georgian.  Similarly, if you google the phrase, “Ray McGovern, a 27-year CIA veteran” you will pull up info about the current alleged “leadership” of the U.S.  However, a word of caution.  If you are not well acquainted with this type of accurate info, have a water bucket nearby, as you may puke.  Repeatedly.
 
“The country”, from my view is not going mad.  The folk are slowly overcoming the concept that “our government is taking care of us.”  Then again, its how you view it.  When Napolitano recently announced that Iraq veterans are a security threat to the U.S., one concludes that her type want to misuse the labelling of PTSD vets to disable them, politically if not totally. This type of “taking care of us” has killed-off, and demobilized a number of the healthy youthful of American society, beginning with VietNam, accelerated by the fraudulent “War on (Moslems) Terror”, Bush Junior´s handwork.   

Fortunately, the country, “Americans”, are becoming increasingly less naïve´.  Some, very swiftly.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, March 18, 2011 at 12:27 am Link to this comment

I’ll go for sweeping anti-gun legislation if it specifies taking them away from the authorities first.  But before we get to mere guns, there is all that other stuff the government has been flinging heedlessly about.  I am not going to worry about a mere assault rifle or two when cruise missiles are in use.

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By FilthyCherry, March 17, 2011 at 11:38 pm Link to this comment

“We in america have the most armed citizenry in the world. We should, therefore, have the most honest nation.”

By Big B, March 17 at 6:37 pm

———————————————

Probably the Swiss outgun you all per capita.

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Paul_GA's avatar

By Paul_GA, March 17, 2011 at 11:05 pm Link to this comment

I think of myself as quite sane, EJH, in a country going progressively mad as hatters; yet I have a rifle hanging above my kitchen doorway. I’d sooner have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

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EJH's avatar

By EJH, March 17, 2011 at 7:30 pm Link to this comment

Any sane person should be seeking “sweeping anti-gun
legislation.”  Amazing how the right is allowed to
frame the debate in the US moving even this reporter,
who appears to support gun control, over near the wacko
fringe.

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By Dave, March 17, 2011 at 5:57 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

It appears to me that our president has plenty of audacity when he decides to kill
people using the guns, drones and bombs under his control.

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, March 17, 2011 at 5:33 pm Link to this comment

It is a curious ‘Left’ that wants to take guns away from the working class while entrusting them to the military and the police.  Very curious indeed.

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By Morpheus, March 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm Link to this comment

“WAKE UP!”  -  JOIN THE REVOLUTION

Read “Common Sense 3.1” at ( http://www.revolution2.osixs.org )

“Spread the News”

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By Leon Samuels, March 17, 2011 at 3:49 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Given the obvious limits of protest politics, given the complete sell-out of the labor leaders in the U.S. and given the incredibly violent history of capitalism… a well-armed working class will be necessary, even just to defend ourselves against impending fascism.

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By Big B, March 17, 2011 at 2:37 pm Link to this comment

I have always been told by the “gun” crowd that an armed populace was integral in keeping our government honest.

So how’s that working out for us?

I have also been told that an armed populace is a safer populace. Well then why can’t 7 year old children take loaded guns to school? Why can’t people take weapons into courthouses? Hospitals, airports?

And of course, where were all the “gun” folks when W was ramming the patriot act down your throats, an act that gives him and every other law enforcement agency the right to kick in your door, and your teeth and take all your guns!

We in america have the most armed citizenry in the world. We should, therefore, have the most honest nation. Bullshit! Do the gun nuts not realize what corporations will do when they officially take over? Why don’t the gun nuts rise against these american facists? Because they are as timid and impotent as repugs, dimmos, and libertarians. LaPierre is a gutless pussy in charge of a gutless organization.
Like so many “war wimps” in the past, LaPierre is cowering in the corner hoping someone else does the dirty work for him.

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By Thomas Billis, March 17, 2011 at 2:26 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

President Obama is on the right course.We need more guns.Want to stop that bully at school pack a derringer in Little Timmy’s lunch box.Yearly we lose 30 thousand people a year to gun related incidents.Far far too few.With a little help from the gun lobby we can get those clips to hold 50 bullets so we do not force the shooter to reload and he can get a couple more shots off.Hey one never knows when one’s home could be attacked by 50 0r 100 crazed terrorists.Thank god for those 600 a minute rapid fire machine guns.How many times when hunting you just know you could kill the whole herd of deer if only you could fire 6oo rounds per minute.I could go upstairs and make love to my wife but I would rather sit here and clean my rifle.Oo so satisfying.

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Paul_GA's avatar

By Paul_GA, March 17, 2011 at 2:20 pm Link to this comment

peterjkraus, I don’t watch Fox News, nor am I a member of the NRA (I quit them a long time ago, when I quit the Repubs). I’m a libertarian who despises both of the big parties for what they’ve done to this country, who happens to be a gun-owner, and who believes that governments are bigger mass killers than any individual. Governments need to experience “gun control” themselves—for example, banning nuclear weapons, armed drones, cluster bombs, depleted uranium, bury-and-forget land mines, and napalm and other munitions that utilize burning as their main casualty-causing method.

The only kind of gun control I’d accept would be if the military and police are subject to the same limitations the citizenry are; for example, if civilians are limited to six-shooters, then the military and police must give up their high-capacity automatic pistols. And if civilians are limited to five-shot bolt action rifles, then such will be the rifles issued to the military and police—no more “assault weapons”.

Please, don’t assume in future that someone who believes passionately in RKBA is automatically a Glenn Beck fan, a Tea Partier or an NRA member.

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By knute, March 17, 2011 at 2:01 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Obama should be the topic in a new Best Seller ” The Audacity of False Hope “..So far his rhetoric is shown to be nothing but empty words as he rolls over for the republicans and the wealthy..effectively enabling the Class War against the middle Class to come to its conclusion. He’s drunk on too much of Bill Clinton’s Kool Aide. He has more fans within the republican party leadership than within the people who elected him. What a cynical plant by the stattus quo.

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By rb, March 17, 2011 at 1:22 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Oh, Obama’s got plenty of audacity. He’s just expending it on extending and expanding Bush’s worst policies, and adding on some of his own.

We elected the worst possible Republican - a supine mouthpiece for the most lawless among us: the most savage Pentagon warmongers, the most predatory corporations and most daring of the Wall Street thieves -  who can spend an entire campaign sounding like a Democrat.

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By TDoff, March 17, 2011 at 1:06 pm Link to this comment

The way to resolve the issues of private gun ownership and the rights to ‘carry’ one’s weapons, would be for the president to expand the right to ‘carry’ beyond national parks and wildlife refuges, and into the Halls of Congress and the White House.

Within a relatively short time, the issues should be resolved, one way or another.

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peterjkraus's avatar

By peterjkraus, March 17, 2011 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment

Where do all the nutcase posters come from when
the subject is guns? Heinrich Himmler, indeed.
And the Mossad, and an aged flag which holds only
possible historic value, but no societal value
whatever.

Fox is thataway, Volksgenossen. Go there.

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Paul_GA's avatar

By Paul_GA, March 17, 2011 at 12:22 pm Link to this comment

No doubt, Mr. Dionne would agree with this comment from Heinrich Himmler: “Germans (read: Americans) who wish to use firearms should join the SS or the SA (read: the military or the police) – ordinary citizens don’t need guns, as their having guns doesn’t serve the State.”

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mitchum22's avatar

By mitchum22, March 17, 2011 at 11:40 am Link to this comment

Why does this chump—the “journalistic” equivalent of room tone—continue to get published here??

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Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, March 17, 2011 at 9:33 am Link to this comment

I think it’s mildly interesting that, given all that’s going on in the world at the moment, this particular Establishment shill has chosen to flog the gun thing.  I suppose a shill working the other side of the street would be trying to stir up excitement about Gay marriage.  One is left wondering whether they make up their schedule on their own, or it’s given to them by higher-ups.

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By drbhelthi, March 17, 2011 at 7:35 am Link to this comment

Excluding the influence of the C.I.A./MOSSAD/Mafia/mercenaries in
assassinations in the U.S.A. is not possible, when applying the
scientific method. The influence of these groups cannot be reduced
to or equated with a statistical value that can be evaluated by
statistical procedure.

Until this is possible, all politicized palaver on the subject is
similar to farting in the wind. It has no practical value. It has
value only to those who push their concept of “gun control” vs.
those who push the concept of the 2nd Amendment.

To use the event in Tucson in Jan 2011, the assassination of Federal
Judge John Roll as the fodder for the “gun control” of the machine
represented by Obama, is simply fraudulent.  All with experience in
the area recognize the careful placement of the trigger-puller
within the inner sanctum of the targeted persons. It did not occur
overnight. It also smacks of UKUltra methods. The murder of innocent
bystanders as distraction, was also planned.

One question comes to mind, which will probably never be answered. 
Did “they” give Judge Roll a warning to not proceed with his ruling
on the Brady Gun Law, or to alter his conclusion, or else ?  A
scholarly Federal Judge, kind hearted with a great sense of humor,
removing him also removed him from consideration for the Supreme
Court. The shooting of representative Giffords is of interest to
psychologists, but not as a political event.

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By thethirdman, March 17, 2011 at 3:24 am Link to this comment

Talk like this makes the prices jump at my local gun store.

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