Monday, June 30, 2008

A hundred years ago ...

On this day in 1908, an asteroid paid a visit to Siberia. Traveling at an estimated 10 miles per second, it energetically disassembled itself approximately four to six miles above the ground. The resulting blast, with an estimated energy equivalent of 10-15 megatons of TNT, wiped out eighty million trees, and pretty much everything living in an 800 square mile radius.


(Photo: Soviet Academy of Science 1927 expedition, led by Leonid Kulik. Source: WikiPedia.)

The 1966 edition of the Guinness Book of World Records estimated that had the asteroid struck 4 hours, 47 minutes later, that it would have hit St. Petersburg, the capital of imperial Russia, rather than the middle of sparsely populated Siberia.

A close call, one hundred years ago.

AirPiano - Indulge Your Inner Beethoven

Remember playing air guitar to your favorite tunes? How about an air piano. Except this one really works. From the maker's website:
The AirPiano is an innovative musical interface which allows playing and controlling software instruments simply by moving hands in the air.

Above the AirPiano is a virtual matrix of keys and faders, each assigned with MIDI messages and ready to be triggered. The length of a triggered note is equivalent to the time a hand is placed on the corresponding virtual key. This is also confirmed by LED feedback.




Neat.

Justice Kennedy's Supreme Court

From Sunday's New York Times, a look at this past term's Supreme Court opinions, and the key role Justice Kennedy continues to play as the "swing" vote.

First, a little chart p/o/r/n (by the way, the NY Times consistently has some of the best chart p/o/r/n out there. :))


(Click to enlarge. Graphic: NY Times)

From the article:
WASHINGTON — It was not last year’s spectacularly divided Supreme Court. The term that ended Thursday lacked last term’s gory display of 5-to-4 decisions, with only 11 cases out of 67 decided this time by one-vote margins.

Neither was it the Roberts court, at least not yet. Although Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was in the majority in 90 percent of the decisions, more than any other member of the court, the more liberal justices won their share of the high-profile cases. The rulings granting the Guantánamo detainees access to federal court and rejecting capital punishment for those who rape children were issued over the dissent of the chief justice.

Nor was it a court in repose in the third year under Chief Justice Roberts. There was, in fact, less unanimity: just under 30 percent of the cases were decided without dissent, compared with just over 40 percent in the term before, and just over half in 2005-6. Over all, the court decided the fewest cases since the 1953-54 term.

In the case for which history may ultimately remember the term — the decision interpreting the Second Amendment to protect the right to own a gun for private use — the court’s conservative bloc won a stunning, if narrow, victory. As in the Guantánamo decision, the crucial vote in the Second Amendment case was cast by Justice Anthony M. Kennedy.

So if the Roberts court in its third term — one that left a complicated and, to some extent, blurred imprint — were to be summed up in a sound bite, it would be this: It was, once again, Justice Kennedy’s court.
Read the rest here.

New York City Post-Heller

Dave Kopel, writing in today's the NY Sun, discusses possible ramifications of Heller to New York City's gun laws, in particular with respect to NYC's ban on airguns, magazines that hold more than 17 rounds, and the carry permit system:
The New York City law which most obviously violates the right to arms is the complete ban on air guns. The venerable Daisy Red Ryder BB gun is contraband. Heller and the Supreme Court's previous major Second Amendment precedent, United States v. Miller (1939) forbid the prohibition of arms "typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes."

Air guns are ubiquitous almost everywhere except New York City, and are used almost exclusively for law-abiding purposes. Pursuant to Heller, regulation of air guns might be fine, but prohibition of all air guns is not.
...
New York City bans magazines (ammunition clips) which hold more than 17 rounds. Whether the ban is consistent with Heller is debatable. Clearly inconsistent is the ban on any magazine which protrudes below the grip of the gun. The most common handgun in the United States is the Colt 1911 pistol, and the variants made by many other companies. The pistol's magazine holds 7 rounds. Some after-market magazine companies make slightly larger ones, which hold 8 or 9 rounds. These magazines extend a half-inch or less below the grip.
...
Regarding gun carrying, Heller might, arguably, mean that New York City would have to follow a similar policy to Connecticut (and 39 other states): issue permits to carry a concealed handgun for lawful defense if the applicant is over 21, and passes a fingerprint-based background check and a safety class.

At the least, Heller indicates that gun carry licensing may not be "enforced in an arbitrary and capricious manner." This is a problem for New York State's carry licensing law, as Suzanne Novak detailed in a 1998 article in the Fordham Urban Law Journal. New York state law sets essentially no standards to guide local officials in deciding whether to issue carry permits.

The problem is acute in New York City. Celebrities, the ultra-wealthy, and the politically influential get carry permits. But many of the people who need them the most — such as stalking victims, or crime witnesses who have been threatened by the criminal's friends — often do not. Even if New York City is not required to go as far as Connecticut, the City does need much less favoritism and much more objectivity in its administration of carry permits.
Read the article here.

Gun Banning Cities and Towns React to High Court's Ruling

More reaction to the Supreme Court's Second Amendment ruling from cities and towns with gun bans in place, and the newly filed lawsuits challenging them.

Chicago and neighboring towns with gun bans:
In the years since Morton Grove passed the first handgun ban in the nation in 1981, Evanston, Oak Park, Winnetka and Wilmette also outlawed handguns. Because of the high court's ruling that Washington, D.C., cannot ban people from owning guns, all five suburban bans could now be declared unconstitutional.

Though Chicago officials Thursday vowed to fight any challenges to its 1982 handgun ban, suburban officials said it was too soon to say whether the ruling applied to them. Some felt that overturning their bans wouldn't be a big deal. Still others were outraged, such as Oak Park Village President David Pope, who said the ruling would threaten safety in his near west suburb, which banned gun ownership in 1984.

"The ruling puts [Justice Antonin] Scalia and the four other conservative justices squarely on the side of the gang-bangers who terrorize far too many of urban American neighborhoods today," he said.

Meanwhile in Wilmette, IL:
WILMETTE, Ill. -- Wilmette has suspended enforcement of its 19-year-old ordinance banning handgun possession in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision that appears to invalidate such bans.

In a 5-4 decision, the court struck down Washington, D.C.'s ban on handguns, a prohibition similar to those used in several major cities, including Chicago, and a handful of suburbs including Wilmette, Evanston, Winnetka and Oak Park.

"The Law Department and the Police Department have suspended enforcement of the ordinance pending further review by the Village Board," Wilmette village attorney Tim Frenzer said Thursday. "Based on the decision today, at a minimum it calls into serious question the continued viability of the ordinance."

Frenzer said questions remain about how directly the court's decision will impact local gun laws in Wilmette and other parts of the country. Washington is not a state, and each state has its own legal language governing the right to bear arms.

"That aside, the opinion will require further review and discussion by the Village Board, but it's prudent at this point to suspend enforcement of it," Frenzer said.

And the village manager of Morton Grove, IL, a city that has one of the oldest handgun bans on the books, has announced he will seek to repeal his town's ban :
The village of Morton Grove, Ill., just north of Chicago, has one of the oldest handgun bans in the nation on its books. It's also the target of one of the five lawsuits filed by the National Rifle Association.

Village Manager Joe Wade says Morton Grove isn't going to wait for a court battle. It's going to act.

"The village of Morton Grove has every intention to comply with [the Supreme Court ruling]," Wade says. "We're going to propose an ordinance that would eliminate the possession-of-handgun ban within the village."

As Dave Kopel notes, the Wilmette and Morton Grove decisions are driven, at least in part, by pragmatism:
Both Morton Grove and Wilmette were among the cities sued on Friday by the NRA. Their decisions are sensible. While the issue of Second Amendment incorporation is still unresolved, Richard Daley's government in Chicago can spend its own funds to fight the issue all the way to the Supreme Court. If Daley wins, the suburbs can re-institute their bans. If Daley loses (an outcome that seems more likely than not if the Supreme Court takes the case), then Wilmette and Morton Grove have saved themselves hundreds of thousands of dollars of attorneys fees, since they would have to pay their own lawyers, and have to pay the plaintiffs' lawyers for bringing a successful civil rights claim.

Morton Grove was the site of perhaps the worst legal defeat for the Second Amendment in American history. The lawsuit against the ban lost 2-1 in the Seventh Circuit, and then 4-3 in the Illinois Supreme Court (notwithstanding specific legislative history from the 1966 Illinois constitutional convention that the right to arms provision would prevent handgun bans). The U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari in the federal case. Attorneys Stephen Halbrook and Don Kates were closely involved in the Morton Grove litigation.

And in San Francisco:
“We don’t happen to believe that it’s good public policy in public housing sites where guns and violence is the highest in our city and, for that matter, respectively, in cities across America, to say ‘Hey, come on in; let’s everybody get guns,’ ” said Mr. Newsom, a Democrat.

In an interesting turn in a city known for its embrace of gay rights, the chief plaintiff in the suit against the city is a gay man living in a public housing development, owned by the federal government, who wants to have a gun to protect himself from potential hate crimes.
...
“The Supreme Court has now said unequivocally that this is an individual right of the American people, and that if it’s an individual right, people have to have access to it,” [the NRA's] Mr. LaPierre said. “It can’t be walled off by the political class. It would be the equivalent of saying you can have a right to free speech, but you can’t have a right to free speech in public housing.”
...
A city of about 725,000, San Francisco has 12,000 residents living in public housing, all of whom are required to sign a lease that forbids a broad variety of weapons, including pistols, revolvers, rifles, shotguns, automatic rifles, BB guns, as well as nunchucks, brass knuckles and stun guns. This blanket ban was begun in 2006, and the penalty for violation of the lease is eviction.

In the case filed on Friday, an anonymous gay man said that stipulation had deprived him of “any effective means of self-defense.”

Here's another article, this one from the L.A. Times:
"We are currently going over statutes at the local, state and federal level," NRA chief lobbyist Chris W. Cox said. "I am certain there will be challenges to all sorts of statutes as we move forward."

California, considered to have the most restrictive gun laws in the country, is a particularly attractive target for lawsuits by the gun lobby. Cox said the NRA was considering action against another San Francisco law that requires gun owners to store their guns in locked containers or use trigger locks.

Other California laws that gun rights groups plan to scrutinize include the state's ban on assault weapons, the permitting process for carrying a concealed weapon in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and restrictions in Los Angeles on gun retailers, Michel said.

Some lawsuits were prepared in advance of the Supreme Court ruling. "The decision today was not entirely unanticipated," he said.

He said gun advocates hope the lawsuits will lead to a broader ruling that the right to have a firearm at home for self-defense is not limited to places falling under federal jurisdiction, such as Washington, D.C. The high court did not decide that question, because the law affected only the District of Columbia.

Gun control supporters said they would vigorously fight the challenges.
...
As the NRA prepared to sue San Francisco, its leaders also were looking closely at a law in New York City that restricts the carrying of guns outside the home, Cox said.

"The only people who have permits to keep a firearm for self-defense outside the home are the mayor's rich buddies from Wall Street, his celebrity friends and his political cronies," Cox said.

He said the litigation would show that the right to bear arms under the 2nd Amendment "is a right as sacred and special as the 1st Amendment, the 4th Amendment and any other amendment."

The next five to ten years or so of litigation will prove crucial to extending the reach of Heller.

The first round of lawsuits are targeting the "low-hanging fruit", so to speak: outright bans on guns. Some, like Wilmette and Morton Grove, will probably reform their laws to avoid a costly legal fight. Other towns and cities (Chicago and San Francisco, for example) will likely fight tooth and nail, and those cases that go to trial to a judgment will get appealed, with the goal of the pro-gun forces to have the federal appeals courts rule on the incorporation issue, that is, whether the Second Amendment also applies to the states, and not just the federal government.

I imagine one of the strategies that groups like NRA, SAF and others will probably consider pursuing is filing suits in states (such as California) that are in anti-gun federal circuits (such as the Ninth Circuit), who will likely rule against incorporation of the Second Amendment against the states, as well as suing states in circuits (such as the Fifth Circuit) that are likely to rule in a pro-incorporation manner, in order to set up a circuit split, that is, where different federal circuits have reached opposite conclusions on the same issue. Circuit splits are one of the issues that the Supreme Court considers in deciding whether or not to hear a case, which is the ultimate goal -- a Supreme Court ruling that the Second Amendment applies to the states, not just the federal government and federal enclaves like D.C.

You just might be a redneck, if ...

With the annual Global Warming extravaganza upon us, or as we bitter non-elites call it, "summer", we all know that driving without A/C can be a sweltering experience. But what to do if your A/C's on the fritz and you can't afford to fix it? One poor (but enterprising) Houston engineer has devised a solution:
HOUSTON -- Scott Dawson, a civil engineering graduate from the University of Houston, decided after three years of driving around Houston without air conditioning in his car was long enough. So instead of spending $1,200 to fix the air conditioning on a car he planned on getting rid of soon, he bolted a home window A/C unit to the roof and wired it to the car.



Hey, I didn't say it was a sleek, aerodynamic solution, did I? :)

Of course, Mr. Engineer's solution is still better looking that this:



:)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Chicago Tribune calls for repeal of Second Amendment

In the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling in D.C. v. Heller, the Chicago Tribune's editorial board has called for a repeal of the Second Amendment:
Repeal the 2nd Amendment

No, we don’t suppose that’s going to happen any time soon. But it should.

The 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is evidence that, while the founding fathers were brilliant men, they could have used an editor.

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

If the founders had limited themselves to the final 14 words, the amendment would have been an unambiguous declaration of the right to possess firearms. But they didn’t and it isn’t. The amendment was intended to protect the authority of the states to organize militias. The inartful wording has left the amendment open to public debate for more than 200 years. But in its last major decision on gun rights, in 1939, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously found that that was the correct interpretation.

On Tuesday, five members of the court edited the 2nd Amendment. In essence, they said: Scratch the preamble, only 14 words count. (Click here to read the full decision)

In doing so, they have curtailed the power of the legislatures and the city councils to protect their citizens.
Read the rest of the editorial here. Interestingly, the majority of the (seemingly hundreds) of comments appear to support the individual-rights view affirmed by the high Court. At least, that's my sense of the ones I read.

Interview with Justice Scalia

Here's a June 20, 2008 Charlie Rose interview with Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia.



The video is about 56 minutes long, and is an interesting look at Justice Scalia's judicial philosophy and the workings of the Supreme Court.

Spending that stimulus check? Let us count the ways ...

So, how are folks spending that "stimulus" check (non-politicians might be forgiven for referring to it as "my money") from Uncle Sam?

From HowISpentMyStimulus.com, a website where you can tell the world how you spent yours, comes these very different ways to spend that check (click to enlarge images).

Some spend it on entertainment:

Maybe season tickets for the San Francisco opera-lover in you?




Others spend it on personal protection tools:

A nice Beretta M9, perhaps?




Glock 23?




Eeeevil Black Rifle?




Or maybe you're an H&K fanboy?




Then there are the dedicated sports fans:

Maybe season tickets to the Nationals?



Or silicone season tickets to something at the college-level?




Of course, there are some who spend it in small, unmarked bills on more, uh, personal forms of entertainment:






Hmmm, guess it's a "stimulus" check, in more ways than one. :)

[Hat tip: The Big Picture]

Saturday, June 28, 2008

NRA Files Suit Against San Francisco, Chicago, and others

On Friday, the National Rifle Association filed suit against the handgun bans in Chicago and three neighboring towns -- Evanston, Morton Grove, and Oak Park, IL challenging those municipalities' handgun bans.

The Second Amendment Foundation, in conjunction with the Illinois State Rifle Association has also filed a separate lawsuit to have the Chicago gun ban struck down.

The NRA, in conjunction with the California Rifle and Pistol Association and the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, has also filed suit challenging a San Francisco ordinance that prohibits guns in public housing.

These lawsuits will likely require courts to address the issue of whether the Second Amendment applies not just against the federal government, but also against the states via the Fourteenth Amendment.

The next battle in the war has begun.

Read the NRA-ILA press release here.

Read a copy of the NRA's San Francisco lawsuit here.

Obama and the D.C. Gun Ban

According to ABC News, just before the D.C. v. Heller decision was announced, Senator Obama was trying once again to distance himself from, well ... himself:
ABC News' Teddy Davis and Alexa Ainsworth Report: With the Supreme Court poised to rule on Washington, D.C.'s, gun ban, the Obama campaign is disavowing what it calls an "inartful" statement to the Chicago Tribune last year in which an unnamed aide characterized Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., as believing that the DC ban was constitutional.

"That statement was obviously an inartful attempt to explain the Senator's consistent position," Obama spokesman Bill Burton tells ABC News.

The statement which Burton describes as an inaccurate representation of the senator's views was made to the Chicago Tribune on Nov. 20, 2007.

In a story entitled, "Court to Hear Gun Case," the Chicago Tribune's James Oliphant and Michael J. Higgins wrote ". . . the campaign of Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama said that he '...believes that we can recognize and respect the rights of law-abiding gun owners and the right of local communities to enact common sense laws to combat violence and save lives. Obama believes the D.C. handgun law is constitutional.'" [emphasis added]
Allow me to translate for the non-politicians: "I was for the D.C. gun ban before I was against it. (But I'm really still for it -- it's a 'common sense law', after all -- only please don't tell the bitter rubes. Because that would be truly 'inartful'.)"

For the highly-educated "news" reporters, here's the more nuanced translation: "This is my position today, which is consistent with my position today. (Disclaimer: Consistency not guaranteed; may or may not be consistent with prior inconsistent statements or positions, which may not consistently reflect past positions; your mileage may vary; past performance is no guarantee of future results; Position expires 6/26/2008. Do not reuse. Use no hooks. Not dishwasher safe.)"

[Hat tip: Flopping Aces]

High-tech Forensics, Meet the Glove ...

Here's a report on a new technique for recovering fingerprints from shell casings, even if the cases have been wiped down:


(Photo Ian Waldie/Getty Images)
Scientists have developed a technique for retrieving fingerprints from bullet casings and bomb fragments after they have been fired or detonated. The new method, which relies on subtle corrosion of metal surfaces is already being applied for the first time anywhere in the world by two British police forces.
The patterns of corrosion remain even after the surface has been cleaned, heated to 600C or even painted over. This means that traces of fingerprints stay on the metal long after the residue from a person's finger has gone.

"All other conventional techniques that the police anywhere in the world would use require some kind of either physical or chemical interaction with the fingerprint residue. So for example if you are using powder the powder sticks to the tackiness in the sweat," said Dr John Bond of the University of Leicester and the Scientific Support Unit of Northamptonshire Police. Instead, the technique he has developed relies on permanent physical changes to the metal.
...
To visualise the patterns, Bond's technique involves passing 2500 volts through the metal and sprinkling a fine conducting powder on it. While the electric field is applied, the powder sticks to the corroded areas.

"If the corrosion's there, it will stay there unless you abrasively clean the metal. The only way to get rid of it is to actually take the surface layer of the metal off," he said. "Some metals corrode very well and some not at all. One metal that works very well is brass and gun cartridge cases happen to be made of brass."
Of course, all the bad guys would have to do to thwart this technique would be to use gloves before ever handling the cartridges from a new box of ammo and loading it into the magazine. For every technique, there is a counter.

Chicago Gun Ban Lawsuit Filed

The Second Amendment Foundation and the Illinois State Rifle Association have filed a lawsuit challenging Chicago's handgun ban. The plaintiffs' legal team is headed by Alan Gura, who was lead counsel for the plaintiffs who successfully challenged the D.C. gun ban in D.C. v. Heller.

From SCOTUSblog:
In a newly filed lawsuit in federal court in Chicago, two gun rights organizations and four individuals asked that the Second Amendment be extended to block strict gun laws at the state and local level. “The Second Amendment right,” the complaint contended, “is incorporated as against the states and their political subdivisions pursuant to the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The case, McDonald, et al., v. City of Chicago, et al. (District docket 08-3645), was filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago to challenge a city ordinance that bars registration of handguns with only a few exceptions, and that limits registration of other guns. The case was assigned to Senior District Judge Milton I. Shadur.

The plaintiffs have set up a website about the case: ChicagoGunCase.com

Read the complaint here.

Let's wish them good luck and much success!

Heller Roundup, Part 2

Here's a roundup of the latest Heller (D.C. gun ban / Second Amendment case) commentary:

Over at SCOTUSblog, Dave Kopel writes on the possible effect of Heller on the D.C. ban on semi-auto rifles and handguns (D.C. classifies them as "machine guns"!) here.

Another SCOTUSblog article by Dan Schmutter, who filed an amicus brief in the Heller case on behalf of Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, here.

Reason Magazine's blog has commentary by a bunch of folks, including Alan Gura (lead attorney for Mr. Heller), law professors Randy Barnett (Georgetown), Glenn Harlan Reynolds (U. of Tenn.), Sanford Levinson (U. of Texas), scholars Dave Kopel (Independence Institute), Joyce Lee Malcolm (Georgetown), and others here.

Over at Human Events, Dave Kopel has another article here.

The Wall Street Journal has an editorial on Heller here.

Another WSJ op-ed piece by Prof. Randy Barnett here.

The New York Times' Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse files her report here.

Another New York Times article focuses on the coming lawsuits against cities and towns that ban handguns here.

The Washington Post reports on D.C. residents reaction to the Supreme Court's ruling here.

And finally, over at Volokh Conspiracy, Prof. Dale Carpenter discusses the incorporation issue here.

Citizens Patrol Charlotte Business District

According to this article (video also available at link), a Charlotte, NC resident has organized a citizens patrol:
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Armed neighbors are now patrolling the Central Avenue business district in response to a shooting and three armed robberies at nearby businesses.

Overall, neighbors and police say the area is safe.

The Neighborhood Watch Alliance, started by Scott Yamanashi, includes nightly patrols from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m.

Yamanashi says there are up to 20 members who wish to remain anonymous. Nearly all, he says, have conceal and carry permits and take their handguns with them during their patrols.
...
"If I take the law into my own hands then that would be vigilantism. But, under the Second Amendment I have the right to basically patrol my neighborhood and carry a firearm for my own protection," he said.

Yamanashi does not have a conceal-carry permit. He says even for members who do, their first action will be calling 911 if they see a problem.
I suspect the patrol would be a lot smaller if the patrol members didn't have the right to be armed for self-protection.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Short range missile launch

Late night laugh -- the video says it all:

Compressed Gas Knife

A new twist on the plain old knife -- a knife with an internal CO2 cartridge that can be used to, uh, inflate your target. Good for any attacking balloons you may encounter.


(Photo: WaspKnife.com)

From what I can gather, you basically stab the attacking predator, then press the button behind the top of the guard to release the CO2 gas, which is contained in a standard disposable cartridge. Here's a cutaway view of the knife:


(Photo: WaspKnife.com)

Seems like it might be useful in an underwater situation against, say, a shark (although a bang stick seems like a better option). Against a human attacker, however, the attacker might have something to say about letting you just fill them up with gas -- "excuse me a moment while I activate the inflation option on my knife"? At the very least such a strike would require some good coordination to avoid discharging the CO2 prematurely, although I couldn't determine from the product's website whether the discharge can be controlled into multiple bursts, or if you only get one big burst of CO2.

Toronto Boots Gun Clubs from City Property

From our Northern neighbor and their anti-gun politicians, comes this news:
Two gun clubs on city property - including one in the rafters of Union Station - will get the boot under Mayor David Miller's new rules aimed at curbing the number of handguns in the city, approved yesterday by city council.

After a near daylong debate, council voted 31-9 for a policy that prevents new gun clubs and manufacturers from setting up in the city.

The two affected gun clubs - the Scarborough Rifle Club at the Don Montgomery Community Recreation Centre, and the CNRA Gun Club at Union Station - will be given the opportunity to relocate elsewhere on private property.
...
Mr. Miller, who has initiated a national campaign to persuade the federal government to completely ban handguns, said yesterday's decision was common sense, especially given the obvious security concerns at Union Station.

"You couldn't pick a worse place to have people wandering around with guns," Mr. Miller told reporters after the vote. "It's completely unacceptable from a public safety perspective."

He predicted that other gun clubs on private property in the city would eventually "wither away" as they close and new ones cannot be opened.
So Mayor Miller is anti-gun, and wants to ban all handguns. From his bio on the mayor's official website, we learn that he emigrated in 1967 from England. Maybe he's just homesick for his native England's anti-gun policies?

West Virginia Increases Reciprocity for Permit Holders

Over the past year, the West Virginia Attorney General's office has negotiated reciprocity agreements with a number of other states, increasing the number from two, to 14. The total number of states that now recognize a WV permit is up to 20. From the Charleston Gazette:
West Virginians with concealed weapons permits can now legally carry a hidden handgun in about 20 states.

Last year, the Legislature gave the state attorney general's office the task of working out concealed weapons agreements with other states. Prior to the legislative action, only two other states - Virginia and Kentucky - recognized concealed weapons permits from West Virginia.

"My directive is to reach agreements with as many states as possible," said Tom Smith, managing deputy attorney general in charge of the push.

Smith said West Virginia has now made reciprocity agreements for concealed weapons with 14 states, meaning West Virginians with valid permits can carry hidden guns in those states and residents of those states with concealed weapons permits can legally carry a hidden handgun in West Virginia. Six other states recognize or appear to recognize West Virginia concealed weapons permits.
The West Virginia attorney general's website has information on the states that honor a West Virginia carry permit (search for "reciprocity"). The WV AG's website is www.wvago.gov

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Heller Roundup

Without turning this into an "All Heller, All the Time" channel, here's a roundup of commentary on today's historic Heller decision:

Prof. Mike O'Shea over at Concurring Opinions gives us his take here.

Larry Solum (Legal Theory Blog) gives us his take here.

Prof. Sandy Levinson, writing over at Balkinization Blog, isn't too happy here.

Some quick comments by several law professors over at the Federalist Society debate on the Heller decision here.

Jacob Sullum, writing at Reason Magazine's blog, questions: "Why no right to machine guns?" here. Also at Reason, Radley Balko is skeptical, here.

SCOTUSblog's Lyle Dennison give us his take on "so, what's next for guns?" here.

Dave Kopel, writing at Pajamas Media, says Constitution is the big winner here.

Over at Volokh Conspiracy, a bunch of commentary:
Prof. Ilya Somin provides a cautionary tale from the experience of the property rights movement here.

Prof. Jim Lindgren thinks Justice Breyer's dissent is "self-refuting" here.

Prof. Dale Carpenter's take ("we're all originalists now") here.
Happy reading!

Allies WIN -- (Gun-Control) Nazis Defeated!

Today, the Supreme Court issued an historic ruling on the Second Amendment, striking down Washington, D.C.'s draconian ban on operable firearms in the home. For gun-rights advocates, the Court's ruling today in District of Columbia v. Heller is a major victory against gun-control.

The Court divided along ideological lines in this landmark case, deciding 5-4 that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes such as self-defense, and that this individual right is unconnected to service or membership in the militia.

The Court also noted that, like other rights, the Second Amendment is not unlimited, and that some restrictions would likely pass constitutional muster. Among such restrictions may be laws prohibiting concealed (versus open) carry, possession of firearms by convicted felons and the mentally ill, laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in places such as schools or government buildings, and laws imposing conditions on commercial firearms sales.

Finally, the Court held that, under any standard of review applicable to an enumerated constitutional right, a total ban on an entire class of firearms (handguns in this case) in unconstitutional. As such, the Court did not identify the standard of review that should apply, since this was not needed to resolve the case at hand.

Additionally, the Court did not address whether the Second Amendment applies to the states under the Fourteenth Amendment. Because Washington, D.C., is a federal enclave, the Court did not need to address this issue to decide the case.

So that's the gist of the Court's ruling today. As noted, the Court divided 5-4 along ideological lines. Justice Scalia wrote for the majority, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito. Justices Stevens wrote a dissent, in which Justices Ginsburg, Souter, and Breyer joined. Justice Breyer also wrote a separate dissent, joined by Justices Stevens, Souter, and Ginsburg.

Here are some excerpts from Justice Scalia's majority opinion:
We start therefore with a strong presumption that the Second Amendment right is exercised individually and belongs to all Americans. Slip op. at 7.
The amici also dismiss examples such as “ ‘bear arms . . . for the purpose of killing game’ ” because those uses are “expressly qualified.” Linguists’ Brief 24. (JUSTICE STEVENS uses the same excuse for dismissing the state constitutional provisions analogous to the Second Amendment that identify private-use purposes for which the individual right can be asserted. See post, at 12.) That analysis is faulty. A purposive qualifying phrase that contradicts the word or phrase it modifies is unknown this side of the looking glass (except, apparently, in some courses on Linguistics). If “bear arms” means, as we think, simply the carrying of arms, a modifier can limit the purpose of the carriage (“for the purpose of self defense” or “to make war against the King”). But if “bear arms” means, as the petitioners and the dissent think, the carrying of arms only for military purposes, one simply cannot add “for the purpose of killing game.” The right “to carry arms in the militia for the purpose of killing game” is worthy of the mad hatter. Thus, these purposive qualifying phrases positively establish that “to bear arms” is
not limited to military use. Slip op at 15-16. [footnotes omitted]
Putting all of these textual elements together, we find that they guarantee the individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation. This meaning is strongly confirmed by the historical background of the Second Amendment. We look to this because it has always been widely understood that the Second Amendment, like the First and Fourth Amendments, codified a pre-existing right. The very text of the Second Amendment implicitly recognizes the pre-existence of the right and declares only that it “shall not be infringed.” As we said in United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U. S. 542, 553 (1876), “[t]his is not a right granted by the Constitution. Neither is it in any manner dependent upon that instrument for its existence. The Second amendment declares that it shall not be infringed . . . .” Slip op. at 19 [footnotes omitted]
This holding is not only consistent with, but positively suggests, that the Second Amendment confers an individual right to keep and bear arms (though only arms that “have some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia”). Had the Court believed that the Second Amendment protects only those serving in the militia, it would have been odd to examine the character of the weapon rather than simply note that the two crooks were not militiamen. JUSTICE STEVENS can say again and again that Miller did “not turn on the difference between muskets and sawed-off shotguns, it turned, rather, on the basic difference between the military and nonmilitary use and possession of guns,” post, at 42–43, but the words of the opinion prove otherwise. The most JUSTICE STEVENS can plausibly claim for Miller is that it declined to decide the nature of the Second Amendment right, despite the Solicitor General’s argument (made in the alternative) that the right was collective, see Brief for United States, O. T. 1938, No. 696, pp. 4–5. Miller stands only for the proposition that the Second Amendment right, whatever its nature, extends only to certain types of weapons. Slip op. at 50

On the nature of the "arms" protected by the Second Amendment:
Some have made the argument, bordering on the frivolous, that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment. We do not interpret constitutional rights that way. Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications, e.g., Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U. S. 844, 849 (1997), and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search, e.g., Kyllo v. United States, 533 U. S. 27, 35–36 (2001), the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding. Slip op. at 8.
We may as well consider at this point (for we will have to consider eventually) what types of weapons Miller permits. Read in isolation, Miller’s phrase “part of ordinary military equipment” could mean that only those weapons useful in warfare are protected. That would be a startling reading of the opinion, since it would mean that the National Firearms Act’s restrictions on machineguns (not challenged in Miller) might be unconstitutional, machineguns being useful in warfare in 1939. We think that Miller’s “ordinary military equipment” language must be read in tandem with what comes after: “[O]rdinarily when called for [militia] service [able-bodied] men were expected to appear bearing arms supplied by themselves and of the kind in common use at the time.” 307 U. S., at 179. The traditional militia was formed from a pool of men bringing arms “in common use at the time” for lawful purposes like self-defense. “In the colonial and revolutionary war era, [small-arms] weapons used by militiamen and weapons used in defense of person and home were one and the same.” State v. Kessler, 289 Ore. 359, 368, 614 P. 2d 94, 98 (1980) (citing G. Neumann, Swords and Blades of the American Revolution 6–15, 252–254 (1973)). Indeed, that is precisely the way in which the Second Amendment’s operative clause furthers the purpose announced in its preface. We therefore read Miller to say only that the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns. That accords with the historical understanding of the scope of the right, see Part III, infra. Slip op. at 52-53. [footnotes omitted]

What limits might exist on Second Amendment rights:
Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose. See, e.g., Sheldon, in 5 Blume 346; Rawle 123; Pomeroy 152–153; Abbott 333. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues. See, e.g., State v. Chandler, 5 La. Ann., at 489–490; Nunn v. State, 1 Ga., at 251; see generally 2 Kent *340, n. 2; The American Students’ Blackstone 84, n. 11 (G. Chase ed. 1884). Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

We also recognize another important limitation on the right to keep and carry arms. Miller said, as we have explained, that the sorts of weapons protected were those “in common use at the time.” 307 U. S., at 179. We think that limitation is fairly supported by the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons.” See 4 Blackstone 148–149 (1769); 3 B. Wilson, Works of the Honourable James Wilson 79 (1804); J. Dunlap, The New-York Justice 8 (1815); C. Humphreys, A Compendium of the Common Law in Force in Kentucky 482 (1822); 1 W. Russell, A Treatise on Crimes and Indictable Misdemeanors 271–272 (1831); H. Stephen, Summary of the Criminal Law 48 (1840); E. Lewis, An Abridgment of the Criminal Law of the United States 64 (1847); F. Wharton, A Treatise on the Criminal Law of the United States 726 (1852). See also State v. Langford, 10 N. C. 381, 383–384 (1824); O’Neill v. State, 16 Ala. 65, 67 (1849); English v. State, 35 Tex. 473, 476 (1871); State v. Lanier, 71 N. C. 288, 289 (1874).

It may be objected that if weapons that are most useful in military service—M-16 rifles and the like—may be banned, then the Second Amendment right is completely detached from the prefatory clause. But as we have said, the conception of the militia at the time of the Second Amendment’s ratification was the body of all citizens capable of military service, who would bring the sorts of lawful weapons that they possessed at home to militia duty. It may well be true today that a militia, to be as effective as militias in the 18th century, would require sophisticated arms that are highly unusual in society at large. Indeed, it may be true that no amount of small arms could be useful against modern-day bombers and tanks. But the fact that modern developments have limited the degree of fit between the prefatory clause and the protected right cannot change our interpretation of the right. Slip op. at 54-56.

On the D.C. ban on operable firearms:
It is no answer to say, as petitioners do, that it is permissible to ban the possession of handguns so long as the possession of other firearms (i.e., long guns) is allowed. It is enough to note, as we have observed, that the American people have considered the handgun to be the quintessential self-defense weapon. There are many reasons that a citizen may prefer a handgun for home defense: It is easier to store in a location that is readily accessible in an emergency; it cannot easily be redirected or wrestled away by an attacker; it is easier to use for those without the upperbody strength to lift and aim a long gun; it can be pointed at a burglar with one hand while the other hand dials the police. Whatever the reason, handguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home, and a complete prohibition of their use is invalid.

We must also address the District’s requirement (as applied to respondent’s handgun) that firearms in the home be rendered and kept inoperable at all times. This makes it impossible for citizens to use them for the core lawful purpose of self-defense and is hence unconstitutional. ... Slip op. at 57-58.


What aspects of D.C. law did the Court not address?
... Before this Court petitioners [D.C.] have stated that “if the handgun ban is struck down and respondent registers a handgun, he could obtain a license, assuming he is not otherwise disqualified,” by which they apparently mean if he is not a felon and is not insane. Brief for Petitioners 58. Respondent conceded at oral argument that he does not “have a problem with . . . licensing” and that the District’s law is permissible so long as it is “not enforced in an arbitrary and capricious manner.” Tr. of Oral Arg. 74–75. We therefore assume that petitioners’ issuance of a license will satisfy respondent’s prayer for relief and do not address the licensing requirement.

... Nothing about those fire-safety laws undermines our analysis; they do not remotely burden the right of self defense as much as an absolute ban on handguns. Nor, correspondingly, does our analysis suggest the invalidity of laws regulating the storage of firearms to prevent accidents. Slip op. at 59-60.

Shouldn't judges balance the public safety interests with the individual right?
JUSTICE BREYER moves on to make a broad jurisprudential point: He criticizes us for declining to establish a level of scrutiny for evaluating Second Amendment restrictions. He proposes, explicitly at least, none of the traditionally expressed levels (strict scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny, rational basis), but rather a judge-empowering “interestbalancing inquiry” that “asks whether the statute burdens a protected interest in a way or to an extent that is out of proportion to the statute’s salutary effects upon other important governmental interests.” Post, at 10. After an exhaustive discussion of the arguments for and against gun control, JUSTICE BREYER arrives at his interestbalanced answer: because handgun violence is a problem, because the law is limited to an urban area, and because there were somewhat similar restrictions in the founding period (a false proposition that we have already discussed), the interest-balancing inquiry results in the constitutionality of the handgun ban. QED.

We know of no other enumerated constitutional right whose core protection has been subjected to a freestanding “interest-balancing” approach. The very enumeration of the right takes out of the hands of government—even the Third Branch of Government—the power to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the right is really worth insisting upon. A constitutional guarantee subject to future judges’ assessments of its usefulness is no constitutional guarantee at all. Constitutional rights are enshrined with the scope they were understood to have when the people adopted them, whether or not future legislatures or (yes) even future judges think that scope too broad. We would not apply an “interest-balancing” approach to the prohibition of a peaceful neo-Nazi march through Skokie. See National Socialist Party of America v. Skokie, 432 U. S. 43 (1977) (per curiam). The First Amendment contains the freedom-of-speech guarantee that the people ratified, which included exceptions for obscenity, libel, and disclosure of state secrets, but not for the expression of extremely unpopular and wrong-headed views. The Second Amendment is no different. Like the First, it is the very product of an interest-balancing by the people—which JUSTICE BREYER would now conduct for them anew. And whatever else it leaves to future evaluation, it surely elevates above all other interests the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home. Slip op. at 62-63.

The Court's holding:
In sum, we hold that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense. Assuming that Heller is not disqualified from the exercise of Second Amendment rights, the District must permit him to register his handgun and must issue him a license to carry it in the home.
* * *
We are aware of the problem of handgun violence in this country, and we take seriously the concerns raised by the many amici who believe that prohibition of handgun ownership is a solution. The Constitution leaves the District of Columbia a variety of tools for combating that problem, including some measures regulating handguns, see supra, at 54–55, and n. 26. But the enshrinement of constitutional rights necessarily takes certain policy choices off the table. These include the absolute prohibition of handguns held and used for self-defense in the home. Undoubtedly some think that the Second Amendment is outmoded in a society where our standing army is the pride of our Nation, where well-trained police forces provide personal security, and where gun violence is a serious problem. That is perhaps debatable, but what is not debatable is that it is not the role of this Court to pronounce the Second Amendment extinct.

We affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeals.

So, what next?

Washington, D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty has announced that the city will revise its laws to conform to the Court's holding, and that within 21 days the D.C. police will update it's regulations for registering handguns.

In addition, on Fox News this morning the NRA's Wayne LaPierre indicated that the NRA plans to challenge handgun restrictions in Chicago and several neighboring Chicago suburbs, as well as handgun restrictions in San Francisco, based on today's Supreme Court's ruling. Such a challenge will require the courts to address squarely the issue of whether the Second Amendment applies not just to the federal government, but also to the states.

And what of Dick Heller, one of the D.C. residents who challenged the city's gun ban, and whose name will now enter the Supreme Court lexicon? According to the Washington Post, "[Mr.] Heller said that he planned to seek his permit 'very soon.'"

SCOTUS: Second Amendment is Individual Right

The Supreme Court ruled this morning in the case of D.C. v. Heller, the case challenging Washington, D.C.'s ban on operable firearms, that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to own such weapons, and striking down the challenged provisions of the D.C. ban.

The Court ruled 5-4 that the Second Amendment protects an individual right. Justices Stevens, Souter, Ginsburg and Breyer dissented.

From the Court's opinion:
In sum, we hold that the District’s ban on handgun possession in the home violates the Second Amendment, as does its prohibition against rendering any lawful firearm
in the home operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense.

The Court's decision can be found here.

Go read the opinion. I'm off to dance a little jig in celebration! :)

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Naked Emperor Rules: No Death for Child Rapists

The Supreme Court issued its decision in Kennedy v. Louisiana, one of the high-profile cases before the Court this term, concerning the constitutionality of the death penalty for rape of a child.

The Court divided 5-4, with swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the Court's liberal block of Justices Ginsburg, Souter, Breyer, and Stevens in holding unconstitutional the death penalty for the crime of rape of a child, where the crime did not result, and was not intended to result, in death of the victim. The Court's majority held that the death penalty for violent criminals in such cases violates the Eighth Amendment's prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment.

The Court's conservative justices -- Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito -- dissented.

From Justice Kennedy's majority opinion:
Our determination that there is a consensus against the death penalty for child rape raises the question whether the Court’s own institutional position and its holding will have the effect of blocking further or later consensus in favor of the penalty from developing. The Court, it will be argued, by the act of addressing the constitutionality of the death penalty, intrudes upon the consensus-making process. By imposing a negative restraint, the argument runs, the Court makes it more difficult for consensus to change or emerge. The Court, according to the criticism, itself becomes enmeshed in the process, part judge and part the maker of that which it judges.

These concerns overlook the meaning and full substance of the established proposition that the Eighth Amendment is defined by “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.” Trop, 356 U. S., at 101 (plurality opinion). Confirmed by repeated, consistent rulings of this Court, this principle requires that use of the death penalty be restrained. The rule of evolving standards of decency with specific marks on the way to full progress and mature judgment means that resort to the penalty must be reserved for the worst of crimes and limited in its instances of application. In most cases justice is not better served by terminating the life of the perpetrator rather than confining him and preserving the possibility that he and the system will find ways to allow him to understand the enormity of his offense. [emphasis added] Difficulties in administering the penalty to ensure against its arbitrary and capricious application require adherence to a rule reserving its use, at this stage of evolving standards and in cases of crimes against individuals, for crimes that take the life of the victim. Kennedy, J., Slip Op. at 36.
It seems to me to be that, at the end of the day, those in the majority simply substituted their own preferences for that of elected state legislators. Determining whether or not justice is "better served by terminating the life of the perpetrator rather than confining him and preserving the possibility that he and the system will find ways to allow him to understand the enormity of his offense[]" is quintessentially a function of elected legislatures, not the judiciary. Indeed, determining what is an appropriate and proportionate punishment for a crime is typically one of a legislature's specifically enumerated functions.

Justice Kennedy's majority opinion spends much time discussing the "national consensus" against the death penalty, and "evolving standards of decency". While this line of reasoning might be in keeping with the line of the Court's own death penalty precedents (see, e.g., Coker v. Georgia, Atkins v. Virginia, Roper v. Simmons), it illustrates the problems with a judicial philosophy that requires interpretation of constitutional provisions not according to their meaning at the time of adoption, but rather on an ongoing, and constantly changing, basis. In this judicial approach to constitutional interpretation, the risk of justices substituting their own policy preferences and "independent judgment" (to use Justice Kennedy's term) in place of the policy judgments of elected legislators, is great indeed.

Obviously, this is not to suggest that legislators have free reign to impose any sentence that they please, for any crime, without limits, but rather that the Eighth Amendment's prohibition on "cruel and unusual" punishment ought to be interpreted in light of that phrase's meaning at the time of adoption of that amendment, not in light of a continuously evolving (and only judicially discernible) meaning.

Justice Alito in his dissent, joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia and Thomas, notes:
The Court today holds that the Eighth Amendment categorically prohibits the imposition of the death penalty for the crime of raping a child. This is so, according to the Court, no matter how young the child, no matter how many times the child is raped, no matter how many children the perpetrator rapes, no matter how sadistic the crime, no matter how much physical or psychological trauma is inflicted, and no matter how heinous the perpetrator’s prior criminal record may be. The Court provides two reasons for this sweeping conclusion: First, the Court claims to have identified “a national consensus” that the death penalty is never acceptable for the rape of a child; second, the Court concludes, based on its “independent judgment,” that imposing the death penalty for child rape is inconsistent with “ ‘the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society.’ ” Ante, at 8, 15, 16 (citation omitted). Because neither of these justifications is sound, I respectfully dissent.

I turn first to the Court’s claim that there is “a national consensus” that it is never acceptable to impose the death penalty for the rape of a child. The Eighth Amendment’s requirements, the Court writes, are “determined not by the standards that prevailed” when the Amendment was adopted but “by the norms that ‘currently prevail.’ ” Ante, at 8 (quoting Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U. S. 304, 311 (2002)). In assessing current norms, the Court relies primarily on the fact that only 6 of the 50 States now have statutes that permit the death penalty for this offense. But this statistic is a highly unreliable indicator of the views of state lawmakers and their constituents. As I will explain, dicta in this Court’s decision in Coker v. Georgia, 433 U. S. 584 (1977), has stunted legislative consideration of the question whether the death penalty for the targeted offense of raping a young child is consistent with prevailing standards of decency. The Coker dicta gave state legislators and others good reason to fear that any law permitting the imposition of the death penalty for this crime would meet precisely the fate that has now befallen the Louisiana statute that is currently before us, and this threat strongly discouraged state legislators — regardless of their own values and those of their constituents — from supporting the enactment of such legislation. As the Court correctly concludes, the holding in Coker was that the Eighth Amendment prohibits the death penalty for the rape of an “ ‘adult woman,’ ” and thus Coker does not control our decision here. See ante, at 17. But the reasoning of the Justices in the majority had broader implications.
...
For the past three decades, these interpretations have posed a very high hurdle for state legislatures considering the passage of new laws permitting the death penalty for the rape of a child. The enactment and implementation of any new state death penalty statute—and particularly a new type of statute such as one that specifically targets the rape of young children—imposes many costs. There is the burden of drafting an innovative law that must take into account this Court’s exceedingly complex Eighth Amendment jurisprudence. Securing passage of controversial
legislation may interfere in a variety of ways with the enactment of other bills on the legislative agenda. Once the statute is enacted, there is the burden of training
and coordinating the efforts of those who must implement the new law. Capital prosecutions are qualitatively more difficult than noncapital prosecutions and impose special emotional burdens on all involved. When a capital sentence is imposed under the new law, there is the burden of keeping the prisoner on death row and the lengthy and costly project of defending the constitutionality of the statute on appeal and in collateral proceedings. And if the law is eventually overturned, there is the burden of new proceedings on remand. Moreover, conscientious state lawmakers, whatever their personal views about the morality of imposing the death penalty for child rape, may defer to this Court’s dicta, either because they respect our
authority and expertise in interpreting the Constitution or merely because they do not relish the prospect of being held to have violated the Constitution and contravened prevailing “standards of decency.” Accordingly, the Coker dicta gave state legislators a strong incentive not to push for the enactment of new capital child-rape laws even though these legislators and their constituents may have
believed that the laws would be appropriate and desirable. Alito, J., dissenting, slip op. at 1-6.
So, as Justice Alito observes, dicta in the Court's own precedent in Coker, a 1977 case outlawing the death penalty for the crime of rape of an adult woman, has likely discouraged state legislatures from passing death penalty legislation for the exact crime at issue here (child rape). The majority then uses the fact that only six states have the death penalty for rape of a child as evidence of a "national consensus" against such punishment, even though that low number is likely due, at least in part, to the Court's own prior rulings.

The dissent continues, pointing out the majority's imposition of their own policy judgments for that of elected state legislatures:
A major theme of the Court’s opinion is that permitting the death penalty in child-rape cases is not in the best interests of the victims of these crimes and society at large. In this vein, the Court suggests that it is more painful for child-rape victims to testify when the prosecution is seeking the death penalty. Ante, at 32. The Court also argues that “a State that punishes child rape by death may remove a strong incentive for the rapist not to kill the victim,” ante, at 35, and may discourage the reporting of child rape, ante, at 34–35. These policy arguments, whatever their merits, are simply not pertinent to the question whether the death penalty is “cruel and unusual” punishment. The Eighth Amendment protects the right of an accused. It does not authorize this Court to strike down federal or state criminal laws on the ground that they are not in the best interests of crime victims or the broader society. The Court’s policy arguments concern matters that legislators should—and presumably do—take into account in deciding whether to enact a capital child-rape statute, but these arguments are irrelevant to the question that is before us in this case. [emphasis added] Our cases have cautioned against using “ ‘the aegis of the Cruel and Unusual Punishment Clause’ to cut off the normal democratic processes,” Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U. S. 304, 323 (2002) (Rehnquist, C. J., dissenting), in turn quoting Gregg v. Georgia, 428 U. S. 153, 176 (1976), (joint opinion of Stewart, Powell, and STEVENS, JJ.), but the Court forgets that warning here.
...
In summary, the Court holds that the Eighth Amendment categorically rules out the death penalty in even the most extreme cases of child rape even though: (1) This
holding is not supported by the original meaning of the Eighth Amendment; (2) neither Coker nor any other prior precedent commands this result; (3) there are no reliable “objective indicia” of a “national consensus” in support of the Court’s position; (4) sustaining the constitutionality of the state law before us would not “extend” or “expand” the death penalty; (5) this Court has previously rejected the proposition that the Eighth Amendment is a one-way ratchet that prohibits legislatures from adopting new capital punishment statutes to meet new problems; (6) the worst child rapists exhibit the epitome of moral depravity; and (7) child rape inflicts grievous injury on victims and on society in general. Id. at 15-24.
Whatever your position on the death penalty, it seems to me that the policy judgment of whether to impose it for a particular crime, or whether to abolish it altogether, is one that is best left to the democratic process and the elected branches, rather than the judiciary (in this case five unelected individuals). Constitutional provisions ought to be interpreted in light of their meaning, however broad or narrow, at the time of adoption, and not be subject to the policy whims of the judiciary. This is particularly true where the death penalty was historically an accepted punishment at the time the constitutional provision(s) relied upon to strike down the statute here was adopted. In matters of crime and punishment, the people, through their elected representatives and through public debate, ought to be able to decide.

Sadly, the Court's ruling effectively deprives state legislatures and the people they represent of that choice (absent an amending of the federal Constitution, of course). Today, the emperor has no clothes.

Miss Tennessee Packs Heat

Looks like she's both smart, and pretty.
She's a daddy's girl.

But don't think this year's Miss Tennessee is a pushover.

Ellen Carrington, 21, who was crowned Miss Tennessee on Saturday night, has a concealed weapons permit.


(photo: misstennessee.org)

"I have a Smith & Wesson .40-caliber," Carrington told reporters on Sunday, "(with a) silver top and black body."

A Jackson native and senior at Union University, Carrington decided to get the permit because she was spending a lot of time traveling to and from Nashville at night. She said spending time at shooting ranges with her father, Pat, helped create an even deeper bond between the two.
Read the rest here.

GunFacts 5.0

An updated edition of Guy Smith's GunFacts (version 5.0) is available for download here. A good reference tool for helping debunk some of the anti-gun arguments you may come across.

Don't make me call grandma ...

From the Don't-Judge-A-Book-By-Its-Cover files, Italian version.
Italian soldiers are facing the embarrassment of being beaten up daily by a 77-year-old Japanese grandmother.

Martial arts expert Keiko Wakabayshi, nicknamed the "Samurai Granny", has been hired by the country's military to train recruits in hand-to-hand combat.

Miss Wakabayshi, who stands exactly 5ft tall, looks tiny compared to her charges who are mostly over 6ft.

But the pensioner is a trained master in an array of martial arts disciplines including jujitsu, jojitso, kenjitso, judo, kendo and karate.

She wipes the floor with soldiers of the Folgore brigade at their barracks in Livorno on a daily basis.
Ouch. Article here.

Israel Expands Castle Doctrine Protection

Yesterday, Israel's Knesset passed a law expanding the rights of citizens to use force against intruders in their homes and businesses:
"The incident involving Shai Dromi raised awareness of the number of incidents of robberies that became life-threatening and of the distress of Israeli farmers who must deal with crime with almost no recourse," Gabai said after the legislation was approved. "The law attempts to restore deterrent capacity, to make the police's work easier and to reduce crime throughout the country."

"Now, homeowners, ranchers and farmers will be certain that their home is their fortress," Aharonovich said.

But left-wing and Arab parties were less than enthusiastic. MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) described the bill as "a death penalty for property crime."

"Thieves and robbers should be punished, but we should not allow property owners to determine an immediate death sentence," said MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al), who mounted a fiery opposition to the bill from the Knesset speaker's podium.

Unlike earlier restrictions on criminal liability in cases of self-defense, under the new law a property owner does not have to face "a real danger to his own or another person's life, freedom, bodily welfare or property" to justify shooting. However, "the provision will not apply if the [property owner's] act was manifestly unreasonable under the circumstances in order to repel the intruder or enterer."
Look for someone to blame the NRA. :)

No Heller Decision Today

The Supreme Court issued four opinions today, but did not issue its opinion in D.C. v. Heller, the case challenging the D.C. gun ban on Second Amendment grounds.

Among the opinions issued, the Court decided two of the three high-profile cases, Exxon v. Baker, the case involving punitive damages resulting from the Exxon Valdez spill, and Kennedy v. Louisiana, on the constitutionality of the death penalty for child rape. In the Exxon case, the Court limited the scope of punitive damages under maritime law. In Kennedy, the Court ruled that the death penalty for child rape is unconstitutional where the victim child does not die and the rapist did not intend to kill the child.

With today's opinions, the Court has three cases remaining to decide from this term. The Court announced that it will issue all of it s remaining opinions, including Heller, at 10 AM tomorrow.

Stay tuned. I will update this blog Thursday morning as soon as the Court's opinions are released, and will provide the link to the Heller decision as soon as it's available.

Update: The Exxon v. Baker punitive damages decision is available here. The Kennedy v. Louisiana decision on the death penalty for child rape is available here.

Texans push for open carry

I've always found it curious that Texas, with its strong Southwestern image, prohibits open carry. Now, a group of Texans is looking to change that law.
FORT WORTH, Texas -- Despite the Lone Star State's love affair with the gun, there's at least one firearms restriction that some Texans want lifted.



Texas is just one of six states in which handguns can't be worn in plain view. The other 44 states, in the parlance of gun advocates, are known as "open-carry" states.

More than 3,500 people have signed an online petition asking Gov. Rick Perry and the Legislature to permit Texans to wear their handguns without concealing them.
While we can debate the tactical merits of open vs. concealed carry, open carry is a visible means of exercising your right to keep and bear arms, and as such makes a political statement. Basically, open carry is the more potent and useful version of wearing a "Don't Tread on Me" t-shirt. Hopefully, Texas gets its act together on this issue and removes the silly open carry prohibition.

Update: Link to the Texas Open Carry petition is here. (Hat tip to commenter Mulligan)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

So long, pseudo-seal, we hardly knew you ...

Remember that faux Presidential Seal that His Royal Highness, er, Senator Obama trotted out last week? Looks like it's got some tire marks from being thrown under, and run over by, the good Senator's bus:
WASHINGTON -- The Obama campaign didn't see it coming-catching flak for creating a mock presidential, seal with the Obama "Yes we can" slogan in Latin last Friday. The campaign unveiled it at a meeting Obama had with Democratic governors in Chicago. On Monday, the Obama campaign announced that the seal was for one-time viewing only and was retired from duty. I know the use of the seal touched a political nerve and sparked a lively debate on my blog and over at other sites over whether it was proper, legal, arrogant, an example of Obama hubris, or presidential, whimsical and appropriate.
Oops. I guess last week's seal wasn't the seal Obama knew. Change we can believe in. Yes we can.

Need something to park next to your Ferrari?

How about a two-seater aircraft with auto-folding wings? Meet the Icon A5:


(I think that's an artist's rendition, by the way)

Video of the Hollywood announcement party:

Some CCW Stats

Article on reasons why folks carry, some CCW stats, and a story of why being able to legally carry is a useful option for law-abiding citizens.
Thirty years after Florida passed their CCW law there are now almost four million citizens legally carrying handguns in 40 plus states.

My state of Indiana has allowed CCW for 70 years, and over 350,000 Hoosiers currently have CCW permits. Indiana has many urban areas such as Gary, as well as more rural areas. In some counties about 10 percent of residents own a carry license.

In my town almost 1 out of every 5 adults has a CCW. As a side note, it is exceptionally easy for a woman to obtain her CCW here. My wife has had hers for many years, and since she often works to midnight it is quite a aid to feeling safe at times.
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We go about our business quietly and calmly, while occasionally defending ourselves against social predators.

Back a few years ago two escaped, very hardcore criminals from Mississippi were roaming loose around our county. They had already been in several running gun battles with the police and had vowed to not be taken alive.

Our then 13 year old was on an overnight trip to a church camp when the badguys were spotted fairly close by. A call went out to all the parents to come and pick the kids up just in case.

My wife and I holstered our legally carried handguns and went to pick her up. We stayed inside providing interior security with a few other also armed adults, and several fathers provided exterior security with long guns. We all stayed until all the kids were picked up.

When we got home our daughter hugged the me and the wife and told us that she was comforted (her word) by the knowledge that we both had our guns with us and could protect her if necessary. I cannot tell you how moving that was to my wife and I.

You see, the comfort is never in knowing that one can take a life with a gun, but the sure knowing that one can save a life with a gun. My life, my wife's, or maybe my daughter's. These are the people I am responsible for.
Read the rest of the article here.

Concealed Carry in National Parks


(Hallett Peak and Lake Haiyaha, Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado. Photo: GC Webshots)

Article from Colorado discussing the proposed rule to allow CCW holders to legally carry in National Parks and areas managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service in states that allow CCW permit holders to legally carry in analogous state parks.
ROCKY MOUNTAIN NATIONAL PARK - The constant clash over the Second Amendment has moved into America's national parks.

The Bush Administra-tion is considering a rule change that would allow people to carry loaded, concealed weapons in some national parks, monuments and wildlife refuges.

The Department of Interior could decide next month whether to adopt the change.

The new rule would only apply to states that allow concealed weapons in state parks or wildlife refuges. Colorado is one of those states.

"The move to change the regulations comes after heavy lobbying by the National Rifle Association."

"Criminals don't stay away from national parks, and individuals should have the right and ability to protect themselves ... no matter where they go," said Anthony Fabian, president of Colorado State Shooters Association.
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Read the rest here.

If you haven't already done so, please consider submitting a public comment in support of the proposed rule. See my post here for details on how to do that.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Need a Cheap Cable? Don't Look Here

I think one of the biggest scams around is the overpriced cables they always try to sell you when you buy a piece of electronic audio-visual equipment -- TVs, DVDs, sound systems, etc. You know the pitch: for the really best sound with that new flat-screen TV, you should buy these $$$ audio link interconnects (I guess "cable" sounds too low-tech) made of pure "audiophile grade" copper, with the gold-plated connectors, and hand-made by Tibetan monks in a Class 10 cleanroom.

Apparently, Denon, a Japanese maker of audio equipment, offers a four foot, eleven inch long Ethernet cable (sorry, "digital audio link interconnect") that's currently for sale on Amazon.com for the jaw-dropping price of $500 smackeroos. From the description on Amazon.com:

Get the purest digital audio you've ever experienced from multi-channel DVD and CD playback through your Denon home theater receiver with the AK-DL1 dedicated cable. Made of high-purity copper wire, it's designed to thoroughly eliminate adverse effects from vibration and helps stabilize the digital transmission from occurrences of jitter and ripple. A tin-bearing copper alloy is used for the cable's shield while the insulation is made of a fluoropolymer material with superior heat resistance, weather resistance, and anti-aging properties. The connector features a rounded plug lever to prevent bending or breaking and direction marks to indicate correct direction for connecting cable. [emphasis added]
Allow me to translate for you suckers, er, audiophiles:
This is an Ethernet cable. It's probably made by the same factory, on the same assembly line, using the same materials, as the $10 Ethernet cable connecting your computer to your cable modem or home network. But because we use a lot of fancy-sounding words like "jitter and ripple", "fluoropolymer", "high-purity", and the like, we can charge $500. Heck, the fact that we put "direction marks" on the connectors (like you've never plugged in a cable that only fits one way before) allows us to charge an extra $200 bucks over a regular cable without those marks. Remember, we have to put them on both ends, you know. That high-falutin' "fluoropolymer material"? The less sophisticated among you might know it better by its street name, "plastic". And "stabiliz[ing] the digital transmission from occurrences of jitter and ripple"? It's a five foot cable, for crying out loud -- you're not transmitting the signal across the Atlantic, you're connecting the DVD player to the tuner next to it. But pay us $500 bucks for this piece of coax with two RJ45s on the end. The $490 you didn't save buying this Denon branded Ethernet cable helps pay our marketing guys salaries -- those product descriptions don't write themselves, you know. Oh, and shipping's "free".

Some of the Amazon customer reviews for the item are priceless:
"With over 45% of my annual budget going towards my increasingly large pornography collection, I needed a stress-free solution for moving all my smut-laden data from one location to another. This cable does just that. Never before have the streams of ones and zeros that are somehow combined to create glistening buttocks on my HDTV been so at home. When I turn off all the lights I can almost hear tiny moans being made by my PC every time I insert this cable.... over and over again. I only gave it 4 stars because for some reason this cable didn't de-pixelize my Japanese porn collection."
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"This is not your usual audio link cable. It is well worth the $500.

Why you ask? Because this cable not only passes signals through but improves it. For example, if you try to play awful music like K.Fed or Paris Hilton, it automatically converts it all to songs by the Beatles or the Stones.

Tell me, can your cheap cable do that? ..."
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"... Ask yourself honestly... have you ever been troubled by adverse effects from vibration? I'm talking of the vibration going on all around us. It's usually very subtle; caused by a distant construction zone in a nearby town, an earthquake 3000 miles away, your neighbors upstairs, etc. Have you ever listened to a song and thought "If I can't thoroughly eliminate the vibration, then I don't want to listen to that song ever again!". Well, after getting this cable... it was as though the earth stood still. I was hearing instruments and harmonies and studio equipment creaking and the musicians breathing.... and along with this the most unimaginable sublime droning of pure beauty. This is the only way I can describe it. At some level it was as though I was awake for the first time in my life. ..."
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"... After the Denon helicopter and armed delivery guards left, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed; Do I deserve a cable so supreme? Is my music worthy to be transported across such a sublime linkage? These thought were racing thru my mind even before I open the silver case with the ivory inlay. When I mustered enough courage to lift the lid, I am not ashamed to admit I pee'ed myself at what I saw. Pictures don't do it justice, the Denon AKDL1 is beautiful. As I reached for it, I became aware of a low humming noise coming from the cable. It was warm to the touch and seemed to pulse with energy. It actually moved in my hand, slowly writhing as if seeking sound and music to improve with its touch.

It was then that I realized I was tap dancing. This is strange, because I dont know how to tap dance... I honestly can't even keep a beat, but there I was dancing like Fred Astaire. I began to realize other improvement in myself, just by holding the cable. I can now speak Farsi, drive a Zamboni, paint by numbers, and wait patiently in line at the Post Office; all skills I never had before!
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This is not a cable... this Denon AKDL1 is the essence of humanity. Get yours before you devolve in the pond scum that you are.

Minus one star for the blasé color."

:)