For Americans, the crux of gun control laws has been how to disarm dangerous individuals without disarming the public at large. Ever-present in this quest is the question of how the perception of danger should impact guaranteed freedoms protected within the Bill of Rights.
Not only is such a balancing act difficult as-is, but there are also two additional factors that make it even more challenging: America’s federal government is constitutionally bound by the Second Amendment, and politicians notoriously take advantage of tragedies to pass irrational laws when emotions are at their highest. As President Obama’s former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, once famously remarked:
You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.
This line of thought is not new to American politics. From the emancipation of enslaved Americans and the organized crime wave of the 1930s to the assassinations of prominent leaders in the 1960s and the attempted assassination of President Reagan in the 1980s, fear has proved a powerful catalyst for appeals about gun control.
Below is an overview of the history behind major gun control laws in the federal government, capturing how we’ve gone from the Founding Fathers’ America of the New World to the United States of the 21st century.
Second Amendment in America’s Bill of Rights: Ratified December 15, 1791
Congress added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States specifically “to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers.” The Second Amendment is the foundational cornerstone of every American’s right to bear arms, stating:
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.
The right to bear arms was second only to the first – the most vital freedoms of religion, speech, the press, the right to assemble and the right to petition government for redress of grievances. Meanwhile, conflicting views have left government and personal interest groups struggling to reconcile technological advances, isolated but significant violent anomalies and the constitutional mandate protecting the natural right to self defense and this most basic aspect of the Bill of Rights.
On September 14, US president Donald Trump tweeted (of course) the suggestion of a US-Israel “Mutual Defense Treaty,” citing a call with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Hopefully there’s less going on here than meets the eye: The tweet may just be another mutual publicity back-scratch of the type Trump and Netanyahu frequently exchange when they find themselves in political pickles. And Netanyahu is likely in the biggest such pickle of his career.
After failing to put together a ruling coalition in the wake of April’s general election, Netanyahu called another election for September 17.
Netanyahu also faces imminent indictment on three corruption charges, with a court hearing on the charges scheduled for early October. In June, his wife Sara took a plea deal and paid a fine for misusing state funds.
Netanyahu’s personal future may well depend on him having a political future. He’s pulling out all stops to change the April results, from approving new Israeli squats (“settlements”) in, and even promising to annex parts of, the occupied West Bank, to conducting military attacks in Syria and Iraq and along the Lebanese border.
Talk of a “Mutual Defense Treaty” with the US may well drive some badly needed votes his way, especially to the extent that such a treaty might be thought available only to Netanyahu and his Likud Party but not to Benny Gantz’s Blue and White alliance (the platform of which, by the way, bars indicted politicians from serving in the Knesset, Israel’s legislature).
So maybe Trump’s tweet is just politics. But if it’s for real, it’s a bad idea for the US, a bad idea for Israel, and a bad idea for world peace.
The US doesn’t need Israel’s assistance to defend itself. It already spends far more than any other state in the world on its military, that amount is many multiples of any amount reasonably related to actual defense, and it faces no existential military threats other than attack with nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, which Israel couldn’t plausibly reduce.
Israel hasn’t faced a military threat to its existence since 1973, and given the web of US-influenced and US-financed relations it’s created with Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, isn’t likely to face any such threat not of its own making for the foreseeable future .
As for peace in general, Trump proposes a “Mutual Defense” pact with a rogue nuclear garrison ethno-state in a tinderbox region. What could possibly go wrong?
A “Mutual Defense Treaty” with the US would only encourage further bad behavior and saber-rattling on the part of the Israelis toward e.g. Iran and Syria. That’s the kind of behavior bound to eventually CREATE a real military threat, resulting in the Israelis demanding US support pursuant to the treaty, on a claim of “Mom, he hit me back FIRST.”
It’s time for the US to start furling its post-World War Two “security umbrella” instead of inviting suspect new partners to join it beneath that umbrella. America’s future, if it is to have one, requires a non-interventionist foreign policy.
With college classes underway for the fall semester, parents may worry about how their children will navigate campus life, balance academics and social pressures, and find their pathway to a meaningful career. While parents of college students have long shared these common worries, they now confront new concerns.
The number of college students experiencing mental health issues has soared, with survey findings from the Association for University and College Counseling Center Directors suggesting that 41 percent of college students are anxious and 36 percent are depressed. So what is causing this mental health crisis among college-age young people?A 2018 survey by the American College Health Association found that 63 percent of college students reported feeling overwhelming anxiety over the previous year, 42 percent said they felt so depressed it was difficult to function over the previous year, and 12 percent seriously considered suicide. Add to these findings the data showing that the suicide rate for US teenagers and young adults is the highest on record, and parents are right to be worried.
So what is causing this mental health crisis among college-age young people? There are undoubtedly many contributing factors. Greater awareness of mental health issues and more willingness to seek help are positive steps forward that may drive some of the increase in reporting, but there could be other, less favorable explanations, as well.
Too Much Coddling
Some of the emotional turmoil of college students could be linked to a coddled childhood and adolescence that limits young people from developing the resilience necessary to deal with stress, anxiety, and uncertainty. In their book, The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure, Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt trace some of the increased fragility of today’s college students to padded playgrounds, constant adult supervision and structure, more screen time and less authentic, in-person interaction, and an overall emphasis on safety. They write:
On average, eighteen-year-olds today have spent less time unsupervised and have hit fewer developmental milestones on the path to autonomy (such as getting a job or a driver’s license), compared with eighteen-year-olds in previous generations. (p. 160)
More supervision and less autonomy, combined with social media influences, could be making college students more prone to anxiety and depression in young adulthood. According to Lukianoff and Haidt:
Both depression and anxiety cause changes in cognition, including a tendency to see the world as more dangerous and hostile than it really is. (p. 161)
In other words, the normal stressors of college may be perceived by some of today’s students as disproportionately dreadful.
Campus Victim Culture
A key focus of Lukianoff and Haidt’s book is that the fragility of today’s college students leads them to demand protection and security on campus, including the call for “safe spaces” and “trigger warnings.” Discomfort may be confused with harm, leading more college students to report emotional distress. In his new book, Panic Attack: Young Radicals in the Age of Trump, Robby Soave explores the victim culture on college campuses in greater detail. He explains that on some college campuses, the focus on mental health has reached an extreme.
Soave describes a visit to the University of Arizona campus, where signs such as “Breathe in. Breathe out. You got this,” and “44% of ASU students report having difficulty managing stress,” are ubiquitous and direct students to the college’s mental health services. Soave explains:
People who need help shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it. But at so many campuses, it has begun to feel like mental instability and trauma are the norm—that students are encouraged to see themselves as sick and vulnerable, and so they do. They have fully appropriated the language of mental illness. (p. 495)
Given the trends and statistics on college students’ mental health, it may seem like there is little parents can do to help their college-age children. But a key step parents can take is to shift the narrative of victimhood and helplessness and encourage their grown children to take control of their own happiness and success. Borrowing the language of FEE’s Director of Entrepreneurial Education, T.K. Coleman, parents can help their children to see themselves as the “dominant creative force” in their own lives.
These students can set their own path. They can avoid dwelling on obstacles and instead embrace possibilities. They can find their passion, incubate innovative ideas, and build new enterprises that are personally meaningful and societally valuable. They can see themselves as agents of change in the world rather than victims of it. They can be the Revolution of One, as the following brief video spotlights:
It is a scary time for parents of today’s college students, as this cohort experiences rising rates of mental illness and a prevailing college culture that emphasizes fragility over self-empowerment. Fortunately, parents can encourage their college-age children to be strong, resilient, and focused on being active change agents and value creators in their own lives.
National Security Advisor John Bolton became the latest American casualty of Washington’s 18-year war in Afghanistan on September 10, fired by US president Donald Trump shortly after Trump announced that he had planned, but was canceling, a meeting with Taliban leaders at Camp David to ink a “peace deal.”
Firing Bolton is a good start. Nobody sane wants a guy who looks like Captain Kangaroo but talks like Dr. Strangelove whispering foreign policy advice in a president’s ear. The main effect of his departure from the White House is to shift perceived responsibility for America’s ongoing fiasco in Afghanistan back where it belongs: Squarely on the shoulders of Donald J. Trump.
Before Trump became a presidential candidate, his views on the war made sense. “We should leave Afghanistan immediately. No more wasted lives,” he tweeted on March 1, 2013. In November of that same year, he urged Americans to “not allow our very stupid leaders to sign a deal that keeps us in Afghanistan through 2024.”
Unfortunately his position on the war became “nuanced” (read: pandering and weaselly) as he became first a presidential candidate and then president.
As president, he increased US troop levels in Afghanistan and dragged out the war he once said he wanted to end. In fact, the notional Camp David “peace deal” would merely have reduced those troop levels back to about where they were as of his inauguration. Some “peace deal!”
Throughout Trump’s presidency, his non-interventionist supporters have continuously made excuses for his failure to end US military adventures in Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere.
It’s always John Bolton’s fault, or Mike Pompeo’s. It’s always this general, or that bureaucrat, or the “fake news media,” or the “deep state” undermining poor, powerless little Donny Trump, thwarting his sincere desire to do the right thing and bring the troops home.
Oddly, those same supporters would have us believe that Trump is a bold and commanding genius, scattering his opponents before him as he maneuvers 5D chess pieces around their tiddlywinks with his abnormally small hands, Making America Great Again.
It can’t be both. Nor is it necessarily either of those things. Whatever it is, this is necessarily part of it:
“The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States …” — Article II, Section 2, US Constitution
Trump can pick up his phone any time, call the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and order the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. If his order is disobeyed, he can relieve the generals who fail to follow it and replace them with others who’ll do their jobs.
John Bolton didn’t stop him from doing that. Mike Pompeo can’t stop him from doing that. The “fake news media” and the “deep state” don’t get to countermand presidential orders to the armed forces.
Donald Trump owns this war. If he doesn’t end it, that’s on him and no one else.
The US Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), the New York Times reports, fears “ransomware” attacks against America’s voter registration systems in the run-up to the 2020 presidential election. In response, it’s launching a program that “narrowly focuses” on protecting those systems.
A laudable goal, to be sure, but should we accept the premise? It goes almost without saying that CISA, created only late last year, is casting about for ways to justify its existence and its $3.3 billion annual budget. Is this a real problem? And is CISA the organization to solve it?
Yes, “ransomware” and other types of cyberattacks are real problems. They threaten the integrity of any computer systems they target, which means any systems connected to the Internet or even accepting data from external sources like potentially contaminated flash drives (most early microcomputer viruses reached their targets when users inserted contaminated floppy disks; no Internet needed).
On the other hand, the federal government’s track record on securing its own systems, let alone anyone else’s, is remarkably poor. Millions of Americans have had their personal information exposed in hacks of the Office of Personnel Management and other government agencies.
And on the third hand, the worst way to respond to a diffuse set of threats against a large number of systems is to centralize that response, especially in terms of requiring or encouraging the operators of all those systems to adopt the same systems and the same security measures.
Suppose that every front door of every building in the world was secured by one model of lock, made by one company. A flaw in that model of lock would be a flaw in every front door. Anyone who could exploit that flaw at a building down the street or across the country could exploit that flaw at your house too.
Or suppose that every variety of vegetable had one genetic weakness that allowed a particular blight to infect it. Once that blight hit your neighbor’s tomatoes, it could easily jump to your bell peppers and your neighbor’s cucumbers.
The world’s computing power is already far less diverse than you might think. It’s dominated by a few processor architectures, a few operating systems, a few server software packages, a few browser engines.
That’s convenient, even necessary, to the increasingly automated and interconnected world we’ve created over the last 30 years or so. But it’s also a source of vulnerability — vulnerability we shouldn’t compound by centralizing cybersecurity solutions under a federal agency’s leaky umbrella.
Our state and local election systems are safer to the extent that an attacker has to find 50 or 500 different ways to hack 50 or 500 of those systems, instead of one way to hack them all.
The U.S. government is infamously in debt. Since about 2012, the official national debt has equaled or exceeded the GDP. Shockingly, the real fiscal gap is much higher: with our $21.5T GDP and $22.5T official debt, we also have about $200T in unfunded liabilities over the next few decades. Most of that last number is due to programs such as Medicare and Social Security, but our regular debt comes from accumulated deficits: the U.S. government spends more each year than it steals in taxes. Since theft is its primary source of income, this situation is not sustainable.
The single largest item in the 2019 federal budget (contributing heavily to the aforementioned deficits and unfunded liabilities) is Social Security. The second-largest item is defense. The U.S. government spends more on defense than any other country in the world – by far. In fact, it spends about as much as the next eight countries combined. That is to say, the U.S. defense budget is approximately equal to the combined defense budgets of China, Saudi Arabia, India, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and Japan.
One of the biggest boondoggles in the U.S. DoD budget – and the focus of this article – is the F-35, AKA the most expensive weapons system in history. And of course, the costs continue to go up, according to a recent DoD report. The Pentagon first put out the project for bids in 1996, and the first F-35s were manufactured and flown in 2006. However, it wasn’t until 2018 that they saw combat for the first time when Israel deployed them. Since then, the USMC, USAF, and RAF have used them in combat only rarely. For a plane that is supposed to be sufficiently versatile and modular to replace virtually all other combat aircraft, the F-35 has been used very little.
Perhaps you’re wondering if this is a typical timeframe for a high-tech military project. Well, in 2001, the DoD expected to have its first combat-capable F-35s in 2010. That did not happen, not by a long shot. At least as late as 2013, these 5th Generation fighter jets could not fly in bad weather or at night. Despite all this, the F-35 program will cost about $1.5T, or approximately what the U.S. government spent on the entire Iraq war.
How does a project like this happen, and continue, despite perpetual problems? There are 1,400 subcontractors for the F-35 program, spread out over 307 congressional districts in 45 States. For those of you unfamiliar with the U.S. political system, that means there are 307 Congressmen (out of 435) and 90 Senators (out of 100) who have constituents whose livelihoods depend in whole or in part on the F-35 program.
Even the extraordinarily liberal (and openly socialist) Senator Bernie Sanders claims to oppose the program but supports having it partly based in Vermont, so his constituents can benefit from the subcontracting jobs.
It’s not just U.S. politicians who are financially committed to this disaster: there are eight other countries involved in the development of the F-35.
I don’t have a solution to the issues presented here. Really, since I oppose U.S. involvement in all the wars I’m aware of, I don’t really want to see the F-35 used more than it has been. Probably the myriad problems will be solved eventually, and perhaps most of the money to be wasted in this program has already been spent.
So, what’s my point? I want to draw your attention to absurd levels of waste and inefficiencies inherent in the government system, and I want to suggest that such waste is inevitable in the system as it stands.
What do you think? Is the system fixable? How would you fix it, or what system would you replace it with?