Ask Popehat! Joe Manchin Edition

Welcome to Ask Popehat!, the feature where we take your questions on topics ranging from law to ethics to proper child rearing, and give sensible easily digested answers that you can share with friends and family at the dinner table. For this edition, we'd like to welcome Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia. As the distinguished former Governor and Attorney General of the Mountain State, Senator Manchin has graciously agreed to provide his wisdom on the difficult job of upholding the Constitution during times of emergency and civil strife. Our question to Senator Manchin comes from Edith H., of Anchorage Alaska.

Senator Joe Manchin

Senator Joe Manchin

Dear Senator Manchin:

I was shocked and heartbroken at this week's deaths at Pulse Night Club in Orlando, though I'm still learning the facts. Like a lot of Americans, I'd like to know how the shooter was able to get his hands on a semi-automatic rifle when he'd been investigated by the FBI, not once but twice.  Wasn't that a crime? Shouldn't the government have prevented him from obtaining a dangerous weapon, just to be sure?

Edith in Anchorage.

Senator Joe Manchin

Senator Joe Manchin

Dear Edith:

Thank you for your questions. Like you, I was dismayed to wake up Sunday morning to see news of this tragedy. And let me tell you, as a former prosecutor, once I recovered from my grief I turned to the first question anyone should ask when tragedy occurs:

Who is responsible?

There are many we could blame for this atrocity, starting with the obvious: the shooter himself. By all accounts Omar Mateen was a psychopath, with deeply strange sexual hang-ups and a twisted, murderous interpretation of his religion. Some would say that alone explains his awful crimes, and that we should be thankful he's no longer around. That's what many ordinary people would say. But as a former prosecutor, and a United States lawmaker, my job is to probe deeper, to prevent tragedies of this sort from occurring again. And I'm glad to say that I have found the true culprit behind these crimes. That culprit is the United States Constitution.

Now don't get me wrong: I'm a big fan of the Constitution, in many respects. I'm a great admirer of Article I, which gives United States Senators, like myself, the power to maintain a Journal of Proceedings. And to be compensated by law for our service to this great nation. As well as to provide and maintain a Navy. Did you know that even though West Virginia is landlocked, the Navy keeps our rivers free of pirates? God bless our beautiful mountain streams. And God bless the United States Navy.

But as much as I love our brave fighting sailors, the Constitution is a deeply flawed document, which has been twisted even further by bleeding heart judges and corrupt defense attorneys for criminals. Why, did you know that the Constitution says, at least according to some, that a criminal's life, liberty, and property cannot be taken away without "due process of law?"

I was gobsmacked when I first heard that.

You see, some judges, bless their hearts, have gotten it into their heads that we in the United States Senate cannot pass a law to keep potential troublemakers from getting into mischief, or sending them to prison, or taking away their possessions, unless a judge (naturally) and jury have said they actually broke some other law that was already on the books? That's what "due process of law" means.

That's what killed those poor people in Orlando. And it's killing us all.

Edith, as a United States Senator, my job is to keep good Americans like you safe from all enemies foreign and domestic. But as powerful as I am, in some ways my hands are tied. How can I keep you safe from an enemy domestic if I can't order him locked up for your own protection? Or maybe we don't want to actually, you know, put him in jail. Maybe we just want him to shut the funk up, pardon my French. There are a lot of dangerous weirdos out there, saying stupid things that give dumb people the wrong idea about America. Why should they be able to spout off at will, if we in the Senate have determined they're wrong? Why should they be able to buy a gun, if the brave men and women of our Federal Bureau of Investigation think they may be up to no good, some day?

I'll tell you why. It's because pointy-headed judges have arrogated to themselves the power to interpret our sacred Constitution, a job that's reserved to the Senate. Our founding fathers, men like Aaron Burr, our third Vice President, and Jefferson Davis, a great Senator from Mississippi and a brave Secretary of War, didn't hold with toxic notions like this "due process of law." And neither should we.

Of course, Edith, I'm not suggesting that we should put ordinary Americans on lists of people whose rights aren't protected. I love our rights, and I know you do too. We'd never keep you from exercising your God-given right to own a hunting rifle, and to shoot as many turkeys as federal regulations permit. West Virginia is prime turkey-hunting country. If you and your husband enjoy the excitement of turkey shoots as much as I do, we'd love to show you some Mountain State hospitality at our fine hunting resorts.

No, I'm speaking of them, Edith. People who don't love America the way you and I do. I think you know who they are. They're out there, in the mosques and madrassas and "civil liberties" rallies, plotting the downfall of our great nation, and speaking ill of our ancient institutions, like the United States Senate, the greatest legislative body in the world. And one day, if they're not stopped, they'll each of them shoot up a hundred night clubs. Unless we stop them from owning firearms, for their own good, and our own protection.

Kindest regards, and God bless our United States Navy,

Joe Manchin.

Last 5 posts by Patrick Non-White

Comments

  1. shrough says

    Love it. One point (although I doubt Joe knows this EITHER), the Feds only regulate hunting for migratory species (unless you are hunting on Federal land, or attempting to hunt something protected). Turkeys, being non-migratory, would be regulated by the state of West Virginia in this case.

  2. The_Jack says

    Exactly Daniel.

    Do try to follow the good senator's logic.

    He's saying that if the FBI suspects some undesirable might commit a crime.
    Said undesirable should be added to a secret government blacklist.

    And then the FBI conducts their investigation, and let's say they can't find any inculpatory evidence, and so they close the investigation.

    Just because said undesirable was never charged or arrested or is even part of an active investigation is no reason that they shouldn't still be punished and have their rights restricted.

    As the good senator said:
    ""
    So can’t we say that if a person’s under suspicion there should be a five-
    year period of time that we have to see if good behavior, if this person
    continues the same traits? Maybe we can come to that type of an agreement,
    but due process is what’s killing us right now.
    ""

    See, it's only five years where the person has to show good behavior. It's their own fault for being suspected of a crime and added to a secret blacklist don't you know.

    What did they expect that just because the FBI declined to start the process of charging them with a crime that they could escape punishment?

  3. Tradegeek says

    I get the feeling senator Manchin was rooting for Robert Redford's character in the second Captain America film.

    Who needs due process when you can take care of potential agitators with a few heavily armed hover carriers?

    Newt Gingrich said today he things we should bring back the HUAC.

    Hail Hydra!

  4. Erik says

    Am I the only person who's reaction to the whole "The FBI investigated him for two years and he was still able to buy a gun" thing is that the FBI must really, really suck at their jobs? I mean, for all of the civil liberties that they violate you'd think they can stop at least one terrorist plot that they didn't actively create by planting an informant among idiots to stir them up and eventually arm them, which in a civilized country would be considered entrapment. But whatever, I guess it keeps their budgets padded…

  5. robbbbbb says

    I'm totally with the good Senator on this one. We really need to start depriving people of their rights based on their status during an FBI investigation. Due process rights be damned.

    For instance, I think that any individual who is under investigation by the FBI shouldn't be able to run for public office. I mean, yeah, guns are dangerous in the wrong hands. But the power of a public official? That's many, many times more dangerous than any individual with a firearm. I mean, can you imagine the mischief that someone could get up to with the power of the Presidency?

    We need to take simple steps to safeguard ourselves from such a danger. These things are no-brainers.

  6. Tradegeek says

    If I didn't know which website this was posted on, I would have at least some hesitation to assume it is satire.

    Satire is getting more difficult to identify. Donald Trump takes everything to the logical extreme. What would you have to do to really produce something easily recognizable as satirical of Trump?

    "Today the presumptive Republican presidential nominee unveiled his plans to utilize a 90 foot Trump branded trebuchet to repatriate illegal immigrant babies back to their home country."

    You really have to take it that far.

  7. parkrrrr says

    @Timothy A Wiseman
    Nope, that's clearly not Trump. "Trebuchet" and "repatriate" are above his reading level.

  8. Tradegeek says

    Let me try again.

    Today the presumptive Republican presidential nominee unveiled his plans to pump 9,000,000 gallons of pig blood into the Rio Grande river. Trump said in his statement "It will be fantastic. Your gonna love it. We will have sharp shooters lining the US side of the river. Really great ones. Any illegal who hesitates entering the water will be shot on site. Because they are obviously ISIS. Anybody who does cross is obviously not ISIS and only a regular Mexican. We will have them get into the line for the sling shot thingy, which is fantastic if you haven't seen it, that we use to shoot the babies back."

  9. Anon says

    Totally off-topic aside:

    … deeply strange sexual hang-ups …

    Ever since it came out that he was seen at the club, it seems like the popular assertion is that he was therefore gay himself (or leaning that way).

    I'll preface with this: I've also not read every article out there, God help the sanity of the person who tries.

    So far I've not seen anyone assert that his behaviour could also have been him checking the area out – would it not also be as reasonable to assume that he was there casing the area? Even the average idiot with only the worse movie/TV drama as his guide would know that it's a bad idea to just one day roll up to your intended target without actually looking it over.

    It's just one of those things that has struck me as odd, and as just another attempt to work a narrative in when that specific motive isn't as clear as it's assumed.

  10. Tradegeek says

    "So far I've not seen anyone assert that his behavior could also have been him checking the area out"

    I think the shooter's father did make the assertion. But there are reports that he was seen at the club over a period of years and that he was "friends" with several patrons on various gay dating apps. So unless he was so vigilant in his terrorist planning that he believed he needed to, over a period of years, personally and intimately verify that the customer were really gay, I think it is likely that he himself was gay. A radicalized self hating psychopath.

  11. Jay says

    Am I the only person who's reaction to the whole "The FBI investigated him for two years and he was still able to buy a gun" thing is that the FBI must really, really suck at their jobs? I mean, for all of the civil liberties that they violate you'd think they can stop at least one terrorist plot that they didn't actively create by planting an informant among idiots to stir them up and eventually arm them, which in a civilized country would be considered entrapment. But whatever, I guess it keeps their budgets padded…

    In all seriousness, how would the FBI have reasonably stopped this? It sounds like he didn't really do anything illegal, until he did something crazy illegal. Isn't that the point of this column? You have to accept that people will do bad things even when there are known risk factors ahead of time, because to stop them before they've done anything bad isn't the American way?

  12. Mikee says

    How is it the fault of the Constitution, and not legislators? The SCOTUS has already indirectly said that assault weapon bans are fine and do not violate DC v. Heller or McDonald v Chicago. They refused to hear two cases last year, letting the lower court ruling stand that the ban on such weapons was not unconstitutional.

    The 2nd Amendment says we can own firearms, but the courts have said, many, many, many times, that we don't have a right to military grade weapons. So how is it the fault of the Constitution itself?

  13. Tom Gadd says

    In all of this between Ken and Patrick, where is the notion that while the Constitution is pretty great, the second amendment (or, perhaps, the Heller version thereof) sticks out like a sore thumb? What the fuck does private ownership of guns have to do with life, liberty, and property, or whatever the end is?

  14. Glenn says

    I blame Ben Franklin and his whole "if you trade liberty for security you're a wuss" thing. You know he wrote a book about farting, right? This is the guy we get our ideas from? Sheesh.

  15. Glenn says

    Is now not a good time to point out that the whole world can't be a safe space?

    Too soon? OK.

  16. Bob says

    The 2nd Amendment says we can own firearms, but the courts have said, many, many, many times, that we don't have a right to military grade weapons. So how is it the fault of the Constitution itself?

    Satire fail, Mikee. The esteemed Senator is railing against the 5th amendment, not the 2nd.

  17. Dan says

    @Mikee

    we don't have a right to military grade weapons.

    "Military grade weapons" are not at issue here. The only "military grade weapon" (by which I specifically, and narrowly, mean firearms in current, widespread use by the U.S. military) that's generally available to the public is the Beretta M92 pistol, which is such a POS I wouldn't too much mind seeing it banned (but it isn't the target of any existing or proposed "assault weapons" ban that I know of, other than having a > 10-round magazine). The M4 that is the standard issue rifle is not widely available to the public for two reasons: (1) it's fully-automatic–it can shoot more than one shot with each pull of the trigger, and (2) it has a barrel under 16" long.

    M4s are available on the civilian market in most states (not true M4s, as they didn't begin production until after the 1986 ban, but firearms functionally and cosmetically equivalent to the M4s). To legally own one, you'll first (obviously) need to pay for it, somewhere north of $20k. You'll then need to pay a $200 tax. You'll then need to send a form in to the government asking "mother may I." Several months later when that form is approved, you can take possession of your new $20k toy. That's how a civilian legally gets his hands on a "military grade weapon."

    "Assault weapons" bans don't target "military grade weapons," as those have been very heavily regulated for the last 80 years. They target weapons that look similar to military weapons, and the legislators, with the support of the media, lie to the public about what the law does.

  18. Sam I Am says

    @Tradegeek wins the internet for the day.

    @Dan

    I think you are being disingenuous. Lets take a group of guys with "military grade" M16s (you and I know they'd really have M4s, but lets keep it simple) and similarly trained group of guys with the civilian versions of similar quality … the expected outcome wouldn't be very dependent on that difference, if at all. The added 1.5" on the barrel isn't much of an issue and modern training discourages burst mode (which military issued some M4s don't even have anymore, even the new army manual now calls suppressive fire one round every 3 seconds, which seems really odd to my old self).

    Now lets take a group of people in a club. How much does it matter if the guy has an extra 1.5" on his barrel and isn't wasting shots to triple tap victims? None at all. What matters is access to a light, fast, effective weapon with a high capacity magazine.

    The vocab is too often focused on. Lets start with the fact that many "military grade" weapons were readily available to the public until the 1986 "Firearm Owners Protect Act" ceased the sale of new fully automatic weapons to the public.

    Of course, you still could and still can purchase "military grade" weapons, because it is an utterly meaningless term. My Glock is military grade, used by militaries around the world (including detachments of the US Marines). Many bolt action rifles are "military grade" are are identical to the "sniper rifles" used by many of the worlds armies. Many men kept their M1s after WWII/Korea, which are certainly "military grade." You can go online and have "military grade" weapons shipped to your door with a simple C&R license. My Mossberg 590 is "military grade" as it is the same gun still utilized by the US military.

    You want a "military grade" M4? Here is one for under $850. Made by Colt (who has part of the M4 contract), it is the same rifle issued to US troops except it has a barrel that is 1.5" longer (recall some US troops do still have burst mode too). Go Google Colt M4A1 SOCOM Carbine and gets yours today!

    Or did you just mean "automatic" when you said military grade? As stated, those have been heavily restricted since 1986, and killings with such weapons are exceedingly rare. They have been rare since Congress began restricting "Tommy Guns" in 1934 (The FOPA you mentioned. remember, mobsters used to mow people down with machine gun fire. Then they "gun controlled" automatic weapons and murders in the US from automatic weapons fire became exceedingly rare. But gun control would never work…). Or we could talk about "assault weapons," which is another essentially meaningless term.

    The Republic Congress came up with a long list of "mean looking: features to define an assault weapon. But who is really worried about bayonet lugs and folding stocks?

    Gun nuts will say only full auto weapons are assault weapons.

    The dictionary says an assault weapon is a full or semi auto weapon designed primarily for militaristic purposes and incorporating a high capacity magazine. Basically, a gun whose prime function is to either go to a gun range and yell "yeeehaaaaw!" while blowing a 20 round box of ammo down the range or to kill people (because I'm usually to cheap/lazy to bust open half a box for whomever to blow threw a full 30 round magazine). No other practical usage for an "assault rifle."

    So, call it whatever you want. But lets talk about the firearms that enable a minimally trained individual to pump 40-60 rounds into a crowd of people within a minute to devastating effect. I'm not really concerned with what we call those weapons, just who has access to them.

  19. OrderoftheQuaff says

    Is this a parody?

    "[O]nce I recovered from my grief, I turned to the first question anyone should ask when tragedy occurs: Who is responsible?"

    Over here, the first question is "Is there anything I can do to aid the survivors?" and the second question is "How do I protect myself and the people I care about from this?"

    Completely off-topic: Since Patrick declared this to be "Ask Popehat!", my question is, what do you popes think about the ongoing "Stairway to Heaven" copyright infringement trial?" I am rooting for the defense.

  20. T says

    What the fuck does private ownership of guns have to do with life, liberty, and property, or whatever the end is?

    I think he's serious, you guys.

  21. Anon says

    @tradegeek: I did not know that he had been "seen at the club over a period of years", knowing that the assumptions do sound more reasonable.

  22. Erik says

    Jay said:

    "In all seriousness, how would the FBI have reasonably stopped this? It sounds like he didn't really do anything illegal, until he did something crazy illegal. Isn't that the point of this column? You have to accept that people will do bad things even when there are known risk factors ahead of time, because to stop them before they've done anything bad isn't the American way?"

    The FBI should not be turning into the department of pre-crime, however their problem is that they spend their limited resources chasing or outright creating nonissues. There is an ongoing and, in my opinion, very valid criticism that by spying on all 330,000,000 of us the various government agencies have more data than they can ever hope to deal with. If they spent these resources keeping track of more legitimate individual potential threats then it's arguable that things like the Boston bombing and the Orlando shooting may have been averted. In all of these cases there were red flags in the past, but the FBI particularly has been spending its time and money framing the mentally deficient for terrorism rather than following up on guys like this.

  23. Chris O says

    Here's a question.

    I appreciate the ridiculousness of a U.S. senator pooh-poohing due process.

    Would it be acceptable to implement a non-governmental alternative, maybe a nonprofit funded by a gun dealers' organization?

    They could operate the list and web site, worry about membership and whether people had been added to the list incorrectly.

    But also if they received information from law enforcement or the government about, say, someone who had been investigated twice for terror organization claims, or even from other gun shops about a customer who seemed to be in a hurry to buy expensive guns, body armor, and lots of ammo, they could add them to the list.

    Another thing that seems appealing about this solution is they would be motivated to remove people who were unfairly added, since those are potential paying customers.

    Adherence to the list would not be mandatory, but gun shops might well be interested to avoid being mentioned in news articles headlined 'ORLANDO GUN SHOP OWNER FAILED TO CHECK TERROR LIST BEFORE SELLING TO LATEST MASS SHOOTER'

    Possible? Legal? Moral?

  24. Dan says

    @Sam I Am,

    You're right that full-auto capability doesn't make a great deal of difference in many engagements, but we have a real problem with the term "military grade" (which, as you'll recall, I was responding to; it wasn't my choice of term). I narrowly defined the term for the purpose of my comment for two reasons: (1) to give some objective definition for an otherwise-meaningless term, and (2) because I'm currently in the U.S. military, and thus have some familiarity with the small arms currently in use there. You argue that full-auto capability is too restrictive of a definition for "military-grade", but the counter to that point is that you're otherwise left with purely cosmetic definitions of what constitutes an "assault weapon", with the resulting hysteria when manufacturers comply with the law.

  25. machintelligence says

    I guess that mass murders are the price we must pay for freedom. */snark*

  26. David C says

    Chris O: I don't think that's likely, or particularly desirable. It would involve the FBI and other government organizations making available to the public (they can't give this to a private organization and then claim exemption from FOIA, even if you think think the private organization would keep it secret) a list of everyone they are investigating for terror. And the gun dealer's association would have no idea WHY these people were on the list, which would make appeals difficult. Unless, of course, the government told why the people were being investigated – but getting specific would probably ruin the investigations. And if there was even one gun dealer that didn't follow this, the suspected terrorists would STILL be able to get guns. And that's before we even get into things like disparate impact discrimination claims from Muslims, who would likely be heavily represented on the list.

  27. Zem says

    Can I play ?

    What does Joe plan to do in reforming and properly regulating the building industry? All these mass shootings have occurred in, or around buildings. The industry needs to step up and take responsibility for providing unsafe buildings that encourage this sort of thing.

  28. WaitWhat says

    "I think he's serious, you guys."

    Quick, git him! Just let me get my gun real quick.

  29. Cactus says

    A modest compromise, repeal the 2nd, but also repeal the 3rd.

    No need to risk guns falling into the wrong hands with a soldier in every house. After all, the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a federal guy with a gun.

    I also suggest repealing the 25th, but for entirely private sexual reasons.

  30. AH says

    @Guy who looks things up says: No, it's destined to be a commentary on whatever happens to on the minds of it's authors at any given time, much of which is likely to be current events. You have 3 options: 1) Agree with them, 2) respectfully disagree or 3) leave. What I doubt is going to happen is you actually convincing them to avoid topics they want to talk about because you don't like them.

    Personally, I'm fine with them talking about things I don't like or saying things I disagree with.

  31. Earle says

    @Guy

    Rumor has it that the Popehat crew are very responsive in processing requests for custom RSS feeds. Give it a go!

  32. max says

    "The FBI investigated him for two years and he was still able to buy a gun" thing is that the FBI must really, really suck at their jobs?

    It's Obama's fault. Obama won't lend his mind-reading machine to the FBI, so the FBI cannot find out what people are thinking. I know Obama has a mind reading machine because he keeps telling me what I think and believe, even though what he tells me I think has mostly never crossed my mind and I would mock anyone else who held the beliefs he tells me I hold.

  33. DaveL says

    Lets take a group of guys with "military grade" M16s (you and I know they'd really have M4s, but lets keep it simple) and similarly trained group of guys with the civilian versions of similar quality … the expected outcome wouldn't be very dependent on that difference, if at all.

    There's a truth here, but it isn't the truth that you want. Recall that during the Second World War, only the US came in with a semi-automatic infantry rifle as standard equipment. Germany and the Soviets made token efforts towards migrating to semi-automatics during the course of the war, rearming less than 10% of their troops. Japan, England, and Italy basically made no appreciable effort towards adopting semi-automatics throughout the war's duration.

    That's because of two things. First, the incremental advantage of semi-automatics over manual repeaters isn't nearly as large as you've been led to believe. Second, that war marked the point where the light machine gun started taking over the heavy lifting of the infantry section's direct-fire firepower in the advance. Earlier, bulkier machine guns had taken over that role in the defense a generation prior in the First World War.

    Since then, the military service rifle has filled the role of a personal defensive weapon. Far from being some doomsday device, designed to "kill as many people as possible in the shortest possible time", they are designed to allow soldiers to defend themselves and those immediately around them, so that other weapon systems can do their job.

    In other words, just as the black-powder musket, the M1903 Springfield, and the M92 Beretta have legitimate civilian uses despite being or having been literally "military grade", even if an AR-15 were "military grade" that would not unfit it for civilian use. The term is essentially meaningless, nothing more than an emotional "stop-think" tactic.

  34. WuzYoungOnceToo says

    The vocab is too often focused on.

    Yes…because gun-control advocates are so relentless in their intentional misuse of the terminology in question, no matter how often they're corrected. If the exact terms weren't important then they wouldn't insist on continuing to play these dishonest rhetorical games with the aim of obfuscating the facts. Recall the infamous words of VPC chairman Josh Sugarmann regarding "assault weapons":

    "The weapons' menacing looks, coupled with the public's confusion over fully automatic machine guns versus semi-automatic assault weapons—anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to be a machine gun—can only increase the chance of public support for restrictions on these weapons."

    Ditto nonsense like "the gun show loophole", etc.

  35. deadcenter says

    "… and property cannot be taken away without "due process of law?"

    The Senator is apparently unfamiliar with Civil Asset Forfeiture. More's the pity.

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