Those wondering what set of policies might have prevented last weekend’s tragedy at the University of California (Santa Barbara) are asking the wrong question.
Would tougher gun-control laws have stopped Elliot Rodger from obtaining the weapons he used in his attack? Would broader mental-health counseling have flagged his problems earlier? In each instance, it’s impossible to conclude anything more definitive than: maybe.
But the right question isn’t whether any new law or regulation might have stopped this individual killer. The real issue is whether we are doing everything we can to improve our odds of preventing attacks like this — and the routine fusillade of gun violence that on average produces 30 homicides daily. The appropriate test for public policy is whether it maximizes our chances of achieving the outcomes we want as a society. And when it comes to preventing gun violence, including mass shootings, it’s impossible to argue that we are doing that.
“If we tighten up the system there is no question that we will improve our odds of stopping things like this, and vastly improve our odds of stopping more regularized crime committed by garden-variety criminals,” says Matt Bennett, a vice president at the centrist Democratic group Third Way, who has advised the families of the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn.
After a GOP-led filibuster last year blocked Senate passage of a universal background check for gun purchases, no one expects Washington to “tighten up the system” any time soon. Like other issues rooted in cultural affinities, gun control unites Republicans by ideology but divides Democrats by geography. So long as red-state Democratic House and Senate members resist gun control, and Republicans from blue and swing states don’t feel irresistible pressure to support it, Congress is unlikely to approve major legislation restricting access to firearms.
But that’s no reason to stop formulating an updated national agenda to confront gun violence. In presidential politics, gun-control advocates face a more competitive landscape than in Congress. Measures to restrict access generally draw strong support within the growing constituencies (particularly minorities and college-educated white women) and the states that have provided Democrats the edge in most presidential elections since 1992. Advancing new initiatives to reduce gun violence could strengthen the Democrats’ hold on that winning coalition in places like the suburbs of Denver or Philadelphia — and pressure the GOP nominee to respond.
Any reformulated agenda would reflect an important shift: The focus among gun-control advocates is evolving from hardware to people. Although a ban on assault weapons still carries emotional power, more voices in the gun-control camp consider it too easy to circumvent with cosmetic adjustments. And, as Bennett notes, while a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines might have more impact, so many of them are already in circulation, “it’s incredibly easy for people to get their hands on them.”
Thinking about gun violence instead is tilting toward working harder to deny weapons to people likely to abuse them. That agenda’s centerpiece is the universal background-check legislation that would close the current loophole exempting gun-show and Internet sales from such requirements. That idea still draws overwhelming public support in polls.
The frontier of new thinking focuses on the nexus between mental health and gun violence. President Obama’s post-Newtown review of gun laws actually made important progress on two fronts: The administration issued regulations toughening requirements on health insurers to fund mental-health services, and it strengthened the federal database used to screen gun buyers under the “Brady bill” by clarifying federal privacy rules that discouraged some states from sharing mental-health records with the system.
The Brady law blocks gun purchases for people who have either been involuntarily committed to a mental institution, adjudicated as mentally ill, or who fit a few other categories, most notably a conviction for domestic violence. Sarah Bianchi, who led the administration’s review as Vice President Joe Biden’s domestic policy adviser, says the biggest question for any future gun-control agenda is whether to expand those categories. “This issue “¦ needs a new way of thinking,” she says.
Broadening these excluded categories raises complex issues; mental-health professionals complained after Connecticut’s post-Newtown legislation denied guns for six months to anyone who had been voluntarily hospitalized for mental illness. A recent Johns Hopkins University-led commission of gun-violence experts proposed to target expanded exclusions not at mental illness but at behaviors that might signal future violence, including convictions for violent misdemeanors or alcohol and drug abuse. Other policymakers are examining the equivalent of restraining orders to temporarily ban gun possession.
These tough questions point to a final priority for any gun-violence agenda: more research. Obama’s review, through a new legal interpretation, lifted congressional restrictions that had blocked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from studying gun violence for more than 15 years, but funding remains scarce. If a foreign terrorist had attacked UCSB (or Newtown), we would exhaustively study every chink in our defenses. It’s indefensible to turn away just because the violence came from down the block.
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Before we get to the specifics of this exposé about escorts working the Iowa and New Hampshire primary crowds, let’s get three things out of the way: 1.) It’s from Cosmopolitan; 2.) most of the women quoted use fake (if colorful) names; and 3.) again, it’s from Cosmopolitan. That said, here’s what we learned:
- Business was booming: one escort who says she typically gets two inquiries a weekend got 15 requests in the pre-primary weekend.
- Their primary season clientele is a bit older than normal—”40s through mid-60s, compared with mostly twentysomething regulars” and “they’ve clearly done this before.”
- They seemed more nervous than other clients, because “the stakes are higher when you’re working for a possible future president” but “all practiced impeccable manners.”
- One escort “typically enjoy[s] the company of Democrats more, just because I feel like our views line up a lot more.”
No matter where you stand on mandating companies to include a backdoor in encryption technologies, it doesn’t make sense to allow that decision to be made on a state level. “The problem with state-level legislation of this nature is that it manages to be both wildly impractical and entirely unenforceable,” writes Brian Barrett at Wired. There is a solution to this problem. “California Congressman Ted Lieu has introduced the ‘Ensuring National Constitutional Rights for Your Private Telecommunications Act of 2016,’ which we’ll call ENCRYPT. It’s a short, straightforward bill with a simple aim: to preempt states from attempting to implement their own anti-encryption policies at a state level.”
Much has been made of David Brooks’s recent New York Times column, in which confesses to missing already the civility and humanity of Barack Obama, compared to who might take his place. In NewYorker.com, Jeffrey Frank reminds us how critical such attributes are to foreign policy. “It’s hard to imagine Kennedy so casually referring to the leader of Russia as a gangster or a thug. For that matter, it’s hard to imagine any president comparing the Russian leader to Hitler [as] Hillary Clinton did at a private fund-raiser. … Kennedy, who always worried that miscalculation could lead to war, paid close attention to the language of diplomacy.”
The New Covenant. The Third Way. The Democratic Leadership Council style. Call it what you will, but whatever centrist triangulation Bill Clinton embraced in 1992, Hillary Clinton wants no part of it in 2016. Writing for Bloomberg, Sasha Issenberg and Margaret Talev explore how Hillary’s campaign has “diverged pointedly” from what made Bill so successful: “For Hillary to survive, Clintonism had to die.” Bill’s positions in 1992—from capital punishment to free trade—“represented a carefully calibrated diversion from the liberal orthodoxy of the previous decade.” But in New Hampshire, Hillary “worked to juggle nostalgia for past Clinton primary campaigns in the state with the fact that the Bill of 1992 or the Hillary of 2008 would likely be a marginal figure within today’s Democratic politics.”
At first, “it was pleasant” to see Trevor Noah “smiling away and deeply dimpling in the Stewart seat, the seat that had lately grown gray hairs,” writes The Atlantic‘s James Parker in assessing the new host of the once-indispensable Daily Show. But where Jon Stewart was a heavyweight, Noah is “a very able lightweight, [who] needs time too. But he won’t get any. As a culture, we’re not about to nurture this talent, to give it room to grow. Our patience was exhausted long ago, by some other guy. We’re going to pass judgment and move on. There’s a reason Simon Cowell is so rich. Impress us today or get thee hence. So it comes to this: It’s now or never, Trevor.”