Tag: second amendment

Even Imaginary Guns Save Lives

Because we care about individual liberty here, we think you should be able to engage in self-defense to protect that liberty (and your life, if it comes to that).  That includes the right to armed self-defense, of course, a right that becomes all the more important when encountering potential assailants who are stronger and/or more numerous than you.

Indeed you might recall from the legal fight to guarantee an individual right to keep and bear arms, that my colleague Tom Palmer once fended off some anti-gay marauders by just showing them that he had a gun.

And now we see that same story play itself out, except the would-be victim scared off a homophobic gang by merely maintaining the impression that he had a gun:

The situation could have gone either way: I could end up beaten or dead, or we could all go our separate ways.

All I could think to do was to get to my backpack and find my phone. As I fumbled for the phone, I heard one of them say, “Does he have a gun?”

So I kept my hand in my backpack, allowing them to wonder whether I was reaching for a gun. Then a couple of them started to run away, and the others soon followed. I got back on my bike and pedaled as fast as I could out of there.

When I got home, I began to reflect on what had happened, and more disturbingly what could have happened. I am in contact with the LGBT unit of the police department to file a report. But I’ve thought a lot about the turning point of the situation — the fact that one of them thought that I might have a gun. None of them said, “There’s a law against antigay hate crimes!” That wasn’t the deterrent. It was the possibility that I might have had a gun that saved my life Friday night.

It’s unfortunate that the people Mr. LaSalvia encountered are around – whatever their motivations – but would we be in a better world if people like him couldn’t imply the potential for armed self-defense?

Of course, in DC, Chicago, and many other places – which, after the recent Supreme Court rulings, must allow guns to be kept at home – it’s still illegal to carry a gun (open or concealed).  If the thugs Mr. LaSalvia ran into knew the local gun regulations (as many professional criminals do) and accurately gauged their target as a law-abiding citizen, they would have known that he was bluffing. 

Is that what gun-control proponents – many of whom I surmise strongly support gay and women’s rights – want?

(H/t: Lindsay Charles)

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.

Overcriminalization Incentives

In my post on Brian Aitken’s plight, I discussed New Jersey’s draconian gun laws and how a law-abiding citizen can become a victim of overbroad laws. New Jersey gun laws weren’t always so bad, but overcriminalization warped them into their current unconstitutional state.

This trend is a staple of modern legislative activity. Every time a politician says that we must pass a new law to “get tough on crime” and that their pet legislation ought to be passed “for the children,” it’s a sure indicator that the rule of law is about to take another body blow. Take, for instance, the crusade against sexting that threatens to make foolish teenagers into sex offenders. Or the proposed federal cyberbullying act, which aims to turn teens into federal felons, in spite of the fact that there is no federal juvenile justice system. New Jersey gun laws jumped the shark a long time ago and haven’t looked back.

The same is true with federal “honest services” fraud. In the words of one former lawmaker who fed the overcriminalization beast only to see it turn on him:

When I served in Congress, I vigorously opposed any expansion of federal agency authority. All too often, however, I exempted the Justice Department from my efforts because I wanted to give law enforcement the power it needed to keep our country safe from dangerous individuals. After enduring a years-long investigation into crimes my wife and I did not commit, and after watching the outrageous prosecution of Kevin Ring, I have serious doubts about whether I was wise to faithfully support the Justice Department. I strongly encourage the new Congress to examine the guidance and leeway the Department gives to federal prosecutors, and to refrain from passing any new vague criminal laws which seem to invite the worst prosecutorial abuse.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. For more on overcriminalization, take a look at Tim Lynch’s book, In the Name of Justice, or Harvey Silverglate’s Three Felonies a Day.

Nine Key Ballot Initiatives to Watch

While everyone is focused on the battle to see which party will control the House and/or Senate, there are several issues that voters will directly decide that deserve close attention. Here are nine initiatives that I’ll be watching next Tuesday.

1. Imposing an income tax in the state of Washington - This is the one I’ll be following very closely. I have a hard time thinking that voters would be dumb enough to impose an income tax, but the Pacific Northwest is a bit crazy on these issues. Oregon voters, for instance, approved higher tax rates earlier this year.

2. Stopping eminent domain abuse in Nevada - This initiative is very simple. It stops the state from seizing private property if the intent is to transfer it to a private party (thus shutting the door that was opened by the Supreme Court’s reprehensible Kelo decision).

3. Marijuana legalization in California - Proponents of a more sensible approach to victimless crimes will closely watch this initiative to see whether Golden State voters will say yes to pot legalization, subject to local regulation. (David Boaz and Juan Carlos Hidalgo already have commented on the implications of this vote)

4. Strengthen rights of gun owners in Kansas - If approved, this initiative would remove any ambiguity about whether individuals have the right to keep and bear arms.

5. Protecting health care freedom in Arizona - For all intents and purposes, this is a referendum on Obamacare. I’m hoping that it will pass overwhelmingly, thus giving a boost to the repeal campaign. There’s apparently a similar initiative in Oklahoma, but it hasn’t gotten as much attention.

6. Reducing benefits for bureaucrats in San Francisco - If one of the craziest, left-wing cities in America decides to require bureaucrats to make meaningful contributions to support their bloated pension and health benefits, that’s a sign that the gravy train may be in jeopardy for bureaucrats all across the nation.

7. Making it easier to increase government spending in California - The big spenders want to get rid of the two-thirds requirement in the state legislature to approve a budget. This would pave the way for even bigger government in a state that already is close to bankruptcy.

8. Reducing the sales tax in Massachusetts - The entire political establishment is fighting this proposal to roll back the sales tax from 6.25 percent to 3 percent, and pro-spending lobbies are pouring big money into a campaign against the initiative, so you know it must be a good idea.

9. Controlling benefits for bureaucrats in Louisiana - The initiative would require a two-thirds vote to approve any expansion of taxpayer-financed benefits for government employees.

Is the Supreme Court Conservative?

In my last two posts I described how the New York Times misunderstands the Constitution and highlighted Reason’s great new article comparing conservative and libertarian theories of constitutional interpretation.  Well, now I have a chance to put those topics together, in response to yesterday’s big front-pager entitled “Court Under Roberts Is Most Conservative in Decades.”

Times Supreme Court reporter Adam Liptak – generally a sharp and honest broker – surveys some new political science literature and concludes, among other things, that since John Roberts became Chief Justice five years ago, the Court has been moving (modestly) to the right and is now “the most conservative one in living memory.”  Ed Whelan debunks both of these empirical claims at NRO’s Bench Memos blog – I disagree with Ed on some legal issues, not least unenumerated rights, but his fisking is worth a read – and I want to add two broad points.

First, the claim that “all” (or even most) judicial decisions can be assigned an ideological value is simply laughable.  Are all decisions favoring criminal defendants, unions, and people claiming discrimination or civil rights violations ”liberal” while those favoring prosecutors, employers, and the government “conservative” (as the scholars who maintain the database maintain)?  What about union members suing unions or large corporations suing each other?  What if the criminal defendant is a Fortune 500 CEO (like Conrad Black and Jeffrey Skilling in this past term’s ”honest services fraud” cases)? What about “reverse” racial discrimination claims like those at issue in Ricci v. DeStefano (the New Haven firefighters case)?  What about an oil company suing the EPA?  A financial services company suing the SEC (or vice-versa)?

And what about civil rights claims involving the Second Amendment, or the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause, or the right to earn an honest living? Are those not ”real” civil rights claims?  What if it’s poor people losing their houses to a big developer who promises a town it will create jobs and increase tax revenues?  What if it’s black hair braiders who can’t set up their shops without passing haridressing license exams requiring expertise only with white hair styles?  What if it’s women who want to buy and carry handguns to defend themselves on their walks home in a dangerous neighborhood?  Attempts to code such cases – like attempts to decide them based on “empathy” or support for the “little guy” – are bound to fail.

Second – and this ties together all the criticisms – the labeling of decisions (and courts!) as “conservative” and “liberal” ultimately boils down to results-based analysis that equates law with politics.  The liberal political position is to favor abortion rights, separation of church and state, gun control, wealth redistribution, economic regulation, and racial preferences, and to disfavor the death penalty.  It is then obvious that court rulings against those positions must be “conservative.”  Add in the fact that the researchers performing all these analyses –and reporters writing about them – are themselves quite “liberal” and it becomes all the more alarming when the Supreme Court moves in a “conservative” (= wrong) direction.

But you can’t simply code cases, tally up votes, and call it a day.  Is there no difference between a vote to uphold restrictions on partial-birth abortion and one to overturn Roe v. Wade?  Is voting one way because of stare decisis the same as voting that way because you think the underlying precedent is correct?  Is a vote to overturn the Slaughterhouse Cases and revive the Privileges or Immunities Clause the same as one to “incorporate” via the Due Process Clause?

And what about all those unanimous and “odd bedfellow” cases – the ones where Justices Scalia and Ginsburg are on one side and Justices Breyer and Alito on the other?  Are Scalia and Ginsburg simply more “liberal” when it comes to the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause?  Is a judge who votes to strike down economic regulations while also recognizing a broad right to habeas corpus just a “moderate” (or perhaps “confused”)?  Or is that judge simply a “libertarian” as a matter of public policy?

While we’re at it, look at the First Amendment.  How do you account for the leading pro-free speech justices the last 20 years being Kennedy, Thomas, and Souter?  Is a vote allowing a statute that criminalizes certain kinds of disfavored speech “liberal” or “conservative”?  (If you have a ready answer, contrast what you think about hate speech laws with what you think about anti-pornography laws.)

Put simply, law matters.  Judges are not super-legislators voting on their preferred policy positions; they have different jurisprudential theories, some of which lend themselves more to “liberal” political results, some less, but hopefully it’s the Constitution and statutes that ultimately lead to those results over the long term.

In short, Adam, c’mon, covering the judicial branch is not like covering the political branches.  You know the difference between the Court and Congress so don’t allow your readers to think there isn’t one.

Liberty Requires Risk

That’s the message of my recent op-ed in the Daily Caller. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initial reaction to the McDonald v. City of Chicago decision was to say that McDonald would have no impact on government’s ability to keep guns “out of the hands of criminals and terrorists.” This was a reference to legislation that Bloomberg supports that would allow the federal government to bar anyone the Attorney General thinks is a terrorist from purchasing a firearm. Not convicted of a crime in support of terrorism — that would make them a felon and already unable to purchase or own a firearm. No, being suspected of activity in support of or preparation for terrorism means you get the same treatment as if you were a convicted felon or had been involuntarily committed to a mental institution. So much for due process.

While D.C. v. Heller is the relevant decision (the AG’s double secret probation list is a federal, not state action), the premise of this legislation needs to be refuted. The proposition that guns and gun ownership are uniquely dangerous such that the right to keep and bear arms must be treated as a second-class provision of the Bill of Rights is willfully blind of the other instances where society accepts risk by safeguarding liberty in the face of foreseeable hazards. Justice Stephen Breyer embraced this misguided concept –– that the right to keep and bear arms is an enumerated, but non-fundamental, right that deserves a lesser degree of protection than the rest of the provisions of the Bill of Rights — in his McDonald dissent.

I counter that notion in this podcast:

Related thoughts from Ilya Somin here.

Gun Control Advocates Should Applaud the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court ruled last week that state and city governments must respect the individual right to bear arms that is guaranteed by Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This ruling does not necessarily invalidate all gun control laws, but it will likely mean the demise of outright bans and restrict significantly the ability of states and cities to impose other kinds of controls.

Advocates of gun control have decried the ruling because they believe guns cause crime and that gun control laws, by gun reducing gun availability, reduce crime. Regardless of the constitutional questions, however, both arguments for controls are flawed.

Many crimes do not require an armed perpetrator, and numerous weapons can substitute for guns (knives, baseball bats, fists, bombs, chains, shivs-the list is endless). Even if guns encourage or facilitate crime, guns potentially prevent crime by giving criminals reason to worry that victims might shoot back. In addition, gun controls cannot make guns disappear; they can only attempt to reduce availability via regulation, taxation, or prohibition. Those with illegitimate purposes, however, can circumvent such policies by borrowing or stealing a gun, or purchasing one on the black market.

Existing evidence indicates that the availability of guns plays a small role in causing crime and that gun control does little to reduce crime. Numerous countries have widespread gun ownership but low crime or violence rates; other countries have strict gun control laws but abundant guns and substantial violence. Police stations, army barracks, and rural households have high gun prevalence but little crime. Simply stating that guns automatically lead to high levels of crime is facile.

In addition, gun controls have costs, both for individuals and for society.

Many people derive a benefit from owning guns. Some enjoy collecting, others like hunting or target-shooting, and others want guns for self-defense. Controls raise the costs of gun ownership, thereby harming legitimate users. The costs of many of these controls are mild-a three-day waiting-period to buy a gun, for example, imposes small costs on those with legitimate reasons to own a gun. Yet such controls do little to deter illegitimate uses, so they also have minimal benefits.

The potentially significant cost of mild controls is that they evolve into strict controls. A century ago no country had substantial controls on gun ownership, yet most now have strict controls or virtual prohibition. If gun control becomes prohibition, the potential for adverse effects is large. Prohibition creates black markets, which means violent dispute resolution, corruption of judges and police, and disrespect for the law. Such outcomes are easily worse than any negatives of guns themselves.

The most significant negative of gun control is distracting attention from policies like drug prohibition that play a far larger role in generating crime. So long as policy generates a demand for crime, policy can do little to reduce crime.

Critics of the Supreme Court’s decision, therefore, have no cause for worry. If the ruling prevents many or most gun control laws, that will be good for everyone.

C/P at psychologytoday.com