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A Red Flag for “Red Flag” Laws

Some version of this, as Paul Edward Parker reports it for the Providence Journal, is worth considering:

The Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association on Tuesday voted unanimously to ask the General Assembly to pass a law to help keep guns out of the hands of people who demonstrate they are a risk to public safety. …

Under a so-called “red flag” law, the police could obtain a court order preventing people from having guns if they are a danger to themselves or others.

However, caution is critical, because this is dangerous territory for our civil rights.  Any such policy needs explicit guidelines for what counts as evidence and how the threshold is to be determined, preferably with some sort of validation outside of government (say a psychiatrist).  Otherwise, the government could confiscate weapons from people who simply dissent from the ruling worldview.

Indeed, one could imagine guns’ being confiscated because people in government know a person will be in a position that might make weaponry more problematic… like politically motivated pre-dawn raids, as in Michigan, or some sort of activists’ action against the person.  Imagine if police know somebody will be soon targeted like FCC commissioner Ajit Pai when the net neutrality issue was boiling; law enforcement might take away any weapons he might have to make sure nothing gets out of hand.  Or on the other side, if somebody is known to be an activist, the government  might take his or her weapons away.

It is insufficient for anybody currently in office to profess that such a thing will never happen; Rhode Islanders should demand clear standards and laws for any such legislation.  Look even to the Rhode Island Police Chiefs Association’s statement.  An association for law-enforcement leaders should not contain language following the pattern of “we respect the Second Amendment, but…”

The Second Amendment isn’t in place as a sort of vague principle to be “respected.”  It’s a fundamental law of the land.  Government agents shouldn’t profess “respect” for it so much as pledge to “adhere” to it.

In this case, that means taking every conceivable step to ensure that a “red flag” policy cannot possibly infringe on our right to bear arms.


The Inherent Racism of Gun Control

Writing for the Independent Institute’s Beacon, Anthony Gregory argues that the mechanics of gun control are implicitly racist:

Perhaps the most telling data concerns the racial makeup of who goes to prison for gun violations. According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, for Fiscal Year 2011, 49.6% of those sentenced to federal incarceration with a primary offense of firearms violations were black, 20.6% were Hispanic, and only 27.5% were white.

This is how gun laws actually work—those caught violating them go to prison. For the mere act of owning an illegal weapon—not necessarily for using it, not for threatening anyone with it, not for being irresponsible with it—people who have harmed no one are locked up in prison for years at a time. As with the rest of the criminal justice system, particularly the war on drugs, these laws disproportionately harm the poor and minorities. That is the inescapable reality of gun control.

Gregory further argues that we’re not just talking gang members’ getting caught with weapons that they may have used or may intend to use for illegal purposes.  In poorer, more-dangerous environments good people have incentive to make provisions to protect themselves, and as with every other area of society in which the government erects barriers and imposes costs, people with lower income are less able to make sure they’ve got all of their Ts crossed.  That’s especially true when minorities are more likely to have some sort of criminal record.

Murdering people is already illegal, and doing it on a large scale is among the most stunningly illegal things one can do.  Broadening the list of activities that are illegal (like owning a particular type of gun or carrying a gun on one’s person) may or may not make such killers unable to do what they want to do, but on a much larger scale, the laws will snag people who are innocent of any other crime.  Putting them on the list of society’s criminals will only harm their future prospects at the same time that it puts them in the company of actual criminals.

Even if one believes that the number of lives ruined through this unintended effect is worth the number of lives saved by a ban, one must take it into account.

(via Stephen Green)


Rhode Island Senate Leaders Declare Representative Democracy Dead in Rhode Island

To the Rhode Island Senate’s shame, it has filed legislation for what is likely the first-ever expulsion of a state senator, and it was done, as the bill states, based on some now-resolved campaign finance problems, “unwanted media coverage,” and some allegations and criminal charges for which Coventry Republican Senator Nicholas Kettle has not yet gone to trial.

As argued in this space, yesterday, whatever one thinks of Kettle’s moral standing to claim continuing political support, this extreme measure by the Senate goes beyond attacking his rights to attacking the rights of Rhode Island voters.  It isn’t up to voters to find a candidate whom the insiders in the State House can accept; it’s up to the legislators to accept whomever the voters send.

The fact that the lead sponsor of the bill is Democrat Senate President Dominick Ruggerio — who was himself arrested in 2012 and brought “unwanted media coverage” to the chamber — puts an exclamation point on the political nature of this move.  The involvement of Senate Majority Leader Dennis Algiere does not alleviate this problem, especially after recent revelations that he played a role attempting to broker peace at an initially secret meeting between Ruggerio and Democrat Speaker of the House Nicholas Mattiello.

Moreover, the fact that the legislation includes detailed documentation of the allegations, as attachments or evidence, suggests that there’s more going on here than a desire to resolve a legislative problem.  I’ve never seen external documents appended as part of a bill before, and I’ve read thousands of bills in the past few years.

One needn’t come to the defense of Senator Kettle or his alleged actions to suggest that this is a step too far and moves Rhode Island governance to another level of intrinsic corruption.  If Kettle is no longer acceptable to his constituents, then they should remove him.  The other politicians in the state Senate shouldn’t take it upon themselves to ensure that a district goes without representation for an entire legislative session.  Discomfort with the subject matter of the allegations shouldn’t lead Rhode Islanders to give over their basic rights as voters to a small group of political elites.


A Word on Maintaining Calm (And Rights) in the Face of Tragedy

Horrible events like the school shooting in Florida yesterday are painful to contemplate, but contemplate them we must.  However, “contemplation” entails attention to details and balancing of considerations.  Unfortunately, emotions run high when it comes to safety on school grounds, so facts become easy to discard.  Also unfortunately, activists rev up the outrage before facts are even known.

From what we know — and it’s still not much — authorities had multiple signals that the shooter merited scrutiny.  The Daily Mail reports that, when a student, he wasn’t permitted to carry a backpack.  The New York Daily News reports that the shooter was flagged to the FBI months ago for a school-shooting comment on YouTube.  His Instagram account was a chilling, easy-to-find signal.

Of course, the warning about waiting for more information covers all directions in which this investigation may go, and it’s possibly understandable that a few reports to different agencies wouldn’t combine to bring real attention to a potential threat.  Even if there is no fault to assign on this count, though, it remains true that authorities did not protect the public from somebody whom others had identified as dangerous.  It is not obvious, therefore, that the appropriate response to the government’s inability to protect people is to further curtail Americans’ ability to protect themselves.

So let’s tone down the rhetoric and try to avoid making emotional decisions that remove other people’s rights and might have unintended consequences.  Consider, for example, that one of the supposed 18 school shootings that are being hyped actually involved a student’s pulling the trigger of a police officer’s gun while it was still in the holster, and others are also a stretch to put on the list.


Our Natural Beauty, From the Moment of Conception

After a trip to the March for Life as a chaperone for a high school trip, I felt inspired to indulge in some poetic prose for an op-ed in last week’s Rhode Island Catholic:

The iconography around the building is endlessly meaningful, and visitors could spend hours trying to take it all in and a lifetime contemplating it. The craftsmanship not only of the artists whose work is on display, but also of the artisans who constructed their setting is impressive. In its sheer beauty, though, the marble — with the polished stone swirling around itself in a broad palette of colors — is what took my breath away.

A process of chemistry and tremendous force over centuries fashioned the material, awaiting human hands to collect and polish it, fashioning it into columns, railings, or just tiles and slabs to finish the floors and walls. In some places, the natural designs are suggestive of images. Between a confessional and a mural of the calling of St. Matthew, a dark shape in one slab gives the impression of a robed figure in a cavern or a wooded area. The imagination of a viewer awaiting his or her turn behind the curtain must provide the details.

The real story of natural materials, in other words, is essentially the subject matter of religion.


Their Constitution Is Their Ideology

Pro-abortion extremists in the General Assembly are back with their push to cut all traces of Rhode Island law, most of which is currently superseded by federal law, that in any way limits access to abortions or affirms the biological fact that unborn children are, in fact, human beings.  One provision would eliminate the statute against the barbaric procedure of partial-birth abortion, wherein the abortionist brings the baby almost fully into the air and then kills him or her before final delivery.  (The method of killing can involve crushing the baby’s skull and sucking his or her brains out.)

But rather than inflame passions with accurate descriptions of abortion, I’ll focus, here, on a peculiar rhetorical trick of the activists:

“We have anti-choice leaders in both chambers of Congress, and a Supreme Court whose balance could help the other two branches destroy the protections provided by Roe v. Wade. Unless we erase these unconstitutional laws, it is feasible that the women of Rhode Island could be knocked back a half-century to the days of secret, dangerous back-room abortions,″ [Providence progressive Democrat Representative Edith] Ajello said last week after introducing the bill.

“Our state has lacked the political will to repeal these unconstitutional laws, and that inaction is now putting the health and rights of Rhode Island women at genuine risk,″ added the lead Senate sponsor, [Providence progressive Democrat Senator] Gayle Goldin, in a news release last week. “Women deserve better from the leaders of our state.”

Clearly “unconstitutional” is a very important talking point to these activists.  The peculiarity is that if the Supreme Court were to reverse the precedent of prior activist courts, these state laws would no longer be unconstitutional.  That is, in addition to their belief that one human being has the authority arbitrarily to declare whether another human being has any rights at all, they also hold that constitutionality is ultimately defined by conformance with their own ideology, rather than agreed-upon words and legal processes.


Trump and the Leading Edge of Conservative Policy

Readers who aren’t steeped in (or employed by) the conservative think tank world may not have picked up something very interesting about President Trump’s State of the Union address:  He mentioned a number of policies that have been catching on among conservative policy intellectuals who are, in some ways, reformulating the old-school, hard-line, bootstrap principle as well as the more-recent libertarianism that pressured social conservatives to keep their mouths shut in the name of broader appeal.

Many of us have been making the case that knocking out government supports in an era of eroded social foundations isn’t politically feasible or humane and that a full political philosophy requires some sort of plan for disadvantaged people.  In the Washington Examiner, Jared Meyer highlights one example:

In his 2018 State of the Union address, President Trump said that “we will embark on reforming our prisons to help former inmates who have served their time get a second chance.”

This sentiment directly follows what Trump promised during his inaugural address, that “we will get our people off of welfare and back to work.” People coming out of incarceration face two distinct paths—they can either find a job, or they will fall into government dependency. Beyond being the main predictor of whether someone is living in poverty, not having a job is the clearest indicator of how likely someone is to re-offend.

This particular issue is certainly in line with libertarian views on shrinking government, but it illustrates the changed perspective.  The first spotlight doesn’t go on the principle of freedom, but on the obstacles that actual people are facing.

Very often, helping people is a matter of reining in the excesses of government, and sometimes that requires rethinking old biases, like that which was “tough on crime.”  It makes for an interesting balancing act, and that goes to show that the really interesting policy discussions are all on the right, as is the future of the country unless progressives derail our actual progress.


Enough with the Talk, Put Some Solutions on the Table


Civil War and the Pubescence

By all means, read the widely circulated post to which he links, but also give some thought to how John Hinderaker of PowerLine frames the discussion:

Are the Democrats Fighting a Civil War?

That is the provocative hypothesis put forward by Danial Greenfield at Sultan Knish. On its face it sounds hyperbolic, but Greenfield makes a rather sober case. You should read it all, but this will give you some of the flavor:

How do civil wars happen?

Two or more sides disagree on who runs the country. And they can’t settle the question through elections because they don’t even agree that elections are how you decide who’s in charge.

The key sentiment is precisely that behind the self-proclaimed Resistance (or the me-proclaimed Pubescence):  When the other side wins, it is illegitimate and its exercises of power must be resisted By Any Means Necessary.  Normalizing the other side, even to the extent of acknowledging its legitimate electoral victories, is complicity in evil.  When people who believe what the other side believes, it is “hate speech,” not free speech.

This is very, very dangerous territory.  If the people who elected Donald Trump as their means of disrupting what they see as a corruption of democracy designed to lock them out and eliminate their rights find even that successful use of the democratic process blocked, they aren’t going to go away; they’re going to shift their focus away from the means of deciding differences that can make democracies stable.


The Unhealthy Restrictions of Being the 3rd Worst State for Zoning

When it comes to national rankings, those that show Rhode Island badly on the wrong side abound.  Ted Nesi highlights another one, on WPRI:

Rhode Island has some of the most restrictive regulations for land development in the country, which is likely raising the cost of housing in the state, according to a recent study.

The study by Vanessa Brown Calder, a researcher at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute think tank, ranked Rhode Island as the 3rd most restrictive state for zoning regulation and the 8th most restrictive for land-use regulation.

“These constraints on land development within cities and suburbs aim to achieve various safety, environmental, and aesthetic goals,” Calder wrote. “But the regulations have also tended to reduce the supply of housing, including multifamily and low-income housing. With reduced supply, many U.S. cities suffer from housing affordability problems.”

Progressives tend to look at housing affordability as a welfare issue, because they generally like the idea that government can tell people what they can, can’t, and must do with their property.  The solution, for them, is to use government’s power to take people’s money in order to transfer it to those whom them zoning regulations lock out of housing.  Naturally, this has the advantage of requiring everybody to go to government for benefits and permissions, as well as creating that money-power funnel I mentioned yesterday.

But immobilizing people in this way is not healthy, whether by making it difficult for them to find new homes or layering government forms on them whenever they do move.  Beyond simply the principle of freedom is its practical value.  Allowing people to move from place to place and adapt their homes (whether by price or by function) creates opportunities for them that benefit society as a whole, especially when it comes to the economy.