No Caption Needed is a book and a blog, each dedicated to discussion of the role that photojournalism and other visual practices play in a vital democratic society. No caption needed, but many are provided. . . .

November 2nd, 2015

Generic Refugees and the World to Come

Posted by Hariman in no caption needed

You don’t have to see too many of the many photographs of the European refugee crisis before they all begin to blend together.  Even those that may seem moderately distinctive have a generic quality to them.

Syrian people sleep inside a greenhouse at a makeshift camp for asylum seekers near Roszke, southern Hungary, Sunday, Sept. 13, 2015. Hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and others are still making their way slowly across Europe, seeking shelter where they can, taking a bus or a train where one is available, walking where it isn't. (AP Photo/Muhammed Muheisen)

Was this photo taken in Croatia or Hungary or . . . ?  In August or September or October?  Are they from Syria or Turkey or Iraq?  Headed to Germany or Sweden or wherever they can be taken in?

For the record, this photo is of  Syrian refugees at a makeshift camp for asylum seekers near Roszke, southern Hungary, in September.  For all I know, they’re still there.

One response to the generic representation of the refugees is to call for more contextualization.  There is need for that, always, and both writers and photographers are laboring to provide more nuanced stories and images that can bring out the range of circumstances and experiences that make up the crisis.  Let me suggest, however, that we also need to go in the other direction: the more interchangeable the images, they more they point toward the full significance of this historical moment.

The significance I have in mind was set out prophetically by Giorgio Agamben, who argued that refugees and other dispossessed persons were not exceptions to the modern political order of human rights protected by state institutions, but rather the representative figures of a dystopian world being produced by the continued development of modern forms of power.  The real question then is not how or when will the more affluent nations absorb these migrants into their societies, but rather when will the citizens of those societies find that they have been reduced to the status of refugees?

Outlandish?  Perhaps, and 1984 isn’t here yet either, so one could conclude that we have been warned and let it go at that.  But plenty of photographers are not letting it go, whether they’ve read Agamben or not.  Here I’m reprising an outstanding short essay by Anthony Downey in the Spring 2009 issue of Aperture.  It should be required reading for anyone who is interested in the relationship between photojournalism and human rights.  Downey takes up Agamben’s claim and turns it into an orientation for seeing what some of the images can show us about this critical moment in the self-understanding of modernity.  Stated more simply, he suggests how photographers are already revealing a world in the making: one in which more and more people are being abandoned.

Downey’s essay is a brief one, so there is much that could be added, not least in counting all the ways of abandonment.  Whether European states are unwilling or overwhelmed, and whether the conflicts producing the migrations fester because of political dysfunction or indifference in the global community of states is beside the point.  At the end of the day, context may not have mattered so much after all.  Especially if we we looking only for information, instead of asking how photography can disclose a world.

The photograph above may have a few clues to offer in that regard.  Note how it already includes a surreal decontextualization of its own.  We might start with the I (Heart) NY T-shirt in the foreground.  Did he buy it in Times Square?  (Could have, actually.)  And the general mess of largely empty bedding is also disconcerting, as if the scene was somewhere between a teenager’s bedroom and the back room of a thrift store.  And where is everybody, and how can we get a wider sense of things when our vision is so hemmed in by the plastic structure?  Because the structure was built to be a greenhouse, one can even imagine that we are seeing a strange bio-political operation that produces bare life and cheap labor.  These refugees are somewhere in the recent past and also somewhere in a possible future, while the present appears to be largely a mess.  And not just any mess, but one that shows how people are already becoming habituated to abandonment.

If Agamben and Downey are right–and they definitely are not entirely wrong–then that NY T-shirt is also providing exactly the right context for viewing the image.  That shirt can be found anywhere in the world, and so their world is our world.  The migrations being produced by war and war-related disasters are another kind of globalism.  One possible solution may involve a more cosmopolitan sense of political identity along with a low-impact economy of resource sharing, and the T-shirt, greenhouse, and other objects in the photo point in that direction, too.  The crisis will continue, however, until enough people start to discern the possible worlds already being revealed.

We are all on the same road.  Sooner or later, we will all belong to the same community.  The only question is whether it will be one in which all but a few have been abandoned to a world of exploitation and displacement, or one in which hardship is shared for the benefit of all.

Photograph by Muhammed Muheisen/Associated Press.  Downey’s article is “Threshholds of a Coming Community: Photography and Human Rights,” Aperture, Spring 2009, 36-43.

Cross-posted at Reading the Pictures.

October 26th, 2015

Standing at the Edge of the Sea of Images

Posted by Hariman in no caption needed

A man stands on the shore as refugees and migrants arrive on the Greek Lesbos island after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey on October 22, 2015. An EU scheme to relocate asylum seekers from overstretched Italy and Greece could grind to a halt just two weeks after it began if member states fail to meet their obligations, an EU source said. AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS (Photo credit should read ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Wrong title, right?  This strangely beautiful photograph is about the European refugee crisis; it is not about the contemporary media environment. True enough, but I’m asking it to do double duty.

After being in dry dock for five months, this blog is heading back to sea.  The down time was used to finish our next book manuscript, and now The Public Image is in production at the University of Chicago Press.  NCN started in the immediate aftermath of our last publication with the Press, and it has lead to another volume that we never anticipated writing at all.  The book will be out in October 2016, and in the interim we will be posting here periodically.  A redesign of the main page also is in the works, but as always speed will not be our strong suit.

We have noticed that photojournalism got along just fine during our absence.  Good thing, too.  We continue to be gratified at how journalism endures despite the wrenching technological and financial changes that are redefining the industry.  This sustainability doesn’t happen by accident, and it requires everything from difficult business decisions to the personal obsessiveness of individual reporters and photographers.  John and I are not part of that mix; we have another job to do.

This blog is provided to encourage the engaged spectatorship that is needed to make the most of photojournalism as it is an important public art for a democratic society.  We focus on the individual image, despite the social fact that the audience is awash in a deluge of images cascading across multiple media and platforms.  We emphasize the close relationship between aesthetics and politics, and not to warn against enthrallment but rather to understand what is being revealed about the world.  We offer interpretations of specific images not to say they are better than others, but to suggest how every good image is inviting us into a liminal space between virtual and material worlds, involving past, present, and future realities, and offering important choices about how to live with others.

And so we get back to the photograph above.  He, too, stands in a liminal space: between land and sea, the Middle East and Europe, life and death.  His world is at once harsh and beautiful.  Harsh because he can’t survive on either the cold sea or the hard shore, and the litter from previous refugees is a reminder that, although alone, he is part of a vast multitude that is severely straining the organizational and political capacity of the EU.  He can expect only a hard road ahead, one where he may become even more vulnerable, more hungry, colder, and having bleaker prospects that he has at the moment.

For all that, however, he stands within a world of profound natural beauty.  More important still, he adds to that beauty.   His metallic blanket captures the silver tints in the sea and sky, and the flair of the blanket, now like a tunic made sea foam, evokes a long lineage of paintings and mythic figuration going back to Greek antiquity.  Just as Athena, sea nymphs, a multitude of other figures, and before all of that our species came from the sea, once again something unexpected and uncannily human stands on the beach, standing between two worlds and sure to change this one.

And so the two strands come together.  Whether any single viewer is there or not, photojournalism continues to provide a constant stream of images.  Those images are the difference between living in a public world or being relegated to private spaces more or less subject to state control.  Whether we look or not, the photographs are there, like a refugee wrapped in wind torn silver vulnerability at the water’s edge.  Each image like each migrant is one of a multitude, but still one.  Waiting for someone to say, “Here, come this way, we can find a place for you.  Come to think of it, we might need to hear what you have to say.”

Photography  by Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images.

May 17th, 2015

NCN on the Road

Posted by Hariman in no caption needed

NCN on the Road Again

John and I are hitting the road this week, and then one or the other or both of us will be away for many of the weeks between now and mid-September.  During that time we also will be making the last changes on our forthcoming book manuscript, The Public Image, before sending it to the University of Chicago Press for the production work.  We also hope to do a re-design of this website, to be rolled out in September, but that is well down the road at the moment.  So–are you ready for the big disappointment–there will be no birthday post this year, even though our eighth birthday arrives in mid-June.  That’s the age of the blog, not our mental or emotional ages, although some might wonder about that.  In any case, we need the time off, and we plan to be back in the fall.  If you are new to the blog, please feel welcome to browse around.  There are over a 1000 posts in the archive, and should it be that our best work is behind us, that would be where you would find it.


May 13th, 2015

Crossing the Border to the 21st Century

Posted by Hariman in no caption needed

boy in suitcase

It is fitting that the first photograph of the 21st century includes an illegal immigrant.

Yes, scanner technology is there as well, and we’ll get to that, but let’s stop and consider what we are seeing.  A stunning image, to be sure, but also one that mashes up a half-dozen critical transformations in the global environment, and yet doesn’t look like a mash-up.  Because the photo has the autonomy of a work of art, it both prompts and resists interpretation.  We see the patterns that already are transecting our lives to construct a titanium cage of biopolitical social organization, and yet we don’t see anything clearly.  The gauzy colors and plastic emptiness of the scan are a parody of transparency, while the dark silhouette of the body blocks any identification above the primal level of embryonic species existence.  The suitcase seems to be a womb; even the placenta is visible.  The photograph itself seems to be floating in some larger womb, some larger context we can’t yet see but only feel all around us, as if the distant sounds of the world to come were reverberating through some invisible fluid.

It’s a boy, by the way.  He was being smuggled into Ceuta, a Spanish territory on the coast of Morocco, on Thursday.  He has a name (Abou), and a father who now is in custody, and we can hope that other family members can be located.  But we already know that his situation is not exactly ideal.  There are over 200 million migrants in the world, and you can bet that most of them are not medical doctors or engineers.  Millions of people have to move across the globe simply to work, while those left behind struggle with all the problems that come from separation within the family and fraying of the social fabric within the community.

There are many photographs of migration, migrant labor, and the like (and see The Migrant Image: The Art and Politics of Documentary during Global Crisis, by T.J. Demos).  This photograph, by showing less, shows more.  We are not shown this or that immigrant and the typical circumstances and deprivations of the diaspora.  Instead, the image points toward the global forces that are converging to make all labor migrant labor, and all of us illegal aliens.

The photo captures by turns the bare life of the human subject in migration; the emblematic equipment of global transportation and, with that, a powerful but harsh global economy that permeates everyday life; the vulnerable individual in neoliberal economic systems who has to be hidden and humiliated to acquire the means to live, and then is hidden and humiliated while working; the digital technologies for comprehensive surveillance of those subjects; the extent to which modern technologies that promised liberation can become cheap instruments of confinement; and not least, via the eerie suggestion of biomedical laboratory equipment, materials, and optics, the planned transformation of human nature.  Indeed, one can imagine that the photo wasn’t taken for a human being, but rather for another machine.

So it is that a digital image from a government scanner of an illegal immigrant can become the first photo of the new century.  The others of the past 15 years have been recording the passage of time, but this one has captured the brave new world that is forming, still largely in the darkness of a time we can’t yet see.   A world, perhaps, where the post-human laborer already is being incubated.

Photograph by Spanish Gaurdia Civil/HO/Associated Press.  A BBC report on the incident is here.

Cross-posted at BagNewsNotes.

May 11th, 2015

In Honor of Mothers Everywhere

Posted by Lucaites in no caption needed


A Look at the Mom’s of Art history.

We will be back on Wednesday.

May 3rd, 2015

Viewing Conflict at Home and From a Distance

Posted by Lucaites in no caption needed, visualizing war

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 8.42.07 PM

This photograph could have been taken in any number of places throughout the world where violent protest and opposition to authoritarian political regimes seem to dominate the news. And to be sure, we have seen it before on many occasions. Indeed, it is something of a visual trope that tells us little or nothing about the particular conflict, but nevertheless signals a world in which the rule of law has utterly failed if it ever had a place to begin with: the desperate, anonymous individual wielding their body and something less than the most advanced technological weaponry–a brick or rock, a sling, a primitive homemade bomb–against an equally anonymous, heavily armored modern militia.

What makes this image unique is that it does not portray a scene from Barundi or Istanbul or Sana or Tel Aviv or any of the other likely hot spots throughout the world, but rather Baltimore, Maryland. Rather than to be viewing violent protest and opposition at a distance, here we see so-called “unrest” at home. Rather than to be confronted with rebels or revolutionaries and political regimes that are often hard to identify with in any particular way, here we see fellow citizens fighting against the guardians of our civic institutions. And therein lies a tale worth considering, for there is no escaping the implication that what we are seeing here at home is fundamentally no different than what we see regularly abroad, and the clear warning that such “unrest” is not just an aberration but the harbinger—perhaps even a prophecy—of the utter breakdown of civil society.

Given the increasing regularity of such “unrest” animated by a growing distrust of America’s police forces it is a warning we should heed with some care.

Credit: Reuters

April 29th, 2015

Painting With Light

Posted by Lucaites in no caption needed

Screen Shot 2015-04-28 at 8.21.10 PM

I had an opportunity to see Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch” as a teenager and I recall being impressed by the size of the painting, but more than that with the way in which it captured so many different perspectives at once, with folks looking in every which direction. Each gaze within the painting seemed to tell, or perhaps invite, a very different story. I was a somewhat new, amateur photographer at the time, and I remember thinking that the painter here had accomplished something that the photographer could not do – the photographer, I thought, captured a sluice of reality in all of its objectivity, and while the lens could cover a whole landscape it worked most effectively when it focused in closely on details; the painter, on the other hand, did not just capture a scene, but imagined it, and in such imagining there was a special capacity to represent the world in a way that actually “created” it, putting things together that we might not actually see in relationship to one another in the so-called “real,” objective, seeing world. I was young and naïve, of course, but I was also captivated by a fairly common way of thinking about the relationship between painting and photography marked by somewhat rigid distinctions between the real and the imaginary.

Much has changed since the mid-1960s, and we are not so taken anymore with the notion that the distinction between the real and the imaginary is quite so stark –although, oddly enough it does rear its head somewhat regularly. And of course photography is one of the places where we see the problem worked out most clearly. The photograph, of course, is animated by its indexicality, the notion that the thing was actually there. But as with the photograph above, it is also something that in fact can work to evoke the imagination. The scene here is a helicopter on its way to Katmandu, all but perhaps one of the individuals in the scene victims of the recent earthquake in Nepal. And while it is shot within the narrow and confined space of a helicopter, it nevertheless shows a rather wide scene; indeed, there is a sense in which the cramped space of the helicopter has been recast as a wide and capacious landscape. And like in Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch,” notice how just about everyone has cast their gaze in a different direction, each face evoking a somewhat distinct emotional register and inviting consideration of a different story. All Nepalese, and all suffering the same random act of nature, each is nevertheless still an individual with his or her own hurt and sorrow. Painting with light, the photographer here has helped not just to capture an objective reality, but to do so by imagining the relationship between individuals and the larger society of which they are part, and in so doing inviting a different kind of relationship between those of us who view the photograph and those suffering at some distance.

There was a time when photographs were understood as primarily objective representations of the external world. And there is an element of the objective at work here, to be sure, but to limit our understanding of the photograph in such a register is to ignore the incredible power of the camera and the agency of the photographer to help us imagine and rethink the world.

Credit: Jitendra Prakash/Reuters

April 27th, 2015

Nature Photography’s Liminal Moments

Posted by Hariman in no caption needed


Fabulous, isn’t it?  As if from a fable, perhaps: “Once every 1000 years the Magical Iguana King would surface to inhale a silver bubble of air.  And if at that moment he saw a sea eagle, he would become Lord of the Sea and the Sky.  But if the bird was not in sight, then he would return to his sunken lair for another 1000 years.”

This iguana might be magical–after all, he is digital–and he already is a mediator between sea and sky.  The photograph provides a stunning tableau of how separate worlds meet at the surface of things: three worlds, actually, as we also see the rocks of a sea cave framing the heavenly vista that extends far above and along the water.  The iguana represents a fourth world, that of organic life, but it also seems to incorporate the first three in its rock-like skin, streamlined posture, and eye that can see along the rays of light permeating the air.

So it is that the photo captures a profound sense of liminality: the border between things.  We see water and earth and sky and animal, but each of these separate entities is also part of the borders between them, which are something else as well.  The slightly turbulent, partially illuminated surface of the water and the outline of the sky made by the rock create a sense of bounded yet dynamic space, which contrasts with the vast darkness below and the endlessness above.  That border is neither one side nor the other, but both, just as the animal is neither above nor below the water, but both.

Although the act of breaking the surface will have lasted only a moment, the photograph has a sense of timelessness.  The iguana looks like a prehistoric creature, the dark sea and distant sun have been there for billions of years, and there is no sign of anything having changed since then.  Some say that photography shouldn’t aspire to the timelessness of art, but that’s the wrong standard anyway (and not only for photography).  The beauty of this photograph has done something important, which is to show how the enormous scale of nature’s time and space also includes the magic of surfaces–of those places, often very small places, where forces meet and mingle.

And not just once.


This is another example of what I have in mind.  You are looking at a wave that looks like a rock.  The incredible motility of the water has acquired the solidity of rock, which we can see because of the contrast with the sky.  The illusion (if you want to call it that) also is caused by the light flowing through the water, but that proves the point: what we think of as one thing is two or more; a wave is both air and sky, not to mention the motion of earth and moon.  This wave is a border between sea and sky, and one might well wonder what great leviathan could be rising to break the surface.

This photo, like the one above, also seems to depict nature’s timelessness in a liminal moment.  And why not?  Not only are the techniques the same, but the subject is the same.  That wave lasted only a few seconds, but the water and wind shaping it have been there for billions of years and will be there long after we are gone.  We can sense  the abstract forces coursing through the wave, and we can see texture of its surface, which is at once sea and sky.  Together they communicate nature’s glory.

The wave, like view from the sea cave above, also is the product of digital processing.  I wouldn’t worry about that.  Like the effect of the light through the water in each scene, the tonalities of the image are neither fixed nor misleading.  It is only by seeing these scenes somewhat imaginatively that one can begin to appreciate how the world is made, and that is true whether you see it through the lens of art or science.  To the extent the processing helped bring out the richness of the world, so be it.

These photographs are not only an education in natural beauty; they also exemplify how photography itself is a liminal art.  The photograph is a thin surface between two worlds: neither here nor there, and neither past nor present, but both.  Every photograph puts us into a liminal space–a space where perhaps we can breathe a silver bubble of air and see anew.

Photographs by Lorenzo Mittig and Ray Collins at  The first was the winner and the second a finalist in the Natural World category at the Smithsonian Magazine 2014 photo contest.

April 22nd, 2015

Figure and Form in the Photographic Imagination

Posted by Hariman in no caption needed

Some of the time photography relays other arts, and much of the time it creates the artwork.  Much of the time photography provides figural representation (that is, of persons and objects), and some of the time photography provides formal representation (that is, of abstract shapes and relationships).  Figure and form are themselves relative terms, as is suggested by their Latin roots which refer to the not very different concepts of shape and mold.  Figures include forms, and forms imply figures.  In like manner, you could switch the terms “some” and “many” in the previous sentences and they still would be true.  So it is that the transition between figure and form can be a source of invention in this public art.

wall man China

This photo was taken in Shanghai, where local artists were painting a man to blend into a wall.  The project is intended to raise awareness of the need to protect traditional structures.  Good luck with that in capitalism’s newest laboratory, but along the way the photographer has captured a moment in which the figure is both there and not there, familiar and uncanny, still salient but fading into the background.  We also can see that as the figure disappears, the human form does as well, to be replaced by the more impersonal formal relationships of bricks in a wall.

But not really.  There are three figures in the photograph.  The partial disappearance of the one is highlighted by, and highlights in return, the detailed, striking, robust presence of the other two.  The photograph gives us a temporal (and ontological) succession from the wall to the somewhat abstract figure emerging out of it to the fully textured persons in front.  Of course, it also is a recession, as the movement can go from person to (via the brushes) to figure to wall.  It’s all the same to the camera.

So what is the point of the photograph?  It is showing artists at work, so that seems to be the obvious answer, and one that is reinforced by including that architectural ornament in the upper right.  Art and artistry are on display, both as a contemporary act and on behalf of a sense of tradition signified by the decorative fixture.  The skill evident in the painting supposedly is more than is required to operate a camera, but this photograph demonstrates that each art is capable of achieving an aesthetic effect.  The mimetic work of the painters is admirable, but the depiction of the painters is superb.  With their intense concentration and arrested movement, they become aesthetic objects themselves, so much so that they could stand beside others like them in many a painting of the artistic life.  Figural representation has triumphed after all, because of the continuities of form within the image and across the archive.

Clouds Germany

But not for long.  I have included this second image not only because it is a beautiful study in natural forms, but because it happened to follow the first in the recent Photos of the Week slideshow at In Focus.  There doesn’t seem to be any logic or narrative continuity to this new media genre, but the editors are making decisions of selection and placement, so something must lie below the surface.  Once again we have a study in figure and form, although now with the ratios reversed.  The tree is recognizable as a tree, and you can know that the shapes in the air are clouds (which they are), but now the term “clouds” seems a retroactive and all too limited description of what we see.  The photograph presents beautiful, marvelous, enthralling shapes made up of sinuous contours and simple colors.  The forms seem both dynamic and timeless, both solid and ethereal.

So what is the point of this photograph?  Let me suggest that one answer comes from seeing it, as with the one above, as a transitional moment between figure and form.  We see clouds and a tree, but also the vast, incomprehensible beauty of the natural world; and we see the vast, incomprehensible beauty of the natural world, and also clouds and a tree.  Seeing either alone could be too much or too little to contemplate.  The point would be that the beauty of the world is there to be seen, but to see it we have to pull it out of the background just enough so that it is visible yet not too familiar.

As photography is a public art, it depends on and expands an imaginative space, one that stays connected to but extends beyond ordinary vision to show what we have in common.  That includes showing things like nature and tradition and beauty and art, for example.  To see any of these things, figure is necessary, and form is essential.

Photographs by Reuters and Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/AFP/Getty Images.


April 20th, 2015

The Costs of Gun Violence

Posted by Lucaites in no caption needed, visualizing war

Screen Shot 2015-04-19 at 3.16.06 PM

Since 9/11 there have been over 400,000 gun deaths in the USA from privately owned guns. That’s approximately 33,000 deaths per year – murders and suicides combined – and it doesn’t take account of the approximately 80,000 injuries each year. To put it all in context, the Congressional Research Service estimates that from the Battle of Lexington and Concord to the war on Afghanistan, 1,171,177 US citizens lost their lives in American wars; according to the FBI, since 1968 1,387,171 American have lost their lives to firearms. Most recently it was reported that the direct and indirect costs of gun violence amount to $229 billion dollars per year – that’s more than the estimated cost of obesity ($224 Billion) and nearly as much as the cost of Medicaid ($228 Billion). Or to make it personal, the per capita cost ranges from $234 per person (in Hawaii) to $1,397 per person (in Wyoming). The average national per capita cost is $750.

Now I know that attitudes about the 2nd Amendment are polarized across the nation, but whatever your ideological position is it is pretty hard to deny that we have a serious problem here. And the photograph above points to at least a small part of the trouble. That’s a Barrett .50 caliber rifle—often referred to as a “sniper rifle”—on display at the annual NRA meeting in Nashville, TN. It shoots ten rounds per second is a semi-automatic weapon that holds a ten round magazine, projects an effective range of 2,500 meters, and has been known to cleanly sluice through the engine block of a truck. The man wielding the gun is intense and focused. He seems to be having a good time. And therein likes the rub.

I realize that some will take exception to this claim, but I truly cannot imagine how a private citizen could possibly need quite that much firepower, whether for hunting or self-defense or … for what? The International Association of Chiefs first recommended banning the private ownership of such weapons in 2004 as a protection for law officers, a recommendation endorsed by strict regulations passed in the State of California and the District of Columbia. And yet, as the photograph above suggests, the rifles are still not only being manufactured, but promoted at national events … a phenomenon no doubt encouraged by the popularity of this past year’s biographical movie American Sniper. One cannot only see such weapons, but one can play as if they were actually shooting one. And to what end? To imagine assassinating a foreign leader? Or stopping an invading tank?

The question is, can we have a sensible endorsement of the 2nd Amendment without going to the extent of encouraging the purchase of or identification with weapons that clearly have no other purpose than to kill and maim at great distances. After all, weapons such as this are not used for target practice or sport and the thought that a rifle of this size and caliber might serve as self-defense is laughable. Perhaps its only virtue is that it is so large that it can never serve as a concealed weapon. The point, I guess, is that the debate over gun control has extended to such absurd limits that we have failed to produce any kind of sensible regulations on gun control at all. The Constitution grants the right to bear arms, just as it grants the right to “free speech.” But as we know in the later case, such rights are neither absolute nor without obligations. They have to balanced against the costs. And when the costs get too high the rights must, reluctantly, be restricted and restrained.

Rather than to endorse playing with guns, the bigger the bang the better, the NRA would serve itself and the nation more productively if it worked to think about how the 2nd Amendment might be sensibly adapted to a growing (and tragic) cost that seems to exceed its benefits.

Credit: Harrison McClary/Reuters

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