Quote of the Day: Honest Debate Edition

popehatOver at Popehat, Ken White makes the point that gun control advocates should have the balls to say that all firearms should be banned instead of using purposely vague or misleading language (as people on the Left tend to do). Using vague, sometimes Orwellian terms tend to creep into other areas of our private lives

I want [gun control] advocates to learn the difference [between ‘automatic’ and ‘semi-automatic’ firearms for example] so I can have some level of confidence that I know what kind of proposed government power we’re debating […]

[…]

Gun control advocates may argue that it’s pointless to define terms because gun control opponents will oppose gun control laws no matter how they are crafted. […] But it’s not a logical or moral excuse for not trying. Urging vague and unconstrained government power is not how responsible citizens of a free society ought to act. It’s a bad habit and it’s dangerous and irresponsible to promote it.

[…]

We live in a country where the government uses the power we’ve already given it as a rationale for giving it more: “how can we not ban x when we’ve already banned y?”

The Growing Cult of the Imperial Presidency

Yesterday, President Obama used executive orders to further burden the fundamental right of self-defense. On the same day, in an effort to defend his Senate absenteeism, GOP candidate Marco Rubio gave his implicit endorsement to the concept of the imperial presidency.

Let us consider Obama’s action on gun control first. His executive orders grow the size of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), commit taxpayers to additional spending on programs he likes, and purport to expand the scope of existing background check requirements.

This did not constitute circumventing Congress, according to Senior White House advisor Valerie Jarett, because Congress “made it very clear they are not going to act.”

It is unclear what practical effect will be achieved by the expanded background checks. The existence of a loophole seems to have been exaggerated in the first place. Any change likely would not have made a difference in the high profile shootings supposedly motivating the President. As Jacob Sullum at Reason’s Hit & Run noted:

[The President] recited a litany of horrific, headline-grabbing mass shootings while proposing policies that would have done nothing to prevent them. Anticipating that his non sequitur would draw criticism, he boldly proclaimed that good intentions matter more than actual results…

The Obama faction of the cult-of-the-president does not care. They conceive of rights as things we get from parent-like leaders. Like well-behaved children, we ought to be grateful for the privileges we are permitted—not whining over the prerogatives of adults.

But if they are upheld (by the very courts GOP candidates like Ted Cruz, Jeb Bush and Mike Huckabee insist should defer to the political branches) Obama’s orders will have at least one meaningful impact, even if it is not on the homicide rate. The impact will be on the structure and scope of government power—and its increasing centralization in a single individual: an imperial president with the power and mandate to act where the people’s elected representatives have refrained from doing so.

As Bonnie Kristian, a communications consultant for Young Americans for Liberty, writes at Rare:

In most matters, contrary George W. Bush’s infamous assertion, the president is constitutionally not “the decider.”

He’s the doer.

Congress is supposed to be the decider—even (or sometimes especially) when it doesn’t do what the president wants.

Even this misses the target.

We are the deciders.

Rights are not things we are given, not privileges handed out to children by benevolent parent-kings. Rights are ours for the having unless and until we yield them. The only way to do that is via elected representatives. Even then our ability to give away rights is limited by the Constitutional framework our founders had the foresight to put in place.

It is not meant to be easy to give rights away.

Jarett and Obama are therefore wrong to lay blame on Congress’s “failure to act.” It is not that Congress has failed to act. It is that we, the people, have not in sufficient numbers directed our elected representatives to infringe further upon our fundamental rights of self-defense.

Use of executive orders to circumvent the collective will of the people’s representatives fundamentally alters our constitutional structure. The left might embrace this trend now, while their man is at the helm, and his target is guns. But how will they feel when it is a Ted Cruz or a Donald Trump circumventing Congress? When the executive power is used again to send troops to fight undeclared wars?

Incidentally, last year, Obama was the biggest seller of arms in the world, servicing buyers like Saudi Arabia and Syrian rebels (even though Congress has not declared war).

I wonder if he does background checks…

It is disappointing that on the same day Obama issued his executive orders, Marco Rubio gave his implicit endorsement to the idea that Congress is of secondary import to the will of the President.

His comments came in the context of his chronic Senate absenteeism, including for the end-of-year spending and tax bill vote, which has provoked criticism from other GOP candidates, including Rand Paul.

Well, you know, the difference between Marco Rubio and I is, I show up for work. And we had the biggest vote of the whole year, voting on a trillion dollars worth of spending, and he didn’t show up. So, yes, I think he ought to resign or give his pay back to the taxpayer.

When asked yet another question on the issue, Rubio’s attempt to defend himself was a big, depressing fail implicitly endorsing the growing cult of the imperial presidency.

I have missed votes this year. You know why? Because … only a president can set the agenda. We’re not going to fix America with senators and congressmen.

Perhaps Rubio could point us to where in the Constitution the power to “set the agenda” is granted exclusively to the President.

I checked Article II and didn’t see it.

You know how everyone has that thing? The thing drives them crazy? Like the sound of nails on a chalkboard? Maybe it is baristas misspelling names. Or your when it should be you’re. People who use literally to mean figuratively.

That song from Frozen.

For me, it is people talking about “our leaders.”

U.S. citizens don’t have leaders. We have representatives. They don’t tell us what to do—we tell them how to voteSee Article I, The Constitution.

We also have a chief executive. His job is to execute the laws passed by Congress, deal with foreign countries, and provide information to Congress. He also serves as Commander-in-Chief of the military.

But not of us.

To the contrary, we pay him for his “Services.” See Article II, The Constitution.

No one commands us. No one leads us. And no one rules us. That is what it means to be free.

The number of people who react with hostility and defensiveness to this notion is bizarre to me. It is as if they want to be led, like when I first left home and missed having my parents tell me what I should do. Being leaderless means being responsible.

So maybe deep down, those who would rather not shoulder such burdens harbor an unconscious longing for the days of monarchs. When the best-born among us led the way atop magnificent horses, swords and armor flashing in the sunlight, obliterating responsibility by demanding complete allegiance—leaving we lesser souls to imagine ourselves as scullery-maid-turned-princess from the safe distance of our own servitude.

Easier to daydream of being transported to the prince’s ball in an enchanted pumpkin wearing a gown made of magic than to actually climb up on a horse of one’s own.

But the willing subjects are as dangerous as the would-be kings.

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

Ills That Underlie Violence Go Beyond a Shortage of Gun Control

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

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.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xqHrTtvFFIs

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

Sympathy for Paranoia

The moon landing was faked by the U.S. government for propaganda purposes to win the Cold War. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 was actually an inside job as a pretext to go to war. Space aliens landed in Roswell, NM but the government has been covering it up. The Sandy Hook massacre was faked to increase support for new gun control laws; the “victims” were actually actors who are all alive and well today. The Illuminati is the secret entity which actually governs the whole world…

The natural response to these statements is to say “these people are mad barking moonbats” and to keep ourselves as distant as possible from the people making them. Those of us in the liberty movement who want to be taken seriously are very quick to renounce anyone who is within six degrees of Alex Jones or anyone else who states any of the above. It’s difficult enough to be taken seriously about legalizing drugs, the non-aggression principle, free markets, and freedom of association; the last thing we need is to be lumped in with “those people.”

While it is very important to defend the “brand” of the liberty movement, it’s also important to recognize the reasons why people believe some rather nutty things.

[W]hen I say virtually everyone is capable of paranoid thinking, I really do mean virtually everyone, including you, me, and the founding fathers. As the sixties scare about the radical Right demonstrates, it is even possible to be paranoid about paranoids. – Jesse Walker, The United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory, (p. 24) (Read my book review here)

Once one learns about some of the activities governments been proven to have been involved in, some conspiracy theories no longer seem as outlandish. I used to refer to conspiracy theories and wacky beliefs as “black helicopter” stories and I’m fairly certain that others used the same terminology. Once I learned that black unmarked helicopters were used in the assault by the FBI on the Branch Davidians in Waco, TX,(Napolitano, p.110) I stopped calling such ideas “black helicopter.”

Not everything that sounds crazy is.
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