The Null Set
This past week we again heard the threat of “nullification” flying around the halls of Congress and state legislatures in response to President Obama’s proposed executive actions and legislative priorities to protect American citizens from gun violence.
In the field mathematics, a null set is a group of entities that is negligible at least in some way. For different applications, the meaning of “negligible” varies but basically amounts to zilch, zippo or notta. Without getting too far into the arithmetic weeds, I want to point out that there’s an approach to measurement called the Lebesgue measure. It’s the standard way of assigning a length, area or volume to subsets of what’s called Euclidean space.
Now here’s where it gets interesting:
There is apparently a variety of types of null sets. Here’s an example: In mathematese, a subset N of set R has a null measure and is considered to be a null subset in R if and only if the standard construction of the larger set R called a Cantor set is also a null uncountable set. However, other constructions are possible which assign the Cantor set any measure whatsoever. Turns out, a Cantor set is a set of points that lay on a single line segment and has a number of remarkable and deep properties. So a Cantor set can be empty to its “deep” core with a “one track mind”.
In the real world (or should I say surreal?) the “Rs” have again proven to be empty with a “remarkable and deep” singlemindedness.
If any of this is beginning to sound familiar to you, you’re not alone. It seems we’ve been witnessing this “theorem” play out over the past 4 years in Congress and in several states.
In elementary set theory, Cantor’s theorem states that, for any set A, the set of all subsets of A (the power set of A) has a strictly greater cardinality than A itself. This is similar to the tail wagging the dog.
Among the halls of Congress, we’ve seen Cantor’s theorem applied by none other than House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Thanks to Congressman Cantor’s base and the far right in Congress, a small but very fractious and vocal minority has been a “subset” wagging the larger “set A”. This reactionary subset of representatives in Congress has set out from Day 1 of the Obama Administration to thwart any and all policy proposals set forth by the President.
We saw a strain of this occur this past week in the Senate and in the states in response to President Obama’s 23 Executive Orders to protect the American children and society in general against gun violence.
Kentucky Senator Rand Paul has vowed to “nullify” the president’s executive orders on guns. Paul announced that “In this bill we will nullify anything the president does that smacks of legislation,” this past Wednesday. “And there are several of the executive orders that appear as if he’s writing new law. That cannot happen.” Paul went on to say “I’m afraid that President Obama may have this ‘king complex’ sort of developing, and we’re going to make sure it doesn’t happen”.
On the state level last week, the Wyoming legislature has threatened to pass laws to stop federal “gun grabbers”. The Wyoming state legislature has proposed legislation that would “protect” gun-owners from a federal firearm ban. A “Firearms Protection Act” bill was actually introduced this week, making any federal law banning semi-automatic firearms or limiting the size of gun magazines unenforceable within the state’s boundaries.
State Representative Joe Carr of Tennessee has recently announced that he wanted to make it a misdemeanor for federal law enforcement to enforce any new federal gun bans in Tennessee Several other states have done the same.
Thus, nullification proposed by the null set.
All this fury over a perceived “gun grab” by the führer involves a set of 23 executive orders which critics say trample the 10th as well as 2nd Amendments.
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”. This, of course, is subject to interpretation. One such recent interpretation is District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008). In this landmark case the Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home and within federal enclaves. The result was that firearms now included handguns.
With that said, Heller left open the question of whether the Second Amendment extends beyond federal enclaves to the states. That issue was addressed later by McDonald v. Chicago (2010). Consequently, this was the first Supreme Court case to decide whether the Second Amendment actually protects an individual right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.
Fine. The proposals we heard this week in no way jeopardize an individual’s right to keep and bear arms.
This week, President Obama several legislative recommendations to protect Americans from gun violence based on very unintrusive and reasonable ways. He recommended such provisions as a requirement for criminal background checks on all gun sales; a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban; the restoration a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines; elimination of armor-piercing bullets; mental health services in schools; allocation of funds to hire more police officers; and institution a federal gun trafficking statute. The cost of the package comes to about $500 million.
I for one would like to have these unnecessary WMDs off the streets. I’m joined by a majority of other Americans. According to Reuters, “74 percent of Americans favor a ban on assault weapons, with 26 percent opposed. A ban on high-capacity ammunition clips was backed by 74 percent, and 26 percent were opposed”.
He added 23 executive actions requiring federal agencies to hand over relevant data for a background check system, providing law enforcement officials, first responders and school officials with better training for active shooting situations directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence as well as several others.
There’s been renewed controversy over the issue of whether States’ Rights supersede federal powers when it comes to gun control as specified by the Tenth Amendment. Number 10 grants that “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people”. This clause essentially establishes layers of federalism in our multilayered system of federal, state and local government.
But the Tenth Amendment must be weighed against national goals or requirements in the interest of the country such as the general welfare and equal protection. When national interests trump states’ rights, the Supremacy Clause gives the federal government the authority to coopt potentially transgressing state law.
Article VI, Clause 2 of the United States Constitution, known as the Supremacy Clause, establishes the U.S. Constitution, Federal Statutes, and U.S. Treaties as “the supreme law of the land.” The text decrees these to be the highest form of law in the U.S. legal system, and mandates that all state judges must follow federal law when a conflict arises between federal law and either the state constitution or state law of any state.
Just as the First Amendment is not unlimited, neither is the Second. The First Amendment doesn’t allow someone to yell “Fire!” in a crowded theatre nor does the Second Amendment allow a citizen to store combat weapons in the basement like a nuclear bomb, rocket launcher or Bushmaster. Continuing the theatre analogy, and as the President said this week: “Theater of war” weapons “have no place in a movie theater”.
These newly proposed provisions in no way restrict law abiding citizens in their right to own guns. But it seems critics of stricter gun control, primarily among the G.O.P. and gun lobby, insist on prioritizing Guns Over People.
A uniform, federal approach to gun control that protects Americans from further gun violence is clearly needed and we took a step in the right direction this week.
It seems that the party of NO has transformed itself into the Null Set with Congressmen Cantor, Paul, Carr of Tennessee, and Louie Gohmert of East Texas leading the charge. The Rs have again demonstrated that they are part of the null set that recoils at any hint of progressive policy. Their bankrupt proposals for nullification will only result in further dullification of American public policy.
President Obama asked us all this week,” What’s it worth?” To the opponents of stricter gun control who, in many cases claim to be “pro-life” the value of human life v. gun rights falls squarely into this null set.
© Thomas P. Davis (cross-posted at Huffington Post Union of Bloggers and OpenSalon.com)