Tag: gun rights

A Brief Civil Liberties Quiz

See if you can spot the civil-liberties victory:

  1. The Supreme Court says the government can put your DNA in a national database, even if you were wrongly arrested.
  2. The State of Mississippi imposes mandatory collection of the DNA of babies born to teenage moms, neither of which is suspected of a crime.
  3. The Department of Justice is tracking and threatening to prosecute reporters, for the crime of reporting.
  4. The National Security Agency is collecting everyone’s phone records, even if they suspect you of nothing.
  5. The U.S. Senate kills a bill that could lead to a registry of law-abiding gun owners.

Answer: #5. 

Those crazy senators are looking less crazy all the time. 

Democracy EXPOSED!

I found a release put out by the American Legislative Exchange Council today a little too meek. So let’s talk about the debate around ALEC, a group I’ve been involved with as a volunteer advisor since before I joined Cato. (The Communications and Technology Task Force used to be called “Telecommunications and Information Technology,” but that didn’t work well in our acronym-happy world.) ALEC is under seige because of alleged ties between its backing of “Stand Your Ground” laws and the Trayvon Martin case, in which a young black man was killed by a neighborhood watch officer of…uncertain ethnic background.

Tim Lynch and Walter Olson have made us aware that the Martin tragedy does not actually implicate Stand Your Ground. Tim has also made us aware of a case in which Stand Your Ground is implicated, that of an elderly Detroit man who shot and killed an 18-year-old entering his home armed with a handgun at 1:30 a.m.

There’s no question, as Tim said, that Zimmerman’s taking of Trayvon Martin’s life warrants intense scrutiny. (The very latest: Prosecutors intend to charge Zimmerman.) While that plays out, Cato will address self-defense law and gun rights at an event entitled “’Stand Your Ground’ Laws: Self-Defense or License to Kill?” on April 23rd, which I encourage you to attend or watch.

But ALEC is an odd target for scrutiny of the quality it’s getting. ALEC describes itself as dedicated to “the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.” Toward this end it “enlist[s] state legislators from all parties and members of the private sector who share ALEC’s mission.”

Anti-ALEC site ALECExposed.org characterizes things differently:

Through the corporate-funded American Legislative Exchange Council, global corporations and state politicians vote behind closed doors to try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called “model bills” reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge corporations. In ALEC’s own words, corporations have “a VOICE and a VOTE” on specific changes to the law that are then proposed in your state. DO YOU?

It’s very exciting stuff—the idea that people would organize themselves to affect the public policies of their states and nation.

The latter characterization of ALEC doesn’t square very well with the Trayvon Martin case, though. The ALECExposed site itself emphasizes that the National Rifle Association works through ALEC to promote and defend Stand Your Ground and other gun rights and self-defense laws. The NRA is a corporation, yes, but it’s an issue advocacy organization. It’s no more the huge or global corporation ALECExposed aims at than the Center for Media and Democracy, hosts of ALECExposed.

The point is made, though: Corporations are trying to influence our public policy! And they are working closely with state legislators to do it!

The horror.

I’ve looked, and there is no NCSLExposed.org. (Domain available!) The National Conference of State Legislatures is a similar group to ALEC: larger, center-left, and government-funded. In 2010, $10 million of NCSL’s $16.8 million general fund came from state legislatures. Most of the remainder comes from grants from federal agencies such as the federal Departments of Health and Human Services, Education, Energy, and Transportation, and from private foundations.

Here, let me re-phrase that:

Through the government-funded National Conference of State Legislatures, governments and foundations try to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. Their efforts reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit huge governments and corporations. In NCSL’s own words, it is an advocate for the interests of state governments before Congress and federal agencies. IS IT AN ADVOCATE FOR YOU?

I’ve done my best to make NCSL sound malign, though it’s not. Neither is ALEC malign. I agree with some of what both organizations do, and I disagree with some of what both organizations do.

And I suppose that reveals the trouble with the trouble with ALEC. It is a highly selective attack on one organization that has the peculiar quality of advancing the aims of the business sector, of libertarians, and conservatives. A larger organization that advances the aims of the government sector enjoys no attention in current debate. The hundreds of other organizations that advance the aims of various other sectors—unions, for example—not a peep. Even though RIGHT NOW unions are trying to influence public policy in ways they believe will help workers!

The First Amendment’s protections for freedom of speech, association, and petition of the government have in their background a vision for how our political society should work. Anybody should get to say anything they want, and anybody should organize however they want to advocate for the governing policies they want.

The opponents of ALEC’s positions should advocate the substantive polices they prefer, and they are certainly within their rights to do it in whatever way they prefer. Politics never runs out of ways to disappoint, though, and as a person who tries to deal with the substance of issues, working across partisan and ideological lines, I am amazed at and disappointed by the incoherence of the attack on ALEC.

And I am also disturbed by its anti-democratic and anti-speech quality. The implication I take from the attack on ALEC is that some groups, representing some interests, should not be able to participate in making our nation’s and states’ public policies.

There is one ray of light in all this: NCSL is featuring its concerns with REAL ID, the national ID law, on its homepage. And ALECExposed has a posted a buffoonishly marked-up version of ALEC’s 2007 resolution against REAL ID. NCSL would evidently back the implementation of a national ID if Congress were to fund it. Given its principles, ALEC would not.

Even this debate may help inform the public.

Chicago Still Disrespects Second Amendment

That’s the upshot of a recent decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Ezell v. City of Chicago.  This was a challenge to the new regulations the city enacted in the wake of McDonald v. City of Chicago case, which applied the Second Amendment to the states. 

In an attempt to circumvent the Supreme Court’s clear holding, Chicago’s ordinance first mandates that would-be gun owners receive training at a firing range but then prohibits firing ranges from operating in the city.  The court, in a striking opinion by Judge Diane Sykes (put her on your Supreme Court shortlist for the next Republican administration), tells the city to go back to the drawing board.

I won’t go into the details, but the court applied something greater than intermediate (but “not quite strict”) scrutiny and found that Chicago has not presented anything approaching a compelling reason for its restriction.  Here’s an analysis of the opinion by Josh Blackman and some follow-up commentary from Cato associate policy analyst Dave Kopel.

Gratifyingly, Judge Sykes cites the Pandora’s Box article that Josh and I published early last year in the run-up to the McDonald argument (see footnote 11 on page 31).  It’s quite an honor to appear in the same footnote as Randy Barnett, Steven Calabresi, Brannon Denning, Glenn Harlan Reynolds (the Instapundit), and many other noted scholars – including Akhil Amar, who in the wake of our Obamacare debate and bet may not appreciate it as much.

Congratulations to the intrepid Alan Gura (who also litigated McDonald and Heller v. District of Columbia) and to all the citizens of Chicago!

New Polls Show Support for Civil Liberties

At the Britannica Blog I write:

Many commentators have seen a shift to the right in American politics over the past two years — the reaction to spending, bailouts, and Obamacare; the rise in conservative self-identification in polls; the 2010 elections. But there’s another trend going on as well. I described it in 2009 as a “civil liberties surge.” And this week there’s new evidence.

A new study from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds long-term growth in support for legal abortion, gun rights, marijuana legalization, and gay marriage.

The graphs on all these topics from Pew are pretty impressive, as is another one from the General Social Survey included in the Britannica post. I go on to note:

These new poll results should be no surprise. Part of the American project for more than 200 years has been extending the promises of the Declaration of Independence — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — to more and more people. America is a country fundamentally shaped by libertarian values and attitudes. In their book It Didn’t Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States, Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marx write, “The American ideology, stemming from the [American] Revolution, can be subsumed in five words: antistatism, laissez-faire, individualism, populism, and egalitarianism.” If Herbert McClosky and John Zaller are right that “[t]he principle here is that every person is free to act as he pleases, so long as his exercise of freedom does not violate the equal rights of others,” then marriage equality and marijuana freedom are only a matter of time.

And none of these socially liberal results challenge the general perception of a conservative trend, as long as that trend is understood as a reaction to bailouts, takeovers, and other elements of “big government.” Americans continue to tell pollsters they prefer “smaller government with fewer services” to “larger government with more services.”

Wal-Mart Could Help DC in More Ways than One

It’s good news for residents of Washington, D.C., that Wal-Mart is planning on opening four stores in the District. Yet Washington Post columnist Robert McCartney reports today on one curious source of opposition:

“There’ll probably be a lot of shoplifting going on. They’ll need a lot of security,” Terriea Sutton, 35, said.

Brenda Speaks, a Ward 4 ANC commissioner, actually urged blocking construction of the planned store in her ward at Georgia and Missouri avenues NW partly because of that risk. Addressing a small, anti-Wal-Mart rally at City Hall on Monday, Speaks said young people would get criminal records when they couldn’t resist the temptation to steal.

Of course, that’s a rationale for banning all stores, not just Wal-Mart. Perhaps we should isolate these youths and consign them to abject poverty, so they’ll never be around anything worth stealing.  (A Wal-Mart spokesman commented that with regard to crime, “there is no more concern over these District locations than any other store locations.”)

Or we could recognize that Wal-Mart helps pull people out of poverty.  As Obama economic adviser Jason Furman reminds us:

Wal-Mart’s low prices help to increase real wages for the 120 million Americans employed in other sectors of the economy. And the company itself does not appear to pay lower wages or benefits than similar companies, or to cause substantially lower wages in the retail sector…

[T]o the degree the anti-Wal-Mart campaign slows or halts the spread of Wal-Mart to new areas, it will lead to higher prices that disproportionately harm lower-income families…

By acting in the interests of its shareholders, Wal-Mart has innovated and expanded competition, resulting in huge benefits for the American middle class and even proportionately larger benefits for moderate-income Americans.

Wal-Mart could do even more good for District residents if these four new stores sold guns.  That would quintuple the number of firearms retailers in the District, make self-defense affordable for low-income residents, and might just add some lobbying heft to the campaign to roll back D.C.’s ridiculous gun regulations.

The Court Restores a Fundamental Right

Today is a big victory for gun rights and a bigger one for liberty.  The Supreme Court has correctly decided that state actions violating the right to keep and bear arms are no more valid than those taken by the federal government.

It could not have been otherwise: the Fourteenth Amendment, coming on the heels of the Civil War, says clearly that never again would the Constitution tolerate state oppressions, and that all individuals possess certain fundamental rights.  It is equally clear that the right to keep and bear arms is one of those deeply rooted fundamental rights, not least because the Framers thought so highly of it as to enumerate it in the Second Amendment.

Still, Justice Alito’s plurality opinion leaves a lot to be desired, in that his ultimately correct conclusion rests on a dog’s breakfast of Substantive Due Process “incorporation” doctrine that arose only because the Privileges or Immunities Clause was strangled in its crib by an 1870s Supreme Court that refused to reconcile itself to the changes in constitutional structure wrought by the Fourteenth Amendment.  Justice Thomas’s response to this tortured attempt to fit a square fundamental right into a round procedural guarantee is the right one: “I cannot accept a theory of constitutional interpretation that rests on such tenuous footing.”

Only Justice Thomas grapples with the original meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment, surveying the rich history of the terms “privileges” and “immunities” to find that the right to defend oneself is part and parcel of the inalienable rights we all possess—and indeed it is “essential to the preservation of liberty.”  The Framers of the Fourteenth Amendment—the most important “Framers” in this context—plainly deemed this right “necessary to include in the minimum baseline of federal rights that the Privileges or Immunities Clause established in the wake of the War over slavery.”  All arguments to the contrary lack legal, historical and even philosophical basis.

And so it is a very good thing, again for liberty, that the Court needs Thomas’s fifth vote to rule as it does: while the plurality declines to reconsider the old and discredited Privileges or Immunities precedent, Thomas’s clarion call for a libertarian originalism provides a step on which to build in future.

Finally, as we celebrate the belated recognition of a precious right—the one that allows us to protect all the others—we must be shocked and saddened to see four justices (including Sonia Sotomayor, who at her confirmation hearings suggested she would do otherwise) standing for the proposition that states can violate this right at will, checked by nothing more than the political process.  This is a nation of laws, not men—a republic, not a pure democracy—and thus it is disconcerting to see, as we do time and time again with this Court, that the only thing separating us from rule by a crude majoritarian impulse is one vote.  Thank God that, in this case, that vote was Justice Thomas’s.

How to Prevent a Fort Hood Shooting

I wrote some posts a few months ago (1, 2, 3) about the difficulty of discovering and preventing essentially random events like the Fort Hood shooting. I was pleased by the compliment security guru Bruce Schneier paid them in his recent post, “Small Planes and Lone Terrorist Nutcases.” (Such happy subject matter we get to write about!)

Now comes Radley Balko with a great column illustrating what you get when authorities try to “get ahead” of this problem. “Pre-Crime Policing” tells the story of a gun buyer who had been tagged with the adjective “disgruntled.” A SWAT team appeared on his property, police tricked him into surrendering for a mental evaluation, they illegally entered his home, and they seized his guns.

Says the victim of these invasions, “South Oregon is big gun country. If something like this can happen here, where just about everyone owns a gun, it can happen anywhere.”

Especially if we ask law enforcement to prevent random violence.