Want to see a return of machine guns? Then ban semi-automatic weapons.

One of the under appreciated aspect of our legal system surrounding firearms, is that the firearm owning public is a compliant bunch when it comes to the law. NCIC background checks and waiting periods are followed with nary a peep. It is well documented that concealed carry permit holders are the least likely to commit a crime with a firearm.

It is when laws move from regulatory to restrictive that rules tend to be ignored. In states such as New Jersey and Connecticut compliance has been less than stellar after passing draconian restrictions of limited to no value in wake of mass shootings. For example, some 40,000 magazines were turned in to Connecticut authorities out of an estimated 2.4 million of them after passing magazine restrictions a few years back. Gun advocacy organizations and gun blogs are filled with anecdotal evidence of non compliance. Gun owners in Illinois are currently telling their statehouse representatives that, “I will not comply,” with similar restrictions imposed in states such as New Jersey and Connecticut.

It’s not just in the U.S. either. Australia, the model for American gun control advocates, has had uneven compliance with its strict gun laws. Different jurisdictions in the country have seen lower levels of compliance and enforcement than others. It seems the necessity of the consent of the governed is not unique to the United States. So do not bemoan the United States’ rotten culture here, either.

Liberalization of state gun laws and the Federal Courts recognition that the Second Amendment deserves equal billing with the rest of the Constitution has been a triumph of Civil Rights. States have been liberalizing gun laws for a generation; the trend in gun crime is downward (albeit with a recent uptick) and the number of guns sold each year has increased. Finally, U.S. Supreme Court appears to be poised to turn a more jaundiced eye toward gun restrictions after progress stalled in the wake of the landmark Heller and McDonald Decisions.

Fueled by big donors and supporters in the media, there is a sense that gun control has momentum. Democrat Party candidates for the Presidency — except maybe US Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) —  openly propose banning semi-automatic weapons. Illinois is moving to implement more limits on their already draconian laws.  On the West Coast Washington is putting more restrictions on the ballot and California officials brag about gutting the Civil Right in their state.

Despite these efforts, however, the march for Civil Rights and the Second Amendment continue.  The advantage still lies with individual rights.

Yet, what if gun control movement were to succeed? Would “gun crime” decline, would there be no difference or would things become worse? The law of unintended consequences in public policy still apply. And it seems they get short shrift in this debate. So, here are three unintended consequenes I considered if the United States were to turn away from this important Civil Right.

  1. It could undermine the Rule of Law –As noted above, compliance has not been great wether it be through ignorance or civil disobedience. Currently in Illinois, downstate counties and local prosecutors are warning politicians that further restrictions on their citizens will be ignored. Legitimacy in the United States is based upon the consent of the governed and respect for minority rights. The Rule of Law takes a hit when government goes too far.
  2. More gun control could be a boon to the Black Market — European restrictions on gun ownership have not stopped gun crime from occurring.  In the US, where there are more firearms in circulation than people, privately held weapons will suddenly become worth much more valuable creating incentives for theft or earning some quick cash illegally. Firearms can be built with shop tools in a basement or a garage. Where gun manufactures have quality standards, a way of tracing firearms used in crimes, and other regulatory guardrails, the black market does not. States want to ban “ghost guns,” prohibitions on the AR-15 will proliferate them.  Prohibition failed, the War on Drugs is not working and neither will War on Guns. Think gun running into Chicago is bad, just wait.
  3. Automatic Weapons could re-appear — This would be the most ominous development. The legal sale of new machine guns was banned in 1986. It sticks because gun owners are satisfied with owning semi-automatics and have access to them. But if your semi-automatic is now illegal why not convert to select fire?  A few trigger group modifications and a cut to a bolt carrier and your AR-15 is now a M4. And again, illegal manufacture of automatic weapons could become a lucrative black market opportunity.

Don’t believe me not he last one? Look at Europe where the fully automatic weapons were used in multiple attacks. They were easily purchased on the black market. The weapons came from converted weapons from Eastern Europe and surplus weapons still circulating from the Balkan conflict (Important Note: guns can be serviceable for decades or even a century).

Right now the United States has systems and institutions in place that have been accepted by the vast majority of gun owners. These systems and institutions channel behavior. Tearing these systems down now–given the technological and intellectual property developments that can turn every basement into a factory–is not going to make things better.

The reality is that the toothpaste is out of the tube. Firearms in the United States are here to stay.  Bans, restrictions or infringing on the Right to Self Defense are not going to change that reality.

In fact, they may make things worse.



Brexit shows us the peril of big changes and majoritarian rule — or why Federalism is better.

In the United States, for the most part, it is hard to do anything politically.  That’s a good thing.

Big changes in the United States take big majorities. This mainly protects the rights of minorities.  Under the Constitution it takes a majority in Congress to pass any given law. The President as Chief Executive can sign or veto the law. The veto can overridden by two-thirds (supermajority) of both houses of Congress.  The Constitution can only be amended by supermajorities in both Congress and the state legislatures.  Another example is treaty making.  The US Senate has the power — again with super majorities — to ratify treaties.  Treaties once ratified are the law of the land, so in order for the President to make one the President will need a two-thirds Senate majority to agree that the treaty is a good idea.

Thus, big changes to the US system requires near consensus from the electorate through their representatives in Washington, DC and the states.  This is critically important in a big diverse country such as the United States because it ensures that when we do make changes, we are largely united in that effort.

Want a whole new appreciation of the federalist system for fostering big political change? Simple, look to Brexit — a thirty year cautionary tale on the limits of majority rule.

The British and Europe: It’s Complicated

The goal for bringing Europe together into an economic trading block is rooted in the Cold War and the need the for containing Europe’s most powerful state, Germany. What began as an economic trading block evolved into the notion of a united Europe.

The European Union, as we come to know it, is now a political and economic union consisting of 28 mostly European states of which the United Kingdom is one of them. But the marriage of the UK and Europe has always been a rocky one. In 2016 a majority British voters asked for a divorce. And like many marriages that end in this manner, the split has not been an amicable one.

The idea of joining Europe in all social and economic policy has wrecked every Conservative Party Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher. The open split in the Conservative Party over the European question was at heart of her losing power. As an outspoken opponent and legendary leader of the Tories, when Thatcher fell, the baton was picked up by her loyal supporters.  Thatcher’s replacement, John Major, was only able to garner rebel tory votes for the Maastricht Treaty after offering a deal his party couldn’t refuse. Vote for the European Union or commit political suicide.

It worked.

Fearing the Labour Party more than Brussels, the rebellion caved and Britain ratified the Maastricht Treaty.  From 1992 to today, from mad cow to chocolate the British to currency adjustments conservatives have chafed at the constant interference in the United Kingdom’s sovereign affairs.

Tories weren’t the aggrieved party in this either. Labour Party Euroskeptics including Jeremy Corbyn, the current Labour Party Leader, have long existed as well. Labour has exercised more discipline in curtailing this particular party split but there’s always been unease among the traditional Labour left and Europe. There are also two smaller parties including Ukip, that were founded on the sole idea leaving the union. Up until the 2016 Brexit vote, they’ve been minor irritants if that in British politics. Yet, in 2016, much to Brexiter’s surprise the British electorate in a close vote chose to divorce from the European Union. This is where are cautionary lesson begins.

The vote to leave the Union in 2016, while substantial, was only 52% in favor. This was hardly a consensus vote.  And herein lies the problem. Then Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron was opposed to Brexit. After it passed, he resigned. Brexit opponent Theresa May was his replacement.  She promised to bow to the will of the people, but her efforts have been stymied by a coalition of remainers who wish to thwart the election results.  It is the political battle amongst the remainer who leads the government initiating the divorce, the remainers waging a war to…well… remain in the European Union and then the Brexiters who want a hard break with the union.

Democracy is a messy business.

In this instance, it so messy that it may undermine itself.

One way the will of the people may be undermined is if the remainers were able via legerdemain and stalling to either force another vote on Brexit or somehow cause the government to fail to exit the union.  Democracy is not vote until you get the result you want and ignoring the outcome of the referendum is much the same. Remainers are on the wrong side of this one.

Another issue is the deep split and the animosity between partisans who are closely divided. This does not portend well for eventual cooperation.  If the vote is 51-49 and you are sitting at 49, are you going to accept your defeat or continue in the hopes of picking up the other two votes? Tory rebels have held on for thirty years and are “this close.” In the past, they could be counted on to cave. This time, there’s been an election and they won.

Finally, when then Prime Minister John Major forced through the Maastricht Treaty vote he essentially changed the British Constitution on a Parliamentary vote — a controversial and narrow one as well. The same with Brexit, a referendum resulting in 52-48 outcome does not have the same oomph as 70-30.  These changes impact the monetary, fiscal, social policy not to mention immigration of a proud and sovereign nation. That’s a lot to ask on narrow margins.

Voting to give a parliament in a far away land the power to make monetary and immigration policy is a far different animal than a leash law for Fido. The Federal System established by the Nation’s Founders in the US solves this problem by making it hard to do the big things. This helps keep things together.

Federalism Does It Better

Whether one is for or against Brexit really isn’t the issue here. What is important to understand that making big national changes on the basis of a simple majority vote can lead to a real mess.  Current efforts to subvert the electoral college, impose congressional redistricting or even to implement the sweeping changes of the Green New Deal require a consensus, not a majority. This is a feature, not a bug. The mess that is the Brexit is a great example why.


Politics is Still Boring or How I Learned to Love Path Dependency

I’m sorry. Your grand socialist scheme for the U.S. won’t work. That said, I have little hope for my great free market solution, either.

There will be no revolution. Politics is still boring.

Whether it be ‘Medicare for All’ or the ‘Green New Deal’ or whatever warmed up bolshevism being dreamed up by the newly empowered leftists in the Democrat Party… it ain’t gonna happen. The same can be said for my free market revolution — not happening.

Path dependency is the idea that decisions made in the past on sometimes irrelevant issues limit the choices we have in the here and now.  They serve as guard rails and limit our ability to make change.

Long before Socialism became a thing–again–amongst the younger set in the Democrat Party, decisions were made, votes were held and interests were created and the die was cast. We chose relatively liberal markets, a federalist system of governance and a pluralist society in the beginning.  Decisions have moved to and fro since, and each of these have established interests. As we all know, established interests are the greatest barrier to overturning the status quo. Whether it be health care reform, climate change or even gun control, decisions made long ago are going to determine we can do today.

In the 1960’s, Congress created the Medicare and Medicaid programs. Both have proven quite durable and popular. Everyone, for example, has a family member, friend or other person in their network that have been recipients of the program. They are both popular with voting public and recipients alike.  That popularity gives these programs a great deal of insulation from swings in public opinion.  But when we add of all the other stakeholders in the system, it becomes really apparent that we will neither repeal nor replace these programs.

In his recent New York Times column, David Brooks, made the argument against Medicare for All. He pointed that the doctors would be loathe to support a program that cut their pay. The thousands and thousands of insurance employees would never sign on to their own economic death, nor would the 80 percent of the insured that have private insurance want to transition to something else should we eliminate private insurance. Then there are the pharmaceutical companies who would not want to be dependent upon a single purchaser.  All of these interests — those of patients, providers and suppliers — would all have to be satisfied in order to transition to a government run/single payer system. Conversely, we aren’t getting rid of government insurance anytime soon.

Energy is another sector in which decisions made decades, and even a century ago, act as guardrails to any reforms. Gasoline was the favored choice of government in the early days of the autos. Gasoline, a byproduct of kerosine, was being dumped into rivers.  By using it to fuel cars, an environmental hazard (burning rivers, poisoned water etc.) was mitigated. But from coal to oil to natural gas, fossil fuels have made and make far more  sense than renewables.  Regulatory regimes, livelihoods, and habits are in place. At the end of the day, carbon is not going anywhere. The die was cast long ago.

One issue that hits my hot button is gun control.  Once I calm down, however, I do have the sense that there is little chance of change. Prior to the establishment of the Constitution the Right of Self Defense was part of English Common Law. People made their own weapons. They can and still do today. Regimes to regulate the purchase of rifles and handguns are useless when the average Joe can do it himself in his garage or basement. Technology — such an CNC machinery can be housed in the at home.  You can build an AR with hand held tools.  The rise of 3D printing assure that better than military grade weapons are in the hand of the common man. These are just the recent developments.

In order to establish meaningful gun control, the country still would have to disarm a Nation of 320 million. Impossible. Any regime imposed without the consent of gun owners has been and will be continue to be ignored –thus creating more problems than solutions. Guns are staying.

Decisions made long ago continue have outsized impact on the outcomes of today’s political debates. While the Great Sorting and the tyranny of small differences is upon on us on the small issues of the day, there is still agreement on the large issues such as rules, norms and governing institutions. Elections results are still being accepted–except by the fringes.  While we cannot undue the damages of the progressive era and our most recent leadership, even that damage is been limited. We are not living in a dystopian society. In sum, Politics is still boring. I am grateful for that.




Run Howard Run?

The former Starbucks CEO is considering an independent run for the Presidency and while Democrat activists are apoplectic, Shultz could save them from themselves.

But I doubt it.

Normally, an independent candidate comes from the fringes of party politics or outside the system. The most notable in recent memory was Ross Perot’s first run in 1992.  Perot is widely believed to have tilted the election to then Governor Bill Clinton. Perot came from outside the system. He drew pretty evenly from the parties in his run. Another example, Ralph Nader is the example from the parties’ fringe. He is widely blamed for Al Gore’s Florida loss. But again, the numbers never really backed that up. Like Perot, he was more of convenient target.

As a political scientist and he or she will tell you is that third party candidates tend to change the makeup of the electorate more than draw from one side or the other. The people that come out to vote for these independent candidates tend to be people who wouldn’t otherwise vote.  They roughly earn equal amounts of protests votes from members of the two parties.  Remove Perot and Nader from the picture in 1992 and 2000  the likely outcome would have been the same.

So then, who cares… right?

The reason why I would urge caution while enjoying the schadenfreude of Howard Shultz’s candidacy, it should be mentioned that he could do a number of things that would be more of  bug to Republicans boon. First, Shultz is not crazy when you compare him to the current state of the Democratic Party. This may make him more attractive to potential protest voters in 2020. That alone may force some sanity on the Democrats. We already see some of that with the suddenly tempered support for Medicare for All.

While President Trump enjoys strong support among self-identified Republicans, under President Trump the number of self-identified Republicans gets smaller. As we entered the 2018, mid-term elections for example, Republican identifiers had dropped by 5 percentage points. Sure Republican identifiers support Trump upwards of 90 percent, there are just fewer Republicans. A sane, moderate seeming Democrat not hell bent on retribution may be enticed to come out to vote against Trump and President Trump just doesn’t have that kind of margin.

Real damage to Republicans could occur down ballot. An independent candidacy that is moderately left can change the pool of voters. Democrats turned off by their Party’s extreme positions are not going to vote for Republicans down ballot. Instead of fending off the crazies, GOP candidates will have to take time, money and effort to attract the disaffected. This will not help them with the Trump true believers. See the mess?

Shultz is talking about debt and spending issues. He has criticized Medicare for All from the center and has pointed out that no one really wants 70% income tax rates. He referred to these as un-American.  This is the Bill Clinton wing of the Democratic party, not the Sanders/Warren/Cortez wing. With voters who remember the 1990’s as not so bad, this could have some appeal.

In these early stages of the primary, Democrats are racing to the farthest reaches of the left. They are running on not just redistribution as Obama did 2008, but on retribution. Consider the extreme positions being offered.  Democrats in New York passed an abortion law that legalizes  infanticide. The same was offered Virginia only to go down in flames, but not before doing serious damage to the Governor and the bill’s sponsor. Before she was forced to walk it back, Presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) endorsed the idea of eliminating private insurance. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has proposed a wealth tax—not to fund anything but to punish “the rich.”  Gun control is not only back, it is now officially gun registration/confiscation.

With media padlocked on President Trump’s reality show, no one has really been paying attention to the Democrats. With the Washington press corps’ cover, the extremists have dominated.  A Shultz candidacy – or any sane candidate running in the Primary for that matter —  has the opportunity to bring the party back from the brink.  While fun to watch, it is ultimately portend bad news Republican party in 2020.

Enjoy Republicans, but be forewarned.

You Don’t have an ‘Unfettered’ Right to Own a Gun, And Gun Owners aren’t Saying You Should

The argument that your access to own a firearm is ‘unfettered’ in this country has become ubiquitous among gun controllers.  Funny though, I have yet to hear a politician or a respectable proponent of the fundamental right to self defense argue that it should be. The reason they don’t argue that, is because . . . well . . . it is untrue.

Here, for example, is a 2015 Washington Post piece, on then GOP Primary candidates stating as much.  No where in the piece does Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) make make the argument that access should be unlimited. Here is former Rep. Dan Glickman of the Aspen Institute writing last week in the Hill: “It’s because the NRA has several million single-issue voters, who only care about protecting their essentially unfettered right to buy and use any type of gun.” And finally, Maryland Institute of College Art Professor Firmin Debradbender writing,  again in The Washington Post that, “The NRA’s logic dictates that we should make our schools look like war zones to accommodate unfettered gun rights.” If you don’t believe me, google the phrase yourself.

Proponents of the Second Amendment to the Constitution as well as gun owners see this line for what it is, mendacious and misleading. College professors and elected Congressmen know better.   And it makes it hard to have a reasoned discussion to find common ground when one side continually, whether willfully or not, mislead. The parties aren’t far apart just because of some culture war or mere politics. We’re far apart because people are lying. Those truly interested, like members of the NRA and supporters of Civil Rights, understand the Constitution and the concept of  Individual Rights. They are limited by their very definition.  Supporters of the Second Amendment live with the hassles and regulations everyday. On top of this there is the blood lible from the gun control advocates. It seems there is no price the gun controllers are unwilling to see gun owners pay.

One of my favorite quotes about the limited scope of rights comes in Russel Kirk’s discussion of Edmund Burke in, “The Conservative Mind from Burke to Eliot,  “A man has always a right to self defense; but he does not have, in all times and places, a right to carry a drawn sword.” The drawn sword for no reason, in this sense, is the unfettered right.  And in the case of the Second Amendment, it is certainly ‘fettered.’ What constrains the right is the appropriate time and place for its execution. It isn’t a license to use as one wishes; a Right exists in context. And there are already plenty of limitations on that context.

To begin with, there are age limits on the ability to purchase a firearm.  You cannot purchase across state lines.  You cannot purchase one if you are a felon or have been deemed mentally incompetent.  Some states, such as Illinois, have additional waiting periods on weapons plus other onerous burdens.  California has its infamous “bullet button,” regulation and a plethora of others that don’t make much sense and don’t work.  The Heller Decision itself states the right is limited and makes room for the above and more:

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.

We do the background checks, the waiting periods, pay the extra taxes, take the mandated and un-mandated training courses, pay for the right to carry, pay for the regulations and carry the burden and responsibility for our rights and we put up with it willingly. We also live with the responsibility if God forbid we do have to exercise our right to self defense. Yet, we are told we are ‘unfettered.’ This is akin to urinating on my leg and telling me it is raining. If you want an honest dialogue on guns; if you want to discuss what may actually prevent the next massacre, then we’re here.  We’re willing and we’re waiting. All that were waiting for is a little honesty from the other side.

Being a Gun Owner/Soldier Doesn’t Make You an Expert on Gun Policy

As a gun owner, I’m not an expert on guns.  I can freely admit that. However, this is hard for some.  Usually, as in the example linked, they know less about guns than I do. They want their kids to be safe but they don’t like the NRA. They fail to realize that the National Rifle Association (NRA)  pretty much wrote the book on gun safety education.  Here’s a link to that site.

Next, is GI Joe (or Jane or both, I guess).  He carried a gun the military but doesn’t believe the rest of us should — even though a lot of us who were in the military own and still train with firearms.  Here is Army veteran and transgender (I’m not sure why that matters here) Charlotte Clymer:

The problem with this narrative (besides a lack of research or data suggesting more guns does indeed prevent violence broadly) is that killing another human being, even a “bad” one, is not easy. This is not “Call of Duty”: Despite the damage that modern weaponry can inflict, there is a reason that soldiers and law enforcement officers receive thousands of hours of training in firearms and tactics. This training is physical, mechanical and, most importantly, psychological, because in order to efficiently and effectively kill other human beings in high-stress situations, one must be conditioned to negotiate that stress.

I should know, because I went through it. As an U.S. Army infantryman, I spent thousands of hours, beginning in basic training and continuing throughout my service, becoming comfortable with killing and learning how to do so in a responsible manner. The psychological strength required to act quickly and effectively in a mass shooting comes from the kind of monotonous training that over several years builds up muscle memory. It is tedious and often boring, and that’s the point: it enables soldiers to respond in stressful situations as though it’s second nature.

The U.S. Army’s basic marksmanship training — just learning how to care for a rifle and shoot it — is three weeks long. That’s 18 full days (Sundays are usually semi-restful) spent getting comfortable with your rifle, learning how to dissemble and reassemble it, clean it, perform a functions check, correct malfunctions, load and unload it, conduct peer training with fellow privates, adjust its sights and, finally, how to actually aim and fire it.

It took him/her — again why does this matter– years of rigorous training and “thousands of hours” over an 18 day period.  Clymer’s argument, not mine.

How does this stuff get published?

These people are not experts. They do not know the history of guns, the law, the policy, or even, probably, how guns work. Fun fact, there is not a center fire rifle or handgun out there that at one time was not the latest, most deadly weapon in the hands of soldiers.  That bolt action Remington/Winchester rifle was based on a German infantry rifle.  The lever action rifle was a calvary weapon. Colt pistols were built for the military as well (revolvers).  The AR-15 (M4 clone) and it’s variants are just the latest in a long, long line of American soldiers bringing home their rifles.  It’s the same with modern handguns.  So, please, spare me the weapons of war… They all have military applications; they all come from the military.

Being a hunter or soldier does not make you an expert.  Just like being a driver doesn’t make you a Formula 1 racer.  Firearms policy is complex. It deals with trade-offs and is filled with misinformation, misnomers and plain old prejudice. Even the experts get things wrong.  But it is more so for that soldier who had years of training over three weeks. Being a soldier doesn’t make one a military historian or an arms expert.  It doesn’t make them an expert on the use of force nor on training. I’m sorry, but that you can point and shoot doesn’t give you any particular insight. In fact, it may even hinder your perspective.

Weigh that in mind the next time you read or hear, “As a gun owner.”