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Posts Tagged ‘Crime’

I wrote two days ago about a jury correctly voting to acquit a Swiss banker who was being prosecuted (and persecuted) by the government. The jury presumably recognized that it’s not the responsibility of foreign national living in outside the U.S. to enforce our bad tax law.

My support for that jury has nothing to do with my admiration for Switzerland, my support for financial privacy, or my opposition to excessive taxation.

Instead, I was motivated by the principle that borders should limit the power and reach of government. And this principle is a two-way street. I also don’t want foreign governments to have carte blanche to impose their laws inside the United States.

I’m impressed that ordinary jurors apparently understood that principle better than policy makers in Washington.

But that’s not the only evidence for the wisdom of jurors.

Here’s another report on jury nullification in action.

A jury delivered an extraordinary blow to the government in a long-running battle over the use of public lands when it acquitted all seven defendants involved in the armed occupation of a national wildlife refuge in rural southeastern Oregon. …The Portland jury acquitted Bundy, his brother Ryan Bundy and five others of conspiring to impede federal workers from their jobs at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, 300 miles southeast of Portland. …Even attorneys for the defendants were surprised by the acquittals. …Federal prosecutors took two weeks to present their case, finishing with a display of more than 30 guns seized after the standoff.

But that was just the start because another trial was scheduled for Nevada.

U.S. District Judge Anna Brown said she could not release Bundy because he still faces charges in Nevada stemming from an armed standoff at his father Cliven Bundy’s ranch two years ago. …Daniel Hill, attorney for Ammon Bundy in the Nevada case, said he believed the acquittal in Oregon bodes well for his client and the other defendants facing felony weapon, conspiracy and other charges.

And what happened at that second trial?

Hold off on that question for a moment, bucause some of Bundy’s allies were given their day in court. The Las Vegas Sun reported on another outbreak of jury nullification.

A federal jury in Las Vegas refused Tuesday to convict four defendants who were retried on accusations that they threatened and assaulted federal agents by wielding assault weapons in a 2014 confrontation to stop a cattle roundup near the Nevada ranch of states’ rights figure Cliven Bundy. In a stunning setback to federal prosecutors planning to try the Bundy family patriarch and two adult sons later this year, the jury acquitted Ricky Lovelien and Steven Stewart of all 10 charges, and delivered not-guilty findings on most charges against Scott Drexler and Eric Parker. …”Random people off the streets, these jurors, they told the government again that we’re not going to put up with tyranny,” said a John Lamb, a Montana resident who attended almost all the five weeks of trial, which began with jury selection July 10. …The current jury deliberated four full days after more than 20 days of testimony.

So how did the government respond?

The second Bundy trial won’t even take place. As David French explained in a column for National Review, an Obama appointee threw out the case, thus saving a jury from another chance for nullification.

…a federal judge, Obama appointee Gloria Navarro, dismissed the federal government’s criminal case against Bundy and two of his sons on the basis that the government was guilty of “flagrant misconduct” in the trial. Its conduct was so “outrageous” that “no lesser remedy” than dismissal with prejudice “is sufficient.”

And why did the Judge make that decision?

In this case, evidence shows that a federal agency motivated by ego, anger, and prejudice launched the most militaristic and aggressive campaign possible against a rancher whom federal officials had deemed to be likely peaceful. There is evidence they abused that rancher’s son, ringed his property with snipers, and intended to “kick [him] in the mouth and take his cattle.” Then, when it came time to prosecute that same rancher, they withheld the truth and portrayed his accurate claims about federal misconduct as criminal deceptions designed to inflame public outrage. …The judge, however, understood her legal obligations. Who is the greater threat to public peace and the rule of law? A rancher and his sons angry that the government is destroying his livelihood in part through political favoritism and vindictiveness? Or a government that acts as if might makes right, abuses its citizens, and uses maximum force when far less intrusion and risk would accomplish its lawful purposes? Bundy’s case teaches a number of valuable lessons. We cannot presume the government’s virtue. Sometimes even wild tales are true. And every American — from the angriest antifa activist to the leader of “Y’all Qaeda” — is entitled to the full protection of the United States Constitution.

Jim Bovard, in a column for USA Today, opines on the broader implications.

…federal judge Gloria Navarro declared a mistrial in the case against Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and others after prosecutors were caught withholding massive amounts of evidence undermining federal charges. This is the latest in a long series of federal law enforcement debacles that have spurred vast distrust of Washington. …The Bundys have long claimed the feds were on a vendetta against them, and 3,300 pages of documents the Justice Department wrongfully concealed from their lawyers provides smoking guns that buttress their case. …In the Bundy case, Judge Navarro slammed the FBI for withholding key evidence. …Until the feds cease wrongfully abusing their targets, there will be no rebound in trust in Washington. If the Trump administration cannot rein in renegade federal prosecutors, the president should cease-and-desist any and all claptrap about “draining the swamp.”

In other words, so long as there are some bad apples in the world of law enforcement (and, more broadly, in positions of power in government), jury nullification is a bulwark against abuse by the state.

Incidentally, I’m not implying Bundy and his pals are heroes. Yes, they’ve been mistreated, but they also seem to think they have a right to treat government land as their land. Which is why I think the real solution is privatization of the excessive government holdings of land.

Let’s now zoom out and look at three good pieces about jury nullification in Reason, starting with a column by J.D. Tuccille.

…jury nullification—acquittals of defendants who jurors believe did violate the law but don’t deserve punishment, either because of specifics of the case or because jurors oppose the law in question—isn’t always obvious. …But, as with much of what jurors do, nullification is important and potentially powerful. …Given the fury that judges and other officials display toward independent jurors, including occasional contempt of court and jury tampering charges, …Jurors who go about their business without revealing their motivations are immune to punishment, so keeping your mouth shut is just smart, even if it leaves the rest of us in the dark.

He provides an example of a jury slapping down an absurd prosecution.

…it’s more common to see cases like the rapid acquittal of an Ohio machinist who was arrested for making what Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives agents claimed were firearms noise suppressors (so-called “silencers”) without a license. …He claimed his products were actually unregulated muzzle brakes and that the government’s “expert” had no idea what he was talking about. Whether the jury believed the machinist, or whether they thought it was ridiculous to threaten a man with producing items that can easily be made on a home workbench and that lawmakers at the state and federal level are considering deregulating, is something we’ll probably never know. …Either way, they likely concluded that they were carrying out their responsibility to do justice and protect defendants from government overreach. Because, ultimately, jury nullification is just an extension of the jury’s role as a check on the state—whether prosecutors are applying law badly, or just applying bad law.

It’s not surprising to learn that the government does not like jury nullification.

But what is shocking is that the state is willing to imprison people for exercising their rights to free speech by informing potential jurors about nullification.

Here’s some of what Jacob Sullum wrote.

…a Michigan judge sentenced a local activist to eight weekends in jail, plus $545 in fines, 120 hours of community service, and six months of probation, for passing out jury nullification pamphlets in front of the Mecosta County courthouse. Keith Wood, a former pastor and father of eight, was arrested in November 2015 and convicted last month of jury tampering, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail. …Wood’s lawyer, David Kallman, who plans to appeal the conviction, argued that distributing the pamphlets, which contained general information about jurors’ rights, was protected by the First Amendment. He emphasized that Wood never discussed Yoder’s case with passers-by at the courthouse. …After Wood’s arrest, Mecosta County Prosecutor Brian Thiede said the FIJA pamphlet is dangerous because “we would have a lawless nation if people were to vote their conscience.”

The last sentence is the key. Notwithstanding the fevered statement of Mr. Thiede, we would not have a “lawless nation.” Jurors have no problem convicting those who assault, harm, kill, steal, and rape.

Nullification is a check on bad laws and/or bad actions by government. And that’s a good thing.

Let’s close with another piece by Tuccille, which has two very encouraging examples. We’ll start in Texas.

…El Paso, Texas, Police Chief Greg Allen turned out to be a surprise defender of bypassing the usual criminal justice rigmarole of booking, mug shots, and jails. While careful to emphasize that he’s no fan of drug legalization, Allen says it’s a waste of his officers’ time to put hours into an “an arrest that has no end result of a conviction because of jury nullification.” This is only the latest evidence that rebellious jurors are putting limits on how badly government officials can treat the rest of us. …”Jury nullification, though still rare, appears to be on the rise in drug cases that reach the trial stage,” wrote Rice University’s Prof. William Martin… But jurors are…doing just that often enough that the El Paso Police Chief sees no point to making arrests that have “no end result of a conviction because of jury nullification.”

And finish with Georgia.

In Laurens County, Antonio Willis faced up to five years in prison for selling the equivalent of a few joints to an undercover cop. The cop, “who switched into an exaggerated Hispanic accent straight out of Cheech and Chong when dealing with suspects,” according to Bill Torpy of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, kept pestering Willis for drugs while promising to hook the unemployed man up with a construction job. …the jury acquitted after just 18 minutes of deliberations. “A jury in Middle Georgia returned a Not Guilty verdict in a marijuana sale case despite the evidence,” retired sheriff’s deputy Tom McCain, now executive director of Peachtree NORML, approvingly commented after the trial. “The verdict can be nothing other than Jury Nullification.”

The moral of the story is not that jury nullification is a great thing. It’s only a second-best solution to the real problem of bad laws (exacerbated occasionally by bad prosecutors or bad cops).

But so long as bad laws (or incomprehensible laws) exist and government officials sometimes act dishonorably, we should support juries being the last line of defense for persecuted citizens. Remember, a tough-on-crime policy is only good if laws are just.

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I haven’t written in any detail about “jury nullification” since late 2010 and it’s time to rectify that sin of omission.

Nullification occurs when a jury votes not guilty because a law is either unjust or wrongly applied, not because a defendant is actually innocent. And I know that’s what I would do if I was on a jury and the government was persecuting someone for engaging is self-defense or getting nabbed by a revenue camera.

The bottom line is that Walter Williams is right when he says that it is immoral to obey bad laws.

Let’s review some expert opinions.

Writing on the editorial page of the New York Times, a former prosecutor urges jury nullification.

Earlier this year, prosecutors charged Julian P. Heicklen, a retired chemistry professor, with jury tampering because he stood outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan providing information about jury nullification to passers-by. …The prosecutors who charged Mr. Heicklen said that “advocacy of jury nullification, directed as it is to jurors, would be both criminal and without constitutional protections no matter where it occurred.” The prosecutors in this case are wrong. The First Amendment exists to protect speech like this — honest information that the government prefers citizens not know. …Jury nullification is not new; its proponents have included John Hancock and John Adams. The doctrine is premised on the idea that ordinary citizens, not government officials, should have the final say as to whether a person should be punished. As Adams put it, it is each juror’s “duty” to vote based on his or her “own best understanding, judgment and conscience, though in direct opposition to the direction of the court.” …Nullification has been credited with helping to end alcohol prohibition and laws that criminalized gay sex. Last year, Montana prosecutors were forced to offer a defendant in a marijuana case a favorable plea bargain after so many potential jurors said they would nullify that the judge didn’t think he could find enough jurors to hear the case.

A column in the Washington Post by Professor Glenn Reynolds at the University of Tennessee argues that juries have an obligation to rein in bad prosecutors.

Despite the evidence, those responsible for convicting you may choose to let you go, if they think that sending you to jail would result in an injustice. That can happen through what’s called “prosecutorial discretion,” where a prosecutor decides not to bring or pursue charges against you because doing so would be unfair, even though the evidence is strong. Or it can happen through “jury nullification,” where a jury thinks that the evidence supports conviction but then decides to issue a “not guilty” verdict because it feels that a conviction would be unjust. …Prosecutorial discretion is regularly applied and generally regarded as a standard part of criminal justice. …So-called jury nullification, on the other hand, gets far less respect. Though it is clearly within the power of juries to refuse to convict whenever they choose, judges and prosecutors tend to view this practice with hostility. …there has been a massive shift of power toward prosecutors, the result of politics, over-criminalization, institutional leverage and judges’ failure to provide supervision. It’s time to redress the balance.

By the way, Glenn has proposed ways (see postscript of this column) of addressing this imbalance, which is tied to over-criminalization.

And here’s another column in the Washington Post arguing in favor of jury empowerment.

As I tried cases, I gained enormous respect for the seriousness with which jurors approached their work. …These jurors had no problem convicting anyone of a violent offense, if the government proved its case. For drug crimes, however, it was a different story. …they frequently voted “not guilty” in nonviolent drug cases, no matter how compelling the evidence. …When I started teaching law, I published an article in the Yale Law Journal situating these D.C. jurors in a long line of jurors…who refused to convict American patriots of sedition against the British crown; jurors who acquitted people guilty of violating the Fugitive Slave Act; and jurors who would not punish gay people for “sodomy” for having consensual sex.

Amen. Juries should pursue justice, not act as rubber stamps when prosecutors act as cogs for an unjust regime.

Now let’s look at a real-world example, as reported by the New York Times.

As much as chocolate and watches, Switzerland is known for bank secrecy. …it also made Swiss banks targets for an assault by the United States government… Bank Frey was among the very few to defy the legal onslaught. And Mr. Buck…was the bank’s public face, responsible for landing and then managing American accounts. That put Mr. Buck in the government’s cross hairs. In 2013, a federal grand jury indicted him for conspiring to help Americans avoid taxes. …But things didn’t go as prosecutors had planned… The crux of the defense was that the responsibility to pay taxes and declare income did not rest with Mr. Buck. It was his clients who had decided not to pay taxes. He was under no obligation to tattle… Prosecutors branded him as a crucial cog in an international tax-evasion scheme. …Then it was Mr. Agnifilo’s turn. …“Stefan Buck has nothing whatsoever, nothing whatsoever, to do with the choice that an American taxpayer makes” to not declare offshore assets. …The jury deliberated for a little more than a day. …the verdict: not guilty.

The story doesn’t mention jury nullification, but I’m assuming – from a technical legal perspective – the prosecutors had an open-and-shut case against Mr. Buck. After all, he did “conspire” to help Americans protect their income from the IRS.

But the jury decided that conviction would be absurd because a Swiss person on Swiss soil has no obligation to help enforce bad U.S. tax policy. So they voted not guilty because that was the only moral choice.

And the good news is that this is becoming a pattern.

In October 2014, one of UBS’s top executives, Raoul Weil, went on trial in Florida. Federal prosecutors accused him of helping clients hide billions. Mr. Weil’s lawyers argued he had no knowledge of or responsibility for what had happened. The jury deliberated for barely an hour before acquitting him. The same week, a Los Angeles jury acquitted an Israeli banker who faced similar accusations. The Americans’ pursuit of foreign bankers no longer looked invincible.

The even-better news is that these nullification decisions by juries may now lead to some “prosecutorial discretion.”

The Justice Department had now lost the three cases it had tried against foreign bankers who helped Americans avoid taxes. Dozens more cases are pending. Those who represent accused Swiss bankers say they expect Mr. Buck’s verdict to embolden defendants and to cause prosecutors to think twice before bringing new charges.

In other words, the bad law will still exist but hopefully will have little or no impact because prosecutors are less likely to file charges and juries won’t convict when they do.

That’s a victory for liberty, though it surely would be best – as we discussed just a few days ago – if politicians repealed the bad laws that make unjust prosecutions possible.

P.S. I’ve confessed mixed feelings about potential nullification in cases of vigilante justice.

P.P.S. In my younger days, I assumed that cops and prosecutors were the good guys, helping to maintain an orderly society. I still think that most of them want to do what’s right, but I also now realize that our Founding Fathers were very wise to include strong protections for defendants in our Constitution. Simply stated, some cops and some prosecutors are bad and those bad apples are why I favor strengthening the Fourth Amendment and have become more skeptical of the death penalty.

P.P.P.S. Even if you’re a law-abiding person, you should support civil liberties.

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In recent months, I’ve written two very lengthy columns about the deterioration of Venezuela’s evil government.

And I’ve also looked at long-run economic data to show how statism produces awful results for ordinary people.

But I sometimes think anecdotes are the most persuasive for the simple reason that ordinary people can relate. That’s why I shared last month the story about how the government has even made sex less pleasurable.

The Miami Herald has a story that underscores the horrible consequences of statism.

…on the streets, walking around with a bag of groceries can attract more thieves than a full wallet. The critical food shortages pummeling Venezuela have started to change the nature of crime in the country, at times increasing what some experts have started to call “hunger crimes” and at other times turning food into a valuable item to be taken by force. …The crisis has forced millions of Venezuelans to eat just once a day, and thousands of others to regularly search garbage cans in hopes of finding something to eat, according to recent surveys.

This is very grim, but it gets worse.

Not only are people committing crimes because of hunger, children are being recruited into gangs because that is the way to eat.

Venezuelan gangs are no longer recruiting youths in some poor areas by offering them easy money to buy clothes or the latest cell phones. Instead, they are offering food baskets. …Criminal gangs are also using food to recruit children and teenagers in Venezuela, a country with one of the world’s highest crime rates. …“The recruitment techniques, the bait that in the past used to be fashion or luxury goods, have been replaced by the offer of basic food items,” said the report, published this week. That’s how “crime gangs are gaining ground in conquering thousands of youths who are joining in the violence and whose destiny is death, prison and the frustration of so many dreams and hopes forged by their families and communities,” the report added.

As a parent, this is a horrifying story. Imagine not being able to feed your children and then watching getting lured into a life that almost certainly will not end well.

Utterly depressing. A very bad situation keeps getting worse.

The only good news is that leftists used to make excuses for Venezuela and now some of them are trying to disown that brutal regime.

P.S. In spite of the wretched state of the Venezuelan economy, some nutty leftists who put together a “Happy Planet Index” that ranked Venezuela above the United States. I still haven’t figured out whether that was crazier than the Jeffrey Sachs’ index that put Cuba above America.

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When I explain to people how the government’s War on Drugs violates the rights of people to do dumb things to their own bodies, they intellectually understand but they’re usually not convinced.

When I also explain why the Drug War causes additional crime and enriches mobsters, they almost always nod their heads in agreement but resist the obvious implication that we should decriminalize.

When I then explain that the War on Drugs has led to horrific policies such as civil asset forfeiture and senseless policies such as costly and ineffective money-laundering laws, they agree that the consequences are bad but they’re generally unpersuaded about legalization.

The stumbling block in every case is that they fear decriminalization will lead to more drug use, more addiction, and more suffering families.

Unfortunately, we don’t have a lot of real-world examples to put their minds at ease. But “a lot” isn’t the same as “any.”

This report about Portugal from the U.K.-based Guardian is must reading and may convince the doubters that we can end the War on Drugs without societal chaos and decay. It starts  with an observation about the ravages of illegal drugs.

It was the 80s, and by the time one in 10 people had slipped into the depths of heroin use – bankers, university students, carpenters, socialites, miners – Portugal was in a state of panic. …one in every 100 Portuguese was battling a problematic heroin addiction at that time… Headlines in the local press raised the alarm about overdose deaths and rising crime. The rate of HIV infection in Portugal became the highest in the European Union.

This led to predictable responses.

In the early days of Portugal’s panic, …the state’s first instinct was to attack. Drugs were denounced as evil, drug users were demonised, and proximity to either was criminally and spiritually punishable. The Portuguese government launched a series of national anti-drug campaigns that were less “Just Say No” and more “Drugs Are Satan”.

But something remarkable then happened. Rational voices began to push a libertarian-oriented message.

The first official call to change Portugal’s drug laws came from Rui Pereira, a former constitutional court judge who undertook an overhaul of the penal code in 1996. He found the practice of jailing people for taking drugs to be counterproductive and unethical. “My thought right off the bat was that it wasn’t legitimate for the state to punish users,”

And Portugal ultimately went in that direction – and got very positive results.

In 2001, …Portugal became the first country to decriminalise the possession and consumption of all illicit substances. …The opioid crisis soon stabilised, and the ensuing years saw dramatic drops in problematic drug use, HIV and hepatitis infection rates, overdose deaths, drug-related crime and incarceration rates. HIV infection plummeted from an all-time high in 2000 of 104.2 new cases per million to 4.2 cases per million in 2015. …The official policy of decriminalisation made it far easier for a broad range of services (health, psychiatry, employment, housing etc) that had been struggling to pool their resources and expertise, to work together more effectively to serve their communities.

Here’s a summary of the Portuguese approach, which certainly seems more humane and logical than what we do in America.

Portugal’s policy rests on three pillars: one, that there’s no such thing as a soft or hard drug, only healthy and unhealthy relationships with drugs; two, that an individual’s unhealthy relationship with drugs often conceals frayed relationships with loved ones, with the world around them, and with themselves; and three, that the eradication of all drugs is an impossible goal.

Want some additional evidence?

Here’s a chart from the invaluable Mark Perry of the American Enterprise Institute.

A 2009 study from the Cato Institute also highlighted the benefits of Portugal’s reform.

Because more than seven years have now elapsed since enactment of Portugal’s decriminalization system, there are ample data enabling its effects to be assessed. Notably, decriminalization has become increasingly popular in Portugal since 2001. …very few domestic political factions are agitating for a repeal of the 2001 law. …none of the nightmare scenarios touted by preenactment decriminalization opponents — from rampant increases in drug usage among the young to the transformation of Lisbon into a haven for “drug tourists” — has occurred. …The political consensus in favor of decriminalization is unsurprising in light of the relevant empirical data. …drug usage rates in Portugal, which, in numerous categories, are now among the lowest in the EU, particularly when compared with states with stringent criminalization regimes. …drug-related pathologies — such as sexually transmitted diseases and deaths due to drug usage — have decreased dramatically. …judged by virtually every metric, the Portuguese decriminalization framework has been a resounding success.

By the way, allow me to reiterate that my support for decriminalization is not an endorsement of drug use.

It’s not just that I’m a teetotaler and want others to make the same choice. Stories like this one from CNN genuinely worry me.

Regina Mitchell, a co-owner of Warren Fabricating & Machining in Hubbard, Ohio, told The New York Times this week that four out of 10 applicants otherwise qualified to be welders, machinists and crane operators will fail a routine drug test. …”We have a 150-ton crane in our machine shop. And we’re moving 300,000 pounds of steel around in that building on a regular basis. So I cannot take the chance to have anyone impaired running that crane, or working 40 feet in the air.” …For 48 of the 50 years her company has been around, drug abuse had never been an issue, she told Smerconish.”It hasn’t been until the last two years that we needed to have a policy, a corporate policy in place, that protects us from employees coming into work impaired,” she said. …there are almost 12,000 open skilled labor jobs in Mahoning County.”There are good-paying jobs and the opportunity for people in our area. We just can’t find people to show up who can pass a drug test,” she said.

This is not good news for the country. And I’ve personally spoken to several employers in other parts of the country who have made the same point.

But I’ll simply observe that we have this problem with drugs being illegal already. Given the evidence from Portugal, I’m hopeful that decriminalization might lead to less drug use.

I also wonder whether redistribution programs enable reckless behavior. In other words, people may decide it’s okay to be stoners because they can rely on handouts to stay alive instead of staying clean and having a job.

In any event, let’s review a couple of additional stories. Here’s a column from National Review, written by Michelle Malkin, which shows continuing progress on the right.

My own interest in pediatric use of medicinal marijuana is more than academic. When my daughter, Veronica, fell ill in late spring of 2015 — unable to breathe normally, bedridden with chronic pain and fatigue — she saw of specialists. …The various drugs prescribed to my daughter weren’t working and had awful side effects. …To our surprise, the mainstream neurologist suggested Veronica try CBD. This doctor had other young patients who used CBD oil with positive results… So we did our own independent research…consulted with other medical professionals and friends — and entered a whole new world. Two physicians signed off on our daughter’s application for a medical-marijuana card. She became one of more than 360 children under 18 to join Colorado’s medical-marijuana registry in 2015. …we became pediatric pot parents. For Veronica, CBD provided more relief than all the other mainstream pharmaceutical interventions she had endured, and without the scary side effects.

To her credit, Michelle has learned that the harm of government intervention exceeds any potential benefit.

As a lifelong social conservative, my views on marijuana policy may surprise some of you. I used to be a table-pounding crusader for the government’s war on drugs. …But the war on drugs has been a ghastly quagmire — an expensive and selective form of government paternalism that has done far more harm than good. What has this trillion-dollar war wrought? Overcrowded jails teeming with nonviolent drug offenders. An expanded police state enriched by civil asset forfeiture. And marginalization of medical researchers pursuing legitimate research on marijuana’s possible therapeutic benefits for patients with a wide variety of illnesses. …let me be clear as a liberty-loving, conservative mom: Keep your hands off. Let the scientists lead. Limited government is the best medicine.

Her commentary brings to mind this snarky – but accurate – image from Reddit‘s libertarian page.

Now let’s add some economic analysis to the discussion.

Here’s some insight from the Foundation for Economic Education about how the Drug War is increasing the potency and danger of drugs.

One issue that is often mentioned but rarely explained is the increasing potency of illegal drugs, whether it be cannabis with a high percentage of THC in the US or super potent MDMA (Ecstasy) in Europe. What’s behind this phenomenon? …economic theory might have the answer. …The theory that can explain rising drug potency under prohibition was first described in 1964 by Armen Alchian and William R Allen. It states that when the price of two substitute goods is increased by a fixed per-unit amount (such as transportation or taxation) the consumer will opt for the higher priced, higher quality good because the price of the more expensive product has sunk in proportion to the price of the less expensive product. …In the particular case of illegal drugs, two different kinds of drugs–let’s say two different kinds of cannabis–act as the substitute goods. When buying illegal drugs on the black market, you do not only pay for the drug itself. On top of the monetary price comes the potential social cost you pay. This can range from a small regulatory offence, where you must pay a fine, to a felony where you can face a prison sentence. This comes with other problems: losing your job, family, social status and so on. This is the fixed per-unit cost added on top of the price of the drug itself.

All of which leads to yet another reason why prohibition is backfiring and another reason why decriminalization is the answer.

It is not worth the risk to buy a low-quality product regarding the potential price you must pay. …Drug cartels have recognised this behaviour and increased the potency of their drugs (i.e. improved the quality of their product) so you get more value for the potential fixed per-unit cost you pay. …What sounds good in economic theory becomes a massive public health problem in real life. The potency of many drugs has increased too much. As it is in most prohibitionist countries, many consumers don’t know exactly what drug they are taking and in which dosage they are consuming the drug: not to mention added substances that increase quantity. …If drugs were decriminalized, customers would have knowledge about the contents of their MDMA, their cocaine, their cannabis. Drugs that are too potent could easily be avoided. Legalized drugs would include packaging with the specific content. Sales in specialized stores would allow customers to receive medical help if they show signs of problematic consumption, without fear of being imprisoned over it.

And since we’ve veered into some economic analysis, one of the reasons I favor legalization is that I don’t want law enforcement resources being misallocated.

Which is why this column resonates with me.

Police in Ohio are blaming a lack of resources for the fact that unsolved homicide cases greatly outnumber the cases that are solved, yet they seem to have the resources to arrest thousands of suspected cannabis users. …in the state of Ohio…an average of over 20,000 people are arrested on charges of cannabis possession each year. …despite the fact that they seem to have plenty of resources when it comes to arresting and detaining nonviolent offenders, police in Ohio are blaming a lack of resources for the fact that the number of homicide cases they solve continues to decline. …How did police in the United States go from solving over 90 percent of homicides in the 1960s to around 60 percent today, with cities like Columbus solving as little as 30 percent of homicides? It was not a change in resources—it was the introduction of the Drug War. …“Around the country, police make more arrests for drug possession than for any other crime,” an ACLU and Human Rights Watch report found last year. “More than one of every nine arrests by state law enforcement is for drug possession, amounting to more than 1.25 million arrests each year.” In fact, police make more arrests for marijuana possession alone than for all violent crimes combined. …As states like Ohio find that the number of unsolved homicide cases greatly outnumber the cases that are solved, it makes you wonder—what more could they accomplish if they were able to use their resources to track down violent murder suspects, instead of wasting them on nonviolent individuals who are found in possession of a plant?

Let’s close with some wisdom from Milton Friedman (h/t: Reddit).

As was so often the case, Friedman was right. If you look at the real-world consequences of the War on Drugs, the net effect of prohibition has been to enrich some very bad people.

P.S. It’s an open question whether the War on Drugs has been more damaging or less damaging than the War on Poverty. I guess the moral of the story is that there are a lot of “friendly fire” casualties when politicians declare war.

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It’s impossible to imagine the evil and/or the sickness that would lead a person to massacre strangers in a church.

But it’s very easy to predict the political aftermath of such a tragedy. Folks on the left (some well-meaning, some not) immediately urge more gun control.

I have constitutional objections to their approach, but I realize that line of reasoning doesn’t matter to the anti-Second Amendment crowd, so I generally focus the conversation on the practical shortcomings of such initiatives.

  • Why, for instance, will it make a difference to ban scary-looking rifles when other weapons have the exact same functionality?
  • Or if they want a total ban, I ask them if they have a feasible plan to confiscate the hundreds of millions of guns in the country?
  • Do they actually think signs declaring so-called gun-free zones will discourage or deter murderers from butchering innocent people?
  • Is it likely that criminals will obey gun control laws when they already disregard laws against murder, rape, robbery, and assault?
  • If they argue guns cause crime, what is their response to the link between expanded gun ownership or decreases in violent crime?

Let’s focus on that last point, which is especially relevant since the death toll in Texas presumably would have been much higher if a good person with a gun didn’t put a stop to the mayhem.

Here are some excerpts from the Washington Post‘s report on what happened.

Johnnie Langendorff stumbled into the crossfire in a total accident. …As he passed the church…he saw…A man clad all in black was…trading shots with another man holding a rifle. …The man in black hauled off in his SUV. The second man with the rifle — a neighbor identified Monday by Arkansas-based 40/29 News as Stephen Willeford — approached Langendorff. The two men were strangers. Willeford said his daughter heard gunshots at the nearby First Baptist Church and told him she’d seen a man in all-black attire… A former NRA instructor…, Willeford immediately sprung into action. …Willeford raced across the street to the church and confronted Kelley… Langendorff said Willeford “briefed me quickly on what had just happened and said he had to get him.” “So that’s what I did.” …the two men shot off in pursuit in Langendorff’s truck… Langendorff wove his truck at high speed through traffic while trying to catch the fleeing SUV. The speedometer crossed 95 mph while the driver narrated everything to law enforcement. …Kelley’s vehicle…veered off the roadway and into a ditch… Langendorff pulled his own truck within 25 yards. …Police were on the scene within five to seven minutes… An autopsy of Kelley showed that he was shot twice — once in the leg and again in the torso — before shooting himself in the head… On Sunday night, Langendorff explained that his reaction — jumping into a car chase — was a simple calculation. “He just hurt so many people, he affected so many people’s lives, why wouldn’t you want to take him down?”

The Wall Street Journal editorializes on some of the implications.

…forgive us if we focus on Stephen Willeford, the local plumber who saved lives by grabbing his rifle and firing at Kelley. …The two locals are being hailed as heroes since their quick action was the only deterrent to more murders until police arrived. Kelley, who was discharged from the Air Force for bad conduct, should not have been able to obtain a gun legally, but the Journal reports that the military failed to send his conviction record to the FBI. The harsh reality of mass murders is that often only the presence of someone with a legal weapon to shoot back can stop the rampage. …No one wants crowds of vigilantes looking for someone to shoot, but we’re sure glad Stephen Willeford had a rifle and knew how to use it.

Rich Lowry of National Review applauds the heroism of the two Texans who acted to save lives.

Before the Texas church shooter encountered any police officers, he was run off a highway and dead. He had been shot and chased by two private citizens who took it upon themselves to respond to a heinous crime when no one with a badge was anywhere to be found. …The response by the two bystanders who refused to stand by…was a characteristically small-town American act of self-reliance that shows, no matter how tattered our civil society may be, it still produces people who will risk life and limb for others without hesitation, unbidden by anything other than their own sense of obligation. When Stephen Willeford, 55, heard of the shooting, he left his house barefoot with his AR-15 and started exchanging fire with Kelley outside the church. An expert shot, Willeford hit Kelley and reportedly aimed for the gaps on his body armor. When Kelley got in an SUV and sped off, Willeford jumped in Johnnie Langendorff’s truck and told him to give chase. …Willeford and Langendorff would have been justified in considering their work done when the shooter left the scene of his massacre. They would have been justified in considering it done when he crashed his vehicle. They instead were prepared for another gunfight in the cause of incapacitating him themselves.

And he warns about the real-world implications of gun control.

Any gun-control measure that is sweeping enough to make a dent in the country’s gun stock and render gun ownership difficult enough to, at the margins, keep firearms out of the hands of psychopaths will inevitably affect law-abiding people as well. In places like rural Texas that would rightly be considered a serious imposition. Without a gun, if something goes wrong, the only option is sitting and waiting for the authorities to show up.

Amen. Cops play an important role, but usually after a crime is committed. As this image illustrates, when seconds count, the police are minutes away.

So let’s make life harder for bad people by letting good people defend themselves.

By the way, some people are blaming the Air Force for failing to place the murderer into the system since that would have barred him from legally buying a gun. I’m sure that was an oversight rather than a deliberate decision, so I’m reluctant to make that a big issue. I’m actually more concerned that this dirtbag abused his family and fractured the skull of a one-year old child, yet was jailed for only one year.

Call me crazy, but that seems ludicrously lax. Heck, we put old people in jail for five times longer for trivial offenses such as failing to file a form. Shouldn’t grievous bodily harm to an infant have harsher implications? This is almost as crazy as fining a gun owner $1,000 after he saved a child’s life.

Let’s conclude by returning to the main issue of today’s column. In the past, I’ve joked about gun-loving Texans (the difference between conservatives, liberals, and Texans, the Texas v. Europe approach to fighting terrorism, and Texas, California, and the coyote), but today let’s be glad one of those guys used his “assault rifle” to save lives.

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While I focus on economic issues, particularly what’s happening with fiscal policy, I maintain my libertarian “cred” by periodically pointing out that victimless crimes should be legalized. Even if I don’t particularly like the activities.

  • I don’t approve of drugs and I’ve never used drugs, but I think the social harm of prohibition is greater than the social harm of legalization.
  • I don’t particularly like alcohol and I am almost a teetotaler, but I’m glad there’s now a consensus that the social harm of prohibition was greater than the social harm of legalization.
  • I find gambling to be boring and I worry about people who ruin their family’s finances by over-indulging, but the social harm of prohibition is greater than the social harm of legalization.

And now it’s time to dive into the issue of prostitution. Intellectually speaking, of course (even though people don’t like economists pontificating about sex).

It’s becoming an issue because some governments in the United States are looking to legalize sexual/monetary relations between consenting adults. Such as Washington, DC, which is famous for a different form of prostitution.

A D.C. lawmaker has proposed a bill aimed at decriminalizing sex work in the nation’s capital. David Grosso (I-At-Large) introduced the Reducing Criminalization to Improve Community Health and Safety Amendment Act of 2017 on Thursday. He said he developed the bill after working with the Sex Worker Advocates Coalition. “I believe that we as a society are coming to realize that excessive criminalization is causing more harm than good, from school discipline to drug laws to homelessness,” said Grosso.

And Hawaii.

Hawaii lawmakers are considering decriminalizing prostitution in the Aloha State after House Speaker Joseph Souki introduced a bill. …Transgender activist Tracy Ryan says she’s pushing the bill because transgender women in the sex trade are disproportionately impacted by criminalization laws. …Souki says he takes no position on the bill, but he introduced it as a favor to Ryan.

So what should lawmakers decide?

The Economist has a very sensible view on legalization.

…the sheer seediness of prostitution is just one reason governments have long sought to outlaw it, or corral it in licensed brothels or “tolerance zones”. NIMBYs make common cause with puritans, who think that women selling sex are sinners, and do-gooders, who think they are victims. …for many, both male and female, sex work is just that: work. …We have dissected data on prices, services and personal characteristics from one big international site that hosts 190,000 profiles of female prostitutes… The results show that gentlemen really do prefer blondes, who charge 11% more than brunettes. …Prostitutes themselves behave like freelancers in other labour markets. They arrange tours and take bookings online, like gigging musicians. They choose which services to offer, and whether to specialise. They temp, go part-time and fit their work around child care. …Moralisers will lament the shift online because it will cause the sex trade to grow strongly. …But everyone else should cheer. Sex arranged online and sold from an apartment or hotel room is less bothersome for third parties than are brothels or red-light districts. Above all, the web will do more to make prostitution safer than any law has ever done. …Governments should seize the moment to rethink their policies. Prohibition, whether partial or total, has been a predictable dud. It has singularly failed to stamp out the sex trade. …And prohibition has ugly results. Violence against prostitutes goes unpunished because victims who live on society’s margins are unlikely to seek justice, or to get it. …Criminalisation of clients perpetuates the idea of all prostitutes as victims forced into the trade. Some certainly are—by violent partners, people-traffickers or drug addiction. But there are already harsh laws against assault and trafficking. …When Rhode Island unintentionally decriminalised indoor prostitution between 2003 and 2009 the state saw a steep decline in reported rapes and cases of gonorrhoea. Prostitution is moving online whether governments like it or not. If they try to get in the way of the shift they will do harm.

My view, for what it’s worth, is that prostitution is sad and tragic in probably 95 percent of cases. But adding criminal penalties on top of the human cost doesn’t make a bad situation any better.

Prohibition may not stop prostitution, but it does make violence more likely.

Being a sex worker in the United States…means that you are likely vulnerable to extreme rates of physical, sexual and emotional violence, facilitated by the criminalization of the sex trade and the social stigma associated with those who engage in it. Sex worker advocates and the World Health Organization alike have recommended a fix that could dramatically improve sex worker safety, which has been proven to work in other parts of the world: decriminalize sex work. …in the U.S., …the rate of violence against sex workers is four times higher than it is in places where commercial sex is legal. …A study from the Urban Justice Center’s Sex Workers Project found 46% of sex workers experienced violence in the course of their work. Another study from SWP found that an overwhelming majority of street-based sex workers — 80% — reported being threatened or beaten. …Decriminalization of sex work would have a clear effect on sex worker safety, according to SWOP-USA communications director Katherine Koster, and it could be the key to reducing the threat of violence. …Koster told Mic. “When New Zealand decriminalized sex work, 70% of advocates, sex workers and social service providers who work with sex workers said that sex workers were more likely to reach out to the police if they experienced violence.”

Here’s a chart from the article.

This is simple common sense. In a legal market, it’s much easier for prostitutes to control their environment and to know the identity of customers. Both of those factors make crime more risky for bad guys.

Legalization not only would reduce violence against sex workers, it probably would reduce overall sex crimes.

 Does prostitution increase or decrease sex crimes? …Our research focuses on indoor prostitution. In states where prostitution is illegal, indoor prostitution usually occurs in strip clubs, gentlemen’s clubs, and as part of escort services. Indoor prostitution may increase sex crimes if prostitution reinforces the view of women as objects and therefore encourages violence against women. Alternatively, prostitution may reduce sex crimes if it is a substitute for sex crimes. In addition, indoor prostitution establishments may keep potential sex-crime offenders away from potential victims, leading to further substitution away from sex crimes. Our analysis benefits from a unique data set with daily precinct-level information for New York City (NYC). …We exploit exogenous variation in the date of registration of indoor prostitution establishments to provide causal evidence of these establishments on sex crimes using crime data at the daily level. …We find that the presence of an indoor prostitution establishment in a given precinct leads to a 0.4 percent daily reduction in sex crimes per precinct. …We find that sex crime is reduced since potential sex offenders are indoor prostitutes’ customers. …the results suggest that potential sex offenders prefer to use the services offered by these establishments rather than committing sex crimes. Furthermore, these results suggest that sex crimes and indoor prostitution are substitutes.

Unsurprisingly, former President Jimmy Carter isn’t on the right side. Though he wants to shift the punishment.

If paying for sex is normalized, then every young boy will learn that women and girls are commodities to be bought and sold. There is a much better policy option. …Pioneered in Sweden and adopted most recently in Canada and France, this strategy involves decriminalizing prostituted women and offering them housing, job training and other services. Instead of penalizing the victims, however, the approach treats purchasing and profiting from sex acts as serious crimes. …demand for prostitution has fallen dramatically under this model. Conversely, Germany and New Zealand, which have legalized all aspects of prostitution, have seen an increase in sex trafficking and demand for sexual services. Critics of the Nordic model assert that mature adults should be free to exchange money for sex. This argument ignores the power imbalance that defines the vast majority of sex-for-cash transactions, and it demeans the beauty of sexual relations when both parties are respected.

I actually like the world that Carter envisions. But wishing and hoping isn’t going to make the sex trade disappear.

Though prostitutes may get replaced by robots at some point. Needless to say, they don’t like competition.

Europe’s first sex robot brothel has been forced to move after real-life prostitutes complained sex dolls were stealing their trade. …the brothel, not far from La Rambla in the heart of the city has now moved to a mystery new location with a receptionist saying the address would only be given out to paying customers. Prostitutes who work in the city with Aprosex – the Association of Sex Professionals – objected saying a doll cannot match the services of a real person and denigrates real sex workers to merely being an object. …Janet, a prostitute with over 30 years in the industry, who works in the city’s Raval district said: “It is another strategy of the patriarchy that presents us as objects without rights or soul. A privilege of the wealthy classes.” …Municipal police in the Catalonian capital also launched an investigation into the legality of the brothel which offered clients sex with realistic state-of-the-art polymer sex dolls after it opened late last month. …The brothel offered the services of four life-like dolls which cost around £4,373 ($4,300, €5,000) to produce and are made in the US and made out of thermoplastic elastomer, charging punters around £105 (€120) for two hours.

Now that we’ve spent time looking at the serious side of the issue, let’s look at the quirky interaction of the world’s oldest profession and the world’s second-oldest profession. The Daily Caller reports on what’s being proposed in Germany.

The German Green Party wants to grant people with severe health issues taxpayer-funded access to prostitutes. Green Party Spokeswoman Elisabeth Scharfenberg imagines a system where doctors can issue prescriptions to sick people who can’t afford prostitutes on their own account. …The idea is modeled upon a similar system in the Netherlands, where people can receive need-based state grants with a medical note stating they can’t get sexual satisfaction any other way.

Taxpayer-financed hookers already exist in the United Kingdom, so I guess I’m not surprised that German politicians are contemplating something similar.

And since German politicians have figured out innovative ways of taxing hookers (the Spanish government has a more conventional approach), maybe it’s only fair that tax money gets plowed back into the industry.

In Nevada, for what it’s worth, prostitution gets a special tax loophole.

Meanwhile, Russia’s boss actually advertises on behalf of his nation’s streetwalkers.

President Putin bragged that Russian prostitutes were “without question the best in the world” yesterday.

Incidentally, since Putin already has recognized the Laffer Curve, he also should realize that it applies to…umm…adult entertainment. Indeed, excess taxation of prostitution has led to novel forms of tax avoidance in other countries.

By the way, here’s a tidbit from that Hawaii decriminalization story I already referenced.

The proposal also would end a state law that says police officers can’t have sex with prostitutes in the course of investigations.

P.S. Our left-wing friends have a strange fascination with prostitution.

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Over the years, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find intellectuals on the left who are willing to risk opprobrium from their ideological peers by acknowledging that gun control doesn’t make sense.

  • In 2012, I shared some important observations from Jeffrey Goldberg, a left-leaning writer for The Atlantic. In his column, he basically admitted his side was wrong about gun control.
  • Then, in 2013, I wrote about a column by Justin Cronin in the New York Times. He self-identified as a liberal, but explained how real-world events have led him to become a supporter of private gun ownership.
  • Most recently, in 2015, I shared a column by Jamelle Bouie in Slate. Bouie addresses the left’s fixation on trying to ban so-called assault weapons and explains that such policies are meaningless.

Now we have another addition to the list.

In a must-read column in the Washington Post, Leah Libresco admits that the research shows that gun control simply doesn’t work. She starts by openly confessing her bias.

Before I started researching gun deaths, gun-control policy used to frustrate me. I wished the National Rifle Association would stop blocking common-sense gun-control reforms such as banning assault weapons, restricting silencers, shrinking magazine sizes and all the other measures that could make guns less deadly.

She then points out that she and other researchers did a thorough investigation of gun deaths and found that restrictions on gun ownership would not have saved lives.

…my colleagues and I at FiveThirtyEight spent three months analyzing all 33,000 lives ended by guns each year in the United States, and I wound up frustrated in a whole new way. We looked at what interventions might have saved those people, and the case for the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence.

She looked at international data and the case for gun control evaporated.

I researched the strictly tightened gun laws in Britain and Australia and concluded that they didn’t prove much about what America’s policy should be. Neither nation experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun related-crime that could be attributed to their buybacks and bans. Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress. And in both Australia and Britain, the gun restrictions had an ambiguous effect on other gun-related crimes or deaths.

She also looked at some of the proposals advanced by U.S. advocates of gun control and discovered they don’t work.

…no gun owner walks into the store to buy an “assault weapon.” It’s an invented classification that includes any semi-automatic that has two or more features, such as a bayonet mount, a rocket-propelled grenade-launcher mount, a folding stock or a pistol grip. But guns are modular, and any hobbyist can easily add these features at home, just as if they were snapping together Legos. …silencers limit hearing damage for shooters but don’t make gunfire dangerously quiet. An AR-15 with a silencer is about as loud as a jackhammer. Magazine limits were a little more promising, but a practiced shooter could still change magazines so fast as to make the limit meaningless.

Sounds like Ms. Libresco has reached the same conclusion as firearms expert Larry Correia.

So what’s her bottom line? Well, Libresco still doesn’t like guns, but she’s intellectually honest about the fallacy of gun control.

By the time we published our project, I didn’t believe in many of the interventions I’d heard politicians tout. I was still anti-gun, at least from the point of view of most gun owners, and I don’t want a gun in my home, as I think the risk outweighs the benefits. But I can’t endorse policies whose only selling point is that gun owners hate them.

Very well stated.

Let’s close with two infographics from Reddit‘s libertarian page. I can’t personally vouch for every factoid, but based on what I’ve previously shared (see here, here, here, and here), I would be quite surprised if this information isn’t accurate.

And here’s the second one.

P.S. If you want to laugh at the dishonest (or naive) liberals, watch this amusing video to see how they think gun control works in their fantasy world (and here’s a more somber video that makes the same point). And for unintentional humor, Trevor Noah’s naiveté is always funny.

Then give your leftist friends this IQ test on gun control and see if they can figure out the right answer.

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