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How to Properly Trash Shannon Watts
A deep look at the "Mom's Demand" court packing lies
Today we’re going to give our readers an example of how to use the body of HWFO mathematical material to debunk a standard boiler plate anti-gun article. For this case, we’ll be using Shannon Watt’s most recent editorial in CNN, in which she advocates destroying the entire Supreme Court by court packing to solve a problem that only exists in her mind. Let’s begin.
Last month saw one of the deadliest weeks America has seen in a long time. Eighteen people were gunned down in Lewiston, Maine. The following weekend, 12 more mass shootings left at least 11 people dead and scores more injured.
Not only is this cherry picking, it’s really bad cherry picking. We are currently experiencing the largest murder rate decline ever recorded in US history. Whenever Shannon cites “mass shootings” she’s cooking the books by including any instance where four people catch bullets in street crime in her numbers, as we explained here. Whenever an anti-gun article says the words “___ Mass Shootings” they’re referring to a database that looks like this:
They’re referring to street crime. Let’s continue.
Yet, as our nation grieves the loss of so much life, the US Supreme Court could be poised to make it even easier for troubled people to access guns. On November 7, justices will hear United States v. Rahimi, a case that will decide if governments can continue to prevent those accused of domestic violence from possessing firearms. The fact that there can be any question about how the Court would rule in a case on whether accused domestic abusers can arm themselves reveals just how broken the Court has become.
That’s not what Rahimi is actually about. Rahimi is about whether someone who has a protective order called out against them can be disarmed, which is different than whether someone who has ever been accused of domestic violence can have a firearm, but whatever.
For what it’s worth, I live in Red Georgia, Red Georgia collects people’s firearms when someone calls out a TPO against them, and I have seen both sides of that in action. I saw my wife’s friend’s ex get his firearms seized rightly when she called out a TPO against him, and I also saw a buddy of mine get screwed by a vengeance TPO from a loony ex girlfriend who he hoped to never see again. These laws are complicated, I’m glad someone is going to clarify them on the national level, and I hope that by the time they’re done they make it easy for cops to take guns from dudes who get a TPO filed against them, while also punishing loony ex girlfriends for faking TPOs to use as a revenge tool.
It’s also a clear sign that the gun safety movement needs to get to work reforming the Supreme Court.
Rahimi is a direct consequence of the Supreme Court’s radical decision last year in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen to overturn a more than 100-year-old law and for the first time in American history, limit the rights of states to regulate guns in public. It was arguably the most expansive pro-guns decision ever, made possible by the supermajority of hardline conservative justices that the gun lobby advocated aggressively to create.
I’m not going to say the “history and tradition” test in Bruen wasn’t broad, because it was. But the law Bruen struck down was New York’s racist and elitist carry permit system which gave permits to rich white people and threw black males ages 16 to 24 up against walls like Nazis looking for Jewish papers. Papiere bitte. Bruen ended Stop and Frisk. New York permit law needed to be struck down and striking it down was quite possibly the only positive antiracist government correction to arise from the 2020 Floyd protests.
Predictably, the Bruen decision has wreaked havoc on laws designed to keep the public safe from guns. Lower courts have used it to rule against more than a dozen gun safety laws — not just the prohibitions on domestic abusers at issue in the Rahimi case, but also bans on assault weapons and gun safety requirements for young adults.
Assault weapon bans should have been done away decades ago even before the Bruen decision, because the government has no interest under either strict or intermediate scrutiny in regulating a firearm that only ranks between Buckets and Lawn Mowers in its national death count, well below Bees, Deer, and Autoerotic Asphyxiation.
The radical decision in Bruen and the extreme threat of Rahimi are the culmination of years of work by the gun lobby. Groups like the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation have deployed campaign contributions, million-dollar ad campaigns, and shadowy back-door legal maneuvers.
What, you mean lobbying? Stop the presses, lobbyists lobbied! Bloomberg alone regularly outspends the gun lobby. In Virginia in 2019, for instance, Bloomberg spent 2.5 million dollars while the NRA spent three hundred thousand, handing Virginia over to a governor who tried to turn 140,000 law abiding citizens into overnight felons, and whose party contemplated implementing the National Guard as an enforcement vehicle. The gun lobby is often outspent by the antigun lobby. This is what lobbyists do, and both sides have them, and Shannon has a pile of them on speed dial because Moms Demand Action is a lobbying organization and Shannon is the former director of public affairs for Montsanto.
As a result, we have a Supreme Court that is radically out of touch with safety-minded Americans on this and other issues, and that has lost the trust of a huge swath of the American public.
Before accusing others of losing touch with the public, Shannon needs to realize that household gun ownership is up to 47% and there are more AR-15 owners than the entire Asian American population.
Just within the past few days, the Supreme Court said it also plans to take up laws against bump stocks — measures that aim to reduce the lethality of semi-automatic weapons that are so frequently deployed by perpetrators of mass shootings.
How frequently? I can think of one.
Notice the “mass shootings” bait and switch again. She reclassifies ordinary street crime as “mass shootings,” then claims that bump stocks are “frequently” used in mass shootings without backing that up with any data, to make the reader think that there’s an epidemic of bump stocks being used to kill people when there aren’t. I’m aware of one spree shooting with a bump stock, the Mandalay Bay one, which (A) could have been just as deadly without a bump stock, and (B) could have easily been three times as deadly if the dude took his Cessna (which he owned, he was a pilot) and 9-11ed the concert with a drum of fuel oil in the back. His bump stock jammed his gun. He did everyone a favor by using it.
It also agreed to hear an appeal brought by the NRA in which the gun lobby group alleges that the former head of New York’s Department of Financial Services tried to persuade banks and insurance companies to sever ties with it.
Even Vox agrees the NRA is going to win that case, because the New York government were acting like Mafia goons. “Hey Yo! It’d be a shame if something happened to your bank!”
It’s now clearer than ever: There has been a pronounced pro-gun shift at the Supreme Court, and it places the welfare of millions of Americans in jeopardy. It also runs counter to the urgent demands from millions of us for increased gun safety.
“Welfare of millions of Americans” is an interesting phrase to use when the murder rate is low, and has stayed low, since the 90s.
The only spike in murder rate we’ve seen this century was because of the Floyd riots and the lockdowns, and even that spike only barely cracked the US average, and it’s now cratering in 2022 and 2023. Which “millions” of Americans are in danger? She doesn’t say.
After the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012, I started a Facebook group urging parents to mobilize and fight to prevent more senseless violence. As a mom of five, my heart broke for the families who had suffered such unimaginable loss, and I knew we could all do much more. What began as a plaintive rallying cry became Moms Demand Action — a grassroots movement with chapters in every state.
Putting her in charge of gun policy would be like putting the mother of a Bengal Tiger attack victim in charge of Bengal Tiger Conservation. I get that Sandy Hook freaked her out, but the fact that it freaked her out disqualifies her from being able to have any objective opinions on the matter, such as for instance having enough elementary school math sense to read a line graph.
Thanks to the tireless work of advocates and activists across the country, in the decade since founding Moms Demand Action, we demonstrated that Americans of every stripe want common sense gun reforms. Since our movement took off, states have signed over 500 new gun safety measures into law, including extreme risk protection orders, safe storage requirements, and background checks. In 2022, over 3,000 local, state, and federal candidates championed gun safety in their elections. And last summer, the US Congress broke through a 30-year logjam to pass the first federal gun safety bill since President Bill Clinton was in office.
What she doesn’t mention here is that most of the bevy of laws she helped pass don’t actually help anything. A multivariate, longitudinal analysis of gun control laws efficacy shows the following truths:
Universal background checks help a little bit,
Banning people who had prior violent misdemeanors from buying guns helps a little bit,
Eliminating Shall Issue permitting and going to either May Issue (which is now unconstitutional) or Permitless Carry helps a little bit, and
Literally no other law helps in any measurable way.
Based on that analysis, every state who went Constitutional Carry also reduced gun murders, so it might be fun to weigh her efforts against the gun lobby’s efforts to see who passed more efficacious laws. Her “over 500” link goes to Giffords, which claims 29 states “enacted or strengthened” background checks. But that’s stretching the truth, because only 20 states have universal background checks, and some of them have had them for years. Given that permitless carry also reduces gun crime, and there are now 27 states who have permitless carry, the gun rights movement beats the gun control movement on laws passed which actually help.
Now, we need to channel the energy of gun safety advocates into fixing our broken Supreme Court. We need Supreme Court expansion to restore balance and sanity to the Court. By passing a law to add more justices, we can give the president an opportunity to appoint four new justices who will help restore balance to the institution.
Here she shows how high she is on her own kool-aid. She identifies a problem that literally doesn’t exist, makes it seem like a problem by lying and intentionally confusing the people she’s speaking to, can’t figure out how to read a line graph, and concludes that the only way she’s going to get what she wants is to load the supreme court with partisans.
This change would not guarantee the outcome in any particular case — but it would help counterbalance the extreme-right supermajority that has made the Court such a reliable ally for the gun lobby. Fortunately, Supreme Court expansion is clearly constitutional: Congress has done it multiple times throughout American history and we can do it again.
Every time they’ve done it before it was to load it with partisans.
While no one expects us to achieve Supreme Court expansion while Republicans control the House of Representatives, there is growing support for it across the country, and it is a sensible long-term goal. A growing group of advocates within the gun violence prevention, reproductive rights and racial justice movements are calling for expansion.
She needs to be careful what she wishes for here, because if she can load it with partisans, the other side can load it with partisans too. It boggles my mind that she hasn’t thought about that yet. Then again, she doesn’t know how to read a line graph.
In Congress, expansion is supported by leaders like Sens. Ed Markey (Democrat-Massachusetts), Elizabeth Warren (Democrat-Massachusetts), and Tina Smith (Democrat-Minnesota). It has also earned the backing of House members like Rep. Jamie Raskin (Democrat-Maryland), Rep. Jerrold Nadler, (Democrat-New York) Rep. Hank Johnson (Democrat-Georgia) and many others.
Meanwhile, prominent legal experts including former members of President Biden’s commission on the Supreme Court say expansion “may be the only thing that will save our democracy for the next generation” and call it “the only hope for a cure” for the problems at the Court. We will not win this fight overnight, but taking on the gun lobby has taught me that it is possible to build a movement to take on powerful opponents who at first look unbeatable.
“Behold the partisan support for loading the Supreme Court with partisans to fix a problem that isn’t a problem.”
The battle for gun safety will need to be waged on many fronts. Expanding the Supreme Court would be yet another way we can fight the war against senseless gun violence. And while we engage in the long-term battle to structurally reform the Supreme Court, we need to continue to support gun safety candidates and demand new laws.
Increasing the number of justices will not be easy. But when it comes to protecting our kids from the scourge of gun violence, we do not have the luxury of opting out of the tough fights. It’s time for the gun safety movement to take a stand on the fight for fair courts — because lives depend on us winning.
Sound science shows that the very most number of lives you can possibly save from implementing the few gun control measures that do actually work is in the neighborhood of four to five thousand a year, and you can get that with three laws that are fully realizable at the state level no matter who is in the Supreme Court, and you can get it while repealing 90% of the rest of the laws that don’t do anything.
But she doesn’t want that, because she doesn’t care about saving lives. She cares about waging culture war.