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.