Sunday, February 7 , 2016, 10:00 am | Fair 62º

Susan Estrich: The Sandy Hook Promise and the Pontificators

By Susan Estrich |

My eyes filled with tears as I listened to the parents of the victims of the shooting in Newtown, Conn., speak out, many for the first time. They gathered to announce the founding of a nonprofit group Sandy Hook Promise. Their purpose was to engage in the public dialogue about what they called “gun responsibility.” They want something positive to come from their children’s deaths.

They did not endorse a specific proposal. They said they needed more time to do that; they lost their children a month ago. They said that before they speak out, they want to educate themselves more. They also said that the discussion must not be limited to gun control, that it must include issues relating to mental health.

On the same day, freshman Rep. Steve Stockman announced in a statement that if President Barack Obama were to use executive orders to control access to guns, he would file articles of impeachment against him because the orders would “infringe on our constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms.” For her part, conservative columnist (and law school graduate) Ann Coulter urged Republicans to shut down abortion clinics if the president or congressional Democrats impose limits on guns.

If it weren’t for the fact that they spoke out on the same day as the mourning parents, I’d ignore the noise from Stockman and Coulter altogether. But the dignity of the parents stands in such contrast to the indignity of those who should know better that it deserves to be addressed.

What this country needs, as the Sandy Hook parents recognize and the loudmouths don’t, is a dialogue, not a collection of threats that, if carried out, would themselves be unconstitutional.

Even high-school students know about Marbury v. Madison, the famous decision in which Chief Justice John Marshall established the rule that the Supreme Court determines the unconstitutionality of laws, not a congressman or a columnist. If Stockman is of the view that the president’s executive orders or bills that might be passed by Congress are unconstitutional, then he and his friends in the National Rifle Association can (and, no matter how reasonable the actions, most surely will) challenge them in the court.

If Coulter objects on Second Amendment grounds, she is free as a lawyer to participate in the briefing of the case, to organize an “amicus” brief to make her arguments clear and, of course, to write about it. You don’t deprive one group of its constitutional rights because you think a law or executive order on an entirely different subject is unconstitutional.

Reading the pained, determined, sober statements of the grieving families of Newtown against the loudmouthed rantings of attention-getters (and yes, I know, there are attention-getters on both sides who are equally uninterested in facts) demonstrates with painful clarity exactly what is wrong with public discourse in America. With few exceptions — Sandy Hook Promise being one of the very few — the people who scream the most loudly get all the attention. No wonder we are divided into politicized and partisan corners — or at least no wonder it seems that way.

On the same day that the Newtown families were standing up for civility and those in the Stockman/Coulter crowd were screaming through their megaphones and getting plenty of attention for their extremism, a new study from the Pew Research Center revealed that, in fact, there is more consensus on gun regulation than it sounds like from all the noise.

According to the Pew study, conducted earlier this month, 85 percent of Americans support closing the “gun show loophole” and making private and gun show sales subject to background checks, and 80 percent are in favor of laws preventing mentally ill people from purchasing guns. Support is strong from both parties. As for a federal database to track gun purchases, 49 percent of Republicans support the idea, and 67 percent of the public (including 84 percent of Democrats) is in favor.

I don’t understand why half the Republicans surveyed would be against a database. Law-abiding gun owners have nothing to fear. But it’s precisely the sort of conversation we need to have, the kind of public dialogue that needs to take place, the sort of discourse that the Stockmans and Coulters would drown out if they had their way.

I don’t know that there is anything — anything — we might accomplish that would ease the pain of losing a first-grader. But at the very least, the rest of us owe it to the courageous parents of Sandy Hook to join in their promise — and make good on it — no matter how many people, on either side, are screaming in the background.

Susan Estrich is a best-selling author, the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the USC Law Center and was campaign manager for 1988 Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis. Click here to contact her or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

» on 01.16.13 @ 11:58 AM

There is a very simple reason why so many oppose the restrictions you and the rest of the knee jerking public want, the restrictions will do nothing to stop the very kind of violence that happened at Newtown.

To use the “sobering” comments of grieving parents to spring into another anti republican tirade is as appalling as you found the republican speakers.

Perhaps you Sue, ought to practice what you preach.

» on 01.16.13 @ 12:50 PM

Bishop ANchove apparently believes nothing can be done about anything. There simply is no hope, he says.

Climate change? Nothing can be done, so we should take heart in the notion that life was far more diverse and abundant 500 million years ago, when CO2 and temperatures were much higher. Sure, it was cloudy and very hot, but if you are a reptile that isn’t so bad.

Gun massacres? Nothing can be done, because the mentally ill will ALWAYS find a way to satisfy their psychotic compulsions by quickly planning and executing a complex fertilizer bombing, or by poisoning huge numbers of people, etc.

For reference, the Bishop would draw on our past experiences with smog, acid rain, ozone layer depletion, civil rights, monopolies, aristocracies, child labor, sweat shops, and market crashes. Except that something, often much, WAS done in each of those cases, and what was done DID succeed in reducing the misery of the average human being and/or improving the quality of our environment.

» on 01.16.13 @ 04:20 PM

Estrich makes some good points.

Safe district seats means that local-state-federal elected officials get vetted by a primary system which skews way Left for the Dems, and way Right for the Party of NO!

The actual wishes of the majority of November voters in any “safe” districts means relatively little.

So every time something big happens, the Lefties reach for their Regulations pen, and the Rightists curl up in a fetal position, yelling and screaming at the
altars of Wayne La Pierre and Grover Norquist.

Estrich is also being disingenuous, when she calls out people like Coulter. Of
course her views seem bizarre. But her job, as a Talk Radio/Talk Tv conservative
entertainer is to be provocative, not modest or reasonable.

Imagine how many NRA donors would send money to this loud-mouth member
of Congress, or what would happen to Coulter’s, Rush’s, Chris Matthews’ ratings
if, during crises, they all preached working-together, being reasonable, and at
least trying a modest bi-partisan approach to reaching answers?

They’d quickly be out of work, replaced by Michelle Bachman or Gloria Allred, for

Meanwhile, it would be fascinating for someone with the NRA to explain why
big-clip, semi-automatic assault rifles are needed by “hunters”, or that this is
what the Founders had in mind when they penned the 2nd Amendment in an
age of flintlock, single-shot muskets?

Too bad nobody in the national press has put a microphone or tv camera up to
Chief Justice Roberts face, or Scalia’s, and asked them if Newtown was what they
had in mind in the Court’s 2nd Amendment review two years ago, or how they
feel about what’s transpired, and whether they feel any responsibility at all?

» on 01.16.13 @ 07:35 PM

Ramjet go read the response I left you on Sirota’s article where I pointed out the obvious counter to your insipid accusations, then stuff it. I get tired of your delight in simply being an AH for the sake of being an AH. If you have nothing constructive to say then clam up.

As for Sue’s lament what I stated is fact. None of the controls you knee jerkers want to impose would have made ANY difference in this case, NONE.

Publius, who are you to tell people what they do or do not feel they need? If some maniac steals one of Rambo’s assault rifles he purchased before the ban and starts loading it with banned 30 round clips then I sure as hell want equal force to defend myself with.

You numb nuts amaze me. How can reality be such a distant concept for you? Guns are a reality, they are already there and in the millions and no amount of fascist door kicking confiscation is going to change that and certainly none of these idiotic prohibitions. What they will do is create a giant black market where gun control is done by the friggen mob.

» on 01.17.13 @ 12:25 PM

Bishop ANchove, why would you draw attention to a posting that makes you sound unhinged? You’re a very angry man, but the reasoning behind your anger is not reasonable.

Show me one case where a massacre was prevented or stopped by a citizen with an assault-style rifle and/or a high-capacity clip. Take your time.

If somebody comes to your neighborhood wielding such weaponry, do you really believe you will “draw down on him” or engage him in a firefight? Have you ever been shot at? And if you started spraying rounds, how would you deal with collateral damage?

I once met an FBI firearms specialist who trained agents in all kinds of firearm use. He firmly believed that the finest home protection weapon was a large dog, followed by a shotgun. He was specific about the shotgun: it should be a single or double-barrel that “breaks” for reloading. It should have a light trigger and barrels cut as short as legally permitted. It should be loaded with light bird shot. 

Bird shot will not penetrate your walls and kill your children or neighbors. But coming out of a short barrel, it will make a wide pattern. It is effective even against body-armored assailants because some of the pellets will find un-armored skin. They will penetrate about 1/2 to 3 inches, and the person will experience highly distracting pain (his term).

He said that he loved his weapon collection, but kept it at his gun club. At home he had a large Labrador retriever and his bird hunting shotguns.

He noted that people who own military-style weapons are more likely to be burglarized. Those guns are worth big bucks on the black market. It’s easy to find out who is buying 7.62 X 39 or .223 (AK-47 and M-16 ammo). Just hang out at Big-5, Walmart, or any gun shop.

Now, if you are one of these folks who fantasizes about fighting the government with your Bushmaster AR-15, I’d like to refer you to YouTube to get an inkling of how that will go:

» on 01.17.13 @ 02:26 PM

Rambler, I don’t need your patronizing lecture on home defense nor your lame “you just don’t need that” baloney. The point is its none of your damned business what I have as personal defense whether a dog, shotgun, martial arts or baseball bat.

These idiotic prohibitions are worthless and would not stop the mass murders that occurred. It takes the focus away from the criminal and places it on an inanimate object. Why do you insist on such a dangerous and worthless distraction?

Furthermore, prohibitions, particularly on items that were once widely available and where there is a large amount in circulation already, historically create criminal black markets. Is that the wisest thing we can do, have the very weapons you fear controlled by the mob?

Certainly the FBI or any law enforcement would not want an armed society. It would undoubtedly make their job far easier. But the fact is arms of every type are already in the hands of the civilian population. Imposing limits now won’t change that and would only lead to more criminal activity not less. It doesn’t matter what your gigantic ego throbbing around in your narcissistic head tells you, those are the facts.

I suggest that you go to a local gun range and try out some of these weapons you want to limit. Get to know the tool first. Take some training lessons, work on self defense, both physical and with hardware. Once you become familiar with things around you they become far less scary and you develop far more respect and become responsible.

Most gun owners I know have done this, including myself, wife and children. Safety and responsibility are personal, if you don’t do it, no amount of government, military, law enforcement will save you. The second amendment was not about arming lawless anarchists, but about instilling in all of us the responsibility for maintaining our own safety and security rather than abdicate it to an all powerful government.

» on 01.17.13 @ 04:28 PM

Well, you should at least think about the logic of the expert witness. But your rebuttal indicates that gun ownership is not as much for protection as it is a fetish.

And it isn’t the mob or mobsters killing people in movie theaters and classrooms. It’s crazy young men from families like yours, who own lots of these “tools” and have become proficient in their use.

I bet if you profiled these murderers and their families, you’d discover a creepy similarity. Paranoid fantasies about smart meters and black helicopters. Fantasies about drawing down on some threat and being a hero. Patriarchies where the sexually repressed father preaches a severely judgmental doctrine regarding sex, the worth of doctors versus, say, engineers, etc. And of course, lots of guns!

More recently, you might find a yellow “Don’t Tread On Me” flag hanging somewhere in or around the house. Sound familiar?

You still haven’t answered my earlier question. If there are so many of these “tools” owned by law-abiding citizens, and the argument you pose is that they need them to guard against the whackos (who also own the “tools”), how come we haven’t heard of anybody stopping a massacre with an assault rifle?

And how do you feel about hand grenades?

» on 01.17.13 @ 06:34 PM

Ok ramjet I see there is no reasoning with you. I retract my last suggestion; you are obviously far too emotional, irrational and angry to be anywhere near a gun range. Hopefully, the authorities, the ones you love so much, will be getting in touch with you soon. Your last tirade was way over the top and far too personal. Maybe you ought to get some help.

» on 01.18.13 @ 01:52 AM

So, if someone were to go to the shooting range and get intimate with these “tools” they would lose all their fear of them and see your point of view? Are you kidding, or are you suffering from a head injury?

And they are inanimate? When did that enter the argument as a logical issue?

A hand grenade is an inanimate . So is a canister of nerve gas. So is a Stinger missile. Being inanimate does not make an object non-lethal, and there are degrees of lethality.

I think you have a fetish with regard to guns. Maybe it compensates for some other weakness, maybe it’s just a little man with no control over his life trying to exert some kind of power. You have a gun that you bought to kill somebody with, someone more powerful than you. In case the situation arises. And you fantasize about it.

» on 01.18.13 @ 03:28 PM

Rambler you seem to me an angry bitter old man steeped in fear, who hates that anyone should take control over their own life by any means, whether financial, intellectual or physical. Your obsession with tyrannical government as a means of “controlling” those you have some sick superiority complex over is chilling. Think Nazis.

Every one of your comments gets more personal, vindictive and psychotic. Please get help. You have taken this control freak obsession to an unhealthy level.  There are many, of your political persuasion, who are unduly influenced by your comments. If you look at the data, those committing atrocities with the weapons you want to ban are in that group. Yes there are some on the right, but most are left.

Perhaps, your angry irrational lashing out is really a reflection on your own lack of self discipline and self control. You want weapons kept away from others because you would shoot everyone up in a fit of rage if you had them. You feel comfort in a large controlling government keeping you in line because you haven’t the self control to do it on your own and quite frankly you see the rest of the world through those eyes, thus your absurd personal comments and warm embrace of big controlling government.

Unlike you I don’t hate you for your comments. I find them disturbing and wish you would seek council. But then that would be suggesting most of the left do the same. However, I do know many leftists who are not irrational, twisted with hatred and tormented as you are with intellectual narcissism and fear of their own inability to control their actions. So to be fair you are in a sub class of leftists who are not unlike the right wing extremists you paint anyone with whom you disagree. The leftists I know are all gun owners by the way and take issue with your slanderous comments as well.

» on 01.18.13 @ 08:28 PM

You give me quite a chuckle, Bishop. I point out that assault-style rifles are an inferior form of weapon for home protection, and you go ballistic. A shotgun is a gun, and I don’t advocate banning the ownership of either type. I do question the sanity of high-capacity ammo clips, and wonder what the real motivation is for owning them.

I do advocate reasonable regulation. What is a “well-regulated militia” in your mind? All the practice and safety training you mention is fine, but not required or regulated. And I doubt you were screened psychologically or had your medical records checked for mental illness. Boy, would THAT be unfair!

The U.S. military screens new recruits for psychological problems before they are allowed to touch a loaded weapon. It should be the same for our well-regulated civilian militia.

The regulations we have in place now may seem strict within a few states, but anyone willing to travel across state lines can purchase a semiautomatic weapon and high-capacity clips for it. Without a background check.

I think we need a federal law mandating that a gun owner must have a clean bill of mental health, be fully trained in gun safety, carry liability insurance for any crimes committed with his guns - that last will insure that nobody who shares a home with the mentally ill can have guns in that home. Is that unfair? It should be legal for that person to carry a concealed loaded weapon in public.

And the gun owner should carry a license that gets renewed every other year, like a smog check. If they lose the license for any reason, they have to turn their guns over to a broker for resale, and not own another gun until they can be re-licensed.

You make two arguments: first that you want the same level and type of firepower that the loonies possess, ostensibly so that you can engage them in a fair firefight. (I’m chuckling again.) I asked you when somebody last prevented or stopped a massacre with a weapon like a Bushmaster AR-15, but you won’t answer.

Your second argument is that there are already a few million of these weapons out there, so regulation would require unconstitutional seizures, and only criminals would still own them. Fine. Let’s stop and take a breath. This is really about the mentally ill using guns to act out on a psychotic breakdown. Look at the assassinations and massacres committed, and they are not usually the work of somebody routinely involved in crime.

» on 01.20.13 @ 01:32 PM

There are two reasons for the 2nd Amendment one of which you refuse to acknowledge. Fine, break yer friggen neck shoving it into the sand, but our founders feared tyranny over an armed public. You on the other hand welcome tyranny, you embrace it. It is a liberator to you in that you are no longer responsible for your self. That is not liberty Ramber, it is slavery.

So banning assault weapons and high capacity clips achieves what? They are there already and you want no more to be sold because you have this incredible delusion that some how it will keep them out of the hands of nut cases. How incredibly stupid, careless, naïve and reckless can you get?

The points I made and now have to reiterate for you, are that prohibitions don’t work, particularly and especially, when the cat has been out of the bag as long as it has on semi automatic weapons (which BTW are not by definition assault) and gun bans and weapons accessories limitations have nothing what so ever to do about mental health, a point I made that you seem thoroughly unable to grasp.

It has to do with control freaks deciding in a knee jerk emotionally driven rage that a particular tool used in a crime must be banned precisely because you don’t want to deal with the mental health issue.

I have no doubt that most of the screaming emotionally unhinged anti gun zealots would fail your “health screening”. However, such screening would not prevent them from stealing these weapons as Lanza did and going on a rampage.

Why is it so damned hard for you to acknowledge that this mentally deranged nut STOLE the weapons he used? He didn’t get screened, background checked, cased by the FBI or anything else because he shot is own mother and stole her friggen guns. Banning these weapons NOW would not have made a difference. Nor would it matter for the millions already out there that some other friggen nut case could possibly steal, like the nut in Portland.

If that school principal was armed trained and vigilant she could have used the very same Bushmaster AR-15 with a 30 round clip and taken one crazed nut case out before he killed one more person than the one he stole his weapons from. At some point even a crazed control freak nut case zealot like your self will have to come to grips with that reality.

As for these weapons you feel we don’t need, better to have them train with them and have them available and never have to use them ever again than need one and not have it. That’s not fear, its being prepared.

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