Good Friday Morning! It feels like the gun control debate is beginning to die down a little bit. But that’s only going to be for a little while because the media will start the issue up again when the protest march happens later in March. In the meantime, the President has put his two cents in on the matter, and I’ll cover that. I’ll also go into a recent story about China’s new predictive police forces and a few words on a recent case regarding free speech before the Supreme Court. Links follow.
New this week at the Conservative Institute
The central premise of most of the gun control crowd is that various gun laws would have prevented what happened in Florida. But if you look at what happened on the ground, the inaction of the police and first responders allowed the shooter to go on unchallenged.
Something you often here is that gun control advocates only want what works, or something common sense would dictate. But when you know how pragmatism works as a political philosophy, a different story emerges.
No, Mr. President, you can’t take the guns first
The most important story this week on the gun control debate was the President’s meeting with various politicians, open to the media, about potential gun control legislation. One of his suggestions was just wrong:
President Trump said Wednesday he favors taking guns away from people who might commit violence before going through legal due process in the courts, one of many startling comments he made in a rambling White House meeting designed to hash out school safety legislation with a bipartisan group of lawmakers.
“I like taking guns away early,” Trump said. “Take the guns first, go through due process second.”
Trump also said some of his fellow Republicans were “petrified” of the NRA, called on lawmakers to produce a “comprehensive” gun bill, and squelched prospects for a GOP-backed concealed carry proposal as part of a broader gun package.
“We must harden our schools against attack,” Trump said while also calling for other steps to end the “senseless violence” that has claimed lives in classrooms, nightclubs and workplaces across the country.
You can look at the video yourself if you doubt the transcript. He said exactly what the story says. There are a few problems with his suggestion.
First, you can’t take a person’s guns first, then worry about due process. That’s a direct violation of constitutional rights and neither police nor prosecutors have that power. That is true of any right listed in the constitution.
Second, since I don’t ascribe to the notion that Trump has a cohesive set of values or a worldview on how things should work, I don’t necessarily see this as him trying to assert or grab power. I just think he doesn’t understand how any of legal proceedings work, or any of the laws. And in these open meetings, on every topic, he’s prone to take any position or talk out loud about any issue.
If this were any other typical President like Bush or Obama, I’d take it far more seriously because I’d presume they’d understand what they’re saying. I don’t make that assumption with this President. If he does prove to realize what he’s saying, I’ll revise this opinion.
I covered most of this topic in-depth already so that I won’t belabor any of those points. Just remember: you can’t remove a right without due process (generally speaking).
China deploys predictive policing: arresting people before they commit the crime
The Wall Street Journal had a fascinating and scary story on how China is testing out new policing methods in the Xinjiang region:
Public information about the policing platform is fragmented, leaving it unclear why certain types of data are collected and what factors lead to individuals being flagged as suspicious, Ms. Wang said.
Some of the data fed into the platform comes from teams of party members and civil servants sent to villages and towns to visit with Uighur families. In a report posted to an official website in August, a team from the Xinjiang branch of the state-controlled Chinese Academy of Sciences said it has used smartphones to record information on suspicious behavior, citing as one data point a failure to pay phone bills.
In December, The Wall Street Journal reported the story of a Uighur resident of Urumqi, Xinjiang’s capital, who said his ID card started setting off alarms when swiped at security checkpoints after he was called in over past-due mobile phone charges.
Some Uighur exiles and researchers describe an evaluation system based on a 100-point scale in which individuals are docked for biographical information authorities consider threatening.
Tahir Imin, a Uighur academic and journalist who fled Xinjiang for the U.S. last February, said a friend in Urumqi was detained in June after authorities docked his score for praying regularly, owning a passport and traveling to Turkey.
“If your score is below 70, you are considered an unsafe person and they contact the police, who then send you to a re-education camp,” Mr. Imin said.
Researchers affiliated with the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau published a paper in 2016 outlining a more sophisticated system that analyzes patterns of home electricity use to ferret out possible terrorist activity, though it isn’t clear whether that system is in use.
Police procurement orders posted online indicate that local governments began installing the platforms in the second half of 2016.
Human Rights Watch flagged the behavior as more people from the area report how they’re treated. If this all sounds a bit like the movie Minority Report, you’re right.
What’s happening is that China is using big data to create comprehensive profiles of people it deems outside societal norms. It’s doing this under the guise of anti-terrorism and anti-crime pushes, but if a person is only a risk, and hasn’t committed a crime, can you force them into a program to fix them?
That’s the ethical question at the center of this all: if a person hasn’t committed a crime, how can you treat them like a criminal? In counter-intelligence and terrorism police forces, you can at least charge a person for crimes like a conspiracy. In China, people are being arrested and sent through rehabilitation without even the conspiracy part.
I suspect China is only the first to try such technology openly. They won’t be the last. Silicon Valley already uses technology like this to build marketing and advertising profiles. The question is when a western nation will try the same?
Free Speech before the Supreme Court
There’s a case before the Supreme Court right now called Minnesota Voters Alliance vs. Mansky. The issue before the court is whether or not polling places can ban you from wearing clothing items that contain political speech. Currently, at most polling places, you can’t go into a polling place wearing campaign paraphernalia or other political statements.
In the past, that ban was to help protect the integrity of the vote and make voters feel like they aren’t being pressured into voting. Curbing voter intimidation can be a tricky subject. Ilya Shapiro aptly sums up the case by saying:
Yet in the North Star State, a button with the peace symbol, a shirt reading “Black Lives Matter,” or a hat with the word “Capitali$m” could each be grounds for being sent home by a poll worker. Further, the statute gives election officials broad discretion to ban any materials “promoting a group with recognizable political views.” So voters can’t even feel safe wearing shirts supporting the American Civil Liberties Union or the National Rifle Association.
The case goes back to 2010 when some voters tried to vote while wearing pro-Tea Party gear. They ended up suing saying that the rule violates their free speech rights. The court heard oral arguments this past week, and that elicited the following exchange between Justice Alito and the lawyer arguing on behalf of the rule. They’re debating over what type of speech on clothing could be banned or not (pages 37-39):
JUSTICE ALITO: How about a shirt with a rainbow flag? Would that be permitted?
MR. ROGAN: A shirt with a rainbow flag? No, it would — yes, it would be — it would be permitted unless there was — unless there was an issue on the ballot that — that related somehow to — to gay rights.
JUSTICE ALITO: How about a shirt that says “Parkland Strong”?
MR. ROGAN: No, that would — that would be — that would be allowed. I think - I think, Your Honor -
JUSTICE ALITO: Even though gun control would very likely be an issue?
MR. ROGAN: To the extent -
JUSTICE ALITO: I bet some candidate would raise an issue about gun control.
MR. ROGAN: Your Honor, the — the - the line that we’re drawing is one that is - is related to electoral choices in a -
JUSTICE ALITO: Well, what’s the answer to this question? You’re a polling official. You’re the reasonable person. Would that be allowed or would it not be allowed?
MR. ROGAN: The — the Parkland?
JUSTICE ALITO: Yeah.
MR. ROGAN: I — I think — I think today that I — that would be — if — if that was in Minnesota, and it was “Parkland Strong,” I — I would say that that would be allowed in, that there’s not -
JUSTICE ALITO: Okay. How about an NRA shirt?
MR. ROGAN: An NRA shirt? Today, in Minnesota, no, it would not, Your Honor. I think that that’s a clear indication — and I think what you’re getting at, Your Honor -
JUSTICE ALITO: How about a shirt with the text of the Second Amendment?
MR. ROGAN: Your Honor, I — I — I think that that could be viewed as political, that that — that would be — that would be -
JUSTICE ALITO: How about the First Amendment?
MR. ROGAN: No, Your Honor, I don’t - I don’t think the First Amendment. And, Your Honor, I -
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: No — no what, that it would be covered or wouldn’t be
MR. ROGAN: It would be allowed.
CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: It would be?
MR. ROGAN: It would be. And — and I think the — I understand the — the idea, and I’ve — I’ve — there are obviously a lot of examples that — that have been bandied about here -
JUSTICE ALITO: Yeah, well, this is the problem. How about a Colin Kaepernick jersey?
MR. ROGAN: No, Your Honor, I don’t think that that would be under — under our
statute. And I think -
JUSTICE ALITO: How about “All Lives matter?”
MR. ROGAN: That could be, Your Honor, that could be — that could be perceived as political. And I — I think obviously, Your Honor, there — there are some hard calls and there are always going to be hard calls. And that — that doesn’t mean that the line that we’ve drawn is — is unconstitutional or even unreasonable.
JUSTICE ALITO: How about an “I Miss Bill” shirt?
MR. ROGAN: I’m sorry, Your Honor? I didn’t -
JUSTICE ALITO: “I Miss Bill,” or to make it bipartisan, a “Reagan/Bush ’84” shirt?
MR. ROGAN: Yes, Your Honor, I believe that that’s political.
The difficulty, as Alito points out, is that every line the lawyer draws for what is political and what isn’t political is arbitrary. There’s no bright-line rule he can set for what a person can and cannot wear.
The arbitrariness comes out when the lawyer says one constitutional amendment could be banned, but another one wouldn’t, using the same analysis. In the end, most censorship laws are drawn this way. It’s tough to ban some forms of speech, and not in the same act censor everything else.
Links of the week
Trump’s Tariff Folly: His tax on aluminum and steel will hurt the economy and his voters. – The Wall Street Journal
Trump’s trade war could erase all the tax-cut gains – John Podhoretz, The New York Post
Here’s what happened the last time the US was reckless enough to try a steel tariff – Linette Lopez, Business Insider
Don’t Rehabilitate Obama on Russia: President Trump’s boasts about him being tougher on Russia than his predecessor may ring hollow—but they’re true. – Benjamin Haddad & Alina Polyakova, The American Interest
Fights Worth Having – Bret Stephens, The New York Times
Schools are safer than they were in the 90s, and school shootings are not more common than they used to be, researchers say – Allie Nicodemo and Lia Petronio, News @ Northeastern
What Critics Don’t Understand About Gun Culture: I carry a weapon—and it’s tied me closer to my community. – David French, The Atlantic
How Liberals Amped Up A Parkland Shooting Conspiracy Theory – Molly McKew, Wired Magazine
David Hogg Is Fair Game for Critics – Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review
The Age of Majority Is a Mess – Charles C. W. Cooke, National Review
‘Ambassador Samantha Power Lied to My Face About Syria,’ A letter from a survivor of Assad’s chemical attacks about his encounter with Obama’s chief diplomat at the United Nations – Kassem Eid, Tablet Magazine
They’re Here to Fix Climate Change! They’re College Republicans. “A lot of young conservatives are frustrated by the false choice between no climate action and a big government regulatory scheme.” – Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic
How social media is leading millennials to Rome – Dan Hitchens, The Catholic Herald
Satire piece of the week
Quick note: This piece ended up getting flagged on Facebook as “fake news” by the site Snopes. Yes. That’s right. A parody/satire site is getting dinged for being fake news by Facebook algorithms.
ATLANTA, GA—In order to aid the news station in preparing stories for consumption, popular news media organization CNN purchased an industrial-sized washing machine to help its journalists and news anchors spin the news before publication.
The custom-made device allows CNN reporters to load just the facts of a given issue, turn a dial to “spin cycle,” and within five minutes, receive a nearly unrecognizable version of the story that’s been spun to fit with the news station’s agenda.
One reporter was seen inserting the facts of a recent news story early Thursday morning.
Thanks for reading!