| Analysis: Newtown and the Doomsday Preppers!

Newtown and the Doomsday Preppers ~  J.M. BERGER, Foreign Policy.

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Could survivalism really have played a role in Friday’s massacre?

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In the wake of a terrible tragedy like Friday’s elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, most people immediately begin groping for answers.

On Sunday, a family member claimed that Nancy Lanza, mother of 20-year-old gunman Adam Lanza, owned the guns used in the shooting because she was some manner of survivalist. The reasons Adam Lanza did what he did may well be complex. But if the report proves to be true — and many, many reports about the Lanzas have not — it may provide context for his actions.

Survivalism, sometimes referred to as “doomsday prepping” or simply “prepping,” is a movement based on the fear that society is on the brink of imminent, or at least foreseeable, collapse and that it’s sensible to prepare for that possibility.

“Survivalist” is a very broad category, and it includes a strikingly diverse collection of people, many of whom, it should be emphasized, are perfectly nice and have fears that are simply amplified versions of those that keep mainstream Americans awake at night. There are at least tens of thousands of prepper families in the United States, covering a broad range of practices, most of which are not particularly unreasonable.

Someone who closely followed the preparedness guidelines issued by the Department of Homeland Security, the Centers for Disease Control, or FEMA might find themselves the butt of “survivalist” jokes from their friends and family. But those friends would have been grateful to have a prepper friend if they lived in certain parts of the East Coast when Hurricane Sandy struck.

Preppers go beyond the average household’s disaster preparedness regime of having a couple flashlights with batteries in them. Their precautions can include everything from keeping a supply of canned goods to stocking generators and building elaborate bunkers. Many preppers also keep guns and a supply of ammunition in anticipation of the breakdown of law and order, as well as for hunting after the local Whole Foods has been abandoned to looters.

Shortly after press reports about Nancy Lanza’s alleged survivalism appeared, the American Preppers Network issued a statement, which said: “Our members, and others around the globe who share our philosophy of being prepared in times of emergency, are sickened by this event. We too are fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters and to associate APN or any legitimate organization that stresses preparing for emergencies with this barbaric act goes against everything we collectively stand for.”

Despite this statement, which is generally correct, prepper subculture can go further than intensive or even excessive preparation. Most survivalism is based around fear of a sometimes ambiguous, sometimes specific disaster that is just around the corner, most commonly referred to by preppers as SHTF, short for “shit hits the fan.” Because SHTF can be anything from the collapse of the dollar to an electromagnetic pulse detonation to a race war, survivalist tendencies are sometimes — but not always — paired with malignant forms of extremism, such as ideological racism, sovereign citizenship, apocalyptic religion, or anti-government beliefs on both the right and the left sides of the political spectrum. Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, for instance, took part in survivalist subculture in addition to their anti-government ideology, and extensive sections of the white nationalist Web forum Stormfront are dedicated to discussions of SHTF. But survivalism tends to be an add-on to such ideologies, not a fundamental cause.

In addition to ideological entanglements that go beyond its inherent mandate, survivalism itself can lead to dangerous behavior. Most obviously, in the context of the Lanza family, someone who believes the government is on the verge of collapse might stockpile weapons and train his or her children how to use them effectively without taking a full inventory of that child’s mental fitness.

While there’s not much solid research to be had, anecdotal observations certainly give the impression that there’s a higher incidence of mental illness among hardcore preppers than in the general population, and the nature of their beliefs and social networks may create obstacles to diagnosis and treatment. There can be fine lines between reasonable fear, intense fear, and irrational fear, and some preppers subscribe to conspiracy theories that are completely nuts, focused on supposed threats from sinister “chemtrails” to the Illuminati (or both and then some).

For all these reasons, there have been a number of cases where survivalism and violent actions were fellow travelers, aside from the well-documented case of McVeigh. The 1995 Olympic Park bomber,Eric Rudolph, was a survivalist, in addition to being an anti-abortion extremist. In 2004, police broke up an illegal weapons ring centered around several militia and survival groups. And in April of this year, Washington state survivalist Peter Keller killed his wife and daughter and then locked himself into a fortified rural bunker, where he killed himself after a standoff with police.

But a video Keller recorded before his death suggested his actions were not connected with his survivalist beliefs so much as his inability to survive ordinary life. Although his preparations created obvious complications for police trying to apprehend him, his beliefs did not seem to play a role in his murderous acts.

Therein lies the rub. A search of news archives yields hundreds of cases over the last 20 years of less prominent murderers and felons who were said to be survivalists, but the term is often bandied about loosely by police and reporters groping for a simple explanation of inaccessible motives or the possession of sophisticated weaponry.

The extremity of Adam Lanza’s crime has created a desperate desire for explanations, and dismissing him as a crazy survivalist — or the son of a crazy survivalist — will likely prove irresistible for many people trying to make sense of a senseless act. But the ultimate truth of his motive is not likely to be so simplistic. Survivalism does not justify slaughtering children, although fear of an impending and unbearable apocalypse might move a twisted mind toward such an act.

Additional information will emerge over the coming days, but we may never really know why Lanza killed his mother and so many innocent teachers and children. Understanding the context of his actions may provide useful insights that could prevent future incidents, but gross oversimplifications will only stand in the way.

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| The 2nd Amendment and the madness of killing kids!

The 2nd Amendment and Killing Kids ~ Robert Parry, Consortium News.

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Exclusive: As Americans reel in shock over the slaughter of 20 schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, defenders of “gun rights” insist, in effect, that such deaths are part of the price of “liberty” enshrined by the Framers in the Second Amendment. But this was not what James Madison had in mind, argues Robert Parry.

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The American Right is fond of putting itself inside the minds of America’s Founders and intuiting what was their “original intent” in writing the U.S. Constitution and its early additions, like the Second Amendment’s “right to bear arms.” But, surely, James Madison and the others weren’t envisioning people with modern weapons mowing down children in a movie theater or a shopping mall or now a kindergarten.

Indeed, when the Second Amendment was passed in the First Congress as part of the Bill of Rights, firearms were single-shot mechanisms that took time to load and reload. It was also clear that Madison and the others viewed the “right to bear arms” in the context of “a well-regulated militia” to defend communities from massacres, not as a means to enable such massacres.

James Madison, architect of the U.S. Constitution and author of the Bill of Rights.

The Second Amendment reads: “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.” Thus, the point of the Second Amendment is to ensure “security,” not undermine it.

The massacre of 20 children in Newtown, Connecticut, on Friday, which followed other gun massacres in towns and cities across the country, represents the opposite of “security.” And it is time that Americans of all political persuasions recognize that protecting this kind of mass killing was not what the Founders had in mind.

However, over the past several decades, self-interested right-wing “scholarship” has sought to reinvent the Framers as free-market, government-hating ideologues, though the key authors of the U.S. Constitution – people like James Madison and George Washington – could best be described as pragmatic nationalists who favored effective governance.

In 1787, led by Madison and Washington, the Constitutional Convention scrapped the Articles of Confederation, which had enshrined the states as “sovereign” and had made the federal government a “league of friendship” with few powers.

What happened behind closed doors in Philadelphia was a reversal of the system that governed the United States from 1777 to 1787. The laws of the federal government were made supreme and its powers were dramatically strengthened, so much so that a movement of Anti-Federalists fought bitterly to block ratification.

In the political maneuvering to assure approval of the new system, Madison and other Federalists agreed to add a Bill of Rights to ease some of the fears about what Anti-Federalists regarded as the unbridled powers of the central government. [For details, see Robert Parry’s America’s Stolen Narrative.]

Madison had considered a Bill of Rights unnecessary because the Constitution, like all constitutions, set limits on the government’s power and it contained no provisions allowing the government to infringe on basic liberties of the people. But he assented to spell out those rights in the first 10 amendments, which were passed by the First Congress and ratified in 1791.

The intent of the Second Amendment was clarified during the Second Congress when the U.S. government enacted the Militia Acts, which mandated that all white males of military age obtain a musket, shot and other equipment for service in militias.

The idea was to enable the young country to resist aggression from European powers, to confront Native American tribes on the frontier and to put down internal rebellions, including slave revolts. There was nothing particularly idealistic in this provision; the goal was the “security” of the young nation.

However, the modern American Right and today’s arms industry have devoted enormous resources to twisting the Framers into extremist ideologues who put “liberties” like individual gun ownership ahead of all practical concerns about “security.”

This propaganda has proved so successful that many politicians who favor common-sense gun control are deemed violators of the Framers’ original intent, as essentially un-American, and face defeat in elections. The current right-wing majority on the U.S. Supreme Court has even overturned longstanding precedents and reinterpreted the Second Amendment as granting rights of individual gun ownership.

But does anyone really believe that Madison and like-minded Framers would have stood by and let deranged killers mow down civilians, including children, by using guns vastly more lethal than any that existed in the Revolutionary era? If someone had wielded a single-shot musket or pistol in 1791, the person might get off one volley but would then have to reload. No one had repeat-firing revolvers, let alone assault rifles with large magazines of bullets.

Any serious scholarship on the Framers would conclude that they were, first and foremost, pragmatists determined to protect the hard-won independence of the United States. When the states’-rights Articles of Confederation wasn’t doing the job, they scrapped it. When compromises were needed – even on the vile practice of slavery – the Framers cut the deals.

While the Framers cared about liberty (at least for white men), they focused in the Constitution on practicality, creating a flexible system that would advance the “general Welfare” of “We the People.”

It is madness to think that the Framers would have mutely accepted the slaughter of kindergarteners and grade-school kids (or the thousands of other American victims of gun violence). Such bloody insecurity was definitely not their “original intent.”

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and barnesandnoble.com).

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SECOND AMENDMENT ~ Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School.

The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution reads: “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.” Such language has created considerable debate regarding the Amendment’s intended scope. On the one hand, some believe that the Amendment’s phrase “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms” creates an individual constitutional right for citizens of the United States. Under this “individual right theory,” the United States Constitution restricts legislative bodies from prohibiting firearm possession, or at the very least, the Amendment renders prohibitory and restrictive regulation presumptively unconstitutional. On the other hand, some scholars point to the prefatory language “a well regulated Militia” to argue that the Framers intended only to restrict Congress from legislating away a state’s right to self-defense. Scholars have come to call this theory “the collective rights theory.” A collective rights theory of the Second Amendment asserts that citizens do not have an individual right to possess guns and that local, state, and federal legislative bodies therefore possess the authority to regulate firearms without implicating a constitutional right.

In 1939 the U.S. Supreme Court considered the matter in United States v. Miller. 307 U.S. 174. The Court adopted a collective rights approach in this case, determining that Congress could regulate a sawed-off shotgun that had moved in interstate commerce under the National Firearms Act of 1934 because the evidence did not suggest that the shotgun “has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated milita . . . .” The Court then explained that the Framers included the Second Amendment to ensure the effectiveness of the military.

This precedent stood for nearly 70 years when in 2008 the U.S. Supreme Court revisited the issue in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller (07-290). The plaintiff in Hellerchallenged the constitutionality of the Washington D.C. handgun ban, a statute that had stood for 32 years. Many considered the statute the most stringent in the nation. In a 5-4 decision, the Court, meticulously detailing the history and tradition of the Second Amendment at the time of the Constitutional Convention, proclaimed that the Second Amendment established an individual right for U.S. citizens to possess firearms and struck down the D.C. handgun ban as violative of that right. The majority carved out Miller as an exception to the general rule that Americans may possess firearms, claiming that law-abiding citizens cannot use sawed-off shotguns for any law-abiding purchase. Similarly, the Court in its dicta found regulations of similar weaponry that cannot be used for law-abiding purchases as laws that would not implicate the Second Amendment. Further, the Court suggested that the United States Constitution would not disallow regulations prohibiting criminals and the mentally ill from firearm possession.

 

Thus, the Supreme Court has revitalized the Second Amendment.  The Court continued to strengthen the Second Amendment through the 2010 decision in McDonald v. City of Chicago (08-1521).  The plaintiff inMcDonald challenged the constitutionally of the Chicago handgun ban, which prohibited handgun possession by almost all private citizens.  In a 5-4 decisions, the Court, citing the intentions of the framers and ratifiers of the Fourteenth Amendment, held that the Second Amendment applies to the states through the incorporation doctrine.  However, the Court did not have a majority on which clause of the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates the fundamental right to keep and bear arms for the purpose of self-defense.  While Justice Alito and his supporters looked to the Due Process Clause, Justice Thomas in his concurrence stated that the Privileges and Immunities Clause should justify incorporation.

 

 

However, several questions still remain unanswered, such as whether regulations less stringent than the D.C. statute implicate the Second Amendment, whether lower courts will apply their dicta regarding permissible restrictions, and what level of scrutiny the courts should apply when analyzing a statute that infringes on the Second Amendment.

See constitutional amendment.

 

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Erwin Chemerinsky, Constitutional Law: Principles and Policies 26-28 (2006).

Federal Decisions:

 

Putting all of these textual elements together, we find that [the Second Amendment] guarantee[s] 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 Amendment s, 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.”

District of Columbia v. Heller, 478 F.3d 370 (2008)

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