Category Archives: Property Rights

Random Acts of Violence Can Be Mitigated But Not Prevented

In the aftermath of the senseless killing that occurred last Friday in Aurora, CO at the premier of the latest Batman movie, the question on most people’s mind is how this kind of violence can be prevented. What is the appropriate public policy that will prevent something like this horrible event from ever happening again?

Unsurprisingly, those who favor stricter gun control laws and those who favor less have come to very different conclusions. If the shooter had to jump through additional legal hoops to acquire the guns, the ammunition, the body armor, didn’t have the ability to purchase high capacity clips (because they were outlawed), etc., would this have certainly prevented this tragedy? If the movie theater didn’t have the “gun free zone” policy and one or more of the movie patrons with a CCW and a hand gun to return fire, would this have certainly prevented this tragedy?

In a word the answer is no to either approach.

Others blame the “coarsening of our culture” due in part to violent movies, video games, music, etc. The pervasiveness of pretend violence inspires real life violence, some might argue. If the entertainment industry toned down or eliminated violence in their respective art forms (whether voluntarily or by government censorship), would this have certainly prevented this tragedy?

Again, the answer is no.

There is no public policy nor security approach that will certainly prevent another random act of violence such as this. When you think about it, the question is quite absurd. The question should not be whether these acts of violence can always be prevented but whether they can be mitigated or reduced.

Is it possible that with additional gun control laws, this individual wouldn’t have been able to perpetrate this evil? While I oppose additional gun control laws, I have to concede that it is possible that if obtaining these weapons were more difficult, that this wouldn’t have happened. By regulating the type of firearms and ammunition the average person can purchase, certain criminals would be otherwise prevented from using a firearm in an unprovoked, violent fashion. But as the NRA likes to point out, criminals by definition don’t care about the law (the Aurora shooter didn’t change his mind when he walked by the “gun free zone” sign that would have notified him about the theater’s policy). Those who are determined to commit crimes with guns will acquire them through the black market. Would the killer in this instance gone through the trouble to seek out these weapons on the black market? Probably, but it’s impossible to know for sure.

While I agree with John Lott Jr.’s arguments he outlines in his book More Guns, Less Crime* and can be found making his case at various media outlets, I think it’s a bridge too far for some of my fellow travelers who support the right to bear arms to say that a single person with a gun in the theater would have prevented 12 people from being murdered and dozens more from being injured. The truth is, we cannot know for sure because there are too many variables. It’s entirely possible that a CCW holder who was properly trained might have reduced the body count and the injuries. I certainly think the odds are that more people would have survived, but given the circumstances of this event, I doubt seriously that the whole tragedy would have been averted.

So if random acts of violence cannot be prevented regardless of the security measures or public policy reforms, the question necessarily becomes: just how much risk of being a victim of a random violent act are we willing to tolerate and at what cost**?

With all the murders and scary things reported in the news, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that our culture is more violent than ever. The thing is though, it’s just not true. With the news of a mass shooting occurring on school campuses, at the grocery store in Tucson, and the latest shooting at the theater in Aurora, it might seem that there is a lunatic with a gun around every corner ready to do carnage. You may be surprised to learn then, that every school campus is due to be the place of an on campus murder…once every 12,000 years.

You may be even further surprised to learn that our world as a whole is a much less violent place than any time in the history of humanity. According to research by Harvard’s Steven Pinker, the 20th century was less violent than the previous centuries even considering all the death and destruction from the world wars, the cold war, Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and Mao’s China.

You are less likely to die a violent death today than at any other time in human history. In fact, violence has been on a steady decline for centuries now. That’s the arresting claim made by Harvard University cognitive neuroscientist Steven Pinker in his new book, The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.

Just a couple of centuries ago, violence was pervasive. Slavery was widespread; wife and child beating an acceptable practice; heretics and witches burned at the stake; pogroms and race riots common, and warfare nearly constant. Public hangings, bear-baiting, and even cat burning were popular forms of entertainment. By examining collections of ancient skeletons and scrutinizing current day tribal societies, anthropologists have found that people were nine times more likely to be killed in tribal warfare than to die of war and genocide in even the war-torn 20th century. The murder rate in medieval Europe was 30 times higher than today.

So despite the “lax gun laws” and despite the “coarsening of our culture,” somehow we are less likely to be a victim of a violent act than at any time in history if we are to believe Steven Pinker. Of course, I realize that this probably isn’t much comfort to those who have been victims of these violent acts. We must remember, however; that if we succumb to fear that follows these horrific acts, we risk surrendering our privacy and our liberty*** for very little net benefit. We must recognize that there will always be those who want to harm his fellow man. Be alert, be vigilant, but under no circumstances allow yourself to live in fear.

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Mao Yushi: An Inspiration for All Who Yearn to be Free

Last Friday, the Cato Institute honored dissident Chinese economist Mao Yushi with the Milton Friedman Prize for Advancing Liberty. Just a week prior, Mao, a consistent critic of Chinese government policies and advocate of both individual and economic liberty faced the possibility of being detained rather than being permitted to fly to Washington D.C. to receive the award in person and deliver his acceptance speech. By Tuesday, Cato confirmed in a press release that the Chinese government kept its word and allowed Mao to leave the country.

The first video tells Mao’s inspiring story:

The second video, the 2012 Milton Friedman Prize winner himself Mao Yushi delivers his acceptance speech.

Congratulations to Mao Yushi for earning this most prestigious prize for your life’s work in the advancement of human freedom. You sir, are an inspiration to us all.

Open Thread: If I Wanted America to Fail…

FreeMarketAmerica.org has released a great video (above) called “If I Wanted America to Fail.” It’s a pretty decent list of policies one would want to implement to cause America to fail but it’s far from complete.

Here are a few suggestions of my own:

If I wanted America to fail, I would want congress to abdicate its war powers and give those powers to the president so he could commit acts of war against any country he desires for any or no reason at all.

If I wanted America to fail, I would want these undeclared wars to be open-ended with no discernable war aim. This would lead to blowback and create more enemies for America.

If I wanted America to fail, I would have troops deployed around the world to make sure the world is “safe for democracy” but would topple regimes, even those elected by the people of these countries, if the president found the new leaders not to his liking. This would create even more enemies who would try to cause America to fail.

If I wanted America to fail, I would do away with due process – even for American citizens who the president considers “enemy combatants.” I would want the president to have the ability to detain these people indefinitely, ship them to a foreign country, and even give the president the authority to kill these people anywhere in the world they are found.

If I wanted America to fail, I would have the ATF sell arms to Mexican drug cartels so they could kill innocent people on both sides of the border. I would name this operation after a lame action movie franchise and pretend to know nothing about it when details were made public (It’s not like the media would have any interest in investigating this deadly policy because this is a Democrat administration).

Now it’s your turn. What are the policies being implemented now that you would want implemented if your goal was to make America fail?

Judge Andrew Napolitano’s Final Installment of “The Plain Truth”

As most of you are aware, Judge Andrew Napolitano’s final episode of “Freedom Watch” on Fox Business Channel aired earlier this week. The segment I will miss the most is the judge’s closing monologue he called “The Plain Truth.” Here is the final installment:

SCOTUS: Police Placing GPS Tracking Device on a Vehicle Without Warrant Violates the Fourth Amendment [or Does it?]

How about some good news on the civil liberties front to kick off the week for a change? Robert Barnes writing for The Washington Post reports that SCOTUS ruled 9-0 in United States v. Jones stating that the police placing a GPS tracking device on a person’s vehicle and tracking said vehicle over days, weeks, or months without a warrant violates the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee against unreasonable searches.

The Supreme Court ruled unanimously Monday that police must obtain a search warrant before using a GPS device to track criminal suspects. But the justices left for another day larger questions about how technology has altered a person’s expectation of privacy.

Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the government needed a valid warrant before attaching a GPS device to the Jeep used by D.C. drug kingpin Antoine Jones, who was convicted in part because police tracked his movements on public roads for 28 days.

“We hold that the government’s installation of a GPS device on a target’s vehicle, and its use of that device to monitor the vehicle’s movements, constitutes a ‘search’ ” under the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, Scalia wrote.

[…]

Alito’s point was that it was the lengthy GPS surveillance of Jones itself that violated the Fourth Amendment and that “the use of longer term GPS monitoring in investigations of most offenses impinges on expectations of privacy.”

“For such offenses,” he wrote, “society’s expectation has been that law enforcement agents and others would not — and indeed, in the main, simply could not — secretly monitor and catalogue every single movement of an individual’s car for a very long period.”

The only disagreement among the Justices was whether or not the decision went far enough to protect individuals in a 21st century world based on a 18th century law (i.e. the Fourth Amendment).

Hey, even a blind squirrel can find a nut once in awhile and in even rarer cases, 9 Supreme Court Justices.

***Correction/Further Analysis***
If you followed the link to The Washington Post article, you might notice that the parts I quoted don’t match up exactly. This is because the article has since been edited with a more complete explanation of what United States v. Jones really means. It appears that I put entirely too much trust into what was being reported in the media here and elsewhere (and I still haven’t gotten around to reading the opinion for myself).

Doug Mataconis (who is a lawyer; I am not) was the first to point out that the coverage of this ruling isn’t quite as good from a civil liberties perspective as the media would have us believe:

I think all you can really say is that, under circumstances of this case, the Court found that the use of the tracking device without a warrant was impermissible. As the majority opinion notes, however, the Government attempted to raise in their arguments to the Supreme Court the theory that the search was supported by reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause to believe that Jones was the leader of a drug gang. Under such a theory, the use of the tracking device would have theoretically been justified even without a warrant.

You can read a more detailed analysis from Doug here Outside the Beltway.

Doug also pointed me to this article by Orin Kerr at The Volokh Conspiracy post entitled “What Jones Does Not Hold”

It seems that I wasn’t the only one mislead about the true impact of this ruling. Even Radley Balko at The Agitator had to make some corrections to his post regarding this case and made reference to the same post by Kerr as well as an even more discouraging analysis from Tom Goldstein at SCOTUSblog.

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