April 11, 2013

Where The Devil Is

First, a grammatical pet peeve. Ages ago (during the Danian stage of the Paleocene to be specific) I had a girlfriend with one linguistic tick that drove me up the wall. She habitually eliminated "to be" from a sentence. For example "The cat needs fed", instead of "The cat needs to be fed" (or the more proper "The cat needs to be fed fresh salmon every day and twice on Sundays"). Which of course inspired much "to be or not to be" discussion, with me referring to it as her "Hamlet eccentricity". But when a Southerner takes issue with verbal shorthand you know you're on shaky ground.

In a similar vein the word "language" is commonly used as an abbreviation of a more concise phrase; "language of the bill". This kinda thing always grated me. It's easier to just type "language" but it just does not read correctly to me unless I mentally add in those three other words ("of the bill"). Again, when a Southerner (who's still having trouble with re-habing his ampersand addiction) takes exception to chopping off syllables it's worth re-examining the practice. Just sayin'

Another phrase I'm getting vexed at reading is "the devil's in the details". But in this case it's not a form issue, it's a context issue, and the context is the Toomey-Manchin "compromise" background check bill:

Here's a press release about the Toomey-Manchin bill (h/t to Shall Not Be Questioned). It's just a press release though, and no one should ever trust what a politician claims a bill will do. Reading the bill is the only way to be sure (actually, nuking the site from orbit is the only way to be sure, but I digress) of what's in a bill.

So the most common thing I've read regarding this bill is "the devil's in the details", prefixed or suffixed to mention of waiting to see the language of the bill to determine its threat level.

Old scratch however, does not dwell in the legislative phrasing that will be found in this bill once it's released. He dwells at the table itself.

Now as attested by my "get off my lawn" opening paragraphs you might think I'm just being grumpy. And anyone who's read my writing before (thanks to all three of you btw) will correctly assume that I'm not a fan of compromise on damn near anything. But this isn't my usual curmudgeonly absolutist self decrying the way things are this time around. Things have changed.

In the 20th century it was mainly a case of them trying to take all of our pie, and us insisting that they take a smaller portion than we wanted, while claiming that as some sort of victory. (I'll note that this alleged strategy was never endorsed by Publicola or any of its subsidiaries, but prevailed none the less). This time around they're not trying to take a slice of pie; they want to dynamite the foundations of the kitchen.

If person A states that he wants to kill person B, and person B states that he wants to live, there exists a serious conflict. If person A, upon hearing person B mention that he's getting used to this whole life thing and ain't ready to have the chariot swing low just yet, suggests they sit down at the negotiating table, you'd think that person B has absolutely nothing to gain by pulling up a chair. And you'd be correct. But that's exactly what we're doing in part, cause in case you missed Analogy 101 in college, we're person B!

By discussing anything, even things which we'd see as favorable (note I'm forgoing the sermon on the evils of permits - and I'm quite proud of myself for my restraint this time around) we're legitimizing their basic premise; that the gun culture can be eliminated, it's just a question of how quickly.

Man walks into a bar (don't stop me if you've heard this before) and sees a very pretty lady sitting all alone. He sits beside her and strikes up a conversation. He's older than her by far, but they get along well. Then he asks her, begging her pardon if he causes any offense by the query, if she'd have sex with him for $1,000,000. She contemplates momentarily and says "Why yes; I do believe I would have sex with you for $1,000,000". The man then asks would she have sex with him for $20. The lady, rising up in self righteous indignation, exclaims, "What kind of girl do you think I am?!?!?!?" The man says, "Ma'am, we've already established that; now we're merely haggling".

By having any discussion, or saying anything at all other than "Hell [multiple expletives deleted] no!" we're letting the premise of their efforts stand unchallenged. By trying to negotiate anything that may be seen as favorable, we're conceding their larger point. That is a mistake which will yield a medium to long term win for them, and quite possibly a permanent loss for us.

The gun culture is valid. It's worth saving. It's worth fighting for. Its destruction would be immoral.

That should be the premise we approach this thing from, not "let's see what the language of the bill holds cause maybe we'll make some gains".

If they pass anything that further restricts our culture, even if it's just a tightening down of existing law, then we get pushed one step closer to the sea. It does not matter if it's a small thing that only touches a minority of us. Nor does it matter if we get some widely perceived gain. It's the principle that matters.

I've spent way too many hours (luckily I don't have a life or it would surely have interfered with it) preaching to those folks in robes who claim they can sing about the evils of a permit system, and the moral deprivation that is prior restraint. Most don't get it or simply don't care because they only see the short and medium term. I've launched sermons about incrementalism and why it won't work for us despite it working for our enemies. I've composed tomes time and time again evangelizing the notion that the means do not justify the ends.

And I'll apparently type it out again:

We have a gun culture. It's certainly not homogenous but it's roughly identifiable. A culture is nothing more or less than the people identified with it, so a culture can increase, stagnate or decline. All indications point to our culture being on the increase. It's inclusive so one does not have to be born into it; one can be inducted. That gives the impression that "we're winning". I'd agree that culturally we are winning. Politically not so much.

Any laws that penalize a person based upon prior restraint tend to have a chilling effect, proportionate to the degree of punishment. If it's a $1 fine it's not that noticeable an effect, but if it's 10 years in prison and a denial of weapons possession for life then it'll definitely quell behavior even if that behavior is legal.

A permit system of any kind is dangerous because it normalizes government control over who may or may not be issued a permit. After a few generations people start to view the permit process as acceptable or even desirable. That makes it exceedingly difficult to replace the permit system with a non-permit alternative.

So the notion that a permit system, or an expansion of the current one would be a favorable trade for, say mild restrictions on gun show purchases or some internet sales, is not only wrong it's lethal to us culturally.

In practical terms it'd make it much harder for a state to repeal their permit system in place of a permitless system. The popular perception would be that permits benefit gun owners when they travel out of state, so gun owners would be more inclined to acquire a permit. With a seeming majority of gun owners being permit holders, it'd tamp down any momentum for repealing the laws that make carry illegal without a permit, since most gun owners would tend to favor the permit system anyway.

But when we start ceding that some restrictions based on prior restraint are okay as long as we get a say in the matter, or receive some concession in exchange, then we've not only proclaimed what type of girl we are, but we've given the stranger with the $20 our hotel room key, hoping he'll tip well.

The principal matters. Validating their premise that our culture should be diminished if not outright eliminated is not the way to proceed, unless you agree with them that our culture is not worth saving. And actions, not words or fiery protestations to the contrary, will determine what we ultimately think about our gun culture.

So by engaging in any discussion about what restrictions are acceptable and which are not is admitting defeat in the long run. Our side - GOP senators, Democrat senators, the NRA, GOA, etc. - should not be helping them do their dirty work in any way. That means no negotiating, not even to make "a bad bill better". That means not promising to consider anything they propose. That means not waiting until we see the language of the bill to determine how to proceed.

That means saying not only no, but "No, hell no, and go to hell no".

If that means they negotiate without us, fine. If that means they push a rather nasty bill onto the floor for a vote, fine. Even if that means they pass a nasty bill over our objections then fine. It'd be better for us in the long run, to lose a fight right now that we stuck with our principles on, than to negotiate a milder, gentler form of our eradication.

But if we (especially the GOP senators in this case) make a fight of it, I don't think we'll lose. And if they introduce a heinous, unsightly bill it'll be much easier to drum up opposition to it than if they posit something more amiable, with only mild restrictions and some concessions.

To give a hypothetical example, let's say they propose a bill that would outlaw all sales and transfers without an FBI fingerprint based background check. No exceptions, not even for spouses. The penalty would be 20 years in prison minimum and a lifetime ban on weapons possession upon release if the bill's provisions are violated. I'll call that Bill A.

Bill B is a much watered down version - the penalties are reduced to 6 months in jail maximum, and it only applies to gun shows and internet sales. Further it's changed from the FBI background check to the regular NICS check. Exceptions are made for temporary transfers that'd cover all hunting and target shooting activities as well as indefinite loans that do not transfer ownership.

Bill B would be much easier to pass right? Of course it would, because it doesn't really do anything much different from current law. Except that the basic premise - that government can intrude on our Rights - has been further cemented into everyone's minds. That equates to a loss in the long run for us.

Bill A would be a tough sell, even in a democrat controlled senate. Making a fight on that would not only be fruitful, it'd be popular. It's doubtful if it would pass, and even if it did there'd be electoral consequences which might make things easier for us after a certain numbers of the bums that voted for Bill A were thrown out of office. In the long run, it'd be a win for us.

(If the gun owner control supporters have enough votes to pass whatever they want anyway, then we should let them own it. I see no need to help them in any way whatsoever. However, if they did have enough votes to pass something, I don't think they'd be so eager to have us work a deal with them. In any case we should fight with every legislative tactic we have. Negotiations are not fighting.)

By succumbing to the notion that "something has to pass" or "something is going to pass no matter what we do" we shoot ourselves n the foot - it just takes a while (around 5-20 years) for us to notice that we not only have a hole in our foot, but it has turned gangrenous.

We have nothing to gain by negotiating. Despite any short term concessions some folks might be happy about, in the long run it will not help us quell the threats to our culture. It will not move us closer towards a respect for our Rights. It will only weaken our bargaining position the next time around.

I'm an absolutist. I want an end to all prior restraint based gun owner control laws. That's what I'd have if there were no government, and the benefits government offers me are not so dear that I see waving my Rights, even in part, as a fair exchange. Not a lot of folks see things the way I do, so I long ago gave up that because of my sermons the choir would start hitting that nice 4 part harmony we've been working on so hard. I don't even have any realistic expectation of achieving my goals within my lifetime. Perhaps not even if I had twice the amount of years than I do have I couldn't see an end to all prior restraint based gun owner control laws.

But the principles that drive my views are the same that support the gun culture. even if the culture itself does not share my goals, it's the same basic premises that make us what we are. Those premises are threatened by any - and I do mean any (so don't make me italicize again!) - discussion about what restrictions are acceptable.

Our enemies (epitomized by Bloomberg, Obama, Biden, Schumer, and Feinstein among others) want to eliminate our culture. If all the manage this time around is to slow its' growth, then they win while we lose. Next time they'll go for more. Maybe they'll get all that want, maybe they won't. But if they get anything then they're one step closer to achieving their ends, and we're one step closer to being a footnote in some anthropologists Master's thesis a millennium from now.

Even discussing this with them is a loss for us, simply because it does not repudiate the idea that our culture is not worth saving.

The details of a bill are not where Mr. Scratch resides. He lives at the negotiating table, and in the hearts and minds of those who would sit down with him there.

Posted by Publicola at April 11, 2013 04:20 AM | TrackBack