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.

Revisiting Rand Paul’s Campaign Again

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Friday, I wrote a piece about Rand Paul’s presidential campaign and why it is failing. Some people disagreed with it saying I left out a few things. Some of the things they I said I left out was the poor polling numbers of guys like Rick Santorum this time in 2011. Another thing, they said I left out was the fact the campaign was “turning things around.” Finally, some people said I left out a recent poll that showed Paul at 7% nationally.

Guess what, these people were right. I didn’t have all of my facts lined up for that post. I did my readers a disservice. I’m sorry. I’m going to try to make it right by looking at those facts.

The Santorum 2011 comparisons

One of the things some critics said was that I wasn’t looking at the big picture. After all, it is early October. Here’s where the race stood nationally four years ago today.

RCP1

Ignore the top numbers and look at the numbers highlighted on the chart. Perry was beginning his decline after his awful debates. Romney was holding steady as he had all year. Gingrich more or less held steady as did Paul. Bachmann was heading towards her collapse after the victory at the Ames Straw Poll. Finally, Santorum was at the bottom at 3%.

Where Santorum ultimately shined was in Iowa. Here’s what polling looked like 4 years ago today:

RCP2

Again, Perry on top with Bachmann in 2nd. Cain was about to begin his surge which ended after sexual harrassment allegations surfaced. Santorum was at 4.3% and second to last. The top 3 in Iowa wound up being Romney (who was 3rd in this poll), Santorum, and then Paul (who was 4th). To add insult to injury, Santorum only raised a little over $682,000 in the previous quarter.

Here’s how Santorum turned it around, he made this a one-state race for him. He visited every county in Iowa and he tapped his base of evangelicals. He was also helped by Perry’s poor debate performances, the collapse of Herman Cain, and Michele Bachmann’s collapse over her anti-vaxxer comments.

Here’s where the Santorum comparison fails, it’s a much more crowded field than 2011-12. Paul is currently tied for 8th in Iowa. Plus, Paul has a negative X-factor in play, the indictments of his political allies related to the Kent Sorenson vote bying scandal. Caucus states though are a pain in the ass to poll because of the limited number of people who actually attend them.

Is the campaigning turning things around?

That’s a line I keep getting from Paul supporters. The best example of this thinking is an article on Buzzfeed from Friday.

Here’s the thing, they may be doing it. However, there is no way we can know if this is true until a few weeks from now. If the polls start moving upwards, more money starts coming in, and the campaign settles on a strategy; they can say he’s turning things around. This one is wait and see.

What about that new Reuters poll?

I was too dismissive of a new poll from Reuters/Ipsos that came out on Friday. It showed Paul at 6.2% which is an increase from 2.6% from last week. Before I wrote the first piece, I did not know about it. I was initially dismissive of it because it was a poll of all adults. However, Reuters/Ipsos lets you put filters on the poll by limiting it to likely Republican voters. With that filter, Paul’s numbers are 5.6% which is an increase from 2.5%.

I dismissed the poll too rashly. However, the polls from Pew, Gravis, and IBD/Tipp all continue to show Paul in the 2-3% range.

Long story short, I messed up in the first post because I was too dismissive of evidence from the other side. Part of that is due to my own personal prejudice against hardcore Paul supporters from my many online battles with them since 2007. That is 100% on me and I owe my readers an apology.

Now is Rand Paul going to drop out of the race? He has $2 million left, he has no need to at least before the next debate on October 28th. He has plenty of time to turn his campaign around. Whether or not he does is another matter entirely.

Why Is Rand Paul’s Campaign Failing And What Can Libertarians Learn From It?

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Many people were expecting Rand Paul to be a serious contender for the Republican nomination. However, as of writing Paul averages at just 2.3% support according to Real Clear Politics. What the hell happened? Why is the “most interesting man in politics” struggling so badly?

A couple of (pre?) autopsy pieces came out today that try to explains it. First up is Jerry Taylor, the head of the newly launched Niskanen Center, who had a piece on FoxNews.com. He argues that the reason why Paul failed is because there never was a libertarian moment in the first place.

According to an August survey by the independent polling firm Eschelon Insights, far and away the most popular candidate nationwide among libertarian-inclined Republicans is Donald Trump, the least libertarian candidate in the race.

Libertarians who can’t stomach Trump scattered their support without any ideological rhyme or reason (11 percent for Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, 9 percent for Ted Cruz and John Kasich, 8 percent for Carly Fiorina, 7 percent for Paul).

The secret of Trump’s appeal to Paul’s base is that a large segment of the “Ron Paul Revolution” leavened its libertarianism with a pony keg of crazy. Birthers, 9/11 Truthers, a wide assortment of conspiracy theorists (many of whom believe the Federal Reserve to be a modern manifestation of the Illuminati), and naked racists rivaled the number of reasonably sober libertarian-ish voters among the faithful.

Very little I can disagree with here. Way back in 2007, we were making the point that many people in the Ron Paul rEVOLution were part of the wacko fringe. Taylor’s description of many (but not all) Ron Paul supporters is dead on. You have nutcases in every political movement, but the rEVOLution seemed to attract more of them than usual. Rand to his credit has refused to pander to these people, for the most part. It would also be dishonest to say Ron Paul himself agreed with these fringe nutters, but he hasn’t been as hostile to them as Rand.

The only thing I would point out is the libertarian(ish) vote comes in many different variations. If Libertarians (capitalized intentionally) don’t agree on everything, why should we expect libertarian-leaning Republicans?

Taylor goes on to make a few points that I have to disagree with, at least partially.

Sure, one can argue that Paul has run a sub-par campaign and that a more adroit effort would have produced better results. But given the above, it is hard to argue, as some do, that Paul would have done better had he run as more of a libertarian.

 

 

If real libertarian votes were there for the taking, someone would have come along and done the harvesting.

 

 

If there was truly a $20 (electoral) bill lying on the sidewalk, it’s hard to believe that none of the other 14 starving candidates would bother to pick it up.

Let me start with where I agree with Taylor. I do believe that the “libertarian vote” has been overstated. Only 7% of the American electorate is libertarian according to the Public Religion Institute poll Taylor cited. If the libertarian vote was a major factor in American politics, the Libertarian Party would be a major party.

However, another 15% of American voters lean libertarian. For example, the author is a “libertarian leaner” but not a full blown libertarian. Also, 12% of the Republican party’s voters are libertarian. The problem is that they may not be doctrinaire libertarians. Those generally join the Libertarian Party and we see how well it performs. The libertarian(ish) votes are there, Paul failed to grab them.

Which brings me to the second piece of this series, one by Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post. He lays out four reasons why Paul failed.

  • The libertarian strain in the GOP peaked in 2014.
  • Paul’s move to court the establishment cost him among libertarians.
  • Paul has been a very weak fundraiser.
  • Rand hasn’t been a good candidate.

I would add a fifth reason which is an extremely poor campaign that seemed to lack a basic, consistent strategy. First they were going to fight nationwide. Then, New Hampshire became must win. The new strategy is to get some wins in other caucus states. Problem is, the first ones don’t vote until March 1. Ask President Rudy Guiliani how waiting until after the early states vote to get your first victory works out.

Two of the four reasons Cillizza pointed out would’ve been mitigated by Paul being a better candidate. Paul would’ve been better able to sell a more non-interventionist foreign policy and been able to raise the money if he was a better candidate. Taylor’s article points out a large reason why Paul lost his dad’s base. However, if Paul was a better communicator, he could’ve better reconciled his more pragmatic viewpoints with hardcore libertarianism. Instead, he got the reputation that he’s a flip-flopper. Finally, Paul just didn’t communicate to voters on things they were interested in.

Does this mean that libertarians should give up on politics? Nope. Instead of libertarians should realize that the market for hardcore libertarianism is very limited. Most people are not inclined to support laissez faire economics, believe America should have a foreign presence, and are willing to accept state controls of some behavior. That’s fine.

Instead, libertarians should focus on coalition building and advancing libertarian policies pragmatically. That involves showing a willingness to compromise. Finally, it may involve grabbing the “low-hanging fruit” of policy instead of big ticket items such as the ending the Federal Reserve which appeal to libertarians, but have very little interest to the average citizen.

Now of course Rand Paul may turn things around and make the most improbable of comebacks. However, if he doesn’t this will provide many valuable lessons to be learned. Will libertarians learn them?

Zero Tolerance Will Never Stop Bullying

BullyingBullying, so we are told by the MSM, is an epidemic in our nation’s schools. Administrators have guest lecturers, students role play and/or talk about their feelings, sign anti-bullying pledges, wear ribbons and T-shirts with slogans about how bullying isn’t cool. These things are all fine; its great that there are people and organizations who care enough to shine a spotlight on the real life consequences of bullying. Maybe some bullying is prevented with these programs. That being said, no amount of role playing, “sharing,” or pledges will protect a victim of violence while the bullying is happening.

There is one policy that far too many schools have that will never stop bullying: zero tolerance for those who use legitimate force against those who illegitimately use force. Zero tolerance, makes no distinction between the aggressor and the one being aggressed against. Failing to make such a distinction is akin to taking the position that making love and rape are the same act. Zero tolerance teaches people to not question the rules discouraging critical thinking.

This brings me to the recent event that transpired in Huntington Beach, California. The bully, by the name of Noah, was beating up on another student, Austin who is partially blind. But before he could continue the beat down, Noah received a beat down of his own when Austin’s friend Cody came to the rescue. The beat down consisted of two hits: a hit to Noah’s face and his head hitting the ground.

Here’s the viral video of the event.

Early reports about Cody’s punishment (kicked off the football team and suspension from school) which resulted in an online petition signed by almost 43,000 people for defending his friend appear to be inaccurate. According to the L.A. CBS affiliate, the school did not suspend him and Cody did not join the football team this season. If this is all true, this is a very good sign that not every school has bought into the zero tolerance cult.

Still, there are those even among his defenders, who say that Cody shouldn’t have knocked the bully down. This is absurd.

If any student should be invited to the White House, it should be Cody Pine. While Cody Pine by no means single handedly put an end to bullying, certainly there is one bully who will, at the very least, think twice before attacking another student. Beyond that, perhaps more individuals of all walks of life will be inspired to do what is right.

Postscript:
Something else occurred to me when I watched the video again after publishing this post. Notice the amount of force Cody used to stop Noah from attacking his friend? Cody could have easily beat Noah to a bloody pulp but he chose not to. Like I said, stopping the bully only required two hits. Maybe certain overly aggressive members of law enforcement could learn a thing or two from this video concerning use of force.

Former Liberty Papers Contributor Authors Report on “Over-criminalization Epidemic” for Freedomworks

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Former Liberty Papers contributor Jason Pye may have long ago moved on from this humble blog but he certainly hasn’t moved on from doing his part to educate the general public on matters of liberty and justice. Pye’s latest work for Freedomworks is something I have a great deal of interest in and concern about: over-criminalization.

What can be done about the idea that the average person commits (usually unwittingly) three felonies a day? Pye offers some great ideas; mine are probably too radical. My radical proposal being

1. Congress should repeal the entire criminal code and restore the Crimes Act of 1790.

2. Crimes that are already on the books in a given state should have jurisdiction instead of similar federal crimes (i.e. murder is already a crime in all 50 states and all the territories, therefore; the federal government should not charge anyone for murder as the state or territory would use its police power to bring charges).

This would go a long way towards solving the problem of over-criminalization.

That said, Pye’s recommendations are probably more politically feasible and should be a great starting point.

The Over-criminalization Epidemic: The Need for a Guilty Mind Requirement in Federal Criminal Law

Related Posts:
Do We Really Want the President to Enforce ALL Federal Laws?
Quote of the Day: Jason Pye on the Smarter Sentencing Act

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