Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Who knows where COVID-19 came from? Not WHO

 The World Health Organization released a new report on its investigation into the origin of COVID-19, but the report answers few questions and provides little new information. The report, which will quickly become a pandemic footnote, essentially acknowledges that no one knows how the pandemic started.

The WHO investigators visited numerous locations around Wuhan, including the seafood market where many of the earliest cases originated and the Wuhan Institute of Virology, as part of the inquiry. In the end, however, there was no smoking gun.

Photo credit: Niescioruk


The report (read it in full here) identifies four separate theories for the origin of the pandemic, which are ranked in order of probability:

  • The virus jumped to humans from an animal like a bat through an intermediate animal host

  • The virus came to humans directly from bats or a similar animal

  • The virus was transmitted through frozen or chilled food

  • An accidental release from a laboratory

The report questions the significance of the early cases at the Wuhan seafood market because the virus appeared at other markets at about the same time. Testing showed the presence of the virus on surfaces at the market although not on the food itself, but the dense crowds and unsanitary conditions could have helped the virus spread.

Likewise, the report found no evidence that the virus escaped from a lab, either as a manmade pathogen or a natural one being studied. Genomic testing indicates that the virus is naturally occurring and no evidence was found that any Coronavirus closely related to COVID-19 was being studied before the outbreak.

These conclusions come despite former CDC Director Robert Redfield’s recent statement to CNN’s Sanjay Gupta that he believes that COVID-19 was a naturally occurring virus that escaped from a lab where it was being studied. Redfield provided no evidence to substantiate his opinion, however, even though many seem to take his speculation as fact.

Contrary to claims that COVID-19 was circulating long before it was acknowledged by the Chinese government, the WHO report did not find evidence that the virus had infected humans before late 2019. The earliest known cases date to October or November of that year.

The report also noted that the Coronavirus that infected humans was genetically different from the one that is known to infect bats. Scientists believe that the two variants are one or two genetic steps apart, which suggests that there was an intermediate evolutionary step in a different animal between the virus that infects bats and the one that infects humans.

The bottom line is that we really don’t know much more about the origins of COVID-19 than we did a year ago. We have to face the reality that we may never know exactly how the pandemic started. This is hard for modern ears to hear and leaves room for conspiracy theories, but the truth is that there are many things that we just don’t know about the world. For the foreseeable future, the origin of COVID-19 is one of them.


I’m going to have to pick on Steve a little bit. This morning, Steve covered the forced apology by Dav Pilkey, author of the “Captain Underpants” series of books. I haven’t read the Ook and Gluk series so my comments are general, rather than specific to this case. Although my kids were fans of Captain Underpants, they’ve gotten big enough to grow out of the genre. I’ll bet it’s a hoot, however.

I’m not a fan of cancel culture and I don’t deny it exists, but I do think that its effect is overstated. Much of the problem is that what is being done by individuals and private companies is ascribed to government.

For example, I saw a great many memes over the past few weeks claiming, “Biden cancels Dr. Seuss.” Well, no. Dr. Seuss wasn’t canceled and to the extent that anything happened, Biden had nothing to do with it.

As I’ve pointed out before, Seuss and Pilkey have the right to put what they want in their books. On the other hand, readers have the right to protest them and booksellers have the right not to sell their books. That’s not government censorship on any level. It’s freedom of speech and free enterprise.

A third problem is that the left has figured out that if it cancels examples of “casual racism” then the right will line up to defend the object of the cancellation. This makes conservatives look racist to minorities by the extension. It’s the gift that keeps on giving when it comes to making people on the right say and do embarrassing things.

Where we are at a nation is a place where racial stereotypes are highly disfavored. A lot of off-color humor that used to not raise eyebrows will get you in trouble now. That’s both a good and bad thing because some old humor was bad. Unfortunately, some good-natured fun also gets caught up in the midst of the controversy.

My guess is that a lot of minorities who were the brunt of racial stereotypes and humor have been offended for a long time and had no choice but to suck it up. This doesn’t mean that some don’t laugh along and enjoy the joke as well. Attitudes among minorities are not any more monolithic than they are among whites.

I’m generally a polite person. I don’t like to offend people, so I think it’s a good idea to use racial humor carefully. Not everyone can skewer political correctness as well “Blazing Saddles” or the “Office” and most shouldn’t try. Too many today believe that being politically incorrect is just a matter of being an offensive jerk.

I’m not saying that there isn’t a place for humor that pokes fun at racial and cultural differences in 2021. Your First Amendment right covers the right to say or publish material that others find offensive. However, it doesn’t protect your from criticism or boycotts by the offended. The First Amendment works both ways.

And if you’re one of the woke scolds who is perpetually offended, be aware that attempts to destroy all raunchy and irreverent humor can backfire. Punishing good-natured fun can easily lead to resentment and more blatantly racist attitudes.

Both sides should do more to see the perspective of the other. Yes, some humor is offensive and hurtful, even if unintentionally so. Yes, nitpicking micro aggressions is annoying and tiresome and can be offensive in its own right.

In the end, there is a difference between mean-spirited racist jokes and innocent fun. We should be able to laugh at ourselves and our differences. Doing so can even be a way of celebrating diversity.

Was QAnon almost right about politicians and child-sex rings?

 The QAnon conspiracy theory had its roots in Pizzagate and the Comet Ping Pong conspiracies that went back to the 2016 campaign. The original theory was that Democratic politicians such as Hillary Clinton were deeply involved in a satanic cult that dabbled in child prostitution on the side. The enterprise was supposedly headquartered in the basement of a Washington, DC pizza parlor called “Comet Ping Pong.” Now, it looks as though there may have been a grain of truth at the center of the conspiracy, but the details were wildly off.

As Maxwell Smart used to say, “Missed it by that much.”

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In reality, it is probably a coincidence that Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is now embroiled in a rapidly erupting sex scandal that looks a lot like something that the Q tinfoil hatters came up with. Over the past 24 hours, Gaetz, one of the trumpiest of the Trump Republicans, has admitted that he is under DOJ investigation for allegedly engaging in the sex trafficking of a 17-year-old girl with whom he reportedly had what can be euphemistically called an “inappropriate relationship.” Gaetz fired back with the claim that he was the victim of an extortion plot and a subject of the investigation but not its target.

The investigation, which was first reported by the New York Times, centers on whether Gaetz had a “sexual relationship with an unidentified 17-year-old and paid for her to travel with him.” The encounters, which took place about two years ago, could be illegal under a variety of state and federal laws that make it illegal to induce minors to travel across state lines to engage in sex for money or anything of value. The investigation reportedly began under the Trump Administration and was not opposed by former Attorney General William Barr.

The investigation reportedly centers on an ally of Gaetz, former Seminole County, Fla. tax collector, Joel Greenberg. Greenberg resigned after he was arrested by federal officers last June on sex trafficking and stalking charges. The Orlando Sentinel reported that the trafficking charges involved a girl between 14 and 17-years-old while the stalking charges related to a political opponent, a teacher who Greenberg accused of having a sexual relationship with a student and of being “a segregationist and in favor of white supremacy.” The federal investigation reportedly turned up several fake IDs at Greenberg’s home and evidence that he used Florida’s driver database to look up information about a minor victim. The Sentinel’s rundown on Greenberg’s erratic behavior over the years must the read to be believed.

Greenberg and Gaetz have known each other for several years at least. The Times reported that Greenberg posted a selfie of himself together with Gaetz and Roger Stone in 2017, captioned “Great catching up.” In 2018, Gaetz supported Greenberg’s campaign for office. The two posed for another photo in 2019 outside the White House. Gaetz was elected to Congress at the same time that Greenberg was elected tax collector in 2016.

Gaetz told Axios, “The allegations against me are as searing as they are false," adding, “I believe that there are people at the Department of Justice who are trying to criminalize my sexual conduct, you know when I was a single guy.”

Gaetz announced his engagement on December 31, 2020, but is not yet married.

"I have definitely, in my single days, provided for women I've dated,” Gaetz said, “You know, I've paid for flights, for hotel rooms. I’ve been, you know, generous as a partner. I think someone is trying to make that look criminal when it is not."

He said that he was “absolutely” sure that none of the women he dated were underage. The age of consent in Florida is 18.

The congressman said that the allegations against him were rooted in an extortion attempt against his family that was seeking $25 million “in exchange for making this case go away." He added that he was assisting the federal investigators and that his father had worn a wire in an attempt to provide evidence to catch the blackmailers. Axios reported that Gaetz sent the outlet copies of messages that purportedly showed the extortion scheme.

Gaetz also defended himself in a televised interview with Tucker Carlson.

Exactly how all this fits together is unclear at this point, but the bombshells are still bursting and there are undoubtedly more to come. The DOJ has declined to comment and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in USA Today that he would wait for more information, but that if the allegations that Gaetz had sex with an underage girl were true that Gaetz would lose his committee assignments.

There are several possible explanations for the story. The most obvious is that the entire allegation is untrue and meant to embarrass Gaetz based on his association with Greenberg. Another possibility is that Gaetz was a fully complicit beneficiary of Greenberg’s sideline as a sex trafficker. A third possibility is that Gaetz dated the 17-year-old but didn’t know her age.

The third possibility would be almost as troubling for Gaetz as the second. Under Florida law, sex between a 17-year-old and an adult older than 24 is considered statutory rape and carries a penalty of up to $10,000 in fines and 15 years in prison. This is true even if the sex was consensual. A conviction also requires the offender to register as a sex offender.

I’m not going to pass judgment on Gaetz. He may be telling the truth and be totally innocent of all the allegations. However, if the claims are accurate, Gaetz is in serious trouble even if he didn’t know the girl was only 17.

As to QAnon, the early reports are that they are in denial about how their theory was somewhat true but misidentified the culprits. So far, Q adherents seem to see the scandal as either part of the plan or a Deep State-FBI plot to destroy Gaetz’s credibility. Whatever the outcome of the investigation, there is little doubt that the Qs will twist it to support their belief that Donald Trump will be reinstated as president on [Insert Date Here].


Matt Gaetz wasn’t the only person accused of the sex trafficking of underage girls this week. Ghislaine Maxwell, the former associate of Jeffrey Epstein, had new charges of sex trafficking and conspiracy added this week. The new indictment adds a fourth victim who was 14 at the time that Maxwell allegedly paid her to give “sexual massages” to the billionaire.

NPR notes that the indictment broadens the time span for Maxwell’s activities from the 1990s through 2004. Maxwell was arrested last July and remains in custody.

One of the most insidious things about QAnon is that it trivializes the fact that sex trafficking is a real phenomenon with real victims. The Q conspiracy detracts from real law enforcement efforts.

Maxwell and Greenberg and people like them deserve the harshest punishments that courts can mete out. Prosecuting sex crimes against minors should not be a partisan issue, and as a reminder, both parties were linked to Maxwell’s former boss.

From the Racket

Friday, March 26, 2021

The good, the bad, and the stupid in Georgia's election law

 There is a lot of conflicting information about Georgia’s new election law, which was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp yesterday. SB202 was rushed through after Donald Trump lost to Joe Biden in November and Republicans David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler lost their Senate runoffs to Democratic challengers.

The law is often characterized as a voter ID law because it mandates verification of absentee ballots, but in reality, it does a lot more as well, some of which is good and some bad. I haven't read the entire 96-page bill (linked here), but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution provides a rundown on key provisions (quoted verbatim):

  • Absentee ballots would be verified based on driver’s license numbers or other documentation instead of voter signatures.

  • Ballot drop boxes would only be allowed inside early voting locations and available strictly during business hours.

  • Weekend voting would be expanded for general elections, with two mandatory Saturdays offered statewide. Counties could also choose to offer early voting on two optional Sundays.

  • Early voting for runoffs would be reduced to a minimum of one week because runoffs would occur four weeks after general elections.

  • The deadline to request an absentee ballot would be set 11 days before election day.

  • Members of the public would be prohibited from distributing food or water to voters waiting in line.

  • The State Election Board could remove county election boards and replace them with an interim elections manager.

  • A hotline to report illegal election activities would be set up in the attorney general’s office.

  • Counties would be required to certify election results within six days, instead of the 10 days currently allowed. Election workers would also be required to count ballots without stopping until they’re finished.

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash


Steve Berman also provided an excellent rundown on the new law this morning which includes some background and details not included in the AJC article. Steve did his homework and his piece is a must-read.

Additionally, Gabriel Sterling, one of the heroes of the post-general election wrangling, underscored on Twitter that the new law does not cut early voting days, at least for the general election.

Some of the confusion about the law is warranted. The bill went through many changes and some of the worse provisions were stripped from the final version. Earlier attempts to repeal no-excuse absentee voting and to restrict Sunday voting were absent from the final bill, but not everyone is aware of these changes. The fact that there were competing bills adds to the muddle.

However, it’s quite different to say that SB202 doesn’t restrict early voting and to say it doesn’t limit voting rights at all. I cannot call the bill a good law, even though some provisions are good, and the law does restrict voting, even if not as sharply as its Democratic opponents allege. For example, the law limits absentee drop boxes to the “lesser of either one dropbox for every 100,000 active registered voters in the county or the number of advance voting locations in the county.” Drop boxes will not be accessible after hours.

The window to request absentee ballots has also been reduced. Georgians can now request absentee ballots for a period 11 weeks prior to the election and ending 11 days prior. Under the previous law, absentee ballots could be requested 180 days prior to the election until the Friday before Election Day for most elections. The new law represents a substantial reduction in the available time to request a ballot as well as making it illegal to mail out unsolicited absentee ballot applications (not actual ballots), as Secretary of State Raffensperger did last spring as the pandemic coincided with Georgia’s primary.

Additionally, the law also tightens up runoffs. Georgia law requires candidates to win a majority of the vote so many elections frequently result in runoffs. The new law moves the runoff up to four weeks after the general election and restricts early voting to one week. In the 2020 cycle, the runoff occurred two months after the general election and there were three weeks of early voting.

This change seems focused on 2020 when David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler were favored to win the runoffs initially, but the tide shifted toward the Democrats amid Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn Georgia’s presidential election results. I have many friends who voted Republican in the runoff early on and then regretted their decision after the pair of Republican senators attacked Georgia’s Secretary of State and supported efforts to overturn the Electoral College vote.

Out-of-precinct voting is also restricted. Under the old law, citizens could vote on a provisional ballot if they went to the wrong precinct. Under SB202, out-of-precinct voting is allowed only between 5 p.m. and closing time and requires a sworn statement that the voter is “unable to vote at his or her correct polling place prior to the closing of the polls.”

The provisions that shift control to the General Assembly (Georgia’s legislature) are rightly seen as attacks on Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and elections officials in Democratic counties. I have seen no evidence of malfeasance by Democratic county officials or Raffensperger, but both have come under attack by Republicans. (Floyd County, where 2,600 votes were initially uncounted, is a Republican county although I cannot find a record of party affiliation for the chief clerk of elections who was fired.)

The power grab by the legislature is an example of fighting the last war. Raffensperger was the right man at the right time to resist pressure to “find” enough Republican votes to shift the outcome of the election. However, there is no guarantee that the Secretary of State during the next crisis will be as honorable as Raffensperger or that the next legislature will even be Republican. Trump loyalist Jody Hice has announced that he will run to unseat Raffensperger in the Republican primary.

The final version of SB202 is a mixture of the good, the bad, the pointless, and the nonsensical. I’d say that the best part of the bill is that it allows poll workers to start counting absentee ballots at 7 a.m. on Election Day rather than waiting for polls to close and that counties are required to certify election results in six days, rather than the previous 10. These are changes that would have been beneficial in 2020.

The worst parts of the bill are those that restrict access. The limits on absentee ballots and drop boxes are attempts to solve a problem that does not exist. The changes to runoff elections are a clear attempt to limit early voting.

The voter ID portion of the bill is popular, but I am skeptical that it will improve the security of the process. Absentee ballots previously required signature matching, but the new bill requires voters to provide their driver’s license or identification card number. This may actually be less secure than matching signatures since driver’s license numbers are available to third parties in many different ways.

The most inane part of the bill is the ban on providing food and water to voters in line. I voted on the first day of early voting in 2020. October is still hot in the South and my wife and I stood in the sun for 90 minutes as we lined up with other voters. Water would have been appreciated, especially for the old and weak in the crowd. I don’t see any benefit to election integrity from prohibiting people from passing out bottles of water or sending Pizza To The Polls. This certainly feels like an attempt to discourage voters from waiting in line.

SB202 is not a good bill, but neither is it “unamerican” as many critics suggest. It does fix some problems, but it can also be legitimately described as restricting voting rights. Having said that, it falls short of the restrictions that Republicans are advancing in many other states. SB202 is not as bad as it could have been, but it is also not nearly good as it could have and should have been.

Good or bad, the wave of Republican election reform bills around the country smacks of sour grapes. This is especially true of the changes that focus on tightening restrictions on absentee and early voting, areas where Republicans did not fare well in 2020. Even though some changes are good, it seems obvious that we would not be having these discussions if Donald Trump (and Perdue and Loeffler) had not lost and then claimed that absentee ballot fraud was the culprit. The strategy may well backfire as Democratic and independent voters are alienated by what they see as blatant attempts to restrict the access of opposition voters.

From the Racket

Sidney Powell and open carry both have a bad day in court

 Two major legal stories made the news this week. The stories were starkly different but both were disappointing to many on the right albeit for very different reasons. For reasons that you are about to see, the second story will almost completely overshadow the first.

In the first story, Sidney Powell, one of the lawyers tasked by the Trump campaign with waging its war to overturn election results in six battleground states, essentially admitted in open court that the claims made in her Kraken lawsuit were a fantasy. In court filings, Powell and her lawyers claimed that “reasonable” people would not think her claims were based in fact.

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You may remember that Powell, along with a host of other right-wing media outlets and personalities, was sued by Dominion Voting Systems for defamation after the group made claims that vote totals were fraudulently changed to shift the outcome of the election to Joe Biden. Among her claims were allegations that a secret algorithm flipped Trump votes to Biden in Georgia and that electronic voting machines “were created in Venezuela at the direction of Hugo Chavez to make sure he never lost an election.”

Powell and her cohorts promised evidence of the fraud, but evidence that would stand up in court never materialized, primarily because evidence of widespread fraud did not exist. Powell’s contention that her claims were never meant to be taken seriously came up in a court brief related to the defamation suit, which you can read here.

The brief, which was filed in Powell’s defense, argues, “No reasonable person would conclude that the statements were truly statements of fact.”

In other words, people should have known better than to believe that Powell was telling the truth. She was, after all, a Trump lawyer.

If you looked into the details of the Kraken lawsuits, it was easy to see that there was no “there” there. Powell’s public statements did not match her court filings. The lawsuits were nothingburgers served up to stoke the anger of Trump’s base. To what end? January 6 provides the answer to that.

The divergent stories that Powell told in public and in the courtroom were reminiscent of several other members of the Trump inner circle whose claims in the media were very different from their pleas in court. In particular, Mike Flynn and George Papadopoulos both pled guilty in court and then claimed that they were set up and entrapped later in the media.

Justice calls for Powell and her fellow members of the Trump legal team such as Rudy Giuliani to be punished for their role in what was a blatant attempt to steal the election. Since Powell's statements were not made under oath, she won’t face perjury charges, but Giuliani is facing disbarment and may be prosecuted in Georgia for making false statements on a “matter within the jurisdiction” of the state government. Powell may get the same treatment.

Fox News and OANN viewers are hardest hit by the news that the election fraud claims were… well, fraudulent. Or they would be if they knew about it. As I write this, I don’t see any mention of Powell’s revelations on either outlet. They can't cover it without undermining their own credibility and their own defenses in their respective defamation suits.

Steve mentioned Powell’s stunning admission a couple of days ago and again this morning, but this story cannot get too much coverage. This woman and her cohorts were willing to undermine the Constitution and bring the country to the brink of civil war with their blatantly false claims. No one should ever again trust Powell, the rest of the Trump legal team, or media outlets and commentators who lapped up her lies and helped to spread them. I hope that Dominion gets a YUGE punitive judgment against the whole bunch.

While anyone who has followed my coverage of the post-election legal wrangling can guess that I’m enjoying Powell’s discomfort immensely, the second story is more serious and a blow to the exercise of the Second Amendment.

The ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in George K. Young, Jr. v. the State of Hawaii upheld previous rulings that “the Second Amendment does not guarantee an unfettered, general right to openly carry arms in public for individual self-defense.” It is important to note that the ruling does not strike down existing open and concealed carry laws, but that it allows states to prohibit carrying firearms in public. The entire opinion by the en banc court is available here.

The open carry movement has been gaining steam in much of the country in recent years, but yesterday’s ruling is a blow to expanding the right to carry to more restrictive gun states. The ruling applies to the states in the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction, which include Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington as well as the territories of Guam and the Northern Marianas.

The case will be appealed to the Supreme Court but it isn’t likely to be the slam dunk that some gun rights advocates expect. First, the Supreme Court may not take the case. Last year, the Court declined to hear any of the gun cases that could have led to a landmark ruling even though conservatives already had a majority.

Second, there is a strong argument that the Ninth Circuit ruling is correct. Even though the Second Amendment states that the “right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” many courts have ruled that not infringing is not the same as not limiting or regulating. Many people don’t want to hear or admit this, but it’s true.

For example, the Court upheld a ban on sawed-off shotguns in United States v. Miller and then affirmed a ban on firearms possession by convicted felons in Lewis v. United States. In recent years, the Court has also declined to hear challenges to waiting periods and bans on “assault weapons.” The big picture here is that the Supreme Court has both explicitly and implicitly upheld restrictions on the Second Amendment.

It will be a while before we know the final disposition of the case. If the Supreme Court agrees to hear the case, we probably won’t know the outcome for more than a year. In the meantime, nothing will change. States with carry laws will keep them on the books and states without them won’t have to extend the right to carry to their residents.

As we wait, I encourage those of you with carry permits to act responsibly. Given that there is now precedent that says that carrying your AR-15 to Burger King is not a constitutional right, it is even more important not to frighten members of the general public who are not enamored with guns. Those people vote as well and, if pressed, they might help to elect politicians who promise to roll back open and concealed carry laws.

Rights are not absolute. They can be limited and restricted. The surest way to make that happen is to act irresponsibly and without consideration for your fellow Americans.


Many Republicans have sharply criticized President Biden for not holding more press conferences. If you are one of these people, you will be glad to know that the president has a press conference scheduled for this afternoon at 1:15 p.m. Eastern time.

While many expect Biden to come across like a drooling idiot who can’t string two sentences together without mentioning Corn Pop, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that such expectations will once again meet with disappointment. There is now an established pattern of people predicting that Biden will embarrass himself when he speaks in public and then Biden shattering those predictions by performing reasonably well before the nation.

I’m not saying that Joe Biden is a great or eloquent speaker, but he can meet a basic standard of public speaking when the chips are down. He went toe-to-toe with Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential debates and polling showed that Biden won. More recently, he gave a moving address on the anniversary of the beginning of the Coronavirus pandemic in the US.

You’d think that Biden’s critics would get tired of being wrong… or at least get tired of helping Biden benefit from low expectations. So far, they haven’t. After every speech in which Biden sounds presidential and empathetic, they go right back to jumping on any and every perceived stumble and once again set expectations so low that the president can’t help but soar over them.

So, I’m going to predict that the same thing happens today. I’m not going to say that I’ll agree with everything Biden says or even that he won’t stumble a time or two, but I think he’ll come across as presidential and in charge.

And tomorrow the myth of Biden’s dementia will go on as if nothing had happened.

From the Racket

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Stopping mass shootings requires facts not myths

 The twin rampage massacres over the past week have led to a predictable call for new gun control. The facts were not all in before new gun control proposals were trotted out. In many cases, the proposed laws are the same one-size-fits-all solutions that come up after every mass killing, but which are unlikely to have an impact on spree killings.

One of these is a ban on AR-15s specifically or “assault weapons” in general. I was recently contacted by an irate reader who said that “assault weapons” was a nonsensical term. She was wrong. The term “assault weapon” is not a term of art in the firearms community, but it is a legal term.

Photo credit: Bexar Arms on


My college professors stressed that the definition of a word in the law or a contract is whatever it says in the law or contract. If you want to know what your auto policy means when it says “personal auto,” look in the section of the policy, a legal contract, that gives the definition of the term. Whatever it says, goes. Likewise, if a statute defines a “grilled cheese sandwich” as an “assault weapon” then that would be legally binding even though it would be nonsensical in terms of firearms. It doesn’t matter if your sammie isn’t painted black, lacks a high-capacity magazine, and is incapable of spraying long bursts of cheese with a single trigger pull.

There’s a myth that “assault weapons” are used in all rampage killings, but that’s not true. To debunk this myth, we need look no further than last week’s Atlanta spa murders where the culprit reportedly used a “9mm firearm” per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. A firearm of this caliber is almost certainly a semi-automatic (one shot per trigger pull) pistol and would not be considered an “assault weapon” under most definitions (but read the bill!).

2014 study of 142 mass shootings by Dr. James Fox of Northeastern University found that the “assault weapons” ban in the 1990s had little effect on mass shootings. The doctor found that semi-automatic pistols were by far the most common weapon used in mass shootings. A graph from Statista shows that even when more recent incidents are considered, pistols are far more prevalent in mass shootings than rifles. Among the high-profile mass killings that did not use rifles, let alone “assault weapons,” were the attacks at Virginia Tech and the Washington Navy Yard.

Finally, the AR-15 is not uniquely dangerous. Other hunting rifles use similar or more powerful ammunition, have similar magazine capacities, and rates of fire. The AR-15 is not a “machine gun” but a semi-automatic rifle that fires one bullet for one pull of the trigger.

Neither is the US unique in suffering spree murders. In fact, only two of the top ten mass shootings in the world occurred in the US. Those were the 2017 Las Vegas attack and the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016.

Mass murders by government troops are not included on the list by the way. To kill in truly large numbers requires an army. The complete top ten list would include the numerous massacres by Nazi troops, the Soviet massacre of 22,000 Poles at Katyn in 1940, the Turkish massacre of a million Armenians from 1915 through 1917, the murder of 800,000 minority Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, and the Srebrenica massacre of 8,000 Muslim men and boys in Bosnia in 1995.

We also know that gun control has little effect on spree killings or crime rates in general. The Everytown map of mass shootings over the past 10 years shows incidents in nearly every state regardless of how strict gun control laws are. At first glance, there seems to be a stronger correlation with population density than with gun control.

Likewise, expanded background checks would not prevent mass murders for the large number of spree killers who don’t have prior criminal records. So far, that seems to include the perpetrators of both the Atlanta spa and the King Soopers murders.

Okay, you may argue, let’s just ban guns. This is a nonstarter because the Supreme Court has held that the Second Amendment constitutes an individual right to keep and bear arms. While constitutional rights are not unlimited, a total ban on gun ownership is clearly unconstitutional.

Even if such a plan was constitutional, it would be unworkable. Axios estimated in 2019 that the US has more than 270 million guns. Of these, the Trace estimates that 15 to 20 million are “modern sporting rifles” that might be defined as “assault weapons.”

There are two important takeaways from these statistics. The first is that if all or most of these guns were used in crimes, there would be no Americans left in short order. In that context, it’s easy to see that most American guns are kept by law-abiding citizens.

Second, an attempt at gun banning and confiscation would turn most of these law-abiding citizens into criminals overnight. It would be a gross misallocation of law enforcement resources to have officers spending their time trying to track down guns that are not being used in crimes. (And that assumes that law enforcement would comply with such orders themselves. Many sheriffs would not and openly say so.)

In my view, the concept of mass gun confiscations is a liberal pipe dream similar to the right-wing fantasy of mass deportations of illegal aliens. In both cases, the numbers are so large and the majority so harmless to society that neither will ever happen. Putting either plan into practice would require a large expansion of the police state that the majority of the country would not stand for. The exorbitant cost would outweigh any societal gains.

Even if we stopped producing and importing guns today, there are so many guns in the US already that they would be present for decades to come. And that’s assuming that new guns were not smuggled into the country for use by criminals. If we can’t stop the importation of illegal drugs, we probably can’t stop illegal guns either. We can only disarm those who choose to obey gun ban laws.

So what’s the solution? I don’t think that there is a single solution to the problem, but there are ways to minimize the risk of future mass murders without infringing upon the rights of nonhomicidal, law-abiding gun owners. One of these is simply to have more security. Use metal detectors and security guards to warn of and defend against would-be murderers as well as garden variety robbers.

Second, encourage gun owners to get training and carry permits. Several spree killings have been stopped by armed civilians. The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. The good guy can be a police officer, but it could also be an armed good Samaritan.

Finally, there are some gun control ideas that may be effective without infringing on Second Amendment rights. As far back as 2013, I noticed that many spree killers had mental illness in common. If we want to stop a large number of mass shootings we can act to get guns out of the hands of the potentially violent mentally ill. The idea of red flag laws has strong bipartisan support including 70 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of gun owners in a 2019 poll. These laws would need to be carefully written to avoid abuse and allow for a robust appeals process by the gun owner.

An additional idea is to incorporate mental health data into background checks. Marriage counseling and similar situations should not trigger flags on gun purchases but suicidal or homicidal behavior, diagnoses of dangerous illnesses, and the use of psychotropic drugs should, at least on a temporary basis until the problem is resolved.

Other reforms that don’t involve guns directly would include changing HIPAA laws to allow doctors to share relevant information with law enforcement and giving involuntary commitment laws more teeth. If mental patients need medication to function peacefully in society, they should be required to stay under a doctor’s care and stay on their meds. Studies show that stopping mental health medications abruptly can be very dangerous.

There are indications of pre-existing mental problems at least in the case of the King Soopers shooting. However, at this point, it’s difficult to say whether red flag laws would have prevented either shooting spree. As I said before, there is no single magic policy to solve the problem.

I’m a gun owner. I own an AR-15 and a variety of other weapons. I want to ensure that I can keep my gun collection and that my children will be able to enjoy their Second Amendment rights in the future. To that end, we need to address the problem of spree murders, but we need to do it with effective solutions that protect the rights of responsible gun owners. When rights are not exercised responsibly, they invite more regulation. For that reason, it is in the interests of gun owners to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.


Myths about mass shootings are not the sole province of the left. I’ve seen several people in the past few days posting about how there were few, if any, mass shootings under the Trump Administration and suggesting that there is some “tinfoil hat” stuff going on behind the scenes.

One of my Facebook friends, a gentleman that I used to go to church with, even mused, “Can’t help but believe someone or some agency are using mind control over some weak-minded individuals.”

If that sounds crazy, it’s because it is. Such a scenario was actually the plot of a memorable “X-Files” episode that featured William Sanderson, better known as “Larry” from “Newhart.”

The claim is also demonstrably wrong. The Northeastern University crime database showed that 2019 was the deadliest year on record for mass killings, defined as “four or more people being killed in the same incident, excluding the perpetrator.” There were 41 mass killings in the US that year, 33 of which involved the use of firearms.

If we limit the scope to mass shootings, there were still a plethora during the Trump Administration. A compilation on Wikipedia shows at least 64 mass shootings in the United States while Donald Trump was president (although this list seems to use a slightly different definition than the Northeastern database).

Not all of these were high-profile murders. Many were more aptly described as domestic or workplace violence rather than spree killings, but the list includes many incidents that should be easy to recall. A partial list of high-profile shootings from the Trump era includes:

Mass shootings did not stop during the Trump Administration, but interestingly they did seem to decrease in 2020. Perhaps the lockdowns and social distancing during the pandemic had the unintentional effect of reducing spree killings.

That reduction over the past year may have contributed to the misconception that mass murders were absent or rare during the Trump era. Human memories can be notoriously bad, which is both a blessing and a curse.

As an addendum, when I say that people need to be responsible with their guns, I am also referring to the open-carry activists who parade around with pistols on their hips and AR-15s on their backs. While this is legal in some states, it is not a good idea for several reasons.

The most obvious is that, in an era where people are already uneasy about guns and mass shootings, people who appear to be engaging in combat cosplay can have a negative effect on Second Amendment rights. If you tend to carry your rifle grocery shopping or to get a fast-food hamburger, you may be influencing voters to vote for candidates who will enact more strict carry laws.

Second, if your gun is on display, you are a target. You should be prepared to fight to retain your weapon from an attacker. I’m certain that most people who open-carry give this little or no thought.

About ten percent of police officers who are murdered are shot with their own guns. If cops trained in gun retention are losing their guns to attackers, then untrained civilians are at a much higher risk of having their guns turned against them. By the same token, if an armed attacker knows that you are armed, his first move is going to be to shoot you.

If you’re going to carry a gun, the smarter option is to carry concealed. I have a carry permit (and I have had gun-retention training), and I almost always carry concealed. (I started carrying routinely after a vicious dog attacked my dogs on a walk, but that’s another story.)

As an untrained civilian, you’ll likely need the element of surprise if you need to use your gun. Concealment and keeping a low profile will aid your chances of survival if the bovine excrement happens to impact the apparatus with rotating blades.

From the Racket