DC v. Heller

The Supreme Court upheld the appeals court overturning Washington DC’s ban on handguns. I’ll post the link to the decision when it goes up, and maybe offer my thoughts when I’ve glanced through it; until then, here’s a thread to comment on the ruling and other recent SCOTUS decisions. Remember: Civility is nice.

Update 1: .pdf of the ruling, written by Justice Scalia, is here.

Update 2: The juicy part:

1. The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.
Pp. 2–53.

(a) The Amendment’s prefatory clause announces a purpose, but does not limit or expand the scope of the second part, the operative clause. The operative clause’s text and history demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms. Pp. 2–22.


2. Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited. It is not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose: For example, concealed weapons prohibitions have been upheld under the Amendment or state analogues. The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

Update 3: ZOMG! Scalia gives props to a “living Constitution”!

Some have made the argument, bordering on the frivolous, that only those arms in existence in the 18th century are protected by the Second Amendment. We do not interpret constitutional rights that way. Just as the First Amendment protects modern forms of communications, e.g., Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, 521 U. S. 844, 849 (1997), and the Fourth Amendment applies to modern forms of search, e.g., Kyllo v. United States, 533 U. S. 27, 35–36 (2001), the Second Amendment extends, prima facie, to all instruments that constitute bearable arms, even those that were not in existence at the time of the founding.

My head, she is explody.

Update 4: I found this interesting:

A constitutional guarantee subject to future judges’ assessments of its usefulness is no constitutional guarantee at all. Constitutional rights are enshrined with the scope they were understood to have when the people adopted them, whether or not future legislatures or (yes) even future judges think that scope too broad. We would not apply an “interest-balancing” approach to the prohibition of a peaceful neo-Nazi march through Skokie. See National Socialist Party of America v. Skokie, 432 U. S. 43 (1977) (per curiam). The First Amendment contains the freedom-of-speech guarantee that the people ratified, which included exceptions for obscenity, libel, and disclosure of state secrets, but not for the expression of extremely unpopular and wrong-headed views. The Second Amendment is no different.

Update 5: Well, just gave the ruling (although not the dissenting opinions) a very quick read through, and in an event sure to cause cranial rupture to everyone who is of the opinion that I believe that anything Justice Scalia says is wrong, period, full-stop, I agree with it in a general sense, and to the extent that I’ve zoomed through Scalia’s ruling, I think his reasoning here is solid and commonsensical. I think he bangs on poor Justice Stevens a bit much, but that’s Scalia for you. I do think it’s important that Scalia noted that there are limits which may reasonably be imposed on gun possession in certain places and by certain people, and on how guns are sold and registered — and I suspect there will still be a lot of skirmishing, legally-speaking, on how those work, and what is Constitutionally acceptable or not.

How will this shake out in terms of gun violence in a general sense? I have no idea, although if I had to guess I would suspect it won’t make a bit of difference one way or another, since the sort of person most likely to put a bullet in someone else isn’t the sort of person who would be concerned whether or not his firearm was banned. I’ve believed for a long time as a practical matter that handgun bans are useless; there are already millions of them and they will never disappear from the American landscape even if there were a Constitutional amendment banning them (which I don’t recommend). You will never not be able to find a handgun if you really want one.

But beyond that I really do believe (as does Scalia, apparently) that the Framers wanted everyone to have the right to own weapons, for defense of home, etc. It’s true that we do pay a price for it, in terms of gun violence (not to matter simple stupidity involving guns, including the tragic examples of when kids pull out mom or dad’s gun and start playing with it — the stupidity there is on the part of the parents, generally). But we also pay certain prices for the expansiveness of our right to free speech and our habeas corpus rights, to name but two constitutionally-enshrined rights we enjoy.

In any event: I basically agree with this decision, although I note the caveat that this is off a quick read, and that I need to read it in more depth. I doubt that reading in more depth will fundamentally change my opinion of the ruling, although it may reveal details I might quibble (or additionally agree) with.

The floor is open for more comments.

Help Build a List of New SF Film Classics

For my AMC column today, I review the American Film Institute’s list of the Top Ten SF films of all time (verdict: the list doesn’t suck), and note that the list stops at 1991. What does that mean? Well, an opportunity to create a list of the Top Ten SF films since 1991, of course!

But — rather than filling out the entire post-91 Top Ten, I filled in only five spots (and not necessarily the top five) and then opened up the floor for everyone else to fill in the gaps. So now it’s up to you (both generally and specifically) to finish what I started. Get over there and offer up your picks, and then explain why they deserve to be in the top ten along with my five. Go!

(The picture above, incidentally, from 12 Monkeys, which is in my five.)

The Difference a “Big Post” Makes

A couple of years ago I talked about the concept of “Big Posts” — posts that draw in more than the usual number of readers to a blog — and what they mean for growing the readership of a blog over time. If you’ve not read that post, click that link and check it out, because it’s on point to what follows (Note: if you’re not a huge blog stats geek, don’t feel you have to bother, or to bother continuing to read this post, because it’s all blog stat geekery from here on out).

Caught up? Okay. I note this because this month I had a “Big Post” with the Michelle Obama/Fox News thing, and it resulted in a fairly instructive example of how a Big Post works for a site, in terms of building readership.

First, a graphic:

This graph charts the number of unique visits the site has gotten daily (so far) here in June. I’ve broken up the data into three sets. In yellow are the data representing daily uniques prior to the Big Post readership spike (11 days); in red are the data representing the Big Post spike (2 days); in green are the data post-spike (12 days). For reference, the day of the actual Big Post was 6/12; anecdotally I’ve noticed that readership spikes for Big Posts are spread out over two days rather than one, so this two-day spike period is actually pretty typical.

For the first 11 days of June, before the Obama/Fox News post, the average daily unique visits is 32,890; interestingly this average includes one minor readership spike (on 6/7) when a group of folks newly discovered, and linked in to, my “Being Poor” entry (lesson: some Big Posts continue to draw even years after their original appearance). For the 12 days after the Obama/Fox News post, the average daily unique visits is 35,773, with no noticeable additional readership spikes. This is an average gain of 2,883 unique visits, or a gain of about 8.7% in daily unique visits since the first part of the month.

What’s interesting (to me, anyway) is that the usual upper bound of daily uniques (40,000) has stayed the same; what’s changed is that the lower bound seems to have hiked up. Prior to the big post, the lower bound was around 25k unique visits (lower bound days are typically on Sundays, which are generally my lowest readership day of the week); afterward the lower bound looks like 30k. And, of course, daily unique visitorship is up in general on a day-to-day basis.

Now, whether this average boost in uniques persists over time is another issue, although experience teaches me that typically speaking readership here has trended up rather than going down. For example, I’d note that the high point of “Being Poor” readership spike back in September of 2005 was about 25,000 unique visits, which today represents the lower bound of daily visits for the month. Basically, if you’re updating daily (and being at least marginally interesting), I don’t think you decline in readership. Of course, it’s the constant updating that’s the catch, isn’t it.

You ask, well, if you know how to bring in more folks, why don’t you do it on a regular basis? But that’s the thing about Big Posts, as I noted a couple of years ago: It’s not up to you to decide what’s a Big Post. In the case of the Obama/Fox News post, I benefited from having Daily Kos, John Cole and Andrew Sullivan linking in unsolicited, which each funneled thousands of probably new folks into the site, some of whom, presumably, have since stuck around. Now, I’m not stupid: I’m aware that when I write about politics here, there’s a good chance it’ll generate discussion and some links. But you never know what’s going to work for people more than usual and what’s not. I don’t typically solicit links these days (and didn’t for the Obama/Fox piece), so essentially I never know who is going to link in or why. It’s a crap shoot, and besides, I’m aware that the single most successful post I ever did, visitor-wise, was of me taping bacon to my cat. You can’t know what’s going to work, in point of fact, and trying to game all the time it will drive you nuts.

What you do is what you should be doing anyway: writing interesting stuff on a regular basis. That way, when lightning does strike, and the curious new reader looks around to see what else you’ve got, you have stuff that will make them realize the Big Post that got their attention wasn’t just a one-time fluke. The Big Posts bring them in, and that’s their value; it’s everything else you’ve got that keeps them coming back, and that’s the value of the blog as a whole. Jot that down, folks.

And hey, if you’re one of the new folks around here: Thanks for coming by, and welcome.