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A Serious Question for Proponents of Gun Control

I had hoped that there might be a decent mourning interval after the horror in Las Vegas before we returned to contentious political debates. But, alas, that is not to be. The natural instinct after tragedies is a desire to “do something.” And, the “something” for a great many people in this case is gun control. So, reluctantly, a few thoughts on the issue.

Though my natural instincts rebel against any expansion of government power, I am not an absolutist on Second Amendment rights. I can be convinced to support reasonable measures to protect the public, while also protecting the rights of gun owners. But once we get past the emotion of “do something,” I ask my liberal friends on here, what exactly do you propose? Ban “bump stocks?” Sure, I’m fine with that. But beyond that, what gun control proposal would have prevented Las Vegas or any of the more recent mass shootings?

The Washington Post offers a pretty straight-down-the-middle at recent mass shootings and gun laws: They don’t find any that would have been prevented by current gun control proposals. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2015/12/10/marco-rubios-claim-that-no-recent-mass-shootings-would-have-been-prevented-by-gun-laws/?utm_term=.c08aa91b4ee5.

The truth is that there is no easy answer to gun violence. A few things to consider:

There appears to be no relationship between the number of guns and the number of murders. There has been a 56 percent increase in gun ownership since 1994, and a 49 percent decline in gun deaths over the same period. There are a number of reasons for the decline in gun crime, including changing demographics, better policing, and so on. But it seems hard to make a claim that more guns inevitably leads to more crime. In addition, a look at states with widespread gun ownership does not show them to have higher murder rates. Guns are ubiquitous in, say, Vermont, but it hasn’t exactly turned into a shooting gallery. One can overstate this – most of these states, like Vermont, are rural – and have lower crime rates generally. Still, the relationship between gun ownership and crime generally are ambiguous at best.

It is true that other countries with stricter gun laws have lower murder rates. But there may be less here than meets the eye. Those countries frequently had lower rates of gun homicide before their most stringent laws were enacted. For example, while the number of gun deaths in Australia declined after it enacted a sweeping gun ban following the Port Arthur mass shooting, that was largely a result of a decline in gun suicides. The rate of gun murders does not appear to have dropped significantly.

The most common gun proposal is an expansion of the background check system. But Stephen Paddock went through a background check – and passed. There was nothing in his background that would have raised flags under even the most vigorous check. He even went through the associated waiting periods, and given the length of time he apparently planned his crime, a longer waiting period would have made no difference. The same is generally true in other mass shootings. The killers passed background checks. (The Newtown killer stole weapons from his parents who had passed background checks).

It has been suggested that those with histories of mental illness should be barred from gun ownership. That might indeed reduce gun deaths. But it needs to be balanced against the probability that it would discourage some individuals from seeking treatment. Moreover, how is mental illness to be defined? Anxiety? Depression?

The second most common proposal is to ban so-called “assault weapons.” The evidence from the previous (now-lapsed) assault weapon ban is inconclusive. According to the most comprehensive study of the law’s impact: “The ban did not appear to affect gun crime during the time it was in effect, but some evidence suggests it may have modestly reduced gunshot victimizations had it remained in place for a longer period.” That’s not a ringing endorsement.

An effective assault weapon ban would also be extremely difficult to legislate. That’s because there really is no such thing as an “assault weapon.” There is no difference in the firing mechanism between guns commonly described as assault weapons and most popular hunting rifles. As a result, most assault weapon bans prohibit weapons based on cosmetics or the inclusion of extraneous features, such as a pistol grip or collapsible stock. These restrictions are extremely easy to evade.

It also noteworthy that, while “assault weapons” are often a feature of mass shootings, they are not really part of the overall problem of gun violence. Only about 2 percent of gun murders are committed with assault-style weapons. Handguns are the murder weapon of choice.

We are not getting rid of guns in this country. Americans currently own more than 300 million guns. Roughly half of all American households own a gun. Suppose a gun ban passed tomorrow, and an unimaginable 90 percent of Americans voluntarily turned in their guns, that would still leave some 30 million guns out there. And, the people not turning in their guns are likely to be those I least want to have them.

Finally, I keep hearing that no one needs this or that type of gun to hunt. Well, “need” is amorphous concept. But, more importantly, let’s remember that there are many legitimate reasons to own guns besides hunting, such as: sport, self-defense, and, yes, a bulwark against tyranny. There would be less resistance to gun control proposals if supporters didn’t so quickly jump from “no one is coming for your guns” to proposals to broad gun bans or confiscation proposals.

Again, I’m perfectly willing to consider some type of gun control. But I am looking for practical, effective proposals that would actually reduce gun crimes, while still protecting the rights of law-abiding Americans. If you have such proposals, I’m willing to listen. Over to you…

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On Taking a Knee

OK, folks, please square this one for me.

You have fun for years laughing at “liberal snowflakes,” who retreat to their “safe space” for milk and cookies when confronted with opinions they dislike. In fact, you’ve cheered when universities invite “controversial” speakers like Milo Yiannopolis, despite the fact that many students find his opinions not just offensive, but dangerous.

You thought it was an outrage when Google fired James Damore for circulating a memo to fellow employees that denigrated the emotional and intellectual abilities of women.

You are angry when protestors want to take down statues of those who actually fought against the United States in defense of an indefensible system.

Yet, when mostly African-American athletes quietly kneel during the national anthem in order to protest more than 400 years of racial oppression, including ongoing police abuse, you find that expression intolerable, worthy of presidential condemnation and a firing offense.

I say this as a veteran and the son and grandson of veterans. If I didn’t see combat, I have friends and relatives who did. People I knew gave their lives in defense of this country. For all its flaws, I love America, and have always respected the flag. Yet, the flag is not an idol to be worshiped. It a symbol of the values we hold. And one of the most important of those is the right to dissent.

It is easy for those of us, comfortably protected by our privilege, to suggest that those protesting should find another way to do so. Yet, consider the issue from their point of view. From 1619, when a Dutch ship brought 20 African slaves ashore at Jamestown, until the slave trade was abolished in 1807, nearly 600,000 slaves were forcibly brought to this country. At the start of the Civil War, roughly 89 percent of all blacks in America, almost 4 million people, were slaves. Overall, between the arrival of those first black slaves at Jamestown and 1865, when the 13th Amendment officially outlawed slavery, millions of Africans and their descendants were held in bondage and servitude in the United States. They were routinely murdered, raped, beaten, and deprived of the most basic human rights. That represents an indelible stain on this country’s soul.

The oppression of African Americans hardly ended with the abolition of slavery. On paper, of course, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments promised equality. In reality, however, the end of slavery marked the beginning of a century of legally enforced second-class citizenship. In fact, while the worst aspects of Jim Crow were outlawed by various civil rights laws in the 1960s, the treatment of African-Americans has remained unequal.

Even if overt discrimination has greatly diminished today, the consequences of past discrimination are still with us. You cannot have a race in which one runner is loaded down with weights and chains for half the race, remove them, and suggest that from then on it is a fair contest.

Nor should we forget that, from abuses in the criminal-justice system to continued discrimination in employment, housing, and education, full equality remains more aspiration than reality. As a white man, with all the privilege that implies, I can’t even begin to imagine the toll that constant exposure to racism, from minor slights to full-blown discrimination, must take on its victims.

Yes, we have come a long way. Despite our ongoing racial problems, thing really are better than they were. Yet, much of the change that we now celebrate came about precisely because some people protested. Many, at the time, thought those protests were bad for the country, impatient, disrespectful, or unjustified. Aren’t we better off today, because those protestors spoke out?

This is not Anti-fa. This is not violent. This is not disrupting anything or taking away from anyone else’s rights. Protestors are silently kneeling. I may wish they weren’t, but I’m certainly not being harmed.

Perhaps instead of wrapping ourselves up in the latest episode of the culture wars, we should take this opportunity to reflect on what we can do to make our country a more perfect union, with more liberty and justice for all. That would be a terrific way to honor our country and our flag.

More on Charlottesville

I thought I had said everything that needed to be said about Nazis in America and the need for anyone who lives liberty to denounce them. But, judging from my social media feeds, too many people still don’t get it. And, then there was President Trump’s truly appalling press conference. So a few thoughts to further clarify:

1. There will be many occasions to denounce the violent rhetoric and tactics of Antifa and their allies on the Left. THIS IS NOT IT! This is about the evil represented by nazis, white supremacists, and the rest of their ilk. They should be denounced without appending a “but” to that condemnation. In fact, failure to condemn racists and racism in unambiguous terms strips you of the moral authority to call out the violent Left the next tine they deserve it.

2. Too much of the moral equivalency argument focuses on the violence. Yes, some Antifa supporters came looking for trouble, and happily joined in the fighting. Bit the nazis should be denounced not just because they were violent, but because their ideas are evil. Even if there had been no violence at all in Charlottesville, that rally and those who participated in it would be a disgrace. Yes, they had – and should have – a legal right to rally and speak about their insane ideology. But the rest of us can and should be clear about just how revolting those ideas are.

3. And no, there were not many decent people taking part in the rally. Decent people do not march with nazis or racists. They do not participate in rallies where people chant “The Jews will not replace us” or Blood and Soil.” Everyone who attended, marched, or participated in that rally is morally deficient.

4. Keep context in mind. This country has oppressed African-Americans since its founding. From slavery through Jim Crow to the ongoing abuse and discrimination suffered by People of Color today, we have failed to live up to our ideals. Yes, we’ve made tremendous strides – advances unimaginable in much of the rest of the world — but those of us who grew up and live with privilege, can never know the pain of that legacy. Keep that in mind when you reflect on debates about confederate symbols and such.

5. The presidency offers a unique bully pulpit. The president has a chance to unite the nation behind great ideals. Donald Trump has used it to legitimize and mainstream evil. He has failed us in ways that will stain this nation far into the future.

After Charlottesville

Let’s not waste time: The neo-nazi and white supremacist degenerates who gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia over the weekend are despicable examples of human excrement. See, that’s not so hard to say.

This is not just a question of violence. Observers on the ground in Charlottesville point out that both the nazis and the anti-fa counter protestors contributed to the fighting (although notably none of the nazis ended up dead). Denouncing the violence is easy and lends itself to the type of “plague on both your houses” type of rhetoric that lets us off the hook. The problem isn’t just the violence that accompanied the nazis and racists, it’s their ideas.

Now, I’m pretty damn close to an absolutist when it comes to the first amendment. I think that if a bunch of escapees from their mothers basement want to parade around with tiki torches and preach hate, they have a legal right to do so. I’d be opposed to any law that tried to deny them that right.

But the fact that they have a right to be scum, doesn’t bind me to silence. A right to say something doesn’t mean a right to say something without consequences. Too many – including far too many libertarians – stop at the first part of the equation, the right to speak. But if we truly believe in a philosophy that is premised on the equal worth of every human being, then we have an obligation to speak out against racism (and sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and every other form of bigotry).

And please, no “whatsboutism.” Yes, some of the rhetoric issuing from the left is beyond the pale. It is wrong to use force and violence to prevent speech you disagree with. And, the idiots traipsing around in Che Guevara tshirts might as well be wearing swastikas. But A) that’s irrelevant, and B) doesn’t take into account how bigoted speech impacts people who have suffered from bigotry since this country was founded. We owe a special type of debt to the people that this country has oppressed. The least we can do is say that speech that continues to denigrate them is wrong.

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing,” goes the quote attributed, perhaps incorrectly, to Edmund Burke. Libertarianism cannot be so thin that it doesn’t recognize racism (and other forms of bigotry) as evil. And recognizing them as evil, we should take action to denounce them, to ostracize them, and to drive them out of civilized society.

We should demand this from our political leaders, including our president (who has so far failed the test), but most of all from ourselves. Indeed, because we believe in liberty for all, that obligation lies even heavier on us. And if we can’t see that, then how different are we really from those losers in Charlotte?

Thoughts on President Trump

I doubt that any of us would have predicted it – and many of us would have wished it otherwise — but as of noon tomorrow, Donald J. Trump will be the 45th President of the United States. Wow. Sometime, words fail.

But, since it is my job to come up with words anyway, a few thoughts about this new era:

1. Could we please stop with the “illegitimate president” nonsense. Yes, the Russians “intervened” in the election. Outside actors intervene all the time (and we intervene in their elections as well). Russian intervention was just a bit more explicit than usual. But a good candidate has to react to difficult events as they unfold, and Hillary Clinton, quite simply, was not a good candidate. In fact, she may have been the only possible candidate bad enough to lose to Donald Trump. It is also worth noting that what the Russians are actually accused of is hacking and releasing accurate information. Those emails – about DNC conspiring against Bernie Sanders, and so on — were real. Trump is wrong to let the Russians off the hook for the hacking, but maybe the Democrats shouldn’t have been doing some of those things in the first place. Similarly, FBI director James Comey exhibited spectacular incompetence in investigating Hilary Clinton’s private email server. But, once again, that sort of thing happens and good candidates deal with it. Remember, George W. Bush’s drunk driving arrest record that was leaked the weekend before the 2000 election? Finally, yes, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. That should serve as a warning for Trump not to assume too much of a mandate (although Hillary’s “victory” owes itself solely to a huge margin in California). But we don’t elect presidents according to the popular vote (for good reasons in my opinion). Clinton and Trump played by the rules of the game as they existed at the time – and Trump won. Love him or hate him, he is the legitimate president of the United States.

2. As everyone knows I was irredeemably #NeverTrump. But the election is over. I can understand both why some people are enthused and excited by a Trump presidency and other people are frightened and angry. Still, rhetoric aside, he has done nothing so far – good or bad. Let’s all wait and see what he actually proposes. There will be plenty of time then to cheer or protest. Right now, the proper status would seem to be the same as for any president – watchful waiting. We should always be on our guard against governmental threats to our rights, from any president, but let’s see what happens. He is our president. We should hope that he does the right things and succeeds in them. To Trump critics I say: Dissent is indeed patriotic, but hysteria is unhelpful. To his supports I say: Fight for what you believe in, but sycophancy is not principle.

3. As for me, I plan to treat President Trump exactly the same as I have treated his predecessors. I will support his policies when I agree with them (I’m hopeful about tax reform, regulatory reduction, school choice, and Obamacare repeal), and will oppose him when I disagree (I’m concerned about civil liberties, criminal justice reform, war and peace, trade, deficits and spending, entitlement reform – or the lack thereof, immigration, and…well, you get the idea). If in your eyes that makes me insufficiently pro- or anti-Trump, well, then, you miss the point.

4. One policy note to my friends on the Left, who are now afraid of the power that a President Trump, will wield…welcome to the club. We libertarians have long warned about the dangers of government power generally, and unfettered executive power in particular. If you thought it was great when Bill Clinton aide Paul Begala waxed rhapsodic about executive orders. “Stroke of the pen. Law of the Land. Kind of cool,” or when President Obama boasted that he had “a phone and a pen,” do you still feel the same way now that that phone and pen is being wielded by the other side? And if you can’t wait to see President Trump exercise his power, remember that someday there will again be a Democratic president. Pendulums swing in politics. Therefore, whatever new powers you give your hero today, they will someday be wielded by your worst enemy. That’s why principles matter.

5. Finally, a plea for civility. My readers know that I had disagreements with President Obama (to understate it), and with President Bush before him, and before that…But I always tried to express them constructively, and with respect. Between this blog, my Facebook account, and Twitter, I have friends and followers on here of every possible political flavor. There are liberals, conservatives, libertarians, anarchists, and socialists. I have friends who are deeply religious and others who are atheists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I have friends who are gay, straight, and in-between, married, single, and poly. They are from all 50 states and more than two dozen countries. Debate and disagreement are healthy. But, while it may make you feel good to call your opponent a “traitor,” it is not going to do much to win him or her over. If you are talking to yourself, you are not convincing anyone of anything. We are going to have a contentious few years ahead, let’s try to get along as best we can.

10 Thoughts about the Election

Well, last night was a bit of a shock. I certainly got it wrong. Still, here are some thoughts on what happened.

1. This election was something of a primal scream of rage against the machine. Clearly, there are millions of Americans who feel disconnected from – and disrespected by – the political establishment. On the issues, they are right about some things, like crony capitalism and the bail out of Wall Street, and wrong about others, like trade and immigration. But, in the end this isn’t about issues; it is about feeling ignored. The world that these people knew is changing, and the political establishment won’t even talk to them about it. No doubt part of Trump’s support was driven by racial and class resentments, but it was more than that.

2. We remain a deeply divided country. While Trump’s Electoral College victory was impressive, the margins in each state were razor thin. Hillary may still win the popular vote. There clearly are two different Americas. One represents the coasts, the cities, and the suburbs. The other represents vast swaths of exurban and rural middle-America. These regions differ ethnically, in terms of education, and in whether they have benefited from a changing economy and a more interconnected world.

3. Those divisions are not going away any time soon. In fact, they are likely to grow worse. The economy is going to keep changing. Automation will continue to eliminate low-skill jobs and physical labor jobs. Education will have an ever higher premium. At the same time, demographic changes are here to stay. The America of the future will be less white. That will feel increasingly threatening to some people. This election was, to some extent, a backlash.

4. We will have to see if President Trump can soothe these fears and unite the country. His victory speech last night set the right tone. On the other hand, his campaign had played footsie with white nationalism, anti-feminism, and anti-Semitism. There’s more than enough reason to be concerned. I know this morning that many people are terribly frightened. But let’s all take a deep breath. This won’t be the apocalypse. We have survived bad presidents before. My God, we survived Nixon. For the most part our lives have little to do with politics or presidents. We need to be vigilant, defend our rights, fight back where necessary, but not panic.

5. This election was also a rejection of Hillary Clinton. Hillary was, of course, a deeply flawed candidate. Remember that she lost to Barack Obama in 2008, in a race she should have won. She nearly lost the primary to a 75-year-old socialist. Moreover, at a time when people were demanding change, there was nothing less-change than the Clintons. They have been part of the establishment forever. It seems like there has always been a Clinton on our TV screens, usually trailed by some sort of scandal or something else unseemly. Hillary was always going to be a tough sell this year. This year started out with people talking about another Bush running against another Clinton. With her defeat, maybe we can pass on to a new era.

6. The woman card didn’t play, and that’s probably a good thing. Hillary lost 2 to 1 among non-college educated white women. She barely carried college educated white women. Why didn’t the prospect of the first woman president count for more? Perhaps, it is because women have made so much progress that the idea of a woman president didn’t seem like a big deal. We see women Senators and women business leaders on TV everyday. Maybe we are getting sufficiently used to the idea of women in positions of power, that one more break through doesn’t seem unique.

7. This is one reason why libertarians have always opposed the accretion of government power. Liberals may love big government and a powerful executive when President Obama is in charge, but sooner or later a President Trump gets control of that “telephone and a pen.” It is always worth remembering that the new power or program you so love may someday be controlled by your worst enemy. Indeed, now might be a good time for liberals to join those of us fighting to curtail presidential power. Senator Mike Lee’s “Article One Project” would be a good place to start.

8. Gary Johnson’s poor showing showed the limitations of third parties. It is true that Johnson ran a very poor campaign. It wasn’t just the Aleppo moment. He seemed genuinely unprepared for the opportunity that this campaign presented. That said, any third party effort would have been doomed by the institutional barriers that our system presents, such as lack of campaign funds and exclusion from the debate. More importantly, Americans still think in terms of a binary choice. Many of us thought that given two choices that people hated, voters would look for a third choice. Instead, they fell back into voting against the candidate they hated most. Libertarians are going to have to reconsider what role the Libertarian Party can play on the national level.

9. No matter who won this election, I expected to be a minority and in opposition. I agreed with Hillary on virtually nothing. And, I agree with Trump on virtually nothing. This is a bad time worldwide for the sort of classical liberalism I espouse. But being on the winning side doesn’t determine correctness. Trumps election, and the rise of populist authoritarianism worldwide, means that those of us who believe in individual liberty, the rule of law, equal rights, and free markets have more work to do. Today, the job begins again.

10. I was #NeverTrump from the beginning. But, he is now my president. As with any president, I will give him the benefit of the doubt, and time to see what he will do. He may yet surprise me again, and turn out to be a better president than I fear he will be. If so, he will have my support when I think he is right — and my opposition when I think he is wrong. That’s the best any of us can do.

My Election Predictions

Ok, folks, time for me to put my metaphorical money where my mouth is. Here are my predictions for the election. Feel free to tune in on Wednesday and make fun of me for getting this completely wrong.

The Crook Beats the Bigot. This election is going to be much closer than anyone would have thought just a couple of weeks ago. Hillary has been buffeted with bad news on an almost daily basis. And Trump hasn’t said anything truly stupid in a couple of weeks.

Still, it’s hard to see Trump’s path to victory. He is relying almost exclusively on white male votes, and there simply are not enough of them to win elections any more. White voters have declined from 78 percent of the electorate as recently as 2000 to just 69 percent today. Ronald Reagan won the white vote by 10 percentage points and carried 49 states. Mitt Romney won whites by 20 points, and lost. Enthusiasm among minority voters is down this year, but the changing electorate still helps Hillary. The Clinton ground game is also superior, and is probably worth another percentage point or so.

So I’m calling this as Clinton 48, Trump 44, Johnson 5, and Other 1. In terms of electoral votes, I have it Clinton 308, Trump 230. I think Trump wins Romney states plus Iowa, Ohio and Maine’s Second District. McMullen could take Utah, but I’m betting Trump barely holds on. Otherwise, traditional voting patterns take hold.

Note that I also have Gary Johnson capturing the magic 5 percent (it actually means somewhat less than the Johnson camp would have us believe, but its still important). Johnson’s support has fallen precipitously in the last few weeks as voters return home to their traditional binary preferences (driven in large part by antipathy to the other side). Johnson has also run a surprisingly poor campaign. He just didn’t seem prepared for the opportunity that this race offered. Still, I think disgust with the major party candidates allows him to make a credible showing, and reach the 5 percent threshold.

Republicans Hold Senate. The tightening race is good news for down ballot Republicans. A few weeks ago, the Republicans seemed sure to lose the Senate. Now, I think they could hold on. Kirk in Illinois is toast. After that it gets tricky. In an upset, I think Richard Burr loses in North Carolina. But I think that two of Ayotte, Toomey, and Johnson I have no idea which ones< But I’m going to suggest Toomey and Johnson, probably because I think they are two of the best senators out there.

The House Stays Red: There will be no Democratic wave sweeping them into control of the House. Democrats would have to gain 30 seats to take over, and I expect them to gain just half that. Let’s call the new House as 232-203. The reduced margin will make life even more miserable for Paul Ryan, but its still enough to block any of Hillary’s more radical proposals. Gridlock will likely remain.

A Good Night for Pot: Five states (Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada) will consider the legalization of recreational use of marijuana. Another 4 (Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota) will decide about medical marijuana. The pro-legalization forces should win all of them, with the possible exception of Florida. It is amazing how fast public opinion has shifted on this issue. Then again, this election is enough to make anyone want to get high.

In other initiatives and referendums, Colorado should reject a proposal to create a single-payer health plan in that state. There are also a number of minimum wage hikes on the ballot. Despite the economic damage these proposals do, they are always popular with voters. Expect most of them to win. In a really unfortunate outcome, big spending by the teachers unions prevails in Massachusetts, and a proposal to expand charter schools goes down. Finally, expect voters in several states to reject various gun control measures. California is likely to be the exception.

OK, my opinion is worth roughly what you are paying for it. What do you think?