Political Animal


ENFORCING THE GUN LAWS….Families of the D.C. sniper victims are suing the gun manufacturer and the gun seller. The merits of the case are unclear (it’s apparently based on the fact that Bull’s Eye Shooter Supply “lost” hundreds of guns over the past three years), but aside from this Rachel Lucas has this to say:

While it may be true that Muhammad and Malvo would not have obtained the particular rifle they used to shoot people if Bull’s Eye hadn’t been in business, it’s beyond naive to think for that they wouldn’t have been able to acquire another one. Which is so obvious, it feels surreal to even type it. But obvious to me is obviously not obvious to them.

This is a common argument among gun enthusiasts, but I’m afraid I don’t quite understand it since it seems to imply that there’s really no point in enforcing gun laws ? or punishing the people who break them ? because criminals will always manage to get hold of guns somehow. But by the same token:

  • There’s no point in arresting that pusher who hangs out in the schoolyard. The kids will just get their drugs somewhere else.

  • There’s no point in taking out Saddam. Al-Qaeda will just get their nukes from someone else.

  • There’s no point in vaccinating for smallpox. The terrorists can always use some other virus instead.

No law can be 100% effective in preventing criminal behavior, but we enforce them anyway in order to make criminal behavior harder. And if you break a law and it results in harm to others, you can be held accountable for that.

Bartenders who sell liquor to drunks can be held partially responsible if the drunk goes out and kills someone. Likewise, a gun shop that sells a gun illegally ? as Bull’s Eye is accused of doing ? can be held partially responsible if their customer goes out and kills someone with it. In this case, a judge and jury will decide whether Bull’s Eye or Bushmaster acted negligently, and that’s as it should be. Laws are meant to be enforced, and gun laws are no exception.

UPDATE: Rachel Lucas writes to say that she agrees that gun laws should be enforced. Her objection was primarily to the sentence in the court filings that said, “If Bull’s Eye and Bushmaster and the other gun industry defendants had acted responsibly in the sale of their guns, Muhammad and Malvo would not have been able to obtain the assault rifle they needed to carry out their shootings.” My guess is that this is just legal hyperbole, but even so, point taken. Overall, I think the suit would have considerably less merit if more gun enthusiasts agreed with Rachel that existing gun laws should be vigorously enforced.


THE DEATH OF BANANAS?….Huh? Charles Kuffners passes on a report that says bananas might go extinct within ten years. According to the cover story in this week’s New Scientist, bananas lack the genetic diversity to fight off diseases and pests that are plaguing banana plantations. Genetic engineering may be our only hope of saving them.

Since bananas are practically the only fruit I’m actually willing to eat, this could be a major catastrophe. Has Bj?rn Lomborg heard about this?


WHO LETS THESE PEOPLE VOTE, ANYWAY?….One more quick observation about some weirdness in those exit polls: among people who thought only Gore had the knowledge to be president, 5% voted for Bush. Likewise, among people who thought only Bush had the knowledge to be president, 4% voted for Gore.

What the hell is up with that?

BUSH AND TAXES….I was surfing

BUSH AND TAXES….I was surfing around the Web last night and happened to come across the exit polling data for the 2000 election, and it was pretty interesting to look at it two years into the Bush presidency. It’s not that there was anything all that startling in the breakdowns, just that it clarified a few home truths a little more forcefully than usual.

In particular, the exit poll results really crystallize the political imperatives behind Bush’s economic plan:

  • People who thought the economy was going to get worse voted for Bush 52%-45% and people who thought that being trustworthy “mattered most” voted for him by a whopping 80%-15%. Worriers who put their faith in someone are likely to turn like jackals if they feel mislead or lied to, so he really has to appear to be doing something if he wants to keep from losing the votes of these people. Thus the necessity for a “bold,” “much bigger than expected” economic program.

  • Among people who thought taxes were the most important issue in the election, 80% voted for Bush. No other issue even came close to dividing the electorate this strongly for either candidate.

  • As the chart shows, Bush’s support rose linearly with income level. So: a big economic program that emphasizes tax breaks and aims them disproportionately at the well-off makes perfect sense. In a way, he didn’t really have any other choice if he wanted to avoid wholesale defections among aggrieved core supporters.

And Pickering and affirmative action? Well, Bush won a majority of the popular vote in only one region: the South. Enough said.