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The DOJ and Darren Wilson

The DOJ released their report today on why they will not be prosecuting Darren Wilson. The report concludes that the shooting of Michael Brown was most likely justified, citing the favorable testimony of disinterested witnesses and the unreliability of the witnesses who said Michael Brown surrendered. They report includes a lot more testimony than the Grand Jury report and is pretty convincing.

Mataconis:

Given the available evidence, this seems like a proper decision by the Justice Department. Even leaving aside for the moment the question of whether or not one believes the state Grand Jury made the right decision in declining to indict Wilson on any charges at all in this case, there was quite simply no evidence that Wilson acted in a manner that even came close to violating Federal civil rights laws. Instead, this seems to be a police encounter gone wrong. If Wilson acted improperly, it doesn’t appear to have been out of any racial motive, and the evidence that has been released both in connected with the Grand Jury investigation and this investigation seem to make clear that Wilson’s use of force was, in the end, appropriate under the circumstances. Indicting him on Federal charges would have likely just led to an acquittal, and would have been an unjust application of Federal law.

I didn’t believe Wilson’s story because the idea of Michael Brown charging at him from so far away made no sense to me. But that now appears very likely to be what happened. People do stupid things, especially young male people.

There is one thing to note, however, from Ken White, a former prosecutor:

I find it remarkable because most potential prosecutions don’t get this sort of analysis. Most investigations don’t involve rigorous examination of the credibility of the prosecution’s witnesses. Most investigations don’t involve painstaking consideration of the defendant’s potential defenses. Often investigators don’t even talk to potential defense witnesses, and if they do, don’t follow up on leads they offer. Most investigations don’t carefully weigh potentially incriminating and potentially exculpatory scientific evidence. If an explanation of the flaws in a case requires footnotes, you shouldn’t expect it to deter prosecution.

Instead, I’m more used to the prosecution assuming their witnesses are truthful, even if they are proven liars. I’m more used to contrary evidence being cynically disregarded. I’m more used to participants in the system stubbornly presuming guilt to the bitter end. I’m more used to prosecutors disregarding potentially exculpatory evidence that they think isn’t “material.” I’m more used to the criminal justice system ignoring exculpatory science and clinging to inculpatory junk science like an anti-vaxxer.

Why is this case different? It’s different because Darren Wilson is a cop. Cops get special rights and privileges and breaks the rest of us don’t. Cops get an extremely generous and lenient benefit of the doubt from juries. Nearly every segment of the criminal justice system operates to treat cops more favorably than the rest of us.

I would make two points of minor disagreement here. First of all, the reason this case was investigated so thoroughly was because of the national pressure that was brought to bear. The government was forced to explain, in great detail, why they were not going to bring a case. Of course, most of the time they don’t even bother. They don’t bring charges and we’re just supposed to accept that.

And that brings me to a second minor disagreement: it’s not just cops. Everyone who is in the system is treated differently than the rest of us. Just this week, David Petraeus was allowed to plead out to a misdemeanor for leaking the kind of information that would land most of us in prison for a felony. Hillary Clinton was revealed to have violated protocols and State Department rules, something that would ruin most people’s careers (and Clinton has a long history of breaking the rules and getting away with it). Seven cops and prosecutors were revealed to have lied their asses off in an effort to put an innocent man in jail and may face no consequences. More pot convictions were handed down to people who probably touched less of the stuff than our last three Presidents. The problem is more noticeable with cops because they are authorized to use deadly force and because of reflexive “thin blue line” defensiveness whenever a cop is accused of wrong-doing (although, to be fair, no cop will ever kill as many people as the State Department does with their unaccountable bungling). But this problem is general and it is widespread.

Darren Wilson didn’t shoot Michael Brown in the back. He almost certainly didn’t shoot him after he surrendered. But it’s hard to blame people for distrusting the system when it so often concludes that the people within are incapable of wrong-doing, be they cop, bureaucrat or politician. It’s hard to blame people for distrusting the system when it gives us a hell of a lot less benefit of a doubt, whether we’ve shot someone or made a mistake on our taxes. It’s hard to blame people for distrusting the system when it throws non-violent pot offenders in prison for half a century while concluding, almost instantly, that the people who seared a toddler did nothing wrong because they were acting on behalf of the state.

(And, in this particular case, it’s hard to blame people for distrusting the system when the DOJ has also released a report showing massive systematic racism in the city.)

I’m glad that Wilson will not be prosecuted for what now appears to have been a justified shooting. It’s one of the few things Holder’s DOJ has done right. But I wish this kind of skepticism was applied a lot more often and to people who are not cops, politicians, prosecutors, bureaucrats or political hacks.

Thrill (actually, Thrill’s sister; smarts clearly run in that family) made a very good point when the Grand Jury verdict was handed down:

My sister said it perfectly: “This is the wrong case to ask the right questions about”.

It’s now pretty conclusive that this was the wrong case. But let’s keep asking the right questions.

The Fear of Walker

It is currently March of 2015. The next presidential election is safely 20 months away. For the moment, Hillary Clinton is the presumed front-runner for the Democrats. She hasn’t declared yet because she knows the allegations of corruption and incompetence will come pretty quickly. Her hope is that she can ride her current popularity through the inevitable shitstorm. The shorter that ride is, the more likely it is to end at 1600 Pennsylvania.

(A big shoe dropped this week when it was revealed the Clinton was using her personal e-mail to conduct State Department business in violation of State Department rules. More will come.)

The Republican field is still in flux but Scott Walker is emerging as a potential candidate. Walker has a good chance since he’s conservative enough to rally the base but has also won three elections in a blue state.

So how do you react to this if you’re a Democrat?

You panic.

A couple of weeks ago, Rudolph Giuliani made a silly statement about Barack Obama. Walker refused to comment on it. This was not evasion; this is Walker’s style. He prefers to avoid political bullshit and concentrate on policy. During the debates for his last election, his opponent tried to goad him into some kind of outburst and Walker refused, sticking to the boring trivia of, you know, running the state.

Nevertheless, the media exploded when he refused to condemn Giuliani’s remarks. Similar accountability is never applied to Democrats. Hillary Clinton will not be asked to denounce everything said by Al Sharpton or Robert Reich or Bernie Sanders. But apparently if Walker refuses to denounce a fellow Republican for an unofficial remark, it’s the end of the world.

Then, of course, you have the union thing. The WaPo ran a piece on Walker’s union-busting, conveniently forgetting that the legal changes were entirely about public employee unions. (Since the article was written, the Wisconsin legislature has passed a “right to work” law. I’ve written about that before.)

Thus far, a couple of warning shots. Nothing major. But this weekend, it got really stupid. First Jezebel, then the Daily Beast, then every left wing blog on the planet ran an article claiming that Scott Walker had stopped Wisconsin universities from reporting sex crimes. That report turned out to be total crap:

The post, published Friday, cited a report from Jezebel that wrongly interpreted a section of the state budget to mean that all assault reporting requirements were to get cut altogether.

In fact, the University of Wisconsin system requested the deletion of the requirements to get rid of redundancy, as it already provides similar information to the federal government, UW System spokesman Alex Hummel told The Associated Press on Friday.

The fail here — apparently involving a reporter who wrote a recent ill-informed hit piece on Glenn Greenwald’s Intercept — is amazing. They ignored that sex crime reporting is a federal requirement and can not be overridden by a state. They didn’t bother to call Scott Walker’s office or the University of Wisconsin to confirm it. They didn’t apply any degree of skepticism. They went right to some bizarre idea that this was macho posturing by a Republican candidate.

The thing is, there is substance to go after with Walker. He’s set to sign a right-to-work law after saying it wasn’t a priority. He has changed his position on immigration. He just cut $300 million from the State university system. And after balancing Wisconsin’s budget, he enacted an ill-advised tax cut that could plunge the state right back into debt. Maybe you like those policy decisions; maybe you hate them. But criticizing him for those policies would at least be substantive.

I have no idea why they are going after him for this garbage except that … they have to demonize Scott Walker. Not just for practical reasons, but for emotional ones. To the Democrats, any Republican president seems demonic. And nothing is more demonic than a Republican candidate who could win.

PC Eats Itself

I’ve written in this space many times about the cult of political correctness and the rise of speech codes. There are many idiotic aspects of the push to create “safe spaces” in our society where people will never ever be offended (as long as they’re not Christian or something) and only hear approved (liberal) speech. But one aspect I’ve rarely written about is this:

It will never work.

It will never work because there is no possible way to construct a speech code so that no one will be offended. The push toward speech codes, free speech zones, “safe spaces” and an end to “microaggressions” will founder because the politically correct are creating a rhetorical minefield that can never be safely navigated.

Viz:

For all of 15 minutes last weekend, Patricia Arquette was a progressive hero. Arquette, who won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar Sunday evening for her role in Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, used the final few seconds of her acceptance speech to deliver a stirring plea for female equality. “To every woman who gave birth, to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights—it’s our time to have wage equality once and for all, and equal rights for women in the United States of America,” Arquette declared, to enthusiastic cries of approval and passionate finger-pointing from fellow celebrities Jennifer Lopez and Meryl Streep.

We’ll put aside whether the pay gap is a myth or not and the received wisdom that pay equality should be mandated by government. We will note, however, that the very liberal entertainment industry is one of the worst in terms of pay equality.

But in the time it took for Arquette to move from the Academy stage to answer questions from the press, she went from a liberal champion who used her two minutes of fame to speak passionately on behalf of a cause that she believed in to the latest target of the left’s ritualistic Two Minutes of Hate. Her offense: “It’s time,” she said, “for all the women in America and all the men that love women, and all the gay people, and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.”

“Twitter got into a rage over Patricia Arquette’s Comments in the Oscar Press Room,” is how Buzzfeed described the ensuing online outcry. “It is definitely not time for ‘all the gay people’ and ‘all the people of color’ to set aside their own battle for equality in order to fight for straight, white women now,” thundered Amanda Marcotte in a piece for Slate titled, “Patricia Arquette’s Feminism: Only for White Women.” A blogger for Fusion.net accused the actress of “feminist whitesplaining.” Arquette stepped in it. By seemingly prioritizing the struggles of one historically disadvantaged group (women) over those of others (blacks, Latinos, gays, etc.), Arquette ran afoul of the rules of the identity-politics game foisted upon our political discourse by the self-appointed, Twitter-enabled arbiters of the “national conversation.”

It’s been a week and I’m still trying to figure out what was so offensive about Arquette’s later remarks. It seems to have something to do “intersectionality” — the egghead idea that we all live in various forms of oppression. White women are oppressed but not as much as black women, who are not as oppressed as black lesbians unless they are wealthy black lesbians unless they are Republican wealthy black lesbians with a slight limp. Arquette’s “crime” was forgetting where she was in that matrix of oh-woe-is-meism and therefore falling into the gears of the left wing’s perpetual grievance engine.

(As an aside, I’ve never known a conversation that was ever improved by discussion of “privilege” or “intersectionality”. Yes, sexism and racism exist. Bravo for realizing that. But people’s lives are their own. Our lives are influenced by our race, gender, sexuality or whatever but they are not defined by those things. Yes, it’s sometimes hard for men to understand what women deal with or for whites to understand what blacks deal with. But the idea that you never understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes is an old one. And, as a general rule applied to everyone, it is better path to insight than pointy-headed academic-speak about “intersectionality”.)

This is one of many reasons why the far Left will never be taken seriously in this country. While they hate white male cisgender oppression or whatever, they don’t hate it nearly as much as they hate each other for insufficient ideological purity. Feminism, in particular, has been prone to this in recent years, jumping all over a feminist who dared to question the misandry that occasionally manifests itself or making an enemies list that is topped by two prominent feminists deemed to be insufficiently militant.

But this also illustrates why speech codes and hate speech laws could never work because there is nothing you can say that won’t end up offending somebody. There is no way to navigate this “intersectionality” nonsense without stomping on someone’s real or perceived grievances. That would go double if you expanded “being offended” to groups the Left wing tries to pretend can never be offended — conservatives, men, whites, Christians or that Apotheosis of Oppression, Sean Hannity.

Look, you should try to not to offend people if you can avoid it. You should try to understand where other people are coming from. But that’s not some new-fangled progressive idea; that’s just good manners. And we can’t and shouldn’t try to police people’s speech in a vain effort to spare a protected groups’ feelz. Because, as the reaction to Arquette’s tiny non faux pas illustrates, it is literally impossible to do so.

New School Russia is Old School Russia

We got another startling reminder of exactly who we’re dealing with this weekend when a Russian opposition leader was brutally gunned down just meters from the Kremlin. Russia is seeing some protests. What they really need is a rebellion.

I suppose we can’t say for sure that Putin is behind this. But it is odd, isn’t it, how his enemies keep dying under mysterious circumstances.

There’s not much we can do about Putin at the moment. But based on his success in the Ukraine, he is clearly starting to look North. And the countries he is looking at our NATO members.

This could get very ugly very fast.

What to Expect When You’re Shooting

Just a quick post today on guns. Or, rather, a link to a great post at the Federalist that details 14 things people should know before they write about guns. Excerpt:

Guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” may be widely mocked by ignorant gun controllers, but it’s true (also true is the fact that guns don’t kill people, bullets do, if we want to be really pedantic). A gun cannot load a magazine by itself. A gun cannot secure a loaded magazine by itself. An empty gun cannot chamber a round or rack the slide by itself. A gun cannot pull a trigger by itself. Each of these actions requires agency by a human being.

These are all reasons why I personally dislike the term “accidental” shooting, because it suggests a lack of accountability and responsibility. A more appropriate term is “negligent” shooting, since human action is required to load a magazine, secure the loaded magazine, chamber a round, and pull the trigger. It’s why the basic gun safety rules are so important: if followed religiously, they reduce the probability of negligent shootings to 0%.

Radley Balko has talked about this in the context of police shootings. The press coverage will frequently say something like “the officer’s gun discharged” as though the gun unholstered itself, undid its own safety, floated through the air and shot someone.

He also gets into supposed “safe gun” technology which is not terribly reliable and not nearly as useful as the gun rules that I and every other gun owners learned the second one was shown to us:

1. Treat all guns as though they are loaded.
2. Never point the muzzle at anything you don’t intend to destroy.
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you’re prepared to fire.
4. Always confirm your target, as well as what’s in front, behind, and around it.

Each rule is effectively a backup in case you ignore a previous rule. If you always assume a gun is loaded, then you’ll never have to say, “Your Honor, I didn’t know it was loaded.” If you screw up the first rule, the rule #2 will prevent you from shooting someone unintentionally, because your muzzle will always be pointed in a safe direction. If you screw up the first and second rules, rule #3 will ensure that the weapon is never actually discharged. And in the event that you believe your life is in mortal danger, rule #4 will prevent you from firing on an individual who’s a non-threat, or prevent you from firing through a threat into an innocent person.

It’s good stuff for those of us who have been continually frustrated by incompetent media coverage and politicking on the subject of guns. If a Republican says anything remotely wrong about anything, he gets no end of shit about it. But Democrats and the media constantly make statements about guns that are equivalent to saying the Earth is flat.

They’re Coming for Your Vittles Too

One of the fantasies being pushed around in progressive circles is the idea of “national food policy”. I’ve been mulling this article for a few months and have finally decided on a response. Here is their case:

The food system and the diet it’s created have caused incalculable damage to the health of our people and our land, water and air. If a foreign power were to do such harm, we’d regard it as a threat to national security, if not an act of war, and the government would formulate a comprehensive plan and marshal resources to combat it. (The administration even named an Ebola czar to respond to a disease that threatens few Americans.) So when hundreds of thousands of annual deaths are preventable — as the deaths from the chronic diseases linked to the modern American way of eating surely are — preventing those needless deaths is a national priority.

The national food policy could be developed and implemented by a new White House council, which would coordinate among, say, the Department of Health and Human Services and the USDA to align agricultural policies with public health objectives, and the EPA and the USDA to make sure food production doesn’t undermine environmental goals. A national food policy would lay the foundation for a food system in which healthful choices are accessible to all and in which it becomes possible to nourish ourselves without exploiting other people or nature

They then go on to list a smorgasbord of Nanny State desires: restrictions on advertising, farm policies guided by environmental concerns (because starvation is a good cure for obesity), a “fair wage” for people in the food industry (because food made at minimum wage makes you fatter), humane animal treatment, sequestering farmland for global warming purposes and making sure “all Americans have access to health food”. The last one is particularly odd because all Americans do have access to healthy food. The so-called “food deserts” are a myth. The problem is that too many people choose to eat junk.

Reading it again, I’m struck by the ignorance and panic-mongering. To give one example: farming has become much more environmentally friendly over the last couple of decades thanks to improved methods, technological advances and genetic engineering. We are feeding more people on less land than we used to.

I have to agree with Daniel Payne.

As a practical matter, this plan is utter nonsense and transparently authoritarian. In the past I have used the term “food system” as shorthand for the industrial paradigm of food production, but for Bittman et al. to talk about the “food system” in such a way exposes it for the ridiculous concept it really is. There is no “food system,” not in the sense of a truly unified body of fully interdependent constituent parts: the “food system” is actually composed of millions of individuals acting privately and voluntarily, in different cities, counties, and states, as part of different companies and corporations and individual businesses, in elective concert with each other and with the rest of the world. To speak if it as a single “system” is deeply misguided, at least insofar as it is not a single entity but an endlessly complex patchwork of fully autonomous beings.

Here’s the thing. We don’t have to speculate whether government food policy would be a good thing or a bad thing. We know. We already have a raft of government food policies and they have been a disaster. Our government has spent decades pushing food policies that helped create the very problems these authors lament. And it was based on special interests, nannyism and junk science.

Our government spent years telling us how bad salt was for us. The health nuts wanted dietary salt restricted by law. They have now been forced to admit that the salt guideline they pushed on us for decades was unhealthily low and that salt intake is only important to high-risk individuals.

After years of telling us that cholesterol was evil, they’ve had to admit it’s not that harmful. After years of pushing us away from animal fats toward trans fats, they had to reverse course when it turned out trans fats were worse than animal fats. Ron Bailey today summed up just how wrong the nannies were.

Most of the government’s recommendations were derived from “consensus statements” based largely on the results of observational epidemiological studies. The new revisions tend to be based on prospective epidemiological studies and random controlled trials. Observational studies may be good at developing hypotheses, but they are mostly not a good basis for making behavioral recommendations and imposing regulations.

(I would add that the low-fat fad had its origin in the seriously flawed and possibly fraudulent Seven Countries study.)

The thing is that all these supposed menaces were presented with absolute certainty. Salt was evil. Animal fats were killing us. Cholesterol was destroying America. Organizations like the Center for Pseudoscience in the Private Interest would label foods as lethal and scream for restrictions and bans. People who dared to question them were branded as tools of “industry”.

We’re still not done. Our government spends billions of dollars subsidizing food production and targets subsidies toward the foods that are the least healthy. It is spending enormous amount of money and destroying our freedom to get us to burn ethanol. That is, it wants us to burn food in an engine-destroying, atmosphere-polluting, greenhouse-gas belching special interest orgy.

Under Obamacare, restaurants were forced to include calorie counts on their menus. But calorie listings not only cost money, impinge freedom, they don’t fucking work.

Under Obama, school lunches have been made almost inedible and high schoolers are going hungry. Day care centers will soon be forced to limit juice and ban fried foods. The condescending privilege is so thick you can taste it. The Obama people think every school and daycare in the country can run down to Whole Foods and pick up some low-fat, low-sugar organic produce that never casts a shadow. And then they wonder why daycare is so expensive.

Yet somehow, these decades of failure, decades of misguided policy, decades of junk science, decades of lunacy are seen not as a reason to hesitate but as justification to exert more control over America’s diet. Because with the progressives it never really is about facts; it’s about control.

The latest demon du jour is sugar. Progressives are calling for restrictions on sugar based on the rantings of crackpots like Robert Lustig, who claims sugar is a “dangerous drug” and “poison”. With more junk science in tow and such insane abuse of the English language, the nannies are now advocating for a sugar tax, specifically on the most vile of concoctions — sugary drinks — to … well, it’s not clear what.

The stupidity of that is simply mind-boggling because our government already spends billions of dollars driving down the cost of sugary drinks through farm subsidies. So they want to tax us once to make sure we have enough high fructose corn syrup to keep us fat and happy. And then they want to tax us again to keep us from drinking our subsidized drinks.

(Lustig, in a moment of sanity, at least acknowledges that we eat lots of sugary stuff because the government subsidizes it and advocates for eliminating those subsidies.)

That’s to say nothing of progressive opposition to genetic engineering, free trade and other innovations that have made our food safer, healthier, cheaper, more plentiful and more environmentally friendly than ever before.

I’m with Penn. Fuck these busybodies. Let’s put aside the arguments about freedom and personal responsibility — even though those are the most important ones. Let’s concentrate on this: they have been wrong, over and over again. If the had the power twenty years ago that they want now we’d have less food, less money, more obesity, worse health and a dirtier environment.

Greens Silent on Commie Planet-Wrecking … Again

During the Cold War, there was a predictable pattern to Eastern Bloc environmental concerns. The Communists would engage in some awful mind-boggling environment-destroying big project like draining the Aral Sea. Not because it made any economic sense to do so but because it glorified the state. Then the greens would say absolutely nothing about it.

How times haven’t changed:

Nicaragua’s plan to build an Interoceanic Canal that would rival the Panama Canal could be a major environmental disaster if it goes forward. That’s the assessment of Axel Meyer and Jorge Huete-Pérez, two scientists familiar with the project, in a recent article in Nature.

In their article, Meyer and Huete-Pérez explain how the $50-billion project (more than four times Nicaragua’s GDP), would require “The excavation of hundreds of kilometres from coast to coast, traversing Lake Nicaragua, the largest drinking-water reservoir in the region, [and] will destroy around 400,000 hectares of rainforests and wetlands.” So far, the Nicaraguan government has remained mum about the environmental impact of the project. Daniel Ortega, the country’s president, only said last year that “some trees have to be removed.”

Have you a word about this from Greenpeace? Or the Sierra Club? Or any of the organizations that are currently throwing a fit about Keystone XL, a far far less destructive project? That’s to say nothing of the unconstitutional way this project was approved, the fact that all proceeds from it for the next 50 years will go to the Chinese company building the project, the lack of experience for the team building, the extremely dubious economic case for the canal and the farmers being evicted off their land. If even one of those things were happening in the US, we’d be hearing about it on MSNBC every night.

I’m not usually one for the Balloon Juice Fallacy. But the study about the environmental devastation was published a year ago. And there’s a history here, as I noted above. Ortega is a former communist and Chavez-type socialist. The greens have been reluctant to criticize far-left politicians for their environmental destruction. And that’s a polite of saying the completely look the other way. Because environmental damage cause by industry is bad. Environmental damage done for “the people” even when the people are far-left politicians lining their pockets? That’s OK.

More Garden State Gun Insanity

A couple of years ago, we talked about Brian Aitken, the man who was convicted of violating New Jersey gun laws because he had guns in his car while he was moving. He was released from prison by Christie and his convictions were eventually thrown out (in part because the judge gave poor instructions to the jury; proper instructions might have resulted in acquittal).

Then it was Shaneen Allen, who faced felony charges for having a registered gun in her car while driving through New Jersey. After enormous public pressure, the prosecutor relented and let her go into a diversion program for first-time offenders.

These things keep happening because New Jersey’s gun laws are insanely complicated and ignore any idea of mens rea:

Carrying a firearm in a locked container in checked luggage in an airport terminal to declare it to the airline constitutes unlawful possession and is not protected under the law.

This decision was a direct result of a 2005 incident where Gregg C. Revell, a Utah Resident with a valid Utah Concealed Firearm Permit was traveling through Newark Airport en route to Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Because of a missed flight, he was given his luggage, which included a properly checked firearm, and was forced to spend the night in a hotel in New Jersey. When he returned to the airport the following day to check his handgun for the last portion of the trip, he was arrested for illegal possession of a firearm.

Revell lost his lawsuit after The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held in Gregg C. Revell v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, [222] held that “Section 926A does not apply to Revell because his firearm and ammunition were readily accessible to him during his stay in New Jersey.”

This opinion will apply to NJ airports. If you miss a flight or for any other reason your flight is interrupted and the airline tries to return you luggage that includes a checked firearm, you cannot take possession of the firearm if you are taking a later flight.

Well, meet the latest victim:

Gordon Van Gilder is a retired New Jersey school teacher and collector of 18th century memorabilia. That innocuous hobby could land the 72-year-old behind bars for the rest of his life.

Van Gilder owns an unloaded antique 225-year-old flintlock pistol, the possession of which carries a potential 10-year prison sentence and mandatory minimum sentence of three to five-and-a-half years with no chance for parole.

When a Cumberland County sheriff’s deputy pulled over Van Gilder last November for a minor traffic violation, Van Gilder—after consenting to a search—volunteered the information that the unloaded pistol was in his glove box. The next morning, according to Van Gilder’s account in a video posted by the National Rifle Association (NRA), four officers showed up at his home with a warrant for his arrest.

New Jersey’s strict gun laws explicitly include antique firearms, despite the fact that federal laws exempt them from most gun control regulations.

The local cops are doing ballistics tests on the flintlock just in case Van Gilder used it to commit the world’s slowest robbery or something.

Most federal gun laws exempt weapons made before 1898. The reason is that antique firearms are usually the province of collectors and historians. When was the last time you heard of someone holding up a liquor store with a musket?

There’s no question that Van Gilder broke the law. But there’s little question in my mind that the law is an ass. A Republican state legislator has introduced a bill to exempt antique weapons from New Jersey’s gun laws, but that won’t stop this prosecution. Even if he pleads out, a conviction could jeopardize his pension. I don’t know the ins and outs of New Jersey law, but if Van Gilder is eligible for the diversion program, he should absolutely get it.

This is an inevitable consequence of overly broad gun control laws. They are passed in the wake of some awful act of violence and wind up snaring law-abiding people who pose no danger whatsoever. And any opposition is written off as the result of NRA mischief.

The President and ISIL

With recent pushes into Kurdish territory and the beheading of 21 Christians in Libya, there is a growing fear that ISIL is growing more and more powerful. The President has asked for an authorization for the use of military force (finally). I’ll get to that in a moment. But my first concern is that he’s been making the argument, yet again, that ISIL doesn’t represent “real” Islam, even dragging out the old arguments about the Crusades as a moral equivalence.

The thing is that ISIL doesn’t agree with him. They are not like Al-Qaeda, which was an amorphous terrorist movement dedicated to bringing about the caliphate but operating within the modern world. ISIL wants to create the caliphate right now and the caliphate they want to create is violent, barbaric, medieval and based heavily on old-school Islam and literal interpretations of the Koran:

The reality is that the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic. Yes, it has attracted psychopaths and adventure seekers, drawn largely from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. But the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam.

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.

(You really should read that entire article. Think Regress has posted a lame response that basically ignores Wood’s point: that while many Muslims don’t take the Koran’s more violent texts at face value, organizations like ISIL do.)

When the President says that violent extremists like ISIL are not the real face of Islam, he is both right and wrong. The face of Islam can be one of tolerance and peace. But it can also be one of intolerance and violence. Islam has gone through periods of enlightenment and gone through periods of horrific fundamentalism. At this point in history, it hangs in the balance caught between hundreds of millions of peaceful Muslims and violent sects that, while a minority, wields enormous power and influence. We’ve seen in pre-war Afghanistan and in the ISIL-controlled territory what these people want: beheadings, slavery, crucifixion, stoning. Their ideology recognizes no authority other than “pure” radical Islam. Whether they represent a minority or not is beside the point. The Nazis were never a majority in Germany. The Communists were never a majority in the countries they ruled with an iron fist. But they were able to control massive parts of the world and enormous armies through violence, intimidation and bloodshed.

The “most Muslims are good” argument, while based in truth, has no practical meaning. Most Germans are good people. We still had to defeat them in two wars. Most Russians are good people. We still had to fight a dangerous and tense Cold War against the Soviet Union. Most Japanese are good people. We still had to drop two atom bombs on them. It doesn’t really matter what the vast majority want when the monsters have the floor. The problem is that while most people are good, they are also easily persuaded or coerced to do bad things or stand aside while bad things are done. This is true of everyone in the world. There is not a religion or country that isn’t capable of doing horrible things. The question is: who is in charge? We’ve seen what happens when people like ISIL are in charge: entire regions of the world become unspeakably violent.

The President has finally asked Congress to recognize the semi-war we’ve been fighting for a while. I think they should do so, but with some limitations. A land war is not necessarily going to solve ISIL (although letting them overrun Baghdad or Kurdistan — as they’ve threatened to — would be a disaster). In fact, it could play right into their apocalyptic prophecies. But I do know that we can not disengage. It’s important that we keep ISIL and AQ from reconciling (which the President’s rescue attempt threatened to do). The longer ISIL survives and the more territory they conquer, the more legitimacy and power they will accumulate in the eyes of radical Muslims. Stopping them might mean air support, training, weapons and/or money to the forces opposing ISIL. If that means what we end up propping up one side in a bloody decades-long struggle for the soul of Islam … well, that’s what it means. We have a national interest in preventing the rise of ISIL to a real caliphate. The only way it will end is when this supposed peaceful majority rises up and ends it.