Month: September 2014

The only viable method of gun control

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To suggest gun control to a conservative is a bit like suggesting censorship to a liberal. Not a perfect analogy, but the courts have consistently ruled in favor of gun ownership, and its hard to argue that the founding fathers would have approved infringing on this right in any significant way even if comparisons between 18th and 21st weapons are laughably absurd. Still, no one outside the NRA is suggesting we can not regulate weapons if we really wanted to. But do we really?

Gun regulation is not itself a desirable end but a means. The end is greater health and safety of our populous and I think there’s a better method than so-called gun control. The high water mark of gun control is undoubtedly the Federal Ban on Assault Rifles which actually managed to outlaw some of the worlds most dangerous weapons from the civilian market. However, the effect on gun crime was limited for two reasons. One, crimes involving assault weapons are rare, and the ban was easily avoided by making no more than cosmetic changes to the rifles. If we had the political will it may be possible to go back to the drawing board and craft a stronger law, but even with the enthusiastic support of both parties, I fear that these results will simply be repeated.

Gun control at its heart only makes sense with a few varieties of weapons that are difficult to modify and manufactured from a central source, but this is not the case. If gun manufacturers can not sell you a fully functional weapon they have no trouble selling inert nonfunctional completely legal gun parts. You assemble. Perhaps, if even that is not enough, weapons designs have become simple enough that people are simply milling their own weapons from a kit stock and printed directions. But even that pales next to the increasingly sophisticated 3d printing technology. I see no realistic ability for a governmental body to craft regulations that effectively prevent someone from simply downloading the specifications and printing out their own ready made weapon. I fear that gun control targeting guns in the manner that liberals are envisioning is simply ineffective and, given the political realities, impossible.

But that doesn’t mean nothing can be done. As I said, gun control is merely a means to an end and I think we’ve overlooked the most obvious place for a solution: The Constitution. When it comes to gun law, I’m a strict constitutional originalist. And the awkwardly worded 2nd Amendment is perfect. We need to reclaim militias for the side of angels. Gun ownership should be contingent on membership in a “well-regulated” militia. Make that a very well regulated militia. I think doing so would accomplish several goals at once. For example, guns are most associated with what kind of death? It’s not homicide, its suicide. And this is a worthy challenge for gun law.

I imagine federal laws regarding militias looking something like this. In order for a militia to be permitted under federal law, it must make psychological help available to its members as well as a create a first line response should a member be in trouble. It could be as simple as suicide prevention counseling and referral to a professional and other mental health resources. It would be similar to a suicide prevention hotline. You might even go so far as to develop a national credentialing system for a more comprehensive list of services.

Another major cause of gun death and injury are accidents. In order to be a militia member, you would be required to receive extensive training in gun proficiency, fire control, maintenance, and storage. There is not a single right listed in the constitution that is not dependent on personal responsibility. If you are to be a gun owner you should be required to spend the time and money learning and practicing proper care and handling from a qualified instructor.

Crime prevention. Militia members must be required to learn the legal codes regarding appropriate use of force, learn deescalation techniques to manage situations without resorting to lethal force as a minimum.  If they achieve a high level of proficiency wear readily identifiable uniforms, and demonstrate their skill the could be potentially credentialed for some law security functions. They could function as a more complex version of a neighborhood watch.  Note they must meet a very high bar and they would only be allowed lethal force in the most extraordinary circumstances. Their primary role would be merely to observe and report to law enforcement. But something like this might work well for vulnerable targets like public venues, parades, or schools. Obviously the last thing we need are vigilantes, but well trained individuals acting in a lay support capacity might be useful. Or maybe not but it warrants discussion.

Then, I feel extraordinarily odd suggesting this, militia groups should be required to swear allegiance to the government. There are too many groups out there that are borderline treasonous. In fact, the standoff at the Bundy ranch was not borderline but actual treason. We even have public figures and politicians supporting fringe right wing groups that believe they have the right to take up arms against the lawfully elected government. It needs to stop. If you think violence against the government is ok or ever going to be ok, you should not have access to weapons.

This is another odd suggestion, but I believe militias should be subject to the same federal guidelines for the workplace. Organizations that have a policy of bigotry, discrimination, or hate speech should have their charter voided by the government. Any organization that touts violence toward another individual or group no matter how obliquely should never be allowed to have ready access to weapons.

We can’t regulate the weapons. The technology moves to quickly and getting rid of them entirely is a non-starter in American politics. Other nations have their solution to guns and gun violence and I envy those countries. But we’re Americans. We need to find an American solution and The Constitution affords us one. One that, if regulated well, will provide support, training, and better integration with law enforcement.

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Libertarian case for government safety nets

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There’s no simple definition for Libertarianism (or any political party) but one might call it, the belief that the government should be no bigger than necessary to secure the rights and freedoms listed in the constitution. There’s more to it naturally but I think it’s a pretty good summation for a single sentence. How this philosophy is acted upon specifically varies from person to person and I have no interest in putting together an exhaustive list of Libertarian flavors. The point being that with no wish to offend anyone we’re still talking about painting a picture with very broad strokes here.

I think we can also say that Libertarians are also very concerned with economic freedom which can be reduced in a number of ways. Unwise banking practices can reduce the value of money, government taxes, an intriguing theory called ‘opportunity cost’, a burdensome regulatory environment, debt and deficits, and a sundry list of ways governments can degrade the financial health of the country and impede personal financial growth and freedom. Now each of these things can and should be debated but in a very broad sense these are some of the things a libertarian believes with, I’m sure, very few exceptions. Now to say the government shouldn’t interfere in the lives of individuals is not to say a government shouldn’t exist. Libertarians are very pro-government in many cases. They believe in a strong military for example so long as it’s main function is to secure American borders from external threats. They’re very fond of law enforcement, our system of justice, laws that keep people from infringing on the rights of others. And this is something I feel is worth emphasizing. Preventing your rights from being trampled is the fundamental goal of libertarians whether we’re talking about simple theft (which can usually be handled locally) or from exploitation of large companies or most especially from the government.

Typically Libertarians frown strenuously on government-sponsored social safety nets. They have their reasons but it generally boils down to, first, its expensive and, secondly, it’s beyond the purview of the federal government. I want to challenge both those assumptions.
First off poverty carries with a couple of costs especially in the way of healthcare and law enforcement. I suppose we could let the very poor die but we don’t for two reasons. It’s morally repugnant, and because death forever removes that person as a societal resource. When we provide basic services to the homeless we find their financial cost to the city falls dramatically.

In addition to cost of caring for people on the extreme edge of poverty, we have, and this is a real accounting issue, the cost of an underperforming asset. From a strictly utilitarian perspective (though certainly not from a moral or humanitarian one), a poor person who remains forever poor does not contribute to the economic health of the country. (I stress poor people should not be thought of as commodities. I merely want to discuss the economics of social stratification). Indeed, socially mobile or not, people do make contributions to your personal individual freedoms. Keeping institutional barriers in place represents a miscarriage of justice to the poor or sick and simultaneously a limitation on the financial freedom of every person in the country. Lost productive capacity is not only inhuman on multiple levels, it’s also very costly, especially in the long run. This cost must be born by every member of our society and as such reduces economic freedom. Further not only is increasing economic mobility good for them, good for the economy but it has a synergistic effect. The more people able to become upwardly mobile the easier it becomes for everyone.

Let’s talk about that miscarriage of justice. Normally we think of injustice as an active construct. (for example an armed robber stealing from you would be an “active” injustice). This is probably what keeps most libertarians passive when confronting social ills and dysfunction because injustice can also be a passive. For example poor access to reliable healthcare, education, transportation, water, housing, internet, and infrastructure are barriers to economic mobility. Not only does it reduce their freedoms, it is also an independent harm to the individuals. Harm the state is duty bound to prevent or redress.

Justice does not distinguish between passive harm and active harm to an individual. I do. It’s an artificial distinction on my part. Even if pursuing justice was not a goal for libertarians as it manifestly is, or securing economic liberty for others, being silent in the face of social and economic injustice represents run counter to ones own personal economic and political freedoms.