Category Archives: Constitution

Cost-Benefit Analysis of Gun Control More Difficult Than Social Media Speechifying

gun debate

On October 1, a gunman killed nine people at a community college in Oregon.

Two days later, a U.S. drone strike killed 22 at an Afghan hospital, including twelve doctors and ten patients—three of whom were children.

On each day before, between and after those two, 1,300 people died in the United States from tobacco. Another 800 died from obesity-related health conditions. Eighty-seven died in motor vehicle accidents—including three children. Thirteen people were murdered with something other than a gun. Ten people drowned—including at least two children.

Five children died of cancer. Almost 1500 adults did as well.

Each day, every day.

There is something uniquely horrifying about death-by-violence, particularly when violence is meted out on a mass scale. But mass killings are not on the rise. Gun homicides are downsteeply—as is violent crime generally.

Well-meaning people with big-faith in big-government are certain we could hasten the speed of that downward trajectory if only people would set aside their political differences and come together in good faith to enact “common sense” gun control legislation.

It is not so simple.

Rhetoric and good intent are no substitute for fact-based cost-benefit analyses of specific, identifiable additional gun control laws (make no mistaken, we already have a lot of them).

Universal background checks? Closing the gun show loophole? A ban on “assault weapons?” Limits on magazine capacity? More gun-free zones?

None of those would have prevented Roseburg.

Or Sandy Hook.

Or Columbine.

Put to the test by those who demand demonstrable benefit in exchange for ceding rights, it is more difficult than the speechifying might suggest to identify specific, practicable regulations that would effectuate reductions in the murder rate.

Internet memes and charts by gun control advocates routinely suggest that stricter gun control laws correlate with fewer gun homicides. But correlation is not causation, and the statistics often reveal more complicated pictures upon further investigation.

There are significant discrepancies in the ways other countries report both private firearm possession and homicide rates. Accounting for those discrepancies (no easy task) alters the way the U.S. compares on both measures.

Some states and countries (Wyoming and New Hampshire, for example) have both permissive gun laws and low homicide rates. Nine U.S. states with permissive gun laws have so few homicides a reliable rate cannot even be calculated.

If suicides are excluded, five of the 10 U.S. states with the lowest gun-death rates are states with less restrictive gun laws. Whether to include suicides is a complex question because, while certain gun restrictions may correlate to lower rates of suicide by gun, they do not correlate with a reduced rate of suicide overall. In any case, there is no logical reason to conclude that repealing concealed-carry and stand-your-ground laws would impact the rate of suicide.

Other states and countries (like Illinois, California and Brazil) have strict gun control laws and high homicide rates.

Some low homicide jurisdictions (Hawaii, for example) have tight gun restrictions but, crucially, already had low homicide rates before implementing their stricter gun laws. They did not get to their reduced homicide rate via their gun laws. They already had it.

In other examples (like with the 1994-2004 assault weapons ban in the U.S.) gun homicides fall in the wake of restrictive legislation but, crucially, were already on a downward trajectory when the legislation was implemented—and stayed on the same trajectory, thus demonstrating no discernible impact on the murder rate.

Sometimes murder rates may even rise temporarily in the wake of gun control legislation, only to fall back to pre-restriction levels.

Finally, it is important to remember we are not trying to stop people from using guns to commit murder. We are trying to stop them from committing murder. On that note, it is not clear any correlation at all exists between U.S. state gun control laws and their homicide rates.

This is not that surprising once you consider the following: 1) the rate of people wanting to commit murder is influenced by variables other than the jurisdiction’s gun laws; 2) once becoming bent on murder, a person may not feel any compunction against obtaining a gun illegally; or 3) he may simply switch to a different method of murder that does not require a gun; 4) at least some of the murders that would otherwise have been stopped via defensive gun use may instead succeed; and 5) some criminals will be emboldened by the belief their victims will not be armed.

Perhaps an outright national ban on firearms then?

That would require a Constitutional Amendment. Article Five explains the process. As Charles C.W. Cooke has challenged those who favor this course:

Go on, chaps. Bloody well do it.

Seriously, try it. Start the process. Stop whining about it on Twitter, and on HBO, and at the Daily Kos. Stop playing with some Thomas Jefferson quote you found on Google. Stop jumping on the news cycle and watching the retweets and viral shares rack up. Go out there and begin the movement in earnest. Don’t fall back on excuses. Don’t play cheap motte-and-bailey games. And don’t pretend that you’re okay with the Second Amendment in theory, but you’re just appalled by the Heller decision. You’re not. Heller recognized what was obvious to the amendment’s drafters, to the people who debated it, and to the jurists of their era and beyond: That “right of the people” means “right of the people,” as it does everywhere else in both the Bill of Rights and in the common law that preceded it. A Second Amendment without the supposedly pernicious Heller “interpretation” wouldn’t be any impediment to regulation at all. It would be a dead letter. It would be an effective repeal. It would be the end of the right itself. In other words, it would be exactly what you want! Man up. Put together a plan, and take those words out of the Constitution.

Of course, repealing the Second Amendment will not effectuate any actual gun control. It would just remove one of many inconvenient obstacles to that process.

There are also forty-five state constitutional protections.

Once those problematic constitutional obstacles are removed, we are still left with the difficult task of determining what, exactly, the new legislation should look like.

Let us consider Australia’s approach.

In 1996, a man in Australia killed 35 people with a semi-automatic firearm. In the wake of that tragedy, the country enacted legislation mostly prohibiting automatic and semiautomatic rifles, imposing stricter licensing requirements and ownership rules, and funding a buyback program—which succeeded in removing one-sixth to one-third of the nation’s guns from public circulation.

Now almost twenty years out, researchers have concluded that despite the massive outlay of funding, there is little evidence of any impact on the homicide rate.

The Australia model then (assuming the U.S. even could achieve the same success) would leave 60-80% of our guns in circulation and have no discernible effect on the murder rate.

Maybe Congress will simply authorize the ATF and National Guard to go door-to-door and confiscate weapons. Imagine it, a la Reason’s Austin Bragge:

You’ll need the police, the FBI, the ATF or the National Guard—all known for their nuanced approach to potentially dangerous situations—to go door-to-door, through 3.8 million square miles of this country and take guns, by force, from thousands, if not, millions of well-armed individuals. Many of whom would rather start a civil war than acquiesce.

Or Cooke’s colorful illustration:

You’re going to need a plan. A state-by-state, county-by-county, street-by-street, door-to door plan. A detailed roadmap to abolition that involves the military and the police and a whole host of informants — and, probably, a hell of a lot of blood, too. … [T]here are probably between 20 and 30 million Americans who would rather fight a civil war than let you into their houses.

And after this massive outlay of money, this blood bath between those willing to die to keep their guns and those willing to kill to take them away, how much safer will we be?

Everything you need to manufacture firearms is available at Home Depot. The materials needed to manufacture a 12-gauge shotgun cost about $20. If someone wanted to build a fully automatic Mac-10 style submachine gun, it would probably cost about $60. Every electrician, plumber, and handyman in the country has the materials necessary to manufacture firearms in their shop.

The weapons we are wringing our hands about today already are the muskets of yesteryear. Standing on the precipice of home-built drones with bombs, remote-controlled flying automatic weapons, IEDs, 3-D printed guns, backpack-sized dirty bombs and internet DIY chemical and bio weapons, arguing about the gun show loophole or how to define “assault weapon” grows ever more quaintly provincial and antiquated.

The largest school massacre in U.S. history is still the Bath Massacre in Michigan that killed 38 children and six adults.

It happened in 1927.

The killer used explosives.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

John Oliver Takes on Mandatory Minimum Sentences

For those of you who don’t have HBO and are unfamiliar with Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (very much in the same vein as The Daily Show only uncensored) the segment below is a must watch. While John Oliver is certainly of the Left, he definitely has a libertarian streak on social and criminal justice issues. In this segment, Oliver takes on the travesty known as mandatory minimum sentences (i.e. zero tolerance policies with even more severe consequences).

Gawker, the Freedom of Expression, and the Power of Consequences


Is Gawker violating its writers’ rights if its chief executive editor de-publishes a controversial post?

What about if a company’s CEO is forced to step down in the face of a threatened boycott over the CEO’s political positions? Is an artist being “censored” if a comic book publisher cancels his covers and suspends him? Is it an unconstitutional “ban” on speech if Amazon and Walmart remove Confederate flag memorabilia from their offerings?

Across the web confusion abounds about what freedom of expression really means.

Most recently, in the messy wake of its sex-shaming post about a private citizen’s violation of Gawker’s neo-Victorian strictures on monogamy, founder and CEO Nick Denton (who pulled the post) had this to say to his editors:

What I can’t accept is an unlimited and subjective version of editorial freedom. It is not whatever an editor thinks it is; it is not a license to write anything; it is a privilege, protected by the constitution, and carrying with it responsibilities.

Literally, every part of that last bit is wrong.

The editorial autonomy of Gawker writers is not constitutional in nature. It is a license granted by their employer—i.e. Denton. Absent a binding contract, it can be revoked at any time without running afoul of anyone’s rights, and certainly not running afoul of anyone’s constitutional rights.

The constitutionally protected freedom that Gawker writers do have (as do we all) is not to publish at Gawker. The Constitution restricts the power of Congress, not the discretion of Nick Denton.

Nor is that constitutionally protected freedom a “privilege.” It is a right.

And it does not have to be exercised responsibly.

It vexes me when people who should know better get sloppy in their framing. Messy language leads to messy thinking and, in the process, dilutes effective defense of this crucial freedom.

Perhaps a libertarian(ish) review is in order.


Although routinely used in Supreme Court decisions, the words “free speech” do not appear in the Constitution. In my opinion, overuse of this terminology induces people to mistakenly believe their speech should always be costless and consequence-free.

That is not how it works.

Speech requires a forum, which must be paid for by someone.

In public forums paid for by taxpayers, “time, place and manner” restrictions may be imposed to keep things orderly. But content-based discrimination is not permitted. Even the Nazis get to express themselves.

In private forums, on the other hand, the property owner gets to decide what speech he is willing to host.

There is no “free speech” right to interrupt a Muslim prayer service at the National Cathedral. The Cathedral’s owner, which is the Episcopal Church, gets to decide what sort of speech occurs there. It doesn’t have to (but may if it wants) host Muslim-haters, atheists, rude people, or morons.

Similarly, bookstores are not required to carry every book printed just because the author claims a “free speech” right. The corner market does not have to sell every conceivable magazine. Art galleries do not have to make room for every painting. Radio stations do not have to play every song.

And Gawker does not have to publish every post. (I would totally make it publish this one.)

If a speaker wants his speech to be “free” in the sense of not having to pay for the forum, he must either utilize a public forum or find a private owner willing to host the content gratis. Luckily, in this day and age, there are lots of options for that.

Gawker is not one of them.

Like other private publishers and forum owners, it exercises its right to decline hosting or publishing content it dislikes. There’s a term for that right.

…Oh yeah. Freedom of speech.


It is tempting to say that Brendan Eich was “forced” to resign from Mozilla over his position on same-sex marriage. That Richard Albuquerque was “forced” to pull his Batgirl cover variant. That TLC was “forced” to cancel the Duggars.

That Nick Denton was “forced” to pull the now infamous Gawker post.

It sounds more melodramatic and provocative to phrase it that way. But to the extent it’s semantically correct, this is not the kind of “force” that runs afoul of the freedom of expression.

Wrongful force is actual physical force used to prevent or punish speech or other forms of expression.

This includes all governmental interference, because government action by definition involves force. Even civil regulations (like fines) eventually end with puppy-killing SWAT teams. Of course force exercised by private actors, in the form of violent reprisals, also suppresses freedom and therefore should be resisted with the same passion.

Preventing forceful suppression of expression is a higher order principle. When triggered, that principle transcends issues about the content of the speech being defended.


Because speech is the most powerful weapon that ever has or ever will exist.

It has the power to topple kings, eviscerate falsehoods, destroy paradigms, provoke thought, change minds and hearts, alter the course of history, and transform the world.

And it can do all that without shedding a drop of blood.

A weapon like that cannot be entrusted to the exclusive control of the few. Enlightened rulers using force to curtail speech have too often gotten it wrong. Power once ceded can rarely be retrieved, and battles not fought with words and ideas will be fought instead with violence and bloodshed.

We cannot retain the best of speech without protecting its worst. We cannot extract its power to do harm without diluting its power to do good.


That being said, everything short of physical force is fair game.

A Congressional communications director can be pressured into resigning (or fired) for making snarky comments about the President’s daughters. TLC and A&E can cancel their reality television lineup for any reason consistent with the contracts negotiated. Customers can boycott wedding photographers or bakers in retaliation for expression of disfavored opinions. Landlords can refuse to rent to people with Confederate flags in their rear windows. Employers can bypass applicants over their social media postings.

Firing. Boycotting. Refusing to hire. Pulling advertising. Cancelling subscriptions. Social media flame wars. De-publishing. Disassociating. Shaming.

All of these are fair game. All of these are themselves protected acts of expression.

They may make life unpleasant for the target. They may feel coercive or even deeply wounding.

They’re supposed to.

If speech didn’t have that power, we wouldn’t bother protecting it.

Deciding to refrain from speaking because such consequences are too unpleasant is not a response to force. It is a response to speech.


If Gawker were being threatened with forceful suppression of its speech, defending against that violation would be a higher order principle that transcended all others. Personal feelings about the content of the speech would be secondary.

But where no force is imposed or threatened, those secondary principles are the only ones at play. The whole point of the higher principle is to create a circle of freedom in which ideas, without limitation, can be explored and judged on the merits. If we never got around to the judging part, we would destroy the very reason for preserving the freedom.

Nothing happening at or to Gawker (in this specific case) poses any threat to anyone’s fundamental right to free expression. The writers are free to write. The owners of Gawker are free to choose what to publish. The editors are free to “fall on their poisoned pens” in protest. Advertisers are free to abstain. Readers are free to boycott.

None of this constitutes a violation of anyone’s freedom. It’s what freedom looks like.

Sarah Baker is a libertarian, attorney and writer. She lives in Montana with her daughter and a house full of pets.

In the Wake of Obergefell v. Hodges: Gay Marriage, Religious Liberty, and the Free Markets

Church of the Pilgrims, Washington DC

[Photo: Church of the Pilgrims, a Presbyterian USA Church in Washington DC, via Wikimedia Commons.]

On Friday, June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court held in Obergefell v. Hodges that under the Fourteenth Amendment, states are required to license marriages between same-sex partners and to also recognize same-sex marriage licenses from other states. The topic of same-sex marriage is probably one of the most polarizing topics in modern-day America. Over the past several days I have seen dozens of people, both for and against same-sex marriage, acting hateful to one another, unfriending and/or blocking people on social media because they have different views, and just having a very nasty tone. But why? Why can’t we have a dialogue on the topic? Let’s face it. Obergefell is now the law of the land. The purpose of this post is to try to open that dialogue. So now that gay marriage is legal in all 50 states, what comes next?

Gay Marriage

Contrary to what many may think, the Supreme Court did not create new law here. They did not legislate from the bench. The Supreme Court has a long history of recognizing marriage as a fundamental right and has held that the states cannot discriminate against consenting adults with regard to this fundamental right. The Supreme Court has held this time and time again. As Justice Kennedy noted in his majority opinion:

[T]he Court has long held the right to marry is protected by the Constitution.
In Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1, 12 (1967), which invalidated bans on interracial unions, a unanimous Court held marriage is “one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.” The Court reaffirmed that holding in Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U. S. 374, 384 (1978), which held the right to marry was burdened by a law prohibiting fathers who were behind on child support from marrying. The Court again applied this principle in Turner v. Safley, 482 U. S. 78, 95 (1987), which held the right to marry was abridged by regulations limiting the privilege of prison inmates to marry. Over time and in other contexts, the Court has reiterated that the right to marry is fundamental under the Due Process Clause.

– Obergefell (slip op., at 11)

Furthermore, the right to marry is guaranteed under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Anytime that a fundamental right is restricted to a group of people, the government bears the burden of proving that the law is necessary to meet a compelling government interest, that it is narrowly tailored to meet that interest, and that the means of implementing the law is the least restrictive means available. The Court found that there is no compelling government interest in denying same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry solely because of their sexual orientation. This is not creating new law. This is the Supreme Court telling the states that any law which restricts fundamental rights between consenting adults is unconstitutional.

Another argument that I often hear is that people think that this should be left up to the individual states to decide. That would be true under the Tenth Amendment. However, the Tenth Amendment only applies to powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution. The Supreme Court has the power to interpret these laws under the Fourteenth Amendment. So the states’ rights argument doesn’t apply. Bans on same-sex marriage also violate the Privileges and Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. This means that citizens who move to a new state are entitled to the same rights and privileges of citizens in the new state. The state cannot discriminate against them. Therefore, a marriage license that is valid in Massachusetts is also valid in Mississippi. A state cannot discriminate against people who move from other states.

This is not a legislative issue either. As Justice Kennedy stated:

The dynamic of our constitutional system is that individuals need not await legislative action before asserting a fundamental right. The Nation’s courts are open to injured individuals who come to them to vindicate their own direct, personal stake in our basic charter. An individual can invoke a right to constitutional protection when he or she is harmed, even if the broader public disagrees and even if the legislature refuses to act. Obergefell (slip op., at 24)

So even though the ideal process may be to go through the democratically elected legislature, this does not preclude one from raising the issue before the Court if his or her fundamental rights are abridged.

Therefore, the Supreme Court did not create a new law. They did not legislate from the bench. This is not a case of judicial activism run amok. Even if you do not agree with gay marriage, at least understand that the government cannot deprive others of fundamental rights that are given to the rest of us.

Religious Liberties

Rest assured that just because same-sex couples can now marry in all 50 states, it does not mean that the government can discriminate against religious institutions. The government should not force any particular denomination, pastor, priest, or clergy to perform a same-sex wedding against their will. This would violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

I don’t foresee this as much of an issue. Most gay people that I know would get married outside of the church anyway. But if a same-sex couple does want to get married in a particular denomination, their right to marry is not infringed by a pastor’s denial to perform the service. The same-sex couple is still free to seek out another pastor. If a Southern Baptist church does not want to perform the ceremony, the couple can go to an Episcopalian church. If a pastor with the Presbyterian Church of America (PCA) declines to perform a ceremony based on his religious conviction, the couple can seek a pastor with the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) willing to perform the ceremony.

Therefore, I don’t see this decision as an attack on our religious liberties. Every denomination should be able to exercise their faith and religion as they see fit under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment. If you do agree with gay marriage, at least understand that the government cannot infringe on a clergy’s right to exercise his or her faith by declining to perform a same-sex marriage.

Free Markets

Okay. So now same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states. How does this affect the markets and what does it mean for all of the bakers, florists, photographers, et. al who decline their services to same-sex couples? As a Christian AND a libertarian, I sometimes find myself at odds with…myself. Even if I disagree with something that goes against my convictions, it doesn’t give me the right to deprive another of their rights or hate on them for their choices. So I want to view this topic in two lights. How should this be handled with regard to the free markets and the courts? And how does this appear in the eyes of God?

Over the past several years, Christian wedding service providers, such as bakers, florists, and photographers, have declined to provide their services to same sex weddings. In Colorado, Masterpiece Cakeshop was sued for failing to make a wedding cake for a same-sex reception. Despite the owner’s willingness to serve homosexuals in his establishment, he believes that making the wedding cake means that he is participating in the union and it goes against his convictions. More recently, in Oregon, an administrative judge proposed that Sweet Cakes by Melissa pay a same sex couple $135,000 for refusing to bake a cake for a same-sex marriage. Then of course, there was the New Mexico case where the NM State Supreme Court held that Elane Photography discriminated against a same-sex couple by refusing to record their wedding, despite their policy on welcoming gay couples for other services.

From a free market, libertarian position, I disagree with all of these decisions. In each of these cases, the business owner was willing to serve gay couples, but did not want to participate in the wedding ceremony. Businesses are rewarded or punished in the marketplace for their stances and services. If a customer doesn’t like their stance, s/he does not have to give them business. Let the markets dictate what happens to the business. I also understand the business point of view that their services are forms of expression. They should be protected from being forced to cave on their religious convictions. If they don’t want to express themselves in that manner, I don’t agree that they should be forced to. But does that mean that it’s the right decision?

As Christians, is this the way that we are to show our love to the world? In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus tells us that we are to first, love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind and second, that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. When we decline these services to others, are we loving our neighbors as ourselves? Are we reflecting the love of Jesus as we are called to do? I don’t think so. Jesus never really hung out with the religious folks. He was always meeting with, preaching to, and loving on the fishermen, the taxcollectors, the prostitutes, the dregs of society. Jesus said that he didn’t come for the righteous or powerful, but to save those who are lost. When we refuse services to same-sex couples, are we drawing them closer to God, or are we just pushing them further away?

I think that it’s time that we love our neighbors as ourselves.


Albert holds a J.D. from Barry University School of Law as well as an MBA and BA in Political Science from The University of Central Florida. He is a conservative libertarian and his interests include judicial politics, criminal procedure, and elections. He has one son, named Albert, and a black lab puppy, named Lincoln. In his spare time, he plays and coaches soccer.
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