Saturday, February 16, 2008

No Such Thing as Bad Publicity?

From the AP story on the NIU killer:

Jason Dunavan, a tattoo artist in Champaign, said he spent hours as recently as last month creating tattoos for [the killer]. His work included an image of the macabre doll from the horror movie "Saw" riding a tricycle through a pool of blood with images of several bleeding cuts in the background.

Dunavan said he was so proud of the tattoo that he enlarged a photo of it and placed it on a wall in his shop — a move he is now rethinking.

"I don't know if I still want that picture on my wall," said Dunavan, who also described [the killer] as timid and apologetic.

Rethinking? Don't know? What would it take to associate Mr. Dunavan's handiwork sufficiently with evil for him to conclude for sure that this is bad publicity?

Note that the media coverage of this tragedy---including the detailed picture of the killer and extensive use of his name and likeness---is nearly certain to contribute to copycatting. Indeed, this killing is itself quite possibly a copycat event. And no, I'm not calling for censorship, just a bit of self-restraint. The press has shown itself capable of voluntarily not releasing exit polls until polls close, so self-restraint is possible.

Posted by Mike Dorf

19 comments:

Mithras said...

I predict he won't take it down and he'll do a bunch of copycat tattoos. Some people might be turned off by the association, but then again, people who enjoy the "Saw" movie series enjoy depictions of suffering. And since much of the reason that people get tattoos like that is to show how badass they are, people will seek out Mr. Dunavan for the cachet of having him do it for them.

Consider the guy who sold both Cho and Kazmierczak a gun or magazines. He says he's "in shock" from being instrumental to two mass murderers, but he's also not taking down his web stores. He knows he's going to get great business from the publicity. Torture movie producer, tattoo artist or gun seller: You just have to know your market and have a strong stomach.

Sobek said...

I have a quick Bill of Rights question for my liberal friends here.

I think we can all agree, liberal or conservative, that the purpose of the Bill of Rights is to protect people from an oppressive government -- essentially, we don't trust the government to tell us what to read, so we have a First Amendment; we don't trust the government not to abuse its police powers, so we have a Fourth Amendment; we don't trust the government to refrain from invidious discrimination, so we have a Fourteenth Amendment. And so forth. Liberals and conservatives generally agree on these principles, but we disagree as to how far they extend.

But it seems that the one exception for liberals is with guns. And that puzzles me because of the logical implications. It seems -- and this is why I ask the question, so you can correct me if I'm wrong -- that liberals do trust the government to tell us exactly how much home protection we need, how many rounds per clip will keep our families safe, how fast the weapon needs to fire, etc. That you do trust the government, via the police force, to timely respond to a 911 call. That you do trust the government to be competent when they do respond. That you do trust the government so much that you are willing to increase the police power vis-a-vis its own citizens, and cede your right to self-defence to people (the police) who the Bill of Rights specifically restrains from abuse of authority in so many other areas.

My question is, why do you distrust the government with your printing press, your blog, access to your personal information, criminal prosecutions, complusion of witnesses, and Jim Crow laws, but you do trust the government with your life and personal safety?

Carl said...

My question is, why do you distrust the government with your printing press, your blog, access to your personal information, criminal prosecutions, complusion of witnesses, and Jim Crow laws, but you do trust the government with your life and personal safety?

I don't think there's anything necesarily inconsistent in this bundle of beliefs. The very idea of civil society rests at least in part on the notion that people need to be protected from each other. The basic liberal insight is that people also need to be protected from their governments. So there is something of a balancing act that depends on the relative threats we perceive from each other and from the people who are charged with protecting us from each other.

It's perfectly consistent to believe that the threat to personal liberty posed by our nation's police powers outweighs the risk from lax law enforcement, while at the same time the threat from widespread private possession of guns is greater than the threats to personal liberty and safety from gun control. I suppose it ultimately boilds down to one's view of human nature. Proponents of gun control are likely to have a more pessimistic view of the "law abiding" citizen who wants a gun to protect their homes and person. They presumably think it's much more likely that gun owners will use their weapons for illicit purposes than to protect themselves. This, of course, would be an empirical question. They may believe that for every private gun owner who wards off some intruder or attacker with their guns, there are multiple private gun owners who will use them in fits of rage to kill cheating spouses or drunken brawlers, or whose guns fall into the hands of their children with tragic results.

I guess then the liberals you are addressing could easily turn your question around and ask why as a conservative who presumably believes in some minimal night-watchman state designed primarly to protect its citizens from each other, you'd begrudge it one of the tools necessary to accomplish that task.

Sobek said...

"...ask why as a conservative who presumably believes in some minimal night-watchman state designed primarly to protect its citizens from each other, you'd begrudge it one of the tools necessary to accomplish that task."

Two reasons. First, I believe the Second Amendment is not just to protect me from the individual intruder, but also to protect me from an intrusive state.

Indeed, that's the whole point of my question. The Bill of Rights is intended to protect us from the government, not from each other. Private gun ownership is subject to abuses, but so is blogging, or operating a radio station. But in one case you trust the government's judgment completely, and in the other case not at all. And I don't understand why the side of the aisle that has cornered the market on railing against police abuses is also the side that wants the abusive police to have exclusive access to firearms.

Second, I don't believe that disarming the population is "necessary" for police to protect us from one another -- on the contrary, when you disarm the law-abiding, you make the job of the police much more difficult because crime tends to spike. More crimes per policeman makes the cop's job harder, not easier.

I told a police officer friend of mine that I was planning on getting a gun, and he was glad to hear it. As he explained it to me, the more good guys who have guns, the harder it is for the bad guys. Crazed gunmen never attack military bases, police stations, or NRA meeting houses. They attack campuses, churches or malls, where they run a smaller risk of encountering armed resistance.

Carl said...

Sobek -

I think your post nicely illustrates the point I was trying to make. Conservatives and liberals in the parochial sense share a common commitment to the classical Liberal view that while one of the basic goals of government is to protect people from each other, people also need to be protected from their governments. Where they disagree is on how best to balance these competing interests (safety and liberty). To say that liberals are somehow inconsistent in viewing private gun ownership as a greater threat to safety that a free press is no more plausible than to say that certain social conservatives are somehow inconsistent because they believe the reverse to be true. Once we accept that the government is justified in some cases in interfering with personal liberty, it's difficult to characterize any particular view on how that authority can be exercised as necessarily inconsistent.

Where both liberals and social conservatives may be vulnerable to criticism of this sort is not in their weighing the various social utilities involved in determining what activities should be protected or not, but in the fact that, as you point out, the founding fathers have already made a number of these judgments for us. So a liberal who supports gun control will need an interpretation of the second amendment that is not inconsistent with banning private ownership of firearms, while a social conservative who wants to force schools to teach creationism or pray or who wants to censor certain media outlets is going to have to provide an interpretation of the first amendment that doesn't ban such government actions.

It is, of course, possible that proponents of gun control are wrong on empirical grounds, as you suggest, and that social conservatives are correct that certain speech is more dangerous than the local drunk's having an arsenal in his trailor to fend off a possible break-in, but this is not a question on consistency.

Sobek said...

Carl, in your view could the government (state or federal) ban private ownership of all firearms, of any sort? If not, what firearms may it ban consistent with the Second Amendment, and what is the basis for your view?

Carl said...

Carl, in your view could the government (state or federal) ban private ownership of all firearms, of any sort? If not, what firearms may it ban consistent with the Second Amendment, and what is the basis for your view?

I don't know. If I were an originalist like Scalia I might look at the kinds of guns that were available at the time the 2A was adopted and argue that everything else could be banned. That, of course, would be absurd. It would nevertheless be similarly asburd to claim that there are no arms the government could ban (in much the same way that it would be absurd to claim that there were no forms of speech the government could ban).

Do you agree, for example, that we don't want private ownership of biological, chemical, or nuclear weapons. If the 2A's use of "arms" is broad enough to cover rpgs and rapid fire machine guns (as many ardent 2A fetishists contend), however, is should be broad enough to cover vials of weaponized anthrax and suitcase nukes. But if that's the case and we don't want to bite the bullet and endorse private possession of sarin gas, then the proponent of private gun ownership is going to have to draw the line somewhere too, and once we recognize that there is essentially a line-drawing component in interpreting the 2A, its absolutist language becomes much less intractable for the proponent of gun control.

Sobek said...

"...then the proponent of private gun ownership is going to have to draw the line somewhere too..."

I agree, and I've had some absolutists chastize me for that. And I don't pretend to know where to draw that line.

My question was more along the lines of whether you are an absolutist in the opposite direction: arguing (as DC did in its brief) that the Second Amendment is a dead letter, and the government can ban anything at all.

Concerning originalism, the DC Cir. actually does make several originalism arguments. Obviously that doesn't go to specific models of handguns, but it does go to the fact that officers were required to own pistols, and therefore pistols are protected by the second amendment.

Carl said...

My question was more along the lines of whether you are an absolutist in the opposite direction: arguing (as DC did in its brief) that the Second Amendment is a dead letter, and the government can ban anything at all.

I haven't read the brief or followed the case, but I think an outright ban on private gun ownership by the Federal government is almost certainly forbidden by the language of the Second Amendment (purpose clauses and ambiguities aside).

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