The Devil is in the details
Perhaps under the label that a broken clock is correct twice a day, Brian Mast, R and NRA member, is now being quoted by those who would under no other circumstance actually quote him. He’s become the darling child of the anti-firearm ownership crowd to “many.”
It is not proper to detract from Mast’s service in the military nor make light of what he sacrificed. Whatever our opinions on the US involvement overseas might be, Mast made a decision to do what he thought was right. Whether we agree with that decision or not, I, for one, will not gainsay the decision he freely made. Upon return to the United States, he entered public office.
As has been the case with McCain, who suffered as a PoW in Vietnam, there is this tendency to link prior military service, especially service where much was sacrificed, to everything that comes afterwards. An individuals’ prior service does not, by extension, apply to their knowledge of the Constitution nor the Bill of Rights. One does not automatically lead to the other. Consequently, their knowledge of these documents should be judged on the merits.
I, too, am a veteran. I, too, have experience with firearms. Unlike Mast, I am not nor have I ever been a member of the NRA nor do I have any desire to enter public office. I offer this so my cards (aka bias) are on the table.
To understand the context of the aforementioned accolades now attributed to Representative Mast, I read his New York Times article1. From it, I pulled the following:
No firearm is evil. Guns are tools that fulfill the intent of their users, good or bad. But we’ve seen that the rifle of choice for many mass shooters is the AR-15.
The Second Amendment is unimpeachable. It guarantees the right of citizens to defend themselves. I accept, however, that it does not guarantee that every civilian can bear any and all arms.
His math (aka “many mass shooters”) is ambiguously vague. How many is “many?” A majority of the shooters? A handful? Let’s delve into the actual data to see who did and did not use an AR-15.
Mother Jones keeps an ongoing tally of the firearms used in mass shootings.2 Mother Jones is fairly liberal in their definition of what constitutes a shooting for consideration. While having an AR-15 in your possession does not equate to using it in the shooting, if MJ lists it, I’m not going to quibble about it. The Washington Post took that data and created an infographic.3 That infographic is the banner picture of this article (black is legally purchased, blue is illegally required, and gray is unknown). Be aware legal vs illegal is not that straightforward. Adam Lanza stole the legally acquired firearms by his mom (MJ simply lists them as illegal).
The rifles used are the outer ring of the infographic. Find the AR-15’s. These are the “military grade weapons” people determine their “assault-iness” on sight.
How “many?” Remember that these shooters had multiple firearms. You can make your own determination, but I do not get “many” from that representation. I get some or a few. It’s not a majority either way. To get a scope of the actual use of AR-15’s (or any rifle) in shootings, let’s turn to collected government data which should be about as unbiased a source as we can hope to get.
The FBI collects and records all violent crime data4 to create various crime statistics every year. They’ve been doing this for decades and can provide reasonable trend lines of behavior. Of specific interest to this discussion is their tracking of violent crime. The latest published data from the FBI is from 2016 (The FBI analysis lags about 2 years behind). The weapons used for murder and non-negligent manslaughter from 2016 are:
Firearm related homicides: 11004 (out of 17250 total homicides)
Death by shotgun: 262
Death by rifles (AR-15 is a rifle): 374
Death by hand, fist, or foot: 656
Death by knives (cutting instruments): 1604
Death by misc weapon (hammer, club, etc.): 1806
Death by unknown firearm: 3263
Death by handgun: 7105
The firearm data the FBI has is not complete. For instance, a .45 ACP (or a .22) round could be fired by either a rifle or a handgun. There are .223 pistols. Shell casings might reveal the firearm but it’s not guaranteed. Sometimes, without the weapon, one cannot tell. These are the unknown.
The point of the data is that even if all 374 deaths were caused by an AR-15 (they aren’t, not even by Mother Jones’ account), they still pale in comparison to death by physical assault, knives, hammers, clubs, etc. The AR-15 is decidedly not the weapon of choice for killing people. I am not excusing people killing one another nor making light of it. This is just the real data of what people use to kill people. Mast’s assertion that many prefer the AR-15 is stretching the truth to the point of being incredulous. He’s been selectively ambiguous so that the reader inserts a meaning he never actually asserted. It’s vague for a reason.
Now consider Mast’s understanding of the 2nd amendment and restrictions placed upon it. I will let James Madison, one of the founders who wrote extensively on the Constitutional Convention and the Bill of Rights, provide the rebuttal. There is a scholarly exposition of Madison’s writings by Jack N. Rakove in his book “Original Meanings.”5 If interested in the debates around the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, this is the book to read. The Federalist Papers (which Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay wrote under the pen name “Publius”) are also examined. One cautionary note about the book: the title probably doesn’t mean what you think it means.
James Madison writes about the 2nd Amendment in Federalist Papers, #46 (1787):
Let a regular army, fully equal to the resources of the country, be formed, and let it be entirely at the devotion of the federal Government; still it would be not going to far to say, that the State Governments, with the people on their side, would be able to repel the danger. The highest number to which, according to the best computation, a standing army can be carried in any country, does not exceed one hundredth part of the whole number of souls; or one twentyfifth part of the number able to bear arms.
This proportion would not yield, in the United States, an Army of more than twenty-five or thirty thousand men.
To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted that a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops.
I only offer this to raise this observation (not to slam the door shut). Madison sees the 2nd Amendment, not surprisingly, as a defense against a standing Federal army. The citizens would be equipped (the reading does not indicate that once part of the militia, they would then be equipped) to withstand and ultimately overcome a standing Federal army. To accomplish this task, the citizens would, of necessity, be equivalently equipped to the standing army. There is no such restriction of arms that Mast alludes to, neither in the 2nd amendment nor in the writings of explanation of the 2nd amendment by the person that wrote it.
The argument about whether or not the right to bear arms is a collective or individual right has been put to rest by Heller (at least for the time being). What a militia actually means continues to rage on. Is the militia the National Guard? For this to be completely true, the state (not the Federal government) must control the state’s National Guard. Do they?
The John Warner Defense Authorization Act of 2007 removed the state governor as the sole commander in chief during the emergencies within the state. The President can now take complete control. Add to this that there is a seamless ability for federal military personnel to move from active duty into the guard and then back again (it is only really difficult for reservists). The National Guard, if it ever was the militia, is no longer so. They are just an extension of the Federal standing army. What logic explains why the militia was in Iraq?
If the Guard really is or was the militia, that doesn’t make the arguments against the 2nd amendment any easier to swallow. In my lifetime, the Nat’l Guard was (a) at Kent State and (b) ran Abu Ghraib (to name a few). Their efficacy as a public militia raises questions in my mind based on their prior actions in service as an armed citizenry. I can only agree that the discussion about what is and what isn’t a militia hasn’t been fully resolved (Heller notwithstanding) and I doubt it ever will be. If I look at American History and what happened during the Revolutionary War, it’s pretty obvious how militias worked (and it wasn’t often all that organized).
Finally, I offer this tidbit for consideration: Chuck Schumer authorized certain Democrats to vote in favor of reciprocity.6 These few Democrats (not enough to pass the bill) were allowed to vote for the bill because they were in battleground states. A strong resistance to reciprocity would put their seat in jeopardy, thus voting for reciprocity gave them some breathing room with their voters. This leeway hedged the bet that the Democrat in question would hold their seat. Has Brian Mast been given a similar “get out of jail free card” by Kevin McCarthy because he’s in a strongly contested re-election? Only time will tell.
To quote Adm. Painter in “The Hunt for Red October” when Jack Ryan and he discuss the approaching Russian sub, “Russians don’t take a dump, son, without a plan.” Our politicians are no different.
- ^I’m Republican. I Appreciate Assault Weapons. And I Support a Ban.
- ^US Mass Shootings, 1982-2018: Data From Mother Jones’ Investigation
- ^Weapons and mass shootings
- ^2016 Crime in the United States
- ^Original Meanings
- ^H.R.38 – Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017
- ^Schools are safer than they were in the 90s, and school shootings are not more common than they used to be, researchers say
- ^On Guns, Liberals Are Flirting With the Politics of Fear. That’s Scary.