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Gun Nuts

Tuesday, December 9th, 2014

“Gun violence is as serious as the Ebola virus is being represented in the media,” says Beloit, Wisconsin, Police Chief Norm Jacobs, “and we should fight it using the tools that we’ve learned from our health providers.”

Hmmmm, I immediately wondered what tools used against Ebola could possibly be used against “gun violence.” Will police don Hazmat suits? Should we quarantine criminals who shoot and kill people? (Well, more on that shortly.)

No, the Beloit Police Department is launching a new program asking city residents to voluntarily permit officers to search their homes for guns.

According to Wisconsin Public Radio, Chief Jacobs wants to “encourage people to think about gun violence as an infectious disease like Ebola, and a home inspection like a vaccine to help build up the city’s immune system.”

Yes. He actually said that.

Perhaps the chief is a little overwhelmed. More than 100 murders have been committed this year in Wisconsin using a gun. That’s a problem, for sure — whether a gun is involved or not, though. But searching the homes of law-abiding folks isn’t any sort of solution.

What seems most statistically significant is the fact that 93 percent of those accused of committing these murders have a prior arrest record, as do the 94 percent of Badger State victims of gun violence.

Pretending that the problem is not criminals, but, instead, firearms “hiding” in the homes of the law-abiding? A gross misdiagnosis.

And deadly . . . stupid.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Keep Your Money

Friday, December 5th, 2014

“Thanks, but no thanks.”

So says Michigan State Representative Tom McMillin to President Barack Obama.

In response to the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and its aftermath, and then the non-indictment of the officer involved, and its aftermath, President Obama requested that Congress fund a new $263 million Justice Department spending package. Part of the spending, a total of $75 million, would put federal dollars toward outfitting 50,000 local policemen with body cameras.

Rep. Tom McMillin, a Rochester Hills Republican, has introduced House Bill 5970 to require all gun-toting state and local police in Michigan to wear body cameras. The legislation would mandate that video footage be destroyed within weeks except in cases where police use force, make an arrest, a complaint is filed or a request is made by a citizen.

McMillin thanks Obama for supporting the idea of body cameras, but the state rep argues that “providing body cameras to state and local police officers in Michigan isn’t a proper role of the federal government,” adding: “We could figure out how to pay for it here in Michigan.”

“Frankly, the feds have put me and my kids in enough debt,” he says, “I wouldn’t want them adding to it.”

Great point. Plus, the federal government really doesn’t have to pay for every single thing that happens in this world.

I’ve advocated the cameras, calling them “justice vision.” Where tried, the video system has served to protect citizens and police and improve public confidence.

But doing the right thing in our hometowns doesn’t require a Washington bribe.

That’s Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Against Protester Brutality

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Most people agree about the wrongness of police brutality, if not about whether a particular police action is an example of it.

But what about protester brutality? Again, most oppose it. Still, skeptics on this point have been particularly loud and insistent lately. Some even suggest (or scream) that violence against the innocent is fully justified if that’s what it takes to protest injustice.

But the existence of police brutality does not justify protester brutality, protester vandalism, protester indifference-to-evidence, or any other violence or irrationality.

The grand jurors in Ferguson were not dealing with injustice in the abstract, but with a particular incident and the relevant evidence. They were not asked to determine whether police ever wrongly shoot or kill, but whether there was evidence that a particular officer had done so, enough to justify a trial. Even assuming legitimate grounds to disagree with their conclusion, too many commenters declaim as if the evidence is irrelevant and the jurors’ motives not possibly honest. The man had to be indicted regardless.

Of course, had Officer Wilson been tried, on this assumed-guilty approach only one outcome would have then been deemed acceptable, regardless of evidence: conviction. Absent that conviction, violence against the innocent would still have been rationalized.

No injustice is properly fought by either sweeping aside facts or by attacking the innocent in the name of protecting the innocent. If we ignore the requirements of justice in order to advance a Cause, how can that Cause be justice?

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Cause of Death in Utah

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Utah is the happiest state in the country — we’re told. Though the state does have high suicide rates, those might be explainable in biochemical terms, neatly enough. So what are we to make of the Beehive State’s disturbing pattern in other-person homicide?

Police shootings dominate the stats:

A Salt Lake Tribune review of nearly 300 homicides, using media reports, state crime statistics, medical-examiner records and court records, shows that use of force by police is the second-most common circumstance under which Utahns kill each other, surpassed only by intimate partner violence.

And, as the Tribune explains: “so far this year, deadly force by police has claimed more lives — 13, including a Saturday shooting in South Jordan — than has violence between spouses and dating partners.”

The article goes on to talk about police training and other important issues surrounding police use of deadly force, but the long-term trends and are not clear.

We know that violent crime is going down in the country. Are police shootings going up, or have they merely remained stable against the rest of the violence?

Such issues were not addressed in the article. And over at Reason, Anthony L. Fisher brings up the fundamental problem: “This article serves as a useful reminder that there is no national database of shootings by police, and save for a few journalists, academics and sports websites, no efforts to create one.”

The issue is vital, for we give a lot of power to police personnel. And power can corrupt them as much as anyone else. But until we have better information, the big picture remains far too fuzzy.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

Play Gun Theater

Friday, November 21st, 2014

Stop me if I repeat myself . . . but maybe we don’t need elaborate explanations for poor performance in America’s public schools.

Maybe it comes down to this: they are run by people as unhinged as the administrators of the Stacy Middle School in Middleford, Massachusetts.

Yes, it’s time again for American Play Gun Theater, in which children (usually boys) pretend to have toy guns in their empty hands, emit fake gun sounds from their mouths, and scare the living Horace Mann’s out of government employees.

The current case? That of Master Nickolas Taylor,. He formed his hand to vaguely resemble a revolver (index finger as barrel, thumb as hammer — don’t try this at home, kids!) and mimicked some ray gun sounds towards two girls in lunch line, and then blew his finger tip, as if smoke drifted up from firing.

I am not aware of ray guns needing this, but it does have panache.

His punishment? Suspension. The 10-year-old malefactor needed to be taught a lesson, by gum.

Had he done something truly dishonorable, like cut in line, some punishment was probably in order. But if all he did was pretend to have a toy gun (two layers of pretense here at least!), then the worst probably should have been to put him in Pretend Jail, with no bars and no irons and some irony.

The lad’s father and grandmother came to his defense; the local newspaper put him on the front page.

The lesson? For supporters of today’s abysmal public schools: Don’t reload. Rethink.

And if I’ve said this before, point a finger at me and make ray gun noises.

But hey: I may raise my special Deflect-o-shield.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

The Panty Raid 

Monday, November 10th, 2014

“We just thought it was something funny we could do,” Peregrine Honig says. “But it was so scary.”

Honig is part-owner of Birdies, an “intimate apparel apothecary and swimwear boutique.” The funny thing? Offer shorts with the letters “KC” and the phrase “Take the Crown” printed on them, to cheer on the Kansas City Royals in Major League Baseball’s World Series. The scary thing? The visit by two men who identified themselves as Homeland Security agents . . . who confiscated the underwear.

“I asked one of them what size he needed and he showed me a badge and took me outside,” Honig told the Kansas City Star. “They told me they were from Homeland Security and we were violating copyright laws.” Although Honig had designed the shorts herself, not simply mimicking a KC logo, the feds said that the intersection of the K and the C in the design was enough to cross the line.

But hey, they were nice!

Apparently even somewhat abashed, like “kicking a puppy,” as Honig puts it; very nice as they took away the merchandise. Which I’m guessing — now stay with me here — was not a threat to national security.

What we have here is called overkill.

At worst this is a minor and inadvertent infraction of copyright law. What’s that worth? A phone call. A visit. Maybe a cease-and-desist letter.

So, do we file this under Silly? Or Ominous?

Or round-file it as just one more little example of the governmental excesses we’re supposed to accept as normal?

Though they lost in the seventh game of a first-one-to-four-wins series, I was rooting for KC.

Oops, did I just commit a crime? I mean I was rooting for K . . . C.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

This Ain’t Laissez-Faire

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Things are what they are, not their opposite. Can we accept that as a starting point?

Not if we’re scoring ideological points regardless of the cost to clarity.

Newsweek calls drug-war violence in Long Island “a harrowing example of free-market, laissez-faire capitalism.” To this, Cato Institute’s David Boaz objects that “the competition between the local Crips and Bloods [is described] in terms not usually seen in articles about, say, Apple and Microsoft or Ford and Toyota.”

Under a truly free market, the rights of buyers and sellers to peaceably trade are legally protected from theft and violence, and their contracts defended from fraud. Black markets, on the other hand, are made up of illegal exchanges, actively prohibited trade.

Sure, black-market trade has something in common with legal trade. As with legal exchanges, persons willingly participate in black-market trades and expect to benefit.

But economic activity that can easily get you jailed is fundamentally different in just this respect from that conducted in a relatively laissez-faire context.

The difference has consequences.

You can’t go to court if you have a grievance with a black-market trading partner or competitor. And persons less scrupulous, more violent, more criminal than the norm tend to be disproportionately represented among sellers of illegal goods that have especially big markups precisely because they’re illegal.

So Boaz is right.

The legal capitalism at K-Mart, J. C. Penny, or a post-Prohibition-Era liquor store isn’t fertile ground for the gang warfare invited by the War on Drugs. We can’t tell the difference, though, if we ignore the difference.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.