Category Archives: Individual Rights

Ills That Underlie Violence Go Beyond a Shortage of Gun Control

portrait of schoolboy looking bored

Today I respond to the accusation that, beyond defending their own freedom, gun rights advocates offer only ¯\_(?)_/¯ in response to the problem of violence. In truth, I have deeply-held beliefs about the ills that plague modern society. Addressing some of them might impact the rate violence.

Doing so, however, would be more complicated, more difficult and require more compromise than I think most would-be agents-of-change really want to put forward. This is my challenge to them.

Guns are a tool of violence, not a cause. To find cause, one must look deeper.

Start with the cheap, shallow, one-size-fits all blueprint for life we bequeath sheep-like to our children, most of whom never commit violence, but who suffer in legions from some degree of the same aimless, disaffected, lack of fulfillment reflected in the manifestos left behind by the ones who do.

Eighteen years of artificially prolonged childhood, most of it spent in government run schools. Another four to seven years of delayed adulthood in the university system that is “the new high school.” An 8-to-5 job with a few weeks of vacation per year. Marriage, house, kids, retirement and here’s your gold watch, well done!

Literally, every element of that blue print needs to be re-examined.

Our Public Schools Are All Wrong. Children are meant to move, to explore, to question, test and try. Our schools are designed to enforce the opposite. Sit down, hold still, be quiet, and do as one is told. Learn the subjects and in the ways and at the pace dictated by the enlightened bureaucracy who drew up the blueprint.

National standards make this worse—not because the curriculums are bad, but because they do not light a spark in every child, but force schools to “teach to the test” rather than encourage individual interests.

What we need are young people so filled with spontaneity and wonder and interest and passion and joy that they never have a chance to feel empty or aimless or disaffected or isolated. We want them learning to follow their own directions and find their own projects so that they know how to fill their own spaces inside.

Instead, after eighteen years of conformity and confinement—waiting for permission to speak, to move, to go to the bathroom; memorizing information available in seconds on the phone in their pocket to take tests that don’t matter and learn skills they won’t need for jobs that no longer exist in an economy that has moved on—they no longer even remember what it was to have agency and interests and pursuits and passions that weren’t served up by the faceless social engineers who pre-planned their lives.

And we wonder why they turn their anger outward when they find themselves empty on the inside.

We wonder why so many shootings happen at schools and universities.

More Variety and More Choice. I have always been fascinated by people who focused from a very young age on working toward starting a business. Anecdotally, my observation is that this focus correlates with being a first or second-generation immigrant to the U.S.

Statistics bear this out.

For whatever reason, the U.S. culture does not impart this focus, or the skills necessary to achieve it, to our children. At best we fail to encourage—at worst we actively discourage—young people from doing things like starting businesses, pursuing trades, making movies, starting websites, touring with symphonies or otherwise rocking the boat that is the carefully calibrated public school system designed for an economy that no longer exists.

Instead, after a second period of delayed adulthood in the “new high school” that constitutes our university system, we graduate them into the world as overgrown children, searching for jobs (a new place to sit down, hold still, pay attention and obey) rather than creating them.

We ought to encourage them early to nurture all that messy, disorderly, nonconforming creativity into internal flames to fend off the chill of the inevitable disappointments and hardships of an imperfect world. As it happens the same qualities and pursuits that would nurture that flame are the ones the new economy demands (so convenient!). Creativity. Innovation. Outside-the-box imagination. Experimentation. Risk-taking. Self-motivation.

We don’t need more high school. We need more trade schools, apprenticeships, artists, entrepreneurs, more alternatives and more choice.

More Options for Spirituality. Our culture provides little recognition or support for spirituality outside the mainstream religions. At best, alternative sources of spiritual fulfillment are ignored or denied as a basis for a moral, meaningful life. At worst, they are mocked.

This is wrong. This is yet another area in which people on the fringes are pushed away from the very things that might otherwise gird them against emptiness and alienation, the very connections that might otherwise pull them back from the edge.

We should reconsider forcing the choice between indoctrination into a religion that does not resonate or derision for looking elsewhere. The only correct response to a person seeking spiritual fulfillment outside the major religions is: “That’s great. How can I help?”

The Disastrous Collision of Victorian Prudery and the Aimless Hookup Culture. Our sexual paradigms are as limited and disappointing as our schools and spirituality. We continue to largely limit young people to two seemingly opposite, but both deeply unhealthy, models.

On the one hand, still being taught in the aforementioned public schools, is the idea that all sex before marriage is bad, that young women who do it lack worth and young men who ask for it lack respect. On the other is the hookup culture endemic to our universities in which young people drink themselves into oblivion as a prelude to sexual encounters they otherwise lack the skills or fortitude to effectuate—and in which the point for young women is deeply obscured by the fact that they aren’t achieving either relationships or pleasure.

A recent post at The Harvard Crimson by a student who was raped reflects some of the ways in which the terrain between these two models has yet to be mapped. Let’s consider equipping young people with better tools than getting wasted or just seeing where it goes—tools like straightforward, sober communication about wants and needs and how to ensure they are compatible and met for both parties.

What does sex have to do with violence?

A more sex-positive culture and education might lead to fewer bitter fallouts from failed relationships, fewer unwanted pregnancies, and fewer ill-considered marriages, all of which lead to the broken families and absentee parents that correlate with violent crime.

Beyond that, as Bill Maher is getting some heat for suggesting, sexual frustrations have played a role in the downward spirals of mass killers from Roseburg, Santa Barbara and Oklahoma City, to Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech.

Coincidentally, Scott Shackford had a post at Reason recently covering the importance of sex work to the mental health of the socially disenfranchised. Another change to consider—for those who dare.

Conclusion. We are blessed to live in uncommonly safe and peaceful times. Violence is on a downward trajectory. But there are still dysfunctions to be addressed.

It won’t be as easy as closing the gun show loophole.

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

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.
1 2 3 264