Everytown is Every Scaremonger

Here’s a list of things that haven’t been involved in the deaths of anyone that I know personally:

  • Anthrax
  • Killer bees
  • Immigrants
  • Terrorists (though, being from New York, I know many people who lost loved ones on 9/11 and am lucky not to have lost any family or friends of my own)
  • Ebola
  • White Supremacists
  • Sharks
  • The Russians
  • North Korea
  • Mad Cow Disease
  • MS-13
  • Pitbulls
  • The mentally ill
  • Net neutrality repeal
  • Tax cuts
  • Zika
  • Mass shootings

I understand that I don’t know everyone and that almost everything on this list is responsible for deaths, sometimes tens of thousands of deaths or even much more if you count people outside of America. But I live my life without worrying about any of them. Outside of ranking West Africa near the bottom of my preferred travel destinations, they don’t really affect my life at all.

This, however, does not stop the media, politicians, advocacy groups, corporations, and others from telling me and anyone else within earshot that we are in perpetual peril. Death is lurking at our doorsteps, and we must do something or people will die.

Predictably enough, the something the scaremongers want us to do almost undoubtedly involves parting ways with our property or our liberty. We need to increase funding, pass legislation, build walls, ramp up security, limit access, and fortify our home defense systems to withstand nuclear winter.

Please…

My skepticism of buying what the scaremongers are selling does not mean I believe there are no threats to public safety, that there are no solutions to these threats, or that we should never do something. My points are that these threats are almost always blown out of proportion, and becoming freer and more secure in our persons, papers, and property never seems to be the formula the scaremongers want to try.

In the wake of another horrific mass shooting at a high school in Florida, the mainstream media and the bulk of the left are engaging in their typical calls for gun control. With apologies to honest Progressives who admit they want to confiscate large quantities of privately owned firearms and repeal the Second Amendment, not many people have put forward ideas that could actually prevent mass shootings or even ideas that are not already legislated.

To sow fear amongst the masses and push for more gun control, the mainstream media has been reporting that the incident in Florida is the 18th school shooting of 2018 (which is only a month and a half into its existence at the time I am writing this). If that were the case, it would mean a school shooting has taken place roughly every three days.

This statistic appears to originate with Everytown for Gun Safety, an advocacy group which describes itself as follows:

Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund seeks to improve our understanding of the causes of gun violence and the means to reduce it – by conducting groundbreaking original research, developing evidence-based policies, and communicating this knowledge in the courts and the court of public opinion.

I do not intend to question the intentions of Everytown. In all likelihood, they believe what they are doing is right and just. But Everytown is being dishonest, and the mainstream media that cites their data is being irresponsible.

According to Everytown’s school shootings map, there have been 17 school shootings thus far in 2018 and 290 school shootings overall since 2013 (these numbers will jump to 18 and 291 respectively once the Florida shooting is accounted for). But after taking a closer look at the map, I noticed that Everytown’s definition of school shooting is not limited to the Columbine High School-like massacres the phrase brings to mind.

To put the 18 school shootings into perspective, I have divided them into five categories:

  • School Shooting (SS)-An instance in which one or several people brought at least one firearm to a school with the apparent intention of killing or harming others and fired at least one bullet at at least one person. Fatalities occurred in two of the three.
  • Red Zone Incident (RZ)-An instance in which a gun was brought to a school with plausible intent to kill or harm others, but no shots were intentionally fired at others. In one instance a shot was fired at the floor, in the other a student accidentally shot other students.
  • Suicide Attempt (SA)-An instance in which a person discharged a firearm at him or herself at a school, but not at anyone else. One instance involved a student, and one involved an adult from outside the school.
  • Miscellaneous (M)-An instance in which a gun was present at a school for any reason other than premeditated intent to harm or kill others, and at least one shot was fired. These instances include accidents, shots fired as a result of an altercation, and an attempted robbery.
  • Unknown (U)-An instance in which gunshots were reportedly fired in the direction of a school, but too few details are known about the incident to guess motive, and no one was shot. Gunfire at NET Charter High appears to have been directed towards students while the target is unclear in the other three instances.

Here is how the 17 school shootings plus the recent Florida massacre* fall under my definitions:

Type Number Schools # Shot # Killed
SS 3 -Marshall County High, Italy High, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High* 50+ 19
RZ 2 -Metropolitan High, Salvador B. Castro Middle 2 0
SA 2 Coronado Elementary, East Olive Elementary 2 2
M 7 Lincoln High, Oxon Hill High, Wake Forest University, Dearborn High, Murphy High, Harmony Learning Center, Grayson College 3 3
U 4 Wiley College, The NET Charter High, New Start High, California State University 0 0

There are many ways to interpret and react to this information. And I can understand the feeling and the logic behind the urge to want to do something about gun violence and the presence of guns at schools or in public life in general.

But the fact is that we have not had 18 Columbines this year.

According to the Department of Education, there are about 76.3 million students enrolled in K-12 schools, colleges, and universities in America. If the 2018 pace continues, roughly 200 people will be killed in shootings at schools (though this is unlikely as 138 have been killed in total since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012). This means each student has a roughly 0.0000026% chance of being shot to death at school this year. If you factor in school faculty and individuals from outside schools, the odds go down even further.

Of course, it is obligatory to say that each unnecessary death is one too many. Every life is precious, and I have no respect for adults who do not see it as their duty to protect children. And perhaps there are ways to make schools safer even without infringing upon anyone’s Second Amendment rights or other liberties.

But the fear induced by the rare and tragic shootings that occur at schools is largely unfounded, and those who push Everytown’s numbers are peddling shoddy data at best and flat out fiction at worst.

Keep calm, and carry on.

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Everytown is Every Scaremonger

Total Legalization: The Only Libertarian Position on Drugs

Via Reason Magazine:

“San Francisco may end up being the first city in the United States to open injection sites where drug addicts can shoot up safely…

“…The facilities will be funded from private sources, though Garcia declined to say where specifically the money will come from.”

San Francisco might be the least economically Libertarian city in the United States. But permitting the existence of open injection sites is as Libertarian as it gets (well, aside from the fact that permission is needed).

From what I gather, this initiative will provide heroin users with a safe and supervised hideaway to use their drug of choice. Although maintaining consistent funding seems a bit fishy, the project will be privately sponsored, which means taxpayers won’t be forced to subsidize drug use against their conscience. Allowing drug addicts to seek refuge, depending on philanthropists to assist the needy, and keeping the public purse out of it is a hyper-Libertarian trifecta.

I also predict that, assuming the funds don’t dry up, this will make the world a better place. Drugs are a fact of human life. Alcohol, caffeine nicotine, and harder substances are as old as humanity itself, and well-intentioned laws don’t deliver on their promises. Alcohol prohibition in the 1920s was a gargantuan failure of government policy, and the 40-year War on Drugs has been equally ineffectual.

Instead of trying to alter human nature, the existence of human drug use should be accepted, and those interested in helping others should seek out ways to make the best of a difficult fact of life.

The main point I’d like to make in this piece is that Libertarians should not tolerate a moderate position on drug policy. Weed should be legal, but harder narcotics should be banned is a cowardly opinion for a lover of Liberty. Drug use should be decriminalized, but the drug trade should not be legalized is weak as well. The only acceptable Libertarian drug policy is total legalization of the manufacture, sale, and personal use of all substances.

(Since I speak through an American-Constitutional lens, I’ll add at the federal level to the end of the only acceptable Libertarian drug policy. If a state or locality that I don’t live in chooses to prohibit drugs in one way or another, it’s none of my nor the external public’s business.)

Total drug legalization highlights the merits of both ethical Libertarianism and practical Libertarianism. By moral Libertarianism, I mean the extreme Anarcho-Capitalist view that no one has any right to force any individual to do anything with his body or property that goes against his will.

By practical Libertarianism, I mean the broad spectrum of ideas that are often described as socially liberal and fiscally conservative or Classically Liberal. Practical Libertarianism, by my definition, encompasses the likes of Steven Pinker, Dave Rubin, and Jordan Peterson as well as Ron Paul, Stefan Molyneux, and Ayn Rand (though not all of them would embrace my label or support total drug legalization).

The moral Libertarian case for total drug legalization is obvious. If no one can tell you what you can trade, what you can do with what you own, or what you can do with your body, no one can force you to refrain from making, buying, selling, or taking drugs. Not much else needs to be said.

The practical Libertarian case is far more interesting and may require a certain degree of counterintuitive thinking.

The first point to make is that prohibition is destructive. As I alluded to earlier, alcohol prohibition led to a massive crime wave that only ceased when the 18th Amendment was repealed. The War on Drugs, which began in the early 1970s, has failed to make a dent in drug addiction while costing over $1.5 trillion (equal to ~8% of our national debt). Making drugs illegal creates new problems without solving old ones.

The second point to make is that legitimate businesses and non-profits are safer than cartels and gangs. Here, Conservatives and Progressives who oppose total drug legalization can have their own logic turned against them. When Conservatives are faced with anti-Second Amendment arguments, they often retort by noting that criminals who really want guns will find a way to acquire them. The only difference is that criminal organizations do not operate in accordance with rules and regulations, do not have legitimate businesses to keep on the up and up, and have no oversight in terms of training or licensing. Gun control laws interfere with the lives of law-abiding citizens while providing free reign to crooks.

On the Progressive end, consider abortion. Every pro-choice advocate is ready to note that women will not cease from having abortions if they are forbidden, but will instead go to back-alley clinics where there is little concern for medical degrees or hygiene. Banning abortion will spread death and disease without actually banning them.

The logic of each of these positions is accurate and sound, regardless of your feelings on firearm and reproductive rights. The same thinking should be applied to drug prohibition, which already provides glaring real world illustrations that the naked eye can see: the underground drug industry is unimaginably violent, drug abuse is as rampant as ever before, the quality and content of the drugs being taken is a mystery to dealers and users, and people who could benefit from some guidance wind up hurting themselves and others every single day. Name a legally-operating industry that experiences these problems, and I’ll delete this column.

The third point to make is that drug laws don’t stop people from doing drugs. I can prove this point from personal experience. For starters, I smoked pot regularly in high school and college and also experimented with psychedelics, cocaine, and opioids. The fact that these drugs were illegal for me to use made them easier for me to acquire than alcohol until I turned 21. Alcohol distributors that want to keep their licenses must follow the rules or lose a great source of revenue, so it took elaborate plans to fool them into selling booze to my friends and me. Drug dealers did not face this kind of dilemma, so all I needed to procure them was a contact and cash.

More importantly, prohibition laws did not deter my friends or me from buying drugs in any way. We were unafraid of the legal consequences, and did what we wanted. We did not, however, attempt to buy heroin or crystal meth. This is because we were afraid of what those drugs could do to our minds and bodies. It had nothing to with the law. As Ron Paul cleverly asked a GOP presidential debate audience in South Carolina, “How many people here would use heroin if it was legal?”

A total drug legalization policy initiative could include some modest regulations. Perhaps age limits, manufacturing protocols, advertising restrictions, distributor licensing, and some other rules could have a positive impact without meaningfully impeding Liberty. But the general proposition of treating drugs like any other consumer product is supported by evidence and common sense, and Libertarians should promote it unapologetically.

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Total Legalization: The Only Libertarian Position on Drugs

The Libertarian Case for Supporting Trump’s Military Parade (Under One Condition)

The hawk moth caterpillar’s head resembles that of a snake. This evolutionary innovation helps to defend the caterpillar from predators, such as birds and rodents, which are fooled into believing it is they who are susceptible to becoming prey.

The coral snake is one of the most venomous snakes in the United States, behind only rattlesnakes and water moccasins. Although their docile and secretive nature typically keeps them free from human contact, they pack venom toxic enough to kill a person in less than two hours. The milk snake, on the hand, is not venomous at all. But due to its close inhabitance to the coral snake, natural selection has provided the milk snake black, yellow, and red stripes that nearly match those of its venomous cousin. Displaying coral snake colors forces predators to think twice before taking their chances with the milk snake.

Frilled lizards, when threatened, spread out a mane of skin around their necks to appear larger and more formidable than they actually are. Before a predator realizes he’s been had, the frilled lizard escapes into a tree.

Clownfish, despite their miniscule size, swim towards and sometimes bite anything that gets too close to their anemone homes (I have come face to face with these courageous souls while snorkeling!). As predators are used to prey that darts away, they might decide to back down from the clown.

Even my adorable pet sugar glider Penelope has a means of scaring off attackers. Disturb her while she’s sleeping or try to grab her when she’s not in the mood to play, and she bellows a loud and horrible cry that would startle any hunter. This sound is called crabbing, and it’s just the worst.

These examples prove that creatures do not always require the capacity for overwhelming violence to survive and thrive in nature. While tusks, claws and poisonous barbs are a plus, persuading your competitors that you are not to be messed with is sufficient and sometimes even preferable. After all, an untouched porcupine is better off than an injured one whose quills have just taught a young lion to leave it alone next time.

President Trump has reportedly expressed interest in a little crabbing of his own. Via the Washington Post:

Surrounded by the military’s highest-ranking officials, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., Trump’s seemingly abstract desire for a parade was suddenly heard as a presidential directive, the officials said.

“The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” said a military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the planning discussions are supposed to remain confidential. “This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.”

Trump’s idea has been met with harsh criticism from both the left and the right, and many are saying his Kim Jong-Un-like despotic tendencies are finally coming to bear.

(I’ll get back to North Korea later.)

In a vacuum, I would never support wasteful and statist nonsense like marching my nation’s brave men and women in uniform around as if they were pieces of property. I have more respect for our volunteer military than I do for just about anyone else, and I don’t need a parade to remind me of their importance. While I don’t know for sure, I imagine that the vast majority of America’s soldiers can feel the American people’s appreciation for them as is.

On the contrary, a peaceful display of military might could be a step towards a big Libertarian political victory: an anti-interventionist revolution.

As it stands, the United States spends roughly $600 billion a year on defense (the Trump administration has requested an increase to nearly $640 billion for the upcoming fiscal year). This represents about 3.3% of our annual GDP, which is a greater portion than any other first world nation. The US’s total military budget is greater than the next eight nations combined, most of whom are allies.

As Libertarian as I am, I do not mind spending more money than other nations on military dominance. I’m grateful that the world’s most powerful armed forces belongs to a nation that supports free speech, equal protections under the law, individual liberty, and the free market (though I certainly wish it supported these values more consistently). If Russia, China, North Korea, and the whole of the Middle East abolished their militaries tomorrow, I would still want the US to maintain an invincible army.

What bothers me most about my country’s military budget (and I assume most Libertarians would agree) is the chunk that is spent on overseas bases and missions. In 2017, the Pentagon spent $206 billion on “Operations and Maintenance” alone. The total sum of money spent abroad for military and defense purposes is likely much higher.

America has no right to police the world’s other nations, and with $20 trillion in debt to its name, it has no financial ability either.

Libertarians should tell President Trump that we’ll attend and cheer on his military parade under one simple condition: end the American empire, and bring our troops home. The fundamental benefits of this would be 1) freeing up some of the budget to return to taxpayers, pay off the debt, or have parades and 2) freeing foreign nations to handle their own business.

An added benefit of a military parade brings North Korea to mind. Michael Malice is an author with some expertise on the DPRK. A point he consistently makes in his writings, lectures, and interviews is that the Kim Jung-Un regime is not stupid or crazy, but efficient and evil. A few moments of critical thinking should reveal this to anyone as it would not make much sense for the only intact nation of the Soviet era to be run be dumb lunatics. Malice references a North Korean analogy that pits an anthill (North Korea) against an elephant (USA). Although the anthill is much smaller than the elephant, it can persuade the elephant to move anywhere it wants. While one must never lose sight of the unthinkable oppression suffered inside the North Korean concentration camp, one cannot help but respect how half of a peninsula with a population the size of Florida manages to keep the world’s wealthiest and most powerful nations constantly on their toes.

I am not saying the US should adopt any of North Korea’s habits or seek to keep the world on edge. What I am getting at is that an American display of power (in North Korean fashion) could help foster global peace through strength. Instead of secretive meddling throughout the world that costs thousands of lives and billions of dollars, the US could be more honest about our potential for destruction without actually invading anyone. Perhaps Teddy Roosevelt’s speak softly and carry a big stick strategy could be outdone by boasting loudly and wielding a giant ax.

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The Libertarian Case for Supporting Trump’s Military Parade (Under One Condition)