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a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

The Muhammad/Malvo death penalty sweepstakes

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 3rd November 2002

John Ashcroft is discovering a federal interest in prosecuting the snipers as a case of interstate extortion, because God knows he’ll get Muhammad and Malvo convicted, injected, and six feet under faster that way than anyone else can, one way or the other.

But Muhammad and Malvo should be tried for murders, not for a mere violation of the Hobbs Act. Were the two men put to death for “obstructing, delaying or affecting interstate commerce through robbery or extortion,” rather than for any of the many murders attributed to the pair so far, justice in this country would rightly be the scorned laughingstock of the world. More importantly, “justice” would ought to be patently untrustworthy to anyone in this country.

There’s no question the Hobbs act is applicable in some broad sense; the provable and likeliest true motive was extortion, the crimes crossed state lines. But there’s every question whether this federal statute should be applied. It’s likely even Ashcroft recognizes this; the true aim is quite different: by threatening to take the case out of state hands, Ashcroft and the Justice Department seek to deal Muhammad and Malvo to the state where the two can be sentenced and put to death as soon as possible.

And that, too, is a dishonorable goal. Even committed death penalty advocates should have no trouble seeing why: it cavalierly ignores the right of citizens of states or counties that administer the death penalty grudgingly or not at all, in favor of citizens where that penalty is handed out more enthusiastically. Yet there are good reasons to go slowly and carefully with a death penalty case — assuming of course you want to get an unassailable, just, correct verdict.

Maryland death penalty policy has equal weight and standing with Virginia, Alabama*, Louisiana, or Washington death penalty policy. No matter the missteps made during the investigation, the case is Maryland’s and Montgomery County’s first and foremost, both because the greatest number of victims were Marylanders, and because the task force that finally arrested the (alleged) perpetrators was led by Marylanders.** That this should even need to be argued is testimony to the hypocrisy of Bush’s and Ashcroft’s lip service to “federalism,” and perhaps to the scarcity of Republicans willing and able to hold them to that slogan.

This is not to say Virginia, Alabama, Louisiana, or Washington should not have their turn. It is to say that they should wait their turn. “Efficiency” in the pursuit of a death penalty is nowhere near the most important goal in this or any case.

There is a wider significance to the particular varieties of gamesmanship and manipulation on display around these murder cases. They are invited and encouraged by the blood lust for a death penalty, just as that lust invites bending any number of other “rules” set up to protect the innocent, the young, the retarded, the insane. My chief argument against the death penalty is that it virtually ensures the worst miscarriage of justice possible: the eventual execution of an innocent person. A secondary, but strong corollary is that it ensures that any number of guilty but “ineligible” persons will nevertheless be executed, as murderers are wrongly found just sane enough, just old enough, just mentally competent enough to suffer the death penalty.

The chief objective citizens need met in this case has been met: the likely perpetrators are behind bars, we are safe from them. The next objective will be justice. That objective emphatically does not require that Muhammad and Malvo die; the death penalty will assuredly lead to more miscarriages of justice than its absence will. If Muhammad and Malvo are found guilty, they shouldn’t see another free day in their lives. That is severe punishment, and it’s the most punishment citizens should allow their human, imperfect laws and legal system to threaten.

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*It will be a particular travesty if Alabama should be entrusted with the prosecution, given its incompetent, negligent investigation process in the Montgomery, Alabama slaying: fingerprints obtained in that case had not been matched to federally available Malvo prints until officials came knocking on Alabama’s doors weeks later, far too late for the sniper victims in Maryland and Virginia.

**For a similar view, see “Let Montgomery Lead,” a 10/31/2002 Washington Post editorial.

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If they had Malvo’s fingerprint in Montgomery, Alabama…

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 27th October 2002

…and in an INS fingerprint file, why wasn’t he already a fugitive from the law? (A loyal reader poses this question via e-mail; I spring into action! Here you go, Dad.) Malvo, of course, is the younger of the pair arrested for the DC area sniper serial murders. The answer appears to be that the Alabama Department of Public Safety has only four fingerprint examiners, and had a backlog of cases ahead of the Montgomery one, according to a Saturday report by the New York Times’ David Halbfinger (“Sniper Clue Sat for Weeks in Crime Lab in Alabama“). The fingerprint Malvo left at the Montgomery murder scene reached the Alabama crime lab on September 24, but had not been processed by the time police officials in the D.C. area needed to know whose prints they were:

“Most crime happens in your own backyard,” said a spokesman for the city police, Sgt. Scott Martino, explaining why detectives did not immediately send the print to the F.B.I. for comparison to a national database.

But the result of the state bureau’s search showing no match to anyone in its system did not arrive for 27 days, coming only on Monday, after federal investigators had already connected the liquor store killing to the sniper shootings in the Washington area. […]

Capt. Hugh McCall, a spokesman for the Alabama Department of Public Safety, said the state crime laboratory had only four examiners of latent fingerprints to handle crimes from all over the state, and that there was a backlog of cases ahead of the Montgomery liquor store shootings.

Nationwide, a shortage of fingerprint examiners is hobbling detectives and slowing manhunts. New technology has eliminated lower-level jobs where examiners cut their teeth, and the number of new examiners has not kept up with growing ranks of police officers and new cases. Nationally, The Baltimore Sun reported in March, there are only about 2,000 examiners. In Baltimore, the crime laboratory is 1,000 cases behind; in Phoenix, an understaffed laboratory has a 6,000-case backlog.

The Montgomery, Alabama part of the sniper story suggests two things to me:

1) The “Islamic sniper connection” currently being suggested here and there across the ‘blogosphere’* is 99% bunk, barring Muhammad turning up on the Hamas payroll or something. There was little of “Islamic terror” about either the DC spree or the Montgomery crime. These were two goons who turned a nasty little dream of a bag of cash in Montgomery into a nasty big dream of $10 million score a couple of weeks later. Turning a loser thug’s half-baked conversion to Black Muslimhood into “Exhibit anything” of the world Islamic terror offensive is far-fetched at best, on any evidence available so far. This was a latter day “Bonnie and Clyde” episode that was unusually extortionate and murderous, but an episode all the same.

2) Had Alabama been less tardy in attempting a match with the national fingerprint database, Malvo would already have been a wanted man by the time he and Muhammad began their D.C. area shootings. That wouldn’t necessarily have stopped them, but it couldn’t have hurt, given the number of times the two were pulled over during their serial murders.**

As the Times discussion indicates, fingerprint specialists aren’t just overloaded in Alabama. It would be worthwhile to learn why this crucial part of police work is apparently often so underfunded that bad guys can expect fingerprint matches to take weeks if not months, especially if they have crossed states or regions before committing their crime. In the case of Alabama, it would seem like that state has three choices: (1) continue doing what it’s doing now, or (2) increase funding and staff for the fingerprinting work, and/or (3) start immediately forwarding fingerprints to the FBI to rule out national database fingerprints before hunt-and-pecking their way through the Alabama files.

Option (1) seems unacceptable; from this Marylander’s point of view, I should hope the great State of Alabama faces some significant liability claims for its performance in the Malvo/Muhammad case, and improved court-ordered performance should be but the cheapest of the penalties it will have to pay for. Options (2) and (3) no doubt face political hurdles of one sort or another. Those hurdles had better get cleared. On a wider level, the whole country’s fingerprinting efforts are no stronger than the weakest funded or managed state link; as a matter of “homeland defense” in its original sense — crime prevention — this situation requires some national thinking, not just some Montgomery thinking.

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*Among others, Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds, Natalie Solent, and Jeff Jarvis are touting this notion to one degree or another. Jarvis, for example, normally the working definition of “stickler for accuracy,” writes “In the name of Islam, a madman shut down our capital.” Really? No more than Al Capone shut down Chicago in the name of Catholicism. It seems to me so far like Muhammad’s actions were mainly in the name of $10 million.

I suppose it comes down to this: can a Black Muslim commit crimes that do not reflect on Black Muslimhood? On Islam? I say yes. I get the feeling Sullivan et al say no, at least to any practical purposes. I’ll be glad to be corrected. And even if it turns out Muhammad was Bin Laden’s right hand man in Antigua, I think there is some value to not jumping to that conclusion ahead of time, “PC” though that attitude may be. Read Tim Dunlop and Jim Henley, among others, for views similar to mine on this score, doubtless better expressed.

UPDATE: For what it’s worth, this New York Times article, “Once Calmed by Faith, Suspect Turned Furious,” describes Muhammad as a low-intensity kind of Black Muslim, whose angers seemed mainly about his family life and failures. EDITS, 10/29: “Bonnie and Clyde” sentence moved to appropriate paragraph, Halbfinger sentence corrected.

**A Saturday Washington Post article finds even more: “Police Checked Suspect’s Plates At Least 10 Times.” It’s not clear how many of these encounters were face-to-face. Via Tony Adragna.

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Oh, what a feeling…

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 25th October 2002

…ballistics match.

I saw the briefing at a cafe near Dupont Circle where Maddie and I had some dinner after picking her up from daycare and a trip to a museum. Moose did some kind of Oscars thank you routine, and finally Mr. Ballistics from ATF spoke the words I’d been waiting to hear.

I feel good! Like I knew that I would. It really is like a weight lifted off of us; we had started to rethink out how to do morning and evening Maddie pickups, parent dropoffs, had started to hate loitering around on Metro platforms, walking across open plazas to work, pumping gas. I hope we can shelve all that now.

Sadness remains, for the victims and their families and friends. A fund has been set up to help them out, I’ll be making a donation, here’s information how; I’m happy to say the site itself appears to be overloaded just now.

Not to beat myself up about this, but a lot of people have been through worse and are going through worse than what the DC area underwent, even narrowed down to the “sudden random recurring death” department of terror; Sarajevo once upon a time, Israel now, arguably many crime-ridden neighborhoods throughout the U.S. for the last many years. It’s hard to take.

For the record, who cares

In the most inconsequential news of the day, I seem to have been wrong about everything I speculated about the sniper(s); no harm done, I assume, but it just goes to show … me. Regardless, they were mainly murderous a**holes. May they rot in jail for the rest of their days.

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Persons of interest in serial sniper case

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 24th October 2002

John Allen Muhammad and Lee Malvo would be very smart to turn themselves in in relation to the DC serial sniper attacks. Chief Moose has just said that a warrant for arrest on federal gun charges has been issued for Mr. Muhammad (formerly Williams), but the man should not be assumed to be the sniper; he and/or Mr. Malvo may may have information about the shooter. They may be driving a burgundy or blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice, with New Jersey plates NDA 21Z, or a white vehicle with the Maryland tag ZWE517.

An image of Mr Muhammad can be seen here. Chief Moose said he is a black man, about 6 feet 1 inch tall, and weighing about 180 pounds. He is considered armed and dangerous. Mr. Malvo is said to be 17, it’s not clear whether he faces any charges.

Meanwhile, here are some sensible guidelines for being a good witness, from the Montgomery County Police Department. Sightings of Mr. Muhammad should be called in to 911 or 1-888-324-9800.

Other news links: Washington Post, New York Times, full text of Chief Moose’s statement.

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Update, 1PM: It looks like these are the guys: “the right kind of rifle,” i.e., a gun capable of shooting .223 caliber or similar rounds, was in their car, as well as a tripod used to steady the gun. The car had been modified to allow access to the trunk from inside, as well as with a hole to shoot out of somehow. Ballistics tests presumably by the end of the day…

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Welcome Wired News readers

Posted by Thomas Nephew on 21st October 2002

For non-Wired readers, I’m one of those non-experts Mr. Shachtman refers to in his piece, “Who is the Sniper? The blogs tell all.” As a convenience for Wired readers, the correct links to my two sniper related comments are:

  • 10/11: Sniper speculation update
  • 10/3: Five-murder shooting spree in Montgomery County

    The link Mr. Shachtman apparently intended to provide, but inserted a space in (racist nut, incorrect link), is actually not about the sniper per se, but about the gun control debate: “Kicking the can down the road.” As it worked out, it more or less pointed to the 10/11 piece above. More on Mr. Shachtman’s article later, maybe; suffice it to say I usually find Jim Henley’s blog sniper news roundups more illuminating than the New York Times’ or Washington Post’s.

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    Renewed shot in original direction: periodic ballistic registration

    Posted by Thomas Nephew on 18th October 2002

    It turns out that fellow DC area blogger Doug Turnbull (“Beauty of Gray”) has been addressing some of the same gun-related issues I have, and originally adopted many of the positions I independently developed over the last week or so. But in a post titled “Final shot, in the other direction,” he drops support for ballistic fingerprinting, having been convinced of some practical difficulties:

    Gun barrel dimensions are accurate to at best 0.001 inches and most are far less precise. The markings are caused by flaws that are 20-100x smaller.

    So, one could easily remove 2-5x as much material as would be required to change the markings without even taking a very good gun out of “as good as new” condition.

    This is true, and appears to clinch the case against “ballistic fingerprinting.” Indeed, I’ll concede that “fingerprinting” has always been too strong a word for the idea; let’s rechristen it “ballistic registration.” Still, I think Mr. Turnbull gave up a little too soon on the concept. Here’s why:

    • The problem of defaced guns would be reduced, or at least substantively reframed, by requiring periodic (say quarterly or semiannual) re-registration of gun ballistics. (I mentioned this in my first post on the subject.) Missing guns or ones with substantially different ballistics would be red flags for law enforcement, at least providing additional probable cause for further investigation. Thus even cold-blooded killers like the sniper stalking the DC area would be confronted with the certainty of coming to the attention of authorities, regardless of the defacement or disposal of their weapons. Less cold-blooded killers would face an important threshold in carrying out a murder: the provable decision to conceal their deed.
    • Many (my guess is most) crimes committed with guns will continue to be unpremeditated, “heat of the moment” crimes; the guns will not be defaced, and the proposed system will help.
    • The ballistics registration program can improve technologically, e.g., with required manufacturer-side measures (i.e., distinctive “dare you to remove this” measures) or with improved methods of overcoming defacement.
    • For the remaining gun-related crimes committed with successfully defaced and/or discarded guns, we’d simply be no worse off than we are now in terms of solving the crime.

    And with this, I’ll likely move on to other topics for a while myself.

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    Gun control, back doors, and a powdered wig

    Posted by Thomas Nephew on 18th October 2002

    Keeping up with UO and Instapundit (Jim Henley and Glenn Reynolds) on gun control and ballistic fingerprinting is like playing a kind of “Go” where the other guy puts down five markers a turn, and you just get one. Some points are valid (Maryland’s failure to conduct full criminal background checks for gun buyers since March), some are patently diversionary (gun ownership as international human right; suddenly my favorite hard-nosed realists are for empty gestures?). But one thing at a time. I’ll just bring up a couple of posts, one each by Mr. Reynolds and Mr. Henley. Yesterday, Reynolds wrote:

    In fact, gun registration has consistently led to confiscation; car registration has not. It’s not “paranoid” to fear real dangers.

    I don’t think that the Second Amendment bars registration. But only an idiot would fail to notice this pattern, and I think that “ballistic fingerprinting” is, in fact, being pushed as a backdoor way of getting gun registration, by people who would favor confiscation if they thought they had the votes.

    First, observe those last two sentences. Reynolds concedes that registration is permissible under the Second Amendment, but then considers ballistic fingerprinting a “back door” to — registration. It’s not the registration itself that bothers him, apparently, it’s the supporters of the measure, who he divines will confiscate Americans’ guns if given half a chance.

    Now either registration is permissible under the Second Amendment or it is not. I’m relieved that Mr. Reynolds says it is, because that saves me a major argument with a lawyer about the law and the Constitution. If it is permissible, what bearing do the (presumably impermissible) goals of gun-confiscators have on the question, whether they support registration or not? That’s right: none. What some supporters of gun registration may secretly or even not so secretly wish for has no bearing whatsoever on the merits of ballistic fingerprinting and gun registration. I feel like I’ve wasted time even pointing this out, but the argument seems to come up over and over again.

    As for those patterns Reynolds mentions, they appear to be based on observations by his colleague Mr. Kopel.* I’ll dutifully plow through them and report back to you, my loyal readers, but the title itself indicates they’re based on the experience of merry olde no-Second-Amendment England, and are thus fairly irrelevant to a discussion of gun registration in the United States. So yes, it is a bit paranoid to fear dangers to our constitutional rights based on the experience of a country without our constitution.

    It’s as if we can’t make progress towards a constitutionally permitted state of affairs — gun ballistic fingerprinting and registration — unless we all have adopted doubleplusrightthink about the basic right to own a gun. This brings me to some comments (“Spree Graphs”) Jim Henley made last week. Scroll past the (well done) sniper news and commentary, and you reach the following gun-control section of the post, where Henley takes issue with “Talking Dog”s claim (and Reynolds’ later claim) that the Second Amendment permits registration:

    First, in the absence of a formal acknowledgement that the Second Amendment enshrines an individual right, the NRA is only sensible in opposing anything that smacks of universal registration

    Moreover, the purpose of the arms-bearing right is to enable the people to defend themselves against an overweening government. (viz Federalist 46.) Any registration scheme the government runs seems to fall foul of a conflict of interest. (This kind of talk upsets a lot of liberals, but it says what it says.)

    First, the Federalist Papers are interesting historical documents, but they are to the Constitution as our real estate agent’s praise of our house was to the mortgage agreement we signed to buy it: it’s interesting, it helps explain our state of mind … but it’s nowhere near as important as the contract itself.

    Be that as it may. I’m no constitutional scholar, so I thought I’d better have a look, lest James Madison had prescient comments on ballistic fingerprinting 214 years ago. Follow the link yourself: you’ll find that the bulk of the article is about how the States need not fear the federal entity, because citizens will have deeper loyalties to the local than to the federal government. Finally comes the apparent Ur-source for gun ownership rights. Madison discusses the resistance federal usurpers would face from the sturdy armed citizens of the States:

    To these would be opposed a militia amounting to near half a million of citizens with arms in their hands, officered by men chosen from among themselves, fighting for their common liberties, and united and conducted by governments possessing their affections and confidence. It may well be doubted, whether a militia thus circumstanced could ever be conquered by such a proportion of regular troops. Those who are best acquainted with the last successful resistance of this country against the British arms, will be most inclined to deny the possibility of it. Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of.

    Now the fairest way to read this is as an elaborate backgrounder for the full Second Amendment, “well regulated militia” and all:

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed

    What it is not is some kind of brief against regulating guns; the passage above takes pains to ground the hypothetical resistance in the institutions of the given State and its militia; this in turn implies — one might argue it even requires — that guns whose true purpose is the defense of the State should be inventoried by that State and prevented from becoming the tools of criminal or hostile misuse against that State or its citizens.

    For what it’s worth, I wouldn’t mind a national ballistic fingerprinting program statute that had an article 2 stating “This statute does not imply the right to confiscate guns,” or words to that effect. If that’s formal enough acknowledgment for Jim and Glenn, great. If not … they’ll need to spell out what kind of formal acknowledgment they have in mind.

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    * Kopel, Olson 1999: “All the way down the slippery slope: gun prohibition in England and some lessons for civil liberties in America”

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    Sniper speculation update

    Posted by Thomas Nephew on 11th October 2002

    I e-mailed WTOP about the discrepancy I noticed last Thursday between their racial breakdown of the 5 Wednesday victims and those of the Baltimore Sun and Washington Post. WTOP’s Mr. Jim Farley answered, not surprisingly:

    Montgomery County Police changed the id’s. You’ll note we were quoting Captain Demme. Thanks for listening to WTOP Radio.

    (No problem; someday I will.) So it wasn’t a WTOP mistake, say a sloppy reporter or coffee spilled on the notes.

    This supports the “Unqualified Offering” notion today that it’s hard to tell from a distance what race some people are (or “are”, depending on your point of view about “race” in the first place): the police wavered in their own categorizations even though they weren’t looking through a sniper scope. While Jim thinks these are basically power-trip murders (there was one white woman among the initial group of victims), I still think they may well also be racist-motivated. I also note that the first 5 were tightly geographically bunched in a liberal stronghold of a liberal state. The picture has obviously become muddier because the sniper seems to be deliberately wide-ranging, unpredictable, and more cautious now, compared to his(/her, I know, not likely) first murders.

    One interesting notion advanced by a “woman on the street” interviewed by the Washington Post a couple of days ago was that the killer “took the weekend off,” and that made her think he was a divorced dad who had to take care of his kids. Between the coming weekend and the light rains that have settled in, I hope that the next couple of days at least will be sniper free — and that they catch the guy. As that last Post story puts it: “Resident’s Theories Run Gamut.”

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    UPDATE, 10:50AM: So much for light rains preventing anything. MSNBC.

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    Sure wish we could trace those bullets to the rifle that fired them

    Posted by Thomas Nephew on 8th October 2002

    Instead of focusing on what to call a sniper murderer besides “sniper murderer” (“Terrorist“? “Chickenshit“? “Very bad man?” — links via various Henley posts), I’ll go ahead and open a discussion of a simple preventive measure.

    That would be a ballistics registration system that allows any given bullet to not merely be matched with another bullet from the same weapon, but with filed documentation about that weapon. But as the New York Times’ Fox Butterfield reports (“Law Bars a National System for Tracing Bullets and Shells“):

    The technology exists to create a national ballistic fingerprint system that would enable law enforcement officials to trace bullets recovered from shootings, like those fired by the Washington-area sniper, to a suspect.

    Such a system would have been of great use in the Washington case, in which six people were shot to death, because so far bullet fragments are virtually the only evidence.

    But because of opposition by the gun industry and the National Rifle Association, only two states have moved to set up a ballistic fingerprint system, and Congress has prohibited a national program, experts say.

    It’s true that one of those states is Maryland. But the other is New York, and the law only applies to new weapons, meaning our local sniper had plenty of alternatives to a Maryland-store-bought rifle to put in his cold, hateful fingers.

    To me, that argues for expanding the reach of such a program to the federal level, and subjecting all weapons to ballistics fingerprinting. Opponents like James Tartaro make some good counterarguments (“Ballistic ‘Fingerprint’ Scheme Far from a Magic Wand“): criminals could circumvent the program by defacing the barrels or other key parts of their weapons, or they could substitute other firearms less easily “fingerprinted,” like shotguns.*

    But neither concern would apply to more than a fraction of the arms fired in the commission of crimes, and for these, we’d simply be no worse off than we are now. Moreover, the simple measure of a re-registration program — owners bring their guns in periodically for re-registration of their ballistics patterns — would help minimize the “defacement” concern and the “what about old weapons” concern yet further. Evidence of significant ballistics changes or failure to appear would be a red flag for law enforcement.

    And sure enough, a national system may be Tartaro’s real concern, emerging late in his article:

    The NRA has been dubious of this technology-based handgun DNA scheme because it would involve a sort of national registration system. The make, model and serial numbers would have to be linked to the samples on the digital files, and it wouldn’t take long to link any serial number through other trace techniques. Pataki and Glendening would say that shouldn’t bother anyone who is law-abiding; they have nothing to worry about.

    I wonder if Tartaro’s concern about national registration systems extends to car license plates or not. But at any rate, such a registry is not a Second Amendment concern — quite the opposite: it would be faithful to the letter of that amendment, which invokes “a well-regulated militia” as the expected benefit of and requirement for the right to bear arms. As its defenders well know, the Second Amendment states:

    A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

    …and not simply: The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed (as the NRA home page would have it). Just as any army maintains control over and detailed accounts of the guns in its weapons lockers, so would this kind of registry establish the kind of national census of firearms needed to “well regulate” those arms and the militias — real or virtual — that use them. Hunters could continue to hunt; families could continue to have their last line of defense against criminals. God-damned snipers shooting 13-year olds lose, the public wins.

    Of course, I’m not counting on this measure to become federal law any time soon, because any conceivable gun control measure will appear to be the proverbial “slippery slope,” “beginning of the end,” or “salami tactics,” (so that “reasonable” positions like Glenn Reynolds’ evaporate on close reading) to gun fanatics, because gun owners take ever more expansive views of their “rights” (no registration, no ban on assault weapons, no waiting periods, nothing) and because no one looks forward to bitter political debates with armed opponents.

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    *Needless to say, the NRA doesn’t like the Maryland law either. But its reasons are either disingenuous (no crimes solved, manpower allocated: it’s a new program limited to new weapons in a single state. I’d be shocked if it had solved a crime yet), or solved by a national program featuring repeat inspections. I suspect a well-drafted law, a good solicitor general and an honest Supreme Court — I can always dream — could overturn or limit the Haynes v. U.S. case the NRA cites to support the contention that such ballistics evidence would constitute self-incrimination.

    UPDATE, 10/25: Welcome Weblog readers! You have gone back in time to October 8. Your comments and discussion are welcome. For followup articles to this one, see a 10/9 post above (middle ground in the gun debate?), two 10/18 posts (discussing James Madison and the Beauty of Gray) and/or a 10/25 one (discussing the Glorious Revolution of 1689 and Dave Kopel, noted gun rights writer). Also, consider visiting an exchange on the topic of ballistic fingerprinting between Mark Kleimann and Juan “Non-Volokh” here.

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    Five-murder shooting spree in Montgomery County

    Posted by Thomas Nephew on 4th October 2002

    Fellow Montgomery County citizen Jim Henley noticed the same thing I did: no white males among the 5 victims, at least according to WTOP:

    Race also did not appear to be a motive, noting the victims included a black male, a Hispanic male, a Hispanic female and a white female, Demme said.

    Huh? Looks like race could easily have been a motive with that list of victims. Plus, as Henley notes, the 5th victim was of Indian origin. On the other hand, the Baltimore Sun has a different breakdown of victims:

    Race did not appear to be a motive, police said, noting that the victims were two white men, a man from India, a Hispanic woman and a white woman.

    —–

    UPDATE, 10/4, 10am: The Washington Post published a breakdown matching the Sun’s list, not WTOP’s, although the particular story (“I’m just so devastated…”) with the table is not on-line at this time. So the following part of last night’s post is likely to be irrelevant.

    —–

    A possibly relevant additional bit of data, more so if the WTOP account proves accurate: today is “Day of German Unity,” the day officially commemorating the reunification of Germany in 1990. The date has unfortunately also been abused by neo-Nazi types in Germany as “their day.”* However, I’ve found no evidence yet of similar neo-Nazi goings-on in the US on October 3. Still, in case it helps, I phoned in the idea.

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    * Google search for “antifaschisten and “tag der deutschen einheit” (antifascists and “day of german unity”): yields numerous accounts of confrontations with neo-Nazis on October 3 in Germany. So it’s clearly a big day for them over there — but not necessarily over here.

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