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Posts Tagged ‘Crime’

Back in March, I wrote that the dramatic expansion of concealed-carry laws was the feel-good story of 2022. At least for supporters of the 2nd Amendment.

Of course, that was before the Supreme Court recently ruled against New York’s draconian restrictions on gun owners, so people definitely can make an argument for that being the best gun-related news for 2022.

But allow me to suggest that there is a dark-horse candidate for the year’s feel-good story on the right to keep and bear arms.

Except it’s not a story. Instead, it’s the notion that folks on the left are slowly but surely changing their minds about the right – and desirability – of private gun ownership.

A good example in this column for the New York Times, in which Laura Adkins explains why she wants the right to own a gun for self-protection.

Every month, 70 women on average are shot and killed by an intimate partner. But states like mine make it legally cumbersome to defend yourself with a legally purchased handgun. If my life is ever in danger, I want to be able to protect myself with a gun. And now, thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, I am one step closer to carrying one. …I…understand why some of my fellow liberals would like to ban guns outright. But guns are already prevalent among those who don’t follow the rules: Despite strong gun laws in my state and city, illegal trafficking abounds. The reality is that in addition to preventing abusers from owning guns, we must empower vulnerable citizens to protect themselves. …New York’s onerous gun licensing requirements deter law-abiding citizens from protecting themselves.

I applaud the New York Times for being willing to publish a differing point of view.

And I certainly hope Ms. Adkins soon will be the proud owner of her M&P Bodyguard.

While recently visiting a state with less restrictive gun laws, I found exactly the gun I would like to buy: a small Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard, light enough for me to confidently handle and safely store. It sells for about what a handgun license application in New York City costs. And as soon as I am able to legally buy and carry it without too much hassle, I look forward to sleeping soundly.

At this point, some of you may be wondering whether I’m reading too much into one column.

That’s possible, of course, but allow me to suggest it’s part of a trend. I’ve previously written about other folks on the left who have had epiphanies on gun control and gun ownership.

  • 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.
  • In 2015, I shared a column by Jamelle Bouie in Slate, who addressed the left’s fixation on trying to ban so-called assault weapons and explains that such policies are meaningless.
  • More recently, in 2017, Leah Libresco wrote in the Washington Post that advocates of gun control are driven by emotion rather empirical research and evidence.
  • Alex Kingsbury in 2019 acknowledged the futility of gun control in a column for the New York Times.
  • In 2020, Charles Blow of the New York Times wrote about the value of private gun ownership, particularly for minorities.
  • Last but not least, Danielle King in 2021 wrote for the Washington Post about her decision to buy a gun for self-protection.

All of these columns were authored by folks on the left side of the ideological spectrum. And all these columns appeared in media outlets that normally cater to folks on the left.

Are most left-leaning people still on the wrong side on this issue? Yes, but I would be very interested to see in-depth polling data on whether there is more acceptance on the left for the right to keep and bear arms today than there was 10 years ago. I think the answer would be yes.

P.S. And we might convince more leftists if we can help them understand that gun control has a very racist history.

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Two weeks ago, I shared my response to the awful school shooting in Texas. The topic of gun control came up once again in a new episode of the Square Circle.

Regarding my comments, it’s no surprise that I have a new reason to dislike Justin Trudeau. He’s a typical, empty-suit, posturing politician.

But the more relevant point from the discussion is that there has been a huge increase in gun ownership in the United States in recent decades. And that increase in gun ownership has coincided with a big drop in violent crime.

You could argue that crime has dropped because more law-abiding people are now armed.

There certainly is a case to be made for that point of view. But as I said in the discussion, I think demographics deserve most of the credit.

You’ll also notice that part of the discussion revolved around Australia’s so-called gun buyback.

I’m certainly not an expert on that topic, but I think we can safely conclude it was a failure since writers for both the New York Times and the Washington Post admit it hasn’t been successful (and the same is true for New Zealand).

Here’s the bottom line: criminals will get guns no matter how much gun control politicians impose on a nation (just like people got booze during prohibition and they get illegal drugs today).

So the only effect of buybacks, bans, and other anti-gun policies is that bad guys will be better-armed than their victims.

Call me crazy, but that doesn’t seem like a good idea.

Especially since we can’t trust the police to protect us when things go sideways.

P.S. Watch this video from Reason to see why gun control is impossible in the United States.

P.P.S. One of my cats, Itchy, made a cameo appearance during the interview.

P.P.P.S. Always remember that gun control has a very unsavory history in the United States.

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I support the the right to keep and bear arms. That said, the horrific school shooting in Texas almost leads me to wish that guns did not exist. Here’s some of what I said as part of a recent episode of The Square Circle.

My main argument during the program is that gun control simply does not work. Such laws might deter law-abiding people from owning guns, but bad people – especially the nutjobs – obviously don’t care about breaking rules.

It is true that nationwide guns bans and gun confiscation might make it harder for these evil people to obtain firearms, but watch this video from Reason (or look at this polling data) if you actually think that’s a practical approach.

Some people argue that it would be better to allow teachers and other school staff to possess weapons.

That would be better than nothing, but who knows if that would have a measurable impact.

Other people say the problem is mental health and/or societal decay.

I’m sure those are factors as well, but pointing out problems is not the same as devising solutions.

Though maybe there is a way we can strengthen “red flag laws” while also guarding against abuse. I’m skeptical, but would like to be proven wrong.

For purposes of today’s column, I want to focus on what appears to be negligent behavior by the cops in Texas. Here are some excerpts from a report by the New York Times.

The grief of families in Uvalde, Texas, was compounded by anger and frustration on Thursday as police leaders struggled to answer questions about the horrific hour it took to halt a gunman who opened fire on students and teachers inside Robb Elementary School. …Parents had massed outside the school on Tuesday as gunfire erupted inside, urging the police who were holding them at bay to go in and stop the carnage. …An armed Uvalde school district officer, who had been nearby, responded…the gunman began firing at the windows and entered the building. The officer did not open fire. …the gunman…went through an unlocked door at 11:40 a.m…and began shooting inside. Police officers, including the school district officer, went into the school minutes later. By the time officers reported that the gunman had been killed around 1 p.m., he had shot dead 19 students and two teachers.

We don’t yet know how quickly this dirtbag killed the kids, but a delay of more than one hour obviously gave him plenty of time.

During that terrifying time — well over an hour — parents of students who were trapped in the school gathered outside the building… Some were physically restrained by the police in a scene that witnesses described as disorder bordering on mayhem. …“Parents were crying and some were fighting verbally with the police and screaming that they wanted their children,” Marcela Cabralez, a pastor, said. Miguel Palacios, a small-business owner, said frantic parents were so upset that at one point they tried to take down the school’s chain-link fence. “The parents were on one side of the fence, the Border Patrol and police were on the other side of the fence, and they were trying to tear it open,” he said. Some of the parents implored the heavily armed police officers at the chaotic scene to storm the school. Others, including those who were off-duty members of law enforcement, went inside themselves to try to find their own children. “There were plenty of men out there armed to the teeth that could have gone in faster,” said Javier Cazares, 43, who arrived at the school on Tuesday as the attack was taking place. He said he could hear gunfire; his daughter, Jacklyn, was inside.

Sadly, the cops in Uvalde either lacked modern training or they disregarded that training.

…questions remained about the decision by the police at the scene to await the arrival of specially trained officers from the Border Patrol to finally storm through the classroom door roughly an hour after officers had first pulled back. …Officers are now trained to disable an active shooter as quickly as possible, before rescuing victims and without waiting for a tactical team or special equipment to arrive.

As I said in the interview, I would not want to charge into a classroom and face hostile gunfire. But if I signed up to be a cop, I would understand that periodic bravery was part of my employment contract.

If I then failed to act, I would live in shame for the rest of my life and would not argue about getting fired and losing my pension.

P.S. When writing on gun-related issues, I always like to share what some honest folks on the left have written.

  • 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 TimesHe self-identified as a liberal, but explained how real-world events have led him to become a supporter of private gun ownership.
  • In 2015, I shared a column by Jamelle Bouie in Slate, who addressed the left’s fixation on trying to ban so-called assault weapons and explains that such policies are meaningless.
  • In 2017, Leah Libresco wrote in the Washington Post that advocates of gun control are driven by emotion rather empirical research and evidence.
  • Last but not least, in 2019, Alex Kingsbury confessed in the New York Times that his long-held dream of gun confiscation was utterly impractical.

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Economics in part is the analysis of how people respond to incentives (do high tax rates encourage or discourage work, do trade barriers increase or decrease prosperity, etc).

This type of analysis also applies to the study of crime.

For instance, do guns encourage crime (by giving bad people access to weapons) or discourage crime (by giving potential victims a means of protection)?

My view is that bad people will get guns, even if they are illegal. As such, the only real-world impact of gun control is that law-abiding people are made more vulnerable.

And that means more crime. In other words, crooks respond to incentives.

Let’s look at some new scholarly evidence. Alessandro Acquisti of Carnegie Mellon University and Catherine Tucker of MIT have produced a new study that investigates whether criminals respond to data regarding the likelihood of armed victims.

The main takeaway is that more guns is correlated with less crime.

This paper explores…a case study of the publication of a gun ownership database in Tennessee. This information was made available due to a FOIA request by the local newspaper and made public online. We evaluate how information about the location and numbers of gun permit holders being made publicly available affected crime… Did the online publication of gun permit holders’ information deter, or increase, certain types of crimes? Or did it simply displace crime from one area to another? We investigate this question using detailed crime and handgun carry permit data for Memphis and nearby areas, from before and after the newspaper’s publication of the permits. We evaluate how incidences of burglaries changed before and after the database was published and publicized, as a function of the number of guns in a zip code. Our analysis suggests a post-publicization relative decrease – both in absolute and in percentage terms – in burglaries in zip codes with higher numbers of gun permits, relative to zip codes with median numbers of permits, and a post-publicization relative increase in zip codes with fewer gun permits: our estimates suggest an 18% relative decrease of burglaries in those zip codes with the largest number of gun permits.

Wonkier readers may be interested in this chart, which maps burglary rates over time in neighborhoods with varying rates of gun ownership.

The authors explain what the numbers imply.

Figure 2 shows mean trends, over time, for burglaries in the period from October 2008 to May 2009. …the figure…suggests an upward trend in crimes across all zip codes in December, spiking around Christmas, followed by a downward trend in January. After the publicity around the database started intensifying in early February (solid vertical line), the downward trend seems to intensify. …From the perspective of our analysis, what matters is whether burglary trends in zip codes with more gun permits differ more from the trends in zip codes with lower numbers of gun permits after the publicization of the database, than they differed before. … zip codes with more gun permits experienced a larger decrease in burglaries relative to zip codes with fewer gun permits. …Relative to zip codes with the middle number of permits, zip codes with the highest concentration of permits experienced roughly 1.9 fewer burglaries per week/per zip code in the 15 weeks following the publicization of the database, and those with the lowest concentration experienced on average 1.4 more burglaries. Given that, on average, there were 9.7 burglaries per week in each of the top zip codes, our results imply a 20% relative decrease of burglaries in those zip codes.

For what it is worth, this issue is sort of like an IQ test.

On the margin, bad people are smart enough to target houses (and locations) where they perceive there is less likelihood of armed resistance.

But are our friends on the left smart enough to draw the obvious conclusion about public policy? For some of them, the answer is yes. For most of them, the answer is no.

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You can find examples of libertarianism in some very unexpected places.

What’s particularly interesting are the examples of how private governance is evolving in developing nations.

These are real-world example of “anarcho-capitalism” and they exist for the simple reason is that governments have utterly failed to provide core “public goods” such as crime control.

Now we have a new case study. The U.K.-based Economist reports on the development of a “private parallel state” in South Africa.

Situated in the north of Johannesburg, Steyn City has shops, a school, generators, a petrol station, golf, 50km of biking trails, fishing dams, 24-hour security and a dinosaur-themed playground. There is even a helipad; but residents need never leave. …estates like Steyn City, which account for nearly one in five property transfers (a proxy for sales)…represent a broader demand: for a sanctuary in a country where the state cannot seem to curb crime or provide decent services. And it is not just the rich who are fending for themselves. So, increasingly, is everyone else.

Incidentally, we have similar “estates” in the United States, such as The Villages in Florida and other private communities and residential developments.

But let’s focus on South Africa and why people are opting for private alternatives to government.

The article notes that a growing number of citizens are choosing private schools (akin to what’s happening in India).

Since 1997 the number of pupils in private schools has tripled, from 236,000 to 703,000… The increase is not happening in the most expensive schools, which are, in fact, becoming easier to get into, because so many well-heeled South Africans are emigrating. “The growth is in the low-to-mid range of the market,” says Lebogang Montjane, the head of the Independent Schools Association. …Private fees are priced to be affordable for the black middle class. Spark costs 28,050 rand ($1,800) a year for primary school.

There is also a section on private health care.

But the part about public safety is even more remarkable.

Security is the clearest case of where private companies are replacing the state. In 1997 there were roughly as many police officers (110,000) as active security guards (115,000). Since then officer numbers have increased by 31% (to 144,000) but the number of private guards has ballooned by 383% (to 557,000). Gun-carrying watchmen and ubiquitous surveillance cameras that feed footage to security firms’ operation rooms are everyday sights in suburbs and high-walled estates. …the sense that the state cannot protect citizens—underlined dramatically last year when the country saw the worst civil unrest since apartheid—is widely felt.

Here’s the bottom line.

Some South Africans emigrate to escape failing public services. But most cannot leave, or do not want to. Instead, argues Gwen Ngwenya of the opposition Democratic Alliance, they slip across an imaginary border, migrating, as it were, into the arms of “the private parallel state”.

The obvious takeaway is that the failing parts of government should be eliminated and, in tandem, the tax burden should be reduced so that it’s easier for citizens to pay for the private alternatives that actually work.

But that’s a very unlikely outcome.

Why? Because government programs in developing nations generally exist to provide patronage to friends and supporters of the politicians.

  • The purpose of government schools is to provide over-paid patronage jobs to teachers, not to educate children.
  • The purpose of government health care is to provide over-paid patronage jobs to providers, not to cure sick people.
  • The purpose of government security is to provide over-paid patronage jobs to cops, not to fight against crime.

So long as this corrupt system works for politicians, there’s no reason to expect changes.

P.S. At some point, South Africa will go bankrupt. In theory, this should lead to long-overdue changes. In practice, it will mean a bailout from the International Monetary Fund, which temporarily will prop up the current system of corruption and waste.

P.P.S. South Africa will be bankrupt sooner rather than later if it takes advice from the OECD.

P.P.P.S. This comparison of South Africa, Botswana, and Zimbabwe is very revealing.

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My friends sometimes tell me that libertarians are too extreme because we tend to make “slippery slope” arguments against government expansions.

I respond by pointing out that many slopes are very slippery. Especially when dealing with politicians and bureaucrats.

Today, we’re going to look at how some politicians want to push us down the slope as part of their war against cash.

I’ve already written about this topic four times (here, here, here, and here), but it’s time to revisit the topic because of what has just happened in Canada.

Kevin Williamson of National Review is properly disgusted by Prime Minister Trudeau’s decision to deploy financial repression against protesting truckers.

Prime Minister Trudeau has invoked, for the first time in his country’s history, Emergency Measures Act powers to shut down a domestic political protest, the so-called Freedom Convoy movement… Trudeau is not sending in the troops. He is cutting off the money. …And so he is using the Emergency Measures Act to invest himself with the unilateral power to freeze bank accounts and cancel insurance policies, without so much as a court order and with essentially no recourse for those he targets. Canadian banks and financial-services companies will be ordered to disable clients suspected of being involved in the protests. …Using financial regulation to crush freedom of speech isn’t financial regulation — it is crushing freedom of speech by abusing the powers of a government office. …financial regulators enjoy powers that no FDR — or Napoleon, or Lenin — ever dreamt of possessing. The opportunities for mischief are serious and worrisome — and so are the opportunities for tyranny. …When the laws are enforced exclusively (or with extra vigor) against political enemies, that is not law enforcement — that is political repression. …we don’t have to send men with jackboots and billy clubs to break up protests — we have very polite Canadian bankers to do that for us.

Kevin then points out that Trudeau’s despicable actions are a very good argument for cryptocurrency.

It can be no surprise, then, that people are looking for digital platforms that protect their anonymity and keep their communications slightly beyond the reach of the long arm of the state. …And it’s even less surprising that cryptocurrencies and other escape routes from the banking system increasingly appeal to people who are neither cartel bosses nor international men of mystery. In a world in which unpopular political views can cut an individual or an organization off from the financial main stream, such innovations are necessities.

Liz Wolfe wrote about Trudeau’s overreach for Reason and also pointed out that cryptocurrencies are a valuable tool against oppressive government.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked his country’s Emergencies Act of 1988 in an attempt to snuff out anti-vaccine mandate protests that have roiled Canadian domestic politics for weeks. Invoking the act allows Trudeau to broaden Terrorist Financing Act rules to bring crowdfunding platforms and payment processors under greater government scrutiny. …cryptocurrency exchanges and crowdfunding platforms must now report large and “suspicious” transactions to the Financial Transactions and Reports Analysis Centre of Canada (FINTRAC), thus allowing more government surveillance of who’s forking over money to the protesters. The government will also be using its expanded powers to allow financial institutions to freeze the corporate accounts of companies that own trucks used in the blockades, while suspending their insurance… This type of situation—one in which protesters are being freezed out by crowdfunding platforms, one in which the government is threatening to suppress demonstrations and surveil financial transactions—is precisely the use case for crypto, which may be why Canadian officials namechecked it in their Terrorist Financing announcement. …crypto’s real value lies in the fact that it’s much harder to trace back to its sender, allowing pseudonymous donors to support whichever political causes they want to…the liberatory promise of crypto lies in the fact that it can bypass these intermediaries and make transactions more discreet—something Trudeau’s lackeys surely know, and seem a bit threatened by.

Amen. I don’t understand cryptocurrency and I don’t own any, but I definitely think it’s important to have alternatives given the track record of government.

By the way, worries about government over-reach existed long before Trudeau decided to launch his financial assault.

Libertarian-minded people have been concerned about this issue for a long time.

Here’s some of what Larry White wrote in 2018.

Coercive anti‐​cash policies abridge the freedom and reduce the welfare of peaceful individuals who prefer to use cash. …They compromise financial privacy and enable the prosecution of victimless crimes wherever banks are required to “know their customers” and to provide transaction records to government officials. They impose an unlegislated tax on money‐​holders, and leave them no means of escape into untaxed media of exchange, whenever the central bank decides to pursue a negative interest rate policy. They harm the livelihood of small businesspeople who rely on cash sales, particularly those serving the unbanked or operating in outdoor markets, and reduce the welfare of their (mostly poor) customers by raising transaction costs.

And here are some excerpts from William Luther’s column for Reason in the same year.

The case for cash presumes that we should be free to go about our lives so long as our actions do not harm others. It maintains that governments are not entitled to the intimate details of people’s lives. …demonetization advocates hold a progressive view of government. They think that existing laws and regulations have been rationally constructed by enlightened experts… There is, of course, an alternative view of government—one that is skeptical that laws and regulations are so rationally designed. …Some of these rules…were constructed to benefit some at the expense of others… Physical currency enables one to disobey the government. …Importantly, this argument…is a case for due process and financial privacy—bedrock jurisprudential principles in the West.

I’ll close with a few comments about what Trudeau should have done. Particularly after the road blockages lasted more than one or two days.

Instead of invoking a draconian emergency law, local Canadian governments should have used regular police powers to impose fines on truckers and- if necessary – impound their vehicles.

And if any of the truckers responded with violence, they should have been arrested and prosecuted.

For what it’s worth, this is how local governments in the United States should have responded (and should respond) to protests by Antifa and Black Lives Matter. Or to protests by any right-wing group.

The bottom line is that I’m a big believer in civil disobedience, but my tolerance drops when ordinary people are harassed, inconvenienced, and intimidated.

P.S. Luther’s point about the “progressive view of government” is not just a throwaway line. He’s referring to the mindset that first appeared during the “Progressive Era” of the early 1900s, when politicians such as Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson decided that government was a force for good (unlike America’s Founders, who gave us a Constitution based on the notion that government was a threat to liberty and needed to be restrained).

P.P.S. Returning to more practical issues, India is a another bad example of what happens when politicians push a nation down the slippery slope.

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Civil asset forfeiture occurs when bureaucrats literally steal a person’s property when the person hasn’t been convicted – or perhaps not even charged – of any wrongdoing.

Citing a nauseating example of this odious practice, I wrote back in 2014 that all decent and moral people should be libertarians.

I was exaggerating, of course, so allow me to share a different statement that is completely accurate: Supporters of civil asset forfeiture (also known as “policing for profit“) are neither decent nor moral.

Indeed, they are bad people who support thuggish and unfair mistreatment of their fellow citizens.

If you think I’m being too dogmatic about this issue, here are some excerpts from a story in the New York Times by Michael Levenson.

When Kermit Warren lost his job shining shoes during the Covid-19 pandemic last year, he and his son took his life savings of nearly $30,000 to buy a tow truck to support Mr. Warren’s longtime side business of collecting scrap metal. …As Mr. Warren walked through security at the airport in Columbus, Ohio, the screeners asked him about the money… At the gate, just before Mr. Warren and his son boarded their flight, three agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration asked Mr. Warren about the cash. …The agents soon suspected that Mr. Warren was carrying illegal drug money and seized the cash. …“I never knew in my whole 58 years as a man in the United States that three D.E.A. agents could take a man’s money from him that he worked for, and not had committed any kind of crime, or was arrested for doing any type of wrongdoing,” Mr. Warren said… “How could they just take my money from me like that?” …The practice is a popular way to raise revenue but has been easily abused and widely criticized for depriving people of their right to due process and for disproportionately affecting poor people and people of color like Mr. Warren, who is Black.

Fortunately, this awful story has a happy ending.

…the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm…sued the D.E.A. and the Transportation Security Administration, accusing the agencies of seizing travelers’ money without probable cause. …On Thursday, federal prosecutors agreed to return all $28,180 to Mr. Warren and to dismiss their civil forfeiture complaint.

Congratulations to the great libertarian lawyers at the Institute for Justice, who tirelessly fight on behalf of people suffering from abusive government.

And kudos to the small handful of states that have restricted the ability of law enforcement to steal from citizens.

But what we really need is for the Supreme Court to rule that civil asset forfeiture is unconstitutional. Fortunately, Clarence Thomas may be interested in leading such an effort.

P.S. The one silver lining to the horror of asset forfeiture is that it produced this clever example of humor.

P.P.S. Civil asset forfeiture is an example of predatory government (and I cheer people who find novel ways of fighting back).

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Back in 2010, I narrated this video on money laundering for the Center for Freedom and Prosperity, mostly to help people understand that governments are imposing huge costs on both industry and consumers without any offsetting benefits (such as reductions in crime).

As you can tell from the video, I’m not a big fan of anti-money laundering (AML) laws and know-your-customer (KYC) regulations.

And in the 11-plus years since the video was released, I’ve shared lots of additional data about the costly futility of the government anti-money laundering laws and regulations.

That’s the bad news.

The good news (sort of) is that more people are noticing that the current approach is an expensive failure. Even some folks from the establishment media are waking up to the problem, as illustrated by an article in the latest edition of the Economist.

…banks remain the Achilles heel in the global war on money-laundering, despite the reams of regulations aimed at turning them into front­line soldiers in that conflict. However, closer examination suggests that the global anti-money-laundering (AML) system has serious structural flaws, largely because governments have outsourced to the private sector much of the policing they should have been doing themselves. …Money-laundering was not even a crime across much of the world until the 1980s. Since then countries from Afghanistan to Zambia have been arm-twisted, particularly by America, into passing laws. …This has turned AML compliance into a huge part of what banks do and created large new bureaucracies. It is not unusual for firms such as HSBC or JPMorgan Chase to have…more than 20,000 overall in risk and compliance.

Here’s some of the evidence cited in the article.

A study published last year…concluded that the global AML system could be “the world’s least effective policy experiment”, and that compliance costs for banks and other businesses could be more than 100 times higher than the amount of laundered loot seized. A report based on a survey of professionals, published last year by LexisNexis, an analytics firm, found that worldwide spending on AML and sanctions compliance by financial institutions (including fund managers, insurers and others, as well as banks) exceeds $180bn a year. …the numbers tell of a war being lost. …Statistics on how much is intercepted by authorities are patchy. A decade-old estimate by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime put it at just 0.2% of the total. In 2016 Europol estimated the confiscation rate in Europe to be a higher but still paltry 1.1%.

Sounds like a damning indictment right?

But I wrote that the article was only “sort of” good news. That’s because the writers at the Economist fail to reach the logical conclusion.

Instead of junking the current system, they want to double down on failure.

…governments need to work harder collectively to make the AML system fit for purpose.

This is akin to looking at welfare programs, realizing that they create dependency and weaken families, but then supporting even more redistribution.

Sadly, I suspect the new evidence cited in the article won’t lead to more sensible thinking in Washington, either.

  • Democrats don’t care if the current approach is failing since they see anti-money laundering laws as a way of destroying financial privacy, which they think is necessary to collect more tax revenue.
  • Republicans don’t care if the current approach is failing because they mindlessly support a tough-on-crime approach, regardless of whether it actually produces positive results.

Indeed, politicians in DC recently expanded AML laws.

I guess the moral of the story is that politicians can always take a bad situation and make it worse.

P.S. I’m batting .500 in my career as a global money launderer.

P.P.S. Here’s Barack Obama’s satirical encounter with AML laws and KYC rules.

P.P.P.S. Speaking of Obama and money laundering, I fear Biden will resuscitate his reprehensible “Operation Chokepoint.”

P.P.P.P.S. I also fear Biden will continue support for asset forfeiture, another disgusting policy that is a part of money-laundering policy.

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I’m (unfortunately) not a rich person, but that doesn’t stop me from opposing punitive taxes on successful entrepreneurs, investors, and small business owners.

Likewise, I’m not a gun aficionado, but that doesn’t stop me from opposing efforts to restrict the rights of law-abiding people to own and bear arms.

In part, my views on guns are driven by cost-benefit analysis. Simply stated, the evidence is fairly clear that there is less crime when bad people have to worry that potential victims have the ability to defend themselves.

But I also very much agree with the constitutional argument for gun ownership, as well as the “societal disarray” argument.

Interestingly, it seems that more folks on the left are coming to their senses on the issue of gun control, generally for practical reasons rather than philosophical reasons.

  • 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.
  • In 2015, I shared a column by Jamelle Bouie in Slate, who addressed the left’s fixation on trying to ban so-called assault weapons and explains that such policies are meaningless.
  • More recently, in 2017, Leah Libresco wrote in the Washington Post that advocates of gun control are driven by emotion rather empirical research and evidence.
  • Last but not least, Alex Kingsbury in 2019 acknowledged the futility of gun control in a column for the New York Times.

Today, we’re going to add to the collection.

Charles Blow of the New York Times recently wrote about how he has become more understanding of why fellow blacks want to own guns.

Growing up in rural northern Louisiana, everyone I knew, at least every household, seemed to have guns. …Gun ownership was the norm in those parts, including in the Black community. It was not associated with danger but with safety. …Indeed, one could argue that the right to bear arms in this country has never been so brazenly and openly abridged as it has against Black people. Many state codes prohibited Black gun ownership before the Civil War and allowed for the disarmament of Black people after. …When I moved north, first to Detroit and then to New York, I moved into a mental space of more stringent gun control. …city dwellers simply didn’t have the same need for weapons as the people in the rural community where I was raised… I, like many, were convinced that fewer guns in the Black community would make it safer. But, for many Black people, that sentiment has turned. …gun sales to Black people are surging. …I, as much as anyone, would like to live in a society in which all citizens felt safe without the need of personal firearms. America could have created such a society. However, it chose not to. …many Black people feel the need to defend themselves from their own country.

To be sure, Mr. Blow can’t be considered a full convert to the 2nd Amendment. That being said, I think it’s nonetheless remarkable that even a committed, hard-core leftist has (partially) seen the light.

Though I can’t resist quibbling with one point in his column. He wrote, “America could have created” a society where gun control would be desirable because no guns would be needed, but “it chose not to.”

I would replace “it chose not to” with “our government is not sufficiently competent.”

Heck, I would probably add “or trustworthy” as well. Given the unsavory history of gun control, Mr. Blow should be among the first to appreciate that argument.

P.S. In 2018, I shared the story of Ryan Moore, another leftist who changed his mind on gun control. But since he also evolved away from being a leftist, I don’t include him

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Since I’m an economist specializing in public finance, I get very upset about punitive tax policy and wasteful government spending.

But what really gets my blood boiling is reading about the horrific policy of civil asset forfeiture, which literally allows government to steal your property even if you haven’t been convicted of a criminal offense. Or, in many cases, even charged with any wrongdoing!

I’ve decided to revisit this issue because of a recent tweet reminding us that the people who are supposed to protect us actually take more of our property than burglars.

What’s particularly nauseating is that this policy gives law enforcement an incentive to misbehave.

Consider, for instance, these details from a 2014 story in the New York Times.

…civil asset forfeiture…allows the government, without ever securing a conviction or even filing a criminal charge, to seize property suspected of having ties to crime. The practice, expanded during the war on drugs in the 1980s, has become a staple of law enforcement agencies because it helps finance their work. …The practice…has come under fire…amid a spate of negative press reports and growing outrage among civil rights advocates, libertarians and members of Congress who have raised serious questions about the fairness of the practice, which critics say runs roughshod over due process rights. …Much of the nuts-and-bolts how-to of civil forfeiture is passed on in continuing education seminars for local prosecutors and law enforcement officials… In the sessions, officials share tips on maximizing profits, defeating the objections of so-called “innocent owners” who were not present when the suspected offense occurred, and keeping the proceeds in the hands of law enforcement…seized money has been used by the authorities, according to news reports, to pay for sports tickets, office parties, a home security system and a $90,000 sports car. …forfeitures were highly contingent on the needs of law enforcement. …Flat screen televisions…“are very popular with the police departments.”

This is why asset forfeiture is accurately described as “policing for profit.”

There was some good news on this issue last year in South Carolina, as reported by the Greenville News.

A South Carolina circuit court judge in Horry County has ruled the state’s civil asset forfeiture law unconstitutional, in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth, Fifth and 14th amendments. …Earlier this year The Greenville News published coverage from a two-year investigation into civil asset forfeiture in South Carolina. …Nearly 800 times when police seized money or property, no related criminal charge was filed. In another 800 cases, someone was charged with a crime but not convicted. …About 65% of the cases involved black men though black men make up just 13% of the state’s population. …John’s written decision found that South Carolina’s forfeiture laws violate both the federal and state constitutional protections against excessive fines by allowing the government to seize unlimited amounts of cash and property that aren’t proportionate to the alleged crime. …The judge’s ruling signals how he would approach forfeiture cases in his court in the future but doesn’t set precedent across the state.

What we really need, of course, is a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that civil asset forfeiture violates the Constitution (violates the presumption of innocence, excessive punishment, etc), and there are some reasons to hope that may soon happen.

It’s also good news that conservatives have joined with libertarians (such as the great people at the Institute for Justice) in opposing this egregious practice.

Here are some excerpts from a National Review article by Isaac Schorr.

The process is broken. …the government brings charges against the property itself without leveling any against the property owner. On a federal level, criminal behavior need not be proven for law enforcement to initiate civil-asset-forfeiture proceedings; mere suspicion is considered reason enough. It’s worth noting that as California’s attorney general, Democratic vice-presidential nominee Kamala Harris strongly supported handing this same power to local law enforcement — for the people, of course. …Why has civil-asset forfeiture, which flies in the face of American expectations of due process and the presumption of innocence, been allowed to persist in its current form? It’s all about the Benjamins. …This practice…provides local authorities with perverse incentives. …they can move to forfeit property under federal law and take up to 80 percent of what the property is worth,” which gives them “a direct financial stake in forfeiture encourag[ing] profiteering and not the pursuit of justice.” What police department would not take advantage of such a profitable opportunity, particularly when those profits are not subject to the same oversight as taxpayer dollars?

When cops lose access to this loot, they naturally complain.

Here are some passages from a story in the Mercury News.

While the value of property seized in California has skyrocketed, the state’s share of the booty — which has traditionally helped fund local police agencies — has plunged. That’s largely because of a new state law seeking to protect personal property, allowing local agencies to keep proceeds from asset seizures only when people are convicted of a crime, rather than simply when they’re arrested. …California…passed laws — more stringent than the federal government — restricting when state and local police could seize private property. So local agencies worked around them by partnering directly with the U.S. Department of Justice in asset-forfeiture cases, bypassing the rules in state laws. SB 443 closes that loophole for state and local agencies — but not for the federal government, which can continue to seize property without criminal convictions. …The Golden State is trying to set a good example and do the principled thing, even as the federal government goes in the opposite direction, said Gregory Chris Brown, associate professor of criminal justice at Cal State Fullerton.

In other words, fixing this problem involves all levels of government.

Local law enforcement needs to stop policing for profit.

State government needs to stop policing for profit.

And Uncle Sam needs to get out of the racket as well.

Speaking of the federal government, the Obama Administration took a tiny step in the right direction, but the Trump Administration has been very unhelpful.

And what about the incoming Biden Administration? I haven’t seen any indication, but I’m not brimming with optimism given Biden’s generic desire for Washington to have more money, as well as his unpalatable record as a booster of the failed War on Drugs.

But hopefully he’ll surprise me.

In the meantime, let’s keep our fingers crossed for further reforms at the state level.

Let’s close by recycling a great video on this issue from the folks at Reason.

P.S. It’s worth noting that the first two people in charge of asset forfeiture for the federal government have since come out against this odious practice.

P.P.S. Here’s some sauce-for-the-goose-sauce-for-the-gander humor involving asset forfeiture.

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One of the best political cartoons I’ve ever seen was this gem from Glenn McCoy.

It very effectively captures how greedy local governments breed resentment and create conflict by using the law to fleece residents (and it definitely will be featured if I ever do another political cartoonist contest).

This is not a trivial topic. I’ve previously written about how fees, fines and charges can wreck the lives of the less fortunate.

So how do we solve this problem?

, in a column for the New York Times, argues we should impose much higher fines on rich people.

For people living on the economic margins, even minor offenses can impose crushing financial obligations, trapping them in a cycle of debt and incarceration for nonpayment. …Across America, one-size-fits-all fines are the norm… Other places have saner methods. Finland and Argentina, for example, have tailored fines to income for almost 100 years. The most common model, the “day fine,” scales sanctions to a person’s daily wage. A small offense like littering might cost a fraction of a day’s pay. A serious crime might swallow a month’s paycheck. Everyone pays the same proportion of their income. …Finland…handed a businessman a $67,000 speeding ticket for going 14 miles per hour above the limit.

He argues this is a matter of fairness.

…scaling fines to income is a matter of basic fairness. …The flat fine threatens poor people with financial ruin while letting rich people break the law without meaningful repercussions. Equity requires punishment that is equally felt. …while punishment is supposed to prevent undesirable conduct from happening in the first place, flat fines deter the wealthy less than everyone else. …That’s particularly true in cities like Ferguson that went easy on wealthier residents but treated poor people like cash cows. After all, the city would get more bang for its buck pulling over a rich driver with a blown blinker.

I think Schierenbeck is both right and wrong.

He’s correct that his approach would be more fair. An income-based speeding ticket would be akin to a flat tax – i.e., take the same proportion of everyone’s income. For what it’s worth, I made this argument with regard to traffic offenses back in 2015.

But that approach won’t do anything to help poor people (to be fair, the author doesn’t claim it would).

If we want to protect low-income people from greedy governments, that are several options.

  • Have fewer nuisance laws that lead to fines, fees, and charges.
  • Have income-based fines, but at a low level for rich and poor alike.
  • Perhaps most important, control government spending so politicians have less incentive to grab more money from people.

The bottom line is that I don’t want government to screw over poor people, just as I don’t want government to screw over middle-class people or rich people.

P.S. My point about higher fines on the rich not helping the poor is the same an my argument that class-warfare taxes on upper-income taxpayers don’t do anything to help the less fortunate. Indeed, poor people actually suffer collateral damage because of diminished prosperity.

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One might think that the most poorly governed city is a place such as San FranciscoDetroitNew York City, and Chicago.

Or Seattle, if we just count recent history.

But let’s not overlook Minneapolis. I wrote two months ago about that city’s hostility to capitalism, but the problems go well beyond run-of-the-mill government greed.

An article in the Star Tribune reveals that the city not only failed to protect property when riots broke out, it then demanded owners of business pre-pay taxes before giving them a permit to clean up the damage caused by government failure.

In Minneapolis, on a desolate lot where Don Blyly’s bookstore stood before being destroyed in the May riots, two men finish their cigarettes and then walk through a dangerous landscape filled with slippery debris and sharp objects. The city won’t let Blyly haul away his wreckage without a permit… Minneapolis requires owners to prepay the second half of their 2020 property taxes in order to obtain a demolition permit. …“Minneapolis has not been particularly friendly toward business for some time,” said Blyly, who prepaid $8,847 in taxes last week but still hasn’t received his demolition permit. …On average, the owners of properties destroyed or significantly damaged owe $25,000 in taxes for the second half of 2020, which come due in October, according to a Star Tribune review of county property records. “When it first hit my desk, I was flabbergasted that this was a requirement,” said developer David Wellington, whose family owns several properties that were destroyed in the riots.

This isn’t adding insult to injury. It’s adding injury to injury.

To make matters worse, the Star Tribune also reported that business owners aren’t allowed to protect themselves by installing metal shutters.

After looters crashed through his floor-to-ceiling windows and stole $1 million worth of booze in May, Chicago-Lake Liquors owner John Wolf wanted to protect himself from a repeat occurrence. Like property owners throughout the world, he wanted to install security shutters on the outside of his building. The investment would not only prevent rioters from entering his store, it would protect his windows — which cost $50,000 to replace. But Wolf ran into a big obstacle: The city of Minneapolis has barred security shutters on building exteriors since 2004. …In a report justifying the rule change, Minneapolis officials argued that external shutters “cause visual blight” and create the impression that an area is “unsafe” and “troublesome.” But in the wake of the riots, when police failed to prevent widespread looting and damage to more than 1,500 businesses in the Twin Cities, property owners said they can no longer count on the city to protect their property. …”I have never felt so vulnerable,” said Brandow, whose shop is two blocks from another car-repair business that was destroyed in the May riots.

The bottom line is that businesses can’t rely on government to protect property, and the government then makes it hard for them to protect themselves.

Give the mistreatment by city politicians, one might expect some businesses to simply give up.

And, according to a report by WCCO, that’s beginning to happen.

Even before…destruction and looting, a number of downtown businesses had been re-thinking their future in the city. WCCO spoke with some of them…about the damage they endured and their futures moving forward. One of those businesses is Dahl Medical Supply, located at 12th and Nicollet. They’ve been downtown for about 12 years. “You feel so hopeless and helpless…,” Lisa Steffes said. That helpless feeling grew throughout Wednesday night, as Steffes watched surveillance video of looters ransacking her store. …other businesses could soon close their doors for good. Chad Laux has run Greenway Chiropractic at 811 LaSalle for 17 years. …Laux says downtown crime has made things worse. “We’ve lost six people in this building already,” Laux said.

To be sure, Minneapolis isn’t at a tipping point. At least not yet.

Minneapolis does rank in the bottom half of Dean Stansel’s U.S. Metropolitan Area Economic Freedom Index, but it’s not in the bottom 10.

As such, there hasn’t been the steady and significant exodus of taxpayers that plagues Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City.

But all the more reason why a city should be concerned about starting down that path.

Once a city gets a bad reputation, it’s hard to reverse.

P.S. My favorite city is zero-income-tax Monaco. I’m not sure what American city would be at the top of my list, but you’ll notice on the map that most of the cities attracting residents are in states with no income tax.

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I frequently cite Mark Perry in my columns (including what I wrote yesterday) because he has an uncommon ability to focus on what’s actually important when writing about economic issues.

It turns out he also has that ability when it comes to social issues, as illustrated by this tweet.

For those who aren’t familiar with Ms. Taylor, she was killed when cops raided her residence based on a dubious search warrant.

That incident, and the subsequent fallout, has triggered social unrest, and I recommend David French’s analysis if you want to know more about the various legal issues surrounding the case.

I want to focus on the bigger point, which is the foolishness of the War on Drugs.

Jacob Sullum of Reason captures my feelings in this excellent article.

Louisville, Kentucky, police officers did a lot of things wrong when they killed Breonna Taylor, an unarmed 26-year-old EMT and aspiring nurse, during a fruitless no-knock drug raid last spring. But the litany of errors that led to Taylor’s death would be incomplete if it did not include the biggest mistake of all: the belief that violence is an appropriate response to peaceful conduct that violates no one’s rights. If politicians did not uncritically accept that premise, which underlies a war on drugs that the government has been waging for more than a century, Taylor would still be alive. …Drug prohibition legalizes conduct that otherwise would be instantly recognized as felonious, including assault, theft, trespassing, burglary, kidnapping, and murder. It makes police officers enemies to be feared rather than allies to be welcomed. …That problem goes far beyond the cases, such as Taylor’s, that are highlighted by Black Lives Matter. When a middle-aged white couple is killed in a drug raid instigated by a black narcotics officer who lied to obtain the search warrant (as happened in Houston last year) or a white 19-year-old is fatally shot by a white police officer during a marijuana sting (as happened in South Carolina several years ago), those outcomes are just as senseless and heartbreaking as the death of a young black woman gunned down by white drug warriors.

The individual tragedies in the War on Drugs, he explains, are compounded by the societal damage.

At any given time, nearly half a million people are incarcerated in U.S. jails or prisons for drug offenses. Drug offenders account for almost half of federal prisoners and 15 percent of state prisoners. Arresting all of those people for actions that violated no one’s rights unjustly deprives them of their liberty and impairs their life prospects. It also hurts their families and communities. …Which is not to say that the burdens of prohibition fall exclusively on people who like illegal drugs. Everyone else pays too, in the form of squandered taxpayer money, diverted law enforcement resources, theft driven by artificially high drug prices, and eroded civil liberties. …The war on drugs is also the main excuse for the system of legalized theft known as civil asset forfeiture, which allows police to take cash and other property they claim is connected to drug offenses.

I would add just one point to Sullum’s superb column. The War on Drugs is not only responsible for the horrid policy of asset forfeiture, it’s also the excuse for costly and intrusive laws on “money laundering.”

I’ll close with a few additional observations.

I’ve previously explained why the War on Drugs is pointless and counterproductive.

My argument isn’t that drugs do no harm. Instead, I want people to understand that the social harm of criminalization is much greater than the social harm of legalization.

If you want some additional data, I strongly recommend this collection of tweets by Joshua Collins.

And here’s the logic – or lack of logic – of the War on Drugs captured in an image.

I call this the lather-rinse-repeat cycle of government failure.

P.S. Mark Perry is also famous for his Venn diagrams that expose hypocrisy (see here, here, here, here, and here). He even motivated me to create my own version.

 

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In recent months, governments released prisoners and announced that some laws wouldn’t be enforced because of the coronavirus. Now, with protests against police misbehavior, we’re seeing governments fail to maintain law and order.

As suggested by this excellent Reason video, these developments bolster the case against gun control.

But does this mean politicians will be more supportive of the 2nd Amendment?

The answer (at least for anyone with an IQ above room temperature) should be yes.

From an economic perspective, one major goal is to change the cost-benefit analysis for criminals. If bad guys have to worry that good guys may be armed, that significantly increases the potential cost of illegal behavior.

A well-functioning system of law enforcement can help, of course, but that’s not a description of how things work in some communities – even in normal times, much less when there’s civil unrest.

But all this evidence and analysis doesn’t seem to matter for Joe Biden. A look at his campaign website shows support for a wide range of gun-control laws from the soon-to-be Democratic nominee.

…gun violence is a public health epidemic. …In 1994, Biden – along with Senator Dianne Feinstein – secured the passage of 10-year bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. As president, Joe Biden will defeat the NRA again. …As president, Biden will: …Ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. …Regulate possession of existing assault weapons under the National Firearms Act. …Biden supports legislation restricting the number of firearms an individual may purchase per month to one. …End the online sale of firearms and ammunitions. …Give states incentives to set up gun licensing programs.

What’s especially discouraging is that Biden apparently hasn’t learned anything about so-called assault weapons since 1994.

In a 2019 column for Reason, Jacob Sullum dissected Biden’s incoherent views on the topic.

Joe Biden…is still proud of the ban on “assault weapons”… Biden argues that it made mass shootings less common…, citing a study reported in The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery last January. But that is not what the researchers, led by New York University epidemiologist Charles DiMaggio, actually found. …The study…looked not at the number of mass shootings, as Biden claims, but the number of mass-shooting deaths as a share of all firearm homicides. The difference in total fatalities during the period when the ban was in effect amounted to 15 fewer deaths over a decade, or 1.5 a year on average, including mass shootings that did not involve weapons covered by the ban. …The causal mechanism imagined by Biden is even harder to figure out. He describes “assault weapons” as “military-style firearms designed to fire rapidly.” But they do not fire any faster than any other semi-automatic. …Under the 1994 ban, removing “military-style” features such as folding stocks, flash suppressors, or bayonet mounts transformed forbidden “assault weapons” into legal firearms, even though the compliant models fired the same ammunition at the same rate with the same muzzle velocity as the ones targeted by the law.

I wonder if Biden understands the policy he’s advocating.

Does he think that “assault weapons” are actual machine guns, capable of firing multiple rounds with one pull on the trigger (a remarkably common misconception among gun-control advocates)?

Or, if he understands that a so-called assault weapon is just like any other gun (firing one round each time the trigger is pulled), then why would he think anything would be achieved by banning some guns and leaving others (that work the same way) legal?

Perhaps most relevant, does he even care what the evidence shows?

The bottom line is that people are “voting with their dollars” for gun ownership for the simple reason that they know it’s unwise to trust government (either to protect them from crime or to respect their rights).

But that doesn’t mean their constitutional freedoms will be secure if Biden wins the 2020 election.

P.S. The good news is that there will be widespread civil disobedience if politicians push for new gun bans.

P.P.S. Another silver lining is that we’ll get more and more clever humor mocking gun control.

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One week ago, I wrote about how the welfare state creates high implicit marginal tax rates, thus making it difficult for low-income people to climb out of poverty and dependence.

But that’s not the only way that poor people are victimized by big government.

Another very serious problem is the way local and state governments impose a plethora of fees, fines and charges that can wreck the lives of the less fortunate.

In a column for the New York Times, Professor Bernadette Atahuene of the Chicago-Kent College of Law opines on the problem of greedy local governments.

I coined the term “predatory cities” to describe urban areas where public officials systematically take property from residents and transfer it to public coffers… Ferguson, Mo., is one well-known predatory city. As a 2015 Department of Justice report showed, the police in Ferguson systematically targeted African-Americans and subjected them to excessive fines and fees. …local courts issued arrest warrants for unpaid fines and fees… Minor offenses, like parking infractions, resulted in jail time… The Ferguson Police Department and courts prioritized revenue raising over public safety, transforming Ferguson into a predatory city.

Professor Atahuene cites the pernicious policies of New Orleans and Washington, D.C. (and note that asset forfeiture is one of the problems).

New Orleans is another. …Orleans Parish Criminal District Court’s primary source of funding was the fines and fees it collected. This created a structural incentive for judges to aggressively and erroneously pursue payment from those with no ability to pay, turning New Orleans into a predatory city. Washington, D.C., is yet another predatory city. While civil asset forfeiture laws allow the police to seize property that they suspect was involved in a crime, in Washington, D.C., property owners had to post bonds of up to $2,500 in order to challenge the seizure. If the owner could not raise money in time, the D.C. Police Department sold the property, and the money went into its annual budget. In a two-year period, the Police Department made $4.8 million in profit by seizing money from over 8,500 people as well as seizing 339 vehicles.

Every decent human being should get upset about the grotesque way that politicians are mistreating their residents.

Especially since poor people are being disproportionately victimized.

By the way, it appears that Professor Atahuene is not a libertarian. She wants Congress to approve a big bailout, based on the theory that state and local politicians will be less likely to engage in what I’ve called “rapacious revenue-raising tactics” if they get big buckets of money from Uncle Sam.

Needless to say, I think that would be a mistake.

But I don’t think someone needs to agree with me on everything, or even most things, if we can periodically find common ground on proposals that would improve the lives of people (not just on the need to curtail greedy local governments, but also on issues such as over-criminalization and police unions).

P.S. I wonder if there would be fewer petty fines, fees, and charges if they were levied on the ability to pay, thus making higher-income people more sensitive to the problem?

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In some cities, legitimate protests about abusive and improper police behavior have degenerated into riots.

One consequence of this mayhem is that police don’t have the manpower to effectively protect households and businesses.

In same cases, as shown by this tweet, a police chief even gave a green light to looters even though taxpayers pay generous salaries to cops because they’re supposed to protect our lives and possessions.

 

This would be a good opportunity to point out how this is another sad example of government being so big and bloated that it can’t fulfill its core roles of protecting life, liberty, and property.

But I want to focus on a more narrow issue, which is why it is vital for citizens to have the right to own firearms so they can protect themselves when there are breakdowns in social order and cops can’t (or won’t) help out.

I wrote about this issue back in 2011, observing that Europeans were largely helpless during that year’s civil unrest because governments had stripped them of the right to self defense.

I also specifically compared helpless British victims of rioting to armed shopkeepers in Los Angeles who were able to protect themselves when there were riots in that city.

Today’s unrest is providing even more evidence. There are already dozens of stories about citizens protecting themselves and their businesses because law enforcement isn’t available.

Here’s one example.

What began as a peaceful protest in Cleveland on Saturday—over the death of George Floyd at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer— turned violent as the day progressed, prompting Mayor Frank Jackson to issue an 8 p.m. curfew and to request National Guard reinforcements to protect the city from rioters. Corbo’s, a tiny family-owned bakery in the city’s historic Playhouse Square district, took matters into their own hands, brandishing their firearms when rioters came calling. …rioters and looters can be seen approaching Corbo’s Bakery, taunting the owners and threatening them with iron rods and a large pylon with a heavy metal base. Three men stood in the doorway of the bakery, defending their property and exercising their Second Amendment rights. A minute later the rioters were gone, having moved on to the business next door, where they shattered a massive storefront window… Rash asks the men protecting Corbo’s whether or not they have insurance that would cover damage from the rioters. “I mean, really, is it worth having someone get shot? Are you shooting someone over an insured place? But why?” “That’s not the point,” one of the armed Corbo’s workers replied. “Well, it is the point,” Rash counters. “But what if someone accidentally got shot?” An African American bystander defended the bakers, saying, “They just trying to defend they’re sh–.” “You’re out here with guns!” Rash exclaims. “I’m on my fu–ing property,” says a baker

Thankfully, there ultimately was no violence in this encounter.

It’s also worth noting that there was no looting. Another successful example of why it’s so helpful to have private gun ownership.

I wonder if the chaos across the nation is a “learnable moment” for some people. Here’s a tweet from a psychologist in New York.

Supporters of the 2nd Amendment often point out that cops are just minutes away when trouble is seconds away. Well, Mr. Kaufman learned that sometimes the police aren’t just minutes away. They can be hours away or not available at all.

Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I hope he now realizes that his earlier calls for gun control were misguided. Unless, of course, he plans to defend himself with Tide pods.

I’ll close with two items. First, I’ll recycle my 2011 poll to see why (or if) people support the right to keep and bear arms. Interesting, the coronavirus (which led to the release of criminals and police announcements that some laws wouldn’t be enforced) produced an increase in the number of people (up from 14.43 percent) who answered “To protect myself and my family if we suffer a societal breakdown.”

Given what’s happening each night in our cities, I’m guessing that number will increase.

Second, I’ll also recycle this image that I shared when writing about the looting that occurred after Hurricane Sandy.

It’s amusing, but I like sharing it because it gives me an opportunity to remind people about the role of incentives.

At the risk of stating the obvious, looters are unlikely to go after this neighborhood and they’re going to be far more likely to cause mayhem in a place like New York City, where an incompetent city government basically gives crooks a free pass and there are tragic restrictions on gun ownership.

P.S. As noted above, I hope Mr. Kaufman has an epiphany. Sort of like the one that Justin Cronin experienced when he dealt with a breakdown of civil order.

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Yesterday’s column focused on how police unions protect the bad apples who misbehave and therefore cause some people to resent law enforcement, especially in the minority community.

Curtailing the role of those unions would be an important step to create better bonds between the police and the citizenry.

Today’s column will explain the need to repeal or substantially curtail the doctrine of “qualified immunity,” which was created by courts to protect cops who trample on people’s rights.

It’s not a complete answer, just as fixing the union problem isn’t a complete answer. But getting rid of the doctrine at least will give citizens the opportunity to bring lawsuits when cops disregard their civil liberties. This tweet is a good summary for those who don’t have time to dig into the topic.

But hopefully you do have time to investigate this issue.

Here are excerpts from four articles about problems with qualified immunity.

This is not a new issue for libertarians and principled conservatives. Glenn Reynolds pointed out the injustice of the doctrine back in 2013 in a column for USA Today.

And David French condemned the practice in a piece for National Review in 2018.

Judges created qualified immunity, and they can end it. It’s past time to impose true accountability on public servants who violate citizens’ constitutional rights. First, some background. Since 1871, federal law has permitted Americans to file lawsuits against public officials who violate their constitutional rights. It’s a powerful tool that essentially deputizes members of the public to defend their own liberties. …However, after generations of judges have interpreted the statute, the phrase “shall be liable” has come to mean “may occasionally be liable.” …In 1982, …the law changed. In a case called Harlow v. Fitzgerald, the Supreme Court concocted the modern doctrine of qualified immunity. …As the doctrine developed, to prove that a right is clearly established, the plaintiff generally had to find and cite a remarkably similar case, with nearly identical facts, decided by a court of controlling jurisdiction. …the entire notion of “clearly established law” rests on a series of absurd, fantastical premises. Are we really to believe that a police officer doesn’t know he shouldn’t pound on the wrong door and blow away the innocent occupant unless a court said so in a case, say, five years before?

Writing for Reason, Professor Ilya Somin explains how fixing this bad bit of judge-made law could improve policing.

…there is much that can be done to curb police abuses. …The problem is not that police officers are unusually bad people. It’s that they have bad incentives, under which they are rarely held accountable for abuses. Those incentives can and should be altered. An important first step would be to get rid of the legal doctrine of “qualified immunity,” under which law enforcement officers are immune from suits for violating citizens’ constitutional rights… The Supreme Court interprets the term “clearly established” so narrowly that officers routinely get away with horrendous abuses… Qualified immunity is not required by the Constitution or even by a federal statute. It is a purely judge-made doctrine made up by the Supreme Court itself in a misguided effort to protect law enforcement officers from excessive litigation. …Both Justice Clarence Thomas, the Court’s most conservative member, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor, the most liberal, have been severely critical of qualified immunity. There is a real chance they can persuade at least three of their colleagues to take the same view. …state and local governments might respond by indemnifying police officers for the damages they have to pay in such cases. But even if that happens, it would still be a step in the right direction. Indemnification costs money that many local governments will be loathe to pay. They will therefore have an incentive to crack down on abusive officers, particularly repeat offenders who routinely force authorities to pay out large sums…

Thank goodness for Clarence Thomas. Not only is he one of the leaders in trying to address qualified immunity, he’s also a leader in the campaign to get rid of the odious practice of asset forfeiture, which effectively creates an incentive for government to steal private property.

Writing for the Bulwark, Clark Neilly adds his two cents to the discussion.

In determining the relationship between government and governed, one of the most important decisions a society can make is how accountable those who wield official power must be to those against whom that power is wielded. Congress made a clear choice in that regard when it passed the Enforcement Act of 1871, which we now call “Section 1983”… Simply put, Section 1983 creates a standard of strict liability by providing that state actors “shall be liable to the party injured” for “the deprivation of any rights.” Thus, if a police officer walks up to your house and peeks inside one of your windows without a warrant—a clear violation of your Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches—he is liable to you for the violation of that right. …many conservatives…abandon their stated commitment to textualism and embrace an “interpretation” of Section 1983 that is utterly divorced from its text. The vehicle for this…“living statutory interpretivism” is the Supreme Court’s qualified immunity doctrine, which judicially amends Section 1983 to provide that the standard for liability will no longer be the deprivation of “any rights”—as Congress expressly provided—but rather the deprivation of any “clearly established” rights. …the only avenue of accountability for most victims of police misconduct is a civil rights lawsuit that they themselves can initiate without the largesse of some prosecutor or citizen review board.

Last but not least, in a new column for USA Today, Patrick Jaicomo and Anya Bidwell of the Institute for Justice explain some of the legal issues.

The Supreme Court created qualified immunity in 1982. With that novel invention, the court granted all government officials immunity for violating constitutional and civil rights… Although innocuous sounding, the clearly established test is a legal obstacle nearly impossible to overcome. It requires a victim to identify an earlier decision by the Supreme Court, or a federal appeals court in the same jurisdiction holding that precisely the same conduct under the same circumstances is illegal or unconstitutional. If none exists, the official is immune. …When the Supreme Court conceived qualified immunity, it promised that the rule would not provide a “license to lawless conduct” for government officials. Plainly, it has.

And here are some examples they cite.

And let’s not forget the examples of misbehavior I’ve cited in the past (examples hereherehereherehere, and here).

The point of this column is not to criticize or condemn cops as a group, but to highlight a bad policy that causes citizens to feel hostility against (what I assume to be) the vast majority of cops who do their jobs the right way.

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Since I’m a “right libertarian” according to the political compass test, it’s no surprise that I’m generally sympathetic to cops (notwithstanding my undesired encounters).

But with important caveats.

And it goes without saying that I want a range of reactions – from scorn to punishment – when individual police officers make dumb choices (examples here, here, here, here, here, and here).

But there’s one issue that I haven’t addressed, and it’s very relevant considering the civil unrest and rioting caused by George Floyd’s death in Minnesota – and that issues is the degree to which overly powerful police unions enable bad behavior.

Professor Alex Tabarrok explains how police officers who misbehave get special privileges not available to the rest of us.

…union contracts and Law Officer “Bill of Rights” give police legal privileges that regular people don’t get. In 50 cities and 13 states, for example, union contracts “restrict interrogations by limiting how long an officer can be interrogated, who can interrogate them, the types of questions that can be asked, and when an interrogation can take place.” In Virginia police officers have a right to at least a five-day delay before being interrogated. In Louisiana police officers have up to 30 days during which no questioning is allowed and they cannot be questioned for sustained periods of time or without breaks. In some cities, police officers can only be interrogated during work hours. Regular people do not get these privileges. …how do you think complainants feel knowing that the police officer they are complaining about “must be informed of the names of all complainants.” I respect and admire police officers but frankly I think this rule is dangerous. …In the United States if you are arrested–even for a misdemeanor or minor crime, even if the charges are dropped, even if you are found not guilty–you will likely be burdened with an arrest record that can increase the difficulty of getting a job, an occupational license, or housing. But even in the unlikely event that a police officer is officially reprimanded many states and cities require that such information is automatically erased after a year or two. The automatic erasure of complaints makes it difficult to identify problem officers or a pattern of abuse.

In an article for National Review, Theodore Kupfer has a searing indictment of police unions.

Public-sector employees who belong to unions are used to special treatment, and police officers, apparently, are no different. There are little or no private alternatives to the services schoolteachers, air-traffic controllers, police officers, and prison guards provide. Their unions negotiate directly with politicians, and can demand policies that benefit them — if not the taxpayers who foot the bill — because no elected official wants to risk a catastrophic strike. The result is a tacit, unsavory bargain in which politicians and civil servants join together to direct public funding and exclusive privileges to the most favored of all interest groups: politicians and civil servants. …This is a shame. Law-enforcement unions shape our criminal-justice policies for the worse and encourage irresponsible public spending to achieve their own ends. …police unions…insist that their members have special “bills of rights” that shield them from accountability for misconduct. With a voting base that traditionally respects first responders, such concessions can be a political winner for Republicans. But they also have pernicious effects which ought to worry conservatives not comfortable with increasing the power of the state at the expense of the citizenry. …Researchers at the University of Chicago have even found that allowing law-enforcement officials collective-bargaining rights increases the risk of misconduct.

Let’s look at an astounding example of how powerful police unions generate absurd results.

This tweet tells you everything you need to know.

If you want more information about that tragic debacle, Robby Soave is a must-read writer for Reason, and here’s some of what he wrote about the reactions of law enforcement.

It’s the story of catastrophic failure at every level of law enforcement, beginning with a corrupt and incompetent sheriff’s office warned on multiple occasions about the specific threat posed by Cruz. The Broward County sheriff’s office received at least 18 tips between 2008 and 2017 concerning Cruz. A November 2017 caller described him as a “school shooter in the making.” Despite knowing that Cruz was in possession of a cache of weapons, the sheriff’s office passed the buck… On the day of the shooting, …Officer Scot Peterson, an employee of the sheriff’s office, refused to enter the school and confront Cruz, as did three Broward County Sheriff’s deputies who had arrived on scene. These were stunning indictments of Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, a man who responded to accusations of corruption by comparing himself to Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi, and Martin Luther King. …law enforcement’s spectacular failure before, during, and after the Parkland shooting should be a more pressing topic of discussion. …many of these agencies prove themselves to be wildly incompetent for reasons ranging from arrogant leadership and individual cowardice, to toxic workplace culture and shoddy internal systems.

In other words, the problem was government, not a lack of gun control.

But I’m digressing.

Let’s close with a final observation about the perverse effect of collective bargaining for cops.

I disapprove when police unions conspire with local politicians to get excessive pay and special protections (a very common outcome for other types of government employees).

And I definitely don’t like it when cops are turned into overly aggressive deputy tax collectors because of greedy local governments.

But it’s presumably far worse for society when police officers use excessive force against citizens like George Floyd and Eric Garner because unions shield them from adverse consequences.

P.S. My limited collection of police-related humor can be found here, here, and here.

P.P.S. Here’s my two cents on how to most effectively protest for better police behavior.

P.P.P.S. And here’s my quiz to gauge everyone’s reaction to a unique form of protest.

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About 10 years ago, when Europe was in the midst of fiscal crisis, advocates for welfare spending rioted in some nations.

Given the continent’s grim long-run outlook, that got me thinking about the potential for a future breakdown of civil order and I wrote that it was tragic that most people in Europe didn’t have the right to own guns for self-protection.

Which led to this interview with NRA TV.

Today, the big concern is coronavirus rather than a future collapse of the welfare state

But it does raise the same issue of how to protect yourself and your family if there’s a breakdown or erosion of civil order.

I don’t think that’s imminent, but these headlines are somewhat worrisome.

We’ll start with an example from CNN that’s relatively benign.

But we then learn that the changes involve lack of enforcement and releasing crooks.

From MSN.

From Syracuse.com.

From the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

From NBC.

I’ve saved the best headline for last.

Call me crazy, but I don’t think crooks are likely to comply with such a request. After all, they wouldn’t be committing crimes if they were civic minded.

Which is why, when I read these types of stories, it reinforces my belief in the 2nd Amendment.

I want to protect people’s civil liberties for all sorts of reasons, and self-protection in extraordinary circumstances surely belongs on that list.

So the moral of the story is that what’s happening now is another strong argument against gun control.

Let’s close with this poll, which I originally shared back in 2013. I’ll be curious whether there will an increase in the percentage of people (14.43 percent as of this morning) citing “societal breakdown.”

P.S. Here’s a column from someone on the left who became a gun-rights supporter after dealing with the chaos caused by a natural disaster.

P.S.S. And let’s not forget the Korean merchants who defended their lives and property during the L.A. riots.

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Back in 2012, I asked readers to pretend they were criminals and to contemplate whether they would want to rob a house with armed residents.

This “IQ test” was designed to help people understand that cost-benefit analysis applies to all types of human behavior, including criminality. Some criminals are smart and some criminals are stupid, but all of them want to get the most benefit at the lowest cost.

And, at the risk of understatement, the possibility of getting shot is definitely a potential cost.

But don’t take my word for it. A Colorado TV station has a very revealing story about burglars engaging in cost-benefit analysis.

In the dead of night, when no one is awake — that’s when it’s most likely that a burglar will break into your home. It usually happens in minutes, but of all the house on the block, the thieves picked yours. What about your house made it a target? Two El Paso County jail inmates are spilling their secrets. They are two men behinds dozens of break-ins back in 2011. …Their opportunities came in the form of doors left unlocked, garage doors never closed and patio screens unlatched… When asked, what in a home will make you turn away? …They say any indication on your home or vehicles that you could fight back could keep them away. Inmate #2 explains, “If it’s something that says you’re Republican, you’re not going to get hit because Republicans like their 2nd Amendment rights. They love carrying guns. I’m not going to mess with that guy.” …”I don’t know if you’re in there with a shotgun waiting for me. We’re literally terrified,” Inmate #1 says.

Here’s a screenshot from the interview.

The obvious takeaway is that criminals prefer unarmed victims (as do dictators, terrorists, mass shooters, etc).

This is common sense, which is why some folks on the left have had epiphanies on the issue of guns.

It also may explain why a strong majority of Americans agreed that gun ownership promotes safety.

Nearly six in 10 Americans say that gun ownership increases safety…58 percent agree with the statement that gun ownership does more to increase safety by allowing law-abiding citizens to protect themselves. …These findings represent a reversal from 1999, when a majority — 52 percent — said gun ownership reduces safety. And they come at a time when 47 percent of American adults say they have a firearm in the household, up from 44 percent in 1999.

There was a very recent episode in Texas that underscores why it’s important for good people to possess weapons.

New Texas gun laws made it possible for a security team at the West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement to act quickly and save countless lives of worshipers on Sunday, some lawmakers said. A gunman killed two people before a member of the congregation’s security team fatally shot him. “…we have taken a number of steps to help make sure that our places of worship — which should be a refuge from evils of the world — are safe for all who attend,” Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said… State Sen. Donna Campbell…said the new law worked. “This is clearly why it was passed,” she said. “Evil is out there. But it’s not the gun. It’s the person who has control of the gun.” …State Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, echoed the sentiment. …“The Texas Legislature understood there were some weaknesses in the laws preventing law abiding Texans from protecting themselves,” Krause said. “I think we saw the benefits of those recent laws taking effect.”

The gunman presumably thought the church was filled with unarmed victims.

Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. And this will send a signal to other lunatics. At least in Texas.

An entire town in Georgia is sending a message to bad guys about potentially very high costs.

An unconventional welcome sign greets visitors….addressing would-be criminals and warning them not to cross the locals.“Welcome to Harris County, Georgia,” it reads, sarcastically adding: “Our citizens have concealed weapons. If you kill someone, we might kill you back. We have ONE jail and 356 cemeteries. Enjoy your stay! -Sheriff Mike Jolley.” The sheriff said it’s his saucy way of welcoming people to his county while…warning them that a number of the citizens exercise their right to bear arms. …Jolley said over that the past several years, concealed weapon permits in Harris County have tripled. …Jolley said he is giving out-of-towners fair notice about what they can expect.

Crooks presumably realize that there are some unarmed homes in Harris County, notwithstanding the sign, but this message may influence their cost-benefit analyses.

The bottom line is that there are bad people in the world and gun-free zones (whether in public areas or private homes) tilt the playing field in favor of those bad people.

Which is why the idea is so ripe for satire (also see here and here).

P.S. Speaking of satire, this comparison of Chicago and Houston is entertaining.

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Other than an occasional column about events in my home county of Fairfax, I’ve never written about public policy in Virginia.

This is because the Commonwealth has had a dull profile. It doesn’t have a track record of notably good policies, such as Florida and Texas, and it doesn’t have a track record of notably bad policies, such as Illinois or New Jersey.

But that’s changed now that Democrats have total control of government and are trying to restrict Second Amendment rights.

Here are excerpts from a report immediately after last November’s elections.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday said he will reintroduce gun control measures in the upcoming legislative sessions now that Democrats have taken control “…These are common-sense pieces of legislation,” he told CNN’s John Berman on “New Day.” “I will introduce those again in January. And I’m convinced, with the majority now in the House and the Senate, they’ll become law…”Northam and Democrats will now have an advantage in the assembly to pursue gun control measures that Republicans have pushed against and blocked. …A ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and reinstating Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month law were among eight policy proposals Northam introduced ahead of the session.

From a policy perspective, Northam and his allies are misguided.

In a tweet,Stephen Gutowski debunks some of the Governor’s demagoguery.

And the invaluable John Lott touches on another error in his Townhall column,

Democrats, who just took control of the Virginia state legislature, are about to pass a law that will dramatically limit the ability of people with concealed handgun permits from other states to carry in Virginia. …Currently, Virginia recognizes concealed handgun permits issued by all other states. Out-of-state permit holders can carry in Virginia as long as they follow local laws and carry photo identification. …If state Democrats and Henning get their way, criminals will only need to look for an out of state license plates to know who to attack. …There’s no good reason not to issue permits much more generously. Permit holders are extremely law-abiding… Police rarely commit crimes… But permit holders are even more law-abiding, facing a conviction rate that is just one-tenth as often. …there is a reason that over 86% of police chiefs and sheriffs support national reciprocity. And over 90 percent of street officers support concealed handgun laws. These are the people who see first-hand how reciprocity and concealed carry works. Overwhelmingly academic research finds that letting people carry concealed handguns reduces crime.

But this isn’t just an issue of bad policy (I strongly recommend this column if you want to learn more about the senselessness of proposals to impose gun control).

It’s also an example of how ordinary citizens can – and should – engage in civil disobedience.

The Wall Street Journal recently opined on how counties are voting to become sanctuaries for the Second Amendment.

Eighty-six of Virginia’s 95 counties have passed…sanctuary measures opposing restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms. They suggest that the counties might not enforce new state laws limiting gun rights. …Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has made gun control a priority… Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw would make it a felony to sell, manufacture, purchase or possess so-called assault weapons and large-capacity magazines. …one state representative wants to call in the National Guard to enforce gun laws, and another has introduced a bill that requires firing police officers who don’t enforce a gun statute. …But the sanctuary movement has a point about the Constitution. The Supreme Court confirmed in its landmark Heller ruling that individuals have the right to bear arms, but politicians have often ignored it. …Sanctuary counties that decline to enforce Virginia laws are endorsing lawlessness. But it is no less lawless when the courts or politicians ignore Supreme Court decisions.

And the Washington Examiner reports on protests from citizens across the state.

Some 100,000 Virginia gun owners who have rallied at county and town meetings for “gun sanctuaries”…the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which is leading the gun sanctuary movement…issued an “alert” to supporters to start lobbying lawmakers in Richmond against gun control. He said that the new anti-gun laws from Democrats are “pouring in like a waterfall.” …Van Cleave’s group and another organization, Gun Owners of America, have helped to spark a pro-gun movement in Virginia that did not exist before Democrats swept the November 2019 elections. In the two months since, they led the sanctuary movement that has won approval in 94% of the state. …“Virginia had been a very free state for a long time. This is where freedom started…people are looking at Virginia, saying our freedom started here and … we’ll be damned if it ends here,” he added.

Indeed, there’s a big protest planned in Richmond for January 20.

And the Governor is quite nervous, as reported by NPR.

Fearing potential violence, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam is declaring a state of emergency and is banning firearms and other weapons on the Capitol grounds in Richmond ahead of a gun rights demonstration… The event, hosted by Virginia Citizens Defense League, is expected to draw thousands of armed demonstrators, some from out of state. …On a Facebook page organizing the gun rights demonstration hosted by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, several commenters expressed frustration at Northam’s move to restrict guns from the Capitol grounds. One wrote, “This is simply a move to infringe on not only our 2nd Amendment rights but our 1st Amendment rights as well.”

By the way, there are sanctuary movements and other forms of civil disobedience all across the nation.

I’ve already written about such efforts in Colorado and Connecticut, and the Wall Street Journal reports on what’s now happening in New Mexico and Illinois.

…in New Mexico, 30 of 33 county sheriffs have signed a letter pledging to not help enforce several gun-control measures supported by Democrats in Santa Fe, according to the state’s sheriff association. The sheriffs, who are elected, say they are heeding the wishes of voters in the counties they serve. More than two dozen counties in the state have enacted “sanctuary” resolutions backing the sheriffs and affirming that no tax dollars in their jurisdictions should go to enforcing the proposed laws. …Elsewhere, about 60 counties in Illinois have approved—some by ballot measures—pro-Second Amendment resolutions, according to the Illinois State Rifle Association. …More than half of Washington’s sheriffs have denounced a gun-control package…as an unconstitutional and unenforceable step toward banning semiautomatic weapons. …In 2013, Colorado sheriffs joined a lawsuit in protest of expanded background checks and restrictions on higher-capacity ammunition magazines… Colorado sheriffs have very rarely charged anyone with violations, according to Dave Kopel, an attorney and scholar who represented the plaintiffs.

The article cites a law professor who explains that there is a downside to civil disobedience.

Norman Williams, a Willamette University law professor…drew a distinction between prosecutorial discretion and a categorical refusal to enforce a law. The latter undermines the rule of law, he said.

That’s a very fair point. But I also agree with the Wall Street Journal‘s argument that it is also “lawless when the courts or politicians ignore Supreme Court decisions.”

And that’s a perfect description of the actions of Northam and the rest of the anti-gun crowd.

Let’s close with a map showing the widespread resistance to the Virginia Governor’s anti-Second Amendment efforts.

Hopefully, more green has been added to this map over the past two weeks (though keep in mind that a big chunk of the state’s population lives in the handful of localities – Richmond, Northern Virginia, etc – that have not joined the resistance).

P.S. As noted above, civil disobedience is not the ideal way to deal with bad government policy. But when laws are immoral, despicable, and/or unconstitutional (everything from wretched Jim Crow laws to predatory traffic cameras), then I fully understand why ordinary citizens choose not to comply.

P.P.S. On a related note, citizens can also resist bad law by engaging in “jury nullification.”

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When I wrote yesterday’s column, which augmented my collection of satire about gun control, I had no idea I would feel compelled 24 hours later to address the issue from a serious perspective.

But two tragic events over the weekend underscore why the individual right of gun ownership is such an important part of the Constitution.

First, an anti-Semitic nutjob attacked Jews Saturday night.

At least five people have been stabbed in an attack at a synagogue in New York’s Rockland County. That attacker is now reportedly in custody after fleeing the scene. …The suspect has been identified as 37-year-old Grafton Thomas, of Greenwood Lake, New York, in Orange County. Thomas, covering his face with a scarf, reportedly entered the building and pulled out a machete to attack the victims during a Chanukah celebration. Thomas reportedly chased after and stabbed victims as they fled the synagogue before running off and escaping in a gray Nissan Sentra. …This incident happened amid a rash of anti-Semitic attacks this week. …“We will NOT allow this to become the new normal. We’ll use every tool we have to stop these attacks once and for all. The NYPD has deployed a visible and growing presence around Jewish houses of worship on the streets in communities like Williamsburg, Crown Heights and Boro Park,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio added in a tweet.

Needless to say, Mayor de Blasio is being dishonest when he claims he will “use every tool…to stop these attacks.”

Like politicians in Europe, he’s a dogmatic opponent of private gun ownership and believes Jews shouldn’t be allowed to defend themselves.

Fortunately, Jews who live outside New York City still enjoy some civil liberties and are now prepared to thwart attackers.

More power to these people, who are the Orthodox Jewish versions of these good ol’ boys from Texas.

For what it’s worth, I suspect dirtbags will be less likely to target the Jews in Rockland Country.

There was another attack at a house of worship over the weekend.

Though this report from Texas has a happy ending.

Police said they received a call shortly before 10 a.m. local time about gunshots at the West Freeway Church of Christ, in a suburb a less than an hour from downtown Fort Worth. After the suspect entered the church and fired a weapon, “a couple of members of the church returned fire,” killing the alleged shooter, state officials said at a news conference. …Gov. Greg Abbott (R) condemned the “evil act of violence” in a statement, adding: “Places of worship are meant to be sacred, and I am grateful for the church members who acted quickly to take down the shooter and help prevent further loss of life.” …New laws that took effect in 2019 allow Texans with concealed-carry permits to bring guns to places of worship unless a sign is posted prohibiting it.

The happy ending is that the bad guy was killed by armed members of the congregation, presumably minimizing the death toll.

I’ve joked before about Texans and guns, but we have a real-world case of how lives are saved. And what happened over the weekend wasn’t the first time.

Let’s now shift from anecdotes to data.

A few years ago, John Lott looked at the evidence about gun-free zones, armed citizens, and mass shootings.

…not one of the mass shootings since at least 2000…would’ve been stopped by these laws. Nor would renewing the federal “assault weapons” ban solve the problem; even research paid for by Bill Clinton’s administration found no evidence the ban reduced any type of crime. …a young ISIS sympathizer planned a shooting at one of the largest churches in Detroit. An FBI wire recorded him explaining why he had picked the church as a target: “It’s easy, and a lot of people go there. Plus people are not allowed to carry guns in church.” …PoliceOne, a private organization with 450,000 members (380,000 full-time active law enforcement and 70,000 retired), polled its members in 2013 shortly after the Newtown, Conn., massacre. Eighty percent of respondents said allowing legally armed citizens to carry guns in places such as Newtown and Aurora would have reduced the number of casualties. …According to police and prosecutors, there have been dozens of cases of permit holders clearly stopping what would have been mass public shootings. It’s understandable these killers avoid places where they can’t kill a large number of people. Research I have conducted with economist Bill Landes looked at 13 different types of gun-control laws. Right-to-carry laws were the only type that made a difference in the rate and severity of these mass public shootings. …even the most ardent gun-control advocate would never put “Gun-Free Zone” signs on their homes. Let’s finally stop putting them elsewhere.

Amen.

John Lott is an invaluable resource on these issues, as is Jacob Sullum.

Though it’s really an issue of common sense.

Mass shooters are evil, but they’re calculatingly evil. Even if they’re willing to die, they want a high body count. Armed citizens make that less likely.

The bottom lines is that we can save lives by making sure law-abiding people have the right to keep and bear arms.

What happened this past weekend simply provides us with more evidence.

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I wrote a three-part series (here, here, and here) about “jury nullification,” which is the notion that jurors can declare defendants not guilty if they think the underlying law is unjust or immoral.

We have an example of this happening in New Orleans, though it occurred even before a trial.

All New Orleans prosecutors had to do was convince six people that a waiter at a famed French Quarter restaurant was guilty of a felony marijuana charge. But as it turned out, there weren’t enough people willing to consider that possibility on Tuesday. Potential jurors who said they don’t think marijuana should be illegal helped scotch the planned trial of Antoine’s server Jabar Kensey before he could face the music. …Call it a sign of the times. Ad hoc Criminal District Court Judge Dennis Waldron halted the selection process after 20 of 25 potential jurors were dropped and no more jurors remained in the day’s pool. …The right of jurors to voice their objections to criminal laws stretches back centuries, according to Texas defense attorney Clay Conrad. He said the courts have upheld the power of jurors to “nullify” charges with acquittals, despite overwhelming evidence of a defendant’s guilt, if they object to the underlying law.

It’s also been happening in Georgia, as J.D. Tuccille explains for Reason.

On July 12, a jury in Laurens County, Georgia, found Bernard’s client, Javonnie Mondrea McCoy, “not guilty” of the manufacture of marijuana and of possession of drug-related objects, despite his open admission that he had, in fact, grown the much-demonized plant. That follows on a similar victory last year in the case of Antonio Willis, who was lured into selling the equivalent of a few joints by an undercover cop. In both cases, Bernard emphasized the humanity of the defendants, of their roles as fallible, but decent people who didn’t deserve to be ground up by the wheels of the penal system. …”Hey, what’s going on here?” she wants jurors to ask themselves. “Does it reflect my values?” What Bernard doesn’t do is explicitly ask jurors to “nullify” the laws under which her clients are charged. …Instead, she emphasizes the role of the juror, which she describes as a “powerful and awesome position.” She insists that the very idea of jurors implicitly contains the idea of nullification, and she tries to help them realize how empowered they are.

In a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, Brittany Hunter cites the same heroic Georgia lawyer and examines some broader implications.

Jury Nullification has deep roots in our American legal system and allows jurors to “nullify” a law if they believe it to be unjust. While it is protected under the United States Constitution, it is also explicitly protected under Georgia law as well. Under Article 1, Section 1, Paragraph XI of the Georgia State Constitution, it reads, “the jury shall be the judges of the law and the facts.” …At the heart of jury nullification rests the belief that individuals and their unique circumstances should be taken into account before one is sentenced under an arbitrary or unjust law. And given the state of our criminal justice system, this right is absolutely important. …jury nullification would go on to be used in several important cases in American history. It was used when jurors refused to convict those charged with violating the Fugitive Slave Act and it was also responsible for bringing justice to Vietnam War protesters in the case of United States v. Moylan. Jury nullification was also largely responsible for ending alcohol prohibition.

To conclude, Kirsten Tynan of the Fully Informed Jury Association opines on the issue and highlights America’s long tradition of liberty-minded jurors.

Each year on September 5, we celebrate Jury Rights Day as our signature day of education. Jury Rights Day commemorates the 1670 trial of William Penn, which helped lay a solid foundation for jurors’ right of conscience acquittal by jury nullification. We also celebrate Constitution Day on September 17. …Though conscientious acquittal has roots in civil liberties such as freedoms of religion, speech, and association, did you know that it is also closely tied, in the history of the United States, to economic liberty? …British colonists in America did not simply grumble and then capitulate by paying their taxes. Often they actively resisted by breaking laws in order to evade taxes. It was difficult for the Crown to secure convictions when resisters were judged by juries composed of their sympathetic and similarly oppressed neighbors—many willing to vote not guilty despite the law having been broken.

In an ideal world, of course, we wouldn’t need rogue jurors.

There would be very few laws, and they would be designed to protect life, liberty, and property. And cops and prosecutors would all be fair and honest.

Needless to say, we don’t live in that world.

And since I doubt that ideal scenario will ever materialize, I’m glad many Americans still have a rebellious streak.

So the next time you get called for jury duty, you know what to do if the government is persecuting someone for owning a gun, doing drugs, selling sex, gambling, or anything else that doesn’t involve an actual victim.

If all of us stop convicting people for victimless crimes, maybe politicians will jettison bad laws (yes, I’m fantasizing, but let me enjoy the moment).

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I have a confession. I miss Obama. On the issue of guns, at least.

He was so wrong, yet so ineffective, that it was almost funny.

Heck, it was funny.

Fortunately, he’s decided to make an encore performance. So there’s a new opportunity to puncture his pious pronouncements.

Writing for the Federalist, Ryan Cleckner debunks Obama’s fatuous statements about gun control at a recent speech in Brazil.

On May 30, former president Barack Obama was a keynote speaker at an event in Brazil. …During a conversation with a host on stage during the digital innovation event, Obama took the opportunity to speak negatively about U.S. gun laws. He said, “Our gun laws in the United States don’t make much sense. Anybody can buy any weapon, any time, without much, if any, regulation. They can buy [guns] over the internet, they can buy machine guns.” His statement to a foreign audience includes six lies about our gun laws.

Here are Obama’s six lies, with the concomitant corrections.

1. Anybody Can Buy a Firearm

There are three major federal restrictions on who may purchase firearms in the United States… The first category of persons who may not purchase firearms under federal law is based on age.  Persons under 21 years of age may not purchase handguns from a gun dealer, and persons under 18 years of age may not purchase rifles nor shotguns. The second category of persons who may not purchase firearms under federal law are referred to as “prohibited persons.” This category includes, among others…Felons, Those convicted of domestic violence, Unlawful users of controlled substances, Illegal aliens, Those subject to certain restraining orders, Those adjudicated as mental defectives or committed to mental institutions, Fugitives, and Veterans with dishonorable discharges… The third major category includes non-U.S. citizens.

2. Any Firearm Can Be Purchased

Under federal law, machine guns made after 1986 may not be purchased by civilians (more on this under lie No. 5 below). Also, the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) regulates other firearms which may be purchased, but clearly not in the way insinuated by Obama’s comments (more on this under lie No. 3 below).

3. A Firearm Can Be Purchased at Any Time

When purchasing a firearm from a federally licensed gun dealer (FFL), background-check requirements must be satisfied. In most cases, this includes a background check being run through the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). …Federal background checks may only be run between 8 a.m. and 1 a.m. Eastern… Within the statement that a firearm can be purchased at any time is also the inference that a firearm may be purchased anywhere. This is also false. For example, handguns many only be purchased in a person’s state of residence. Therefore, if a person wants to purchase a handgun while he out of his home state, that is a time at which he is not permitted to purchase a firearm. For the class of firearms covered by the NFA, such as short-barreled rifles, a purchaser must wait until certain paperwork is approved by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). This wait time is often up to 10 months.

4. Firearms Can Be Purchased with Few Regulations

…the United States has many regulations on the purchase and possession of firearms.

5. Firearms Can Be Purchased Over the Internet

It seems clear that Obama wants people to think that a gun can be purchased online and shipped straight to a purchaser’s home like any other online purchase. This is not true. It is technically true that firearms may be purchased online. However, when a person purchases a firearm online from an out-of-state retailer, the firearm must first be shipped to a local FFL, where the purchaser must appear in person to fill out the federally required paperwork and satisfy the background check requirements.

6. Anyone Can Purchase a Machine Gun

…machine guns made after 1986 may not be purchased nor possessed by an ordinary civilian. These machine guns may only be purchased or possessed by FFLs or government entities. Machine guns made before 1986 are still NFA firearms and may only be purchased after the extensive paperwork and wait times that accompany all NFA firearm purchases. Additionally, some local laws outright ban the possession of any machine guns.

It’s unclear whether Obama actually knew he was lying.

I suspect he actually thinks he was being truthful. After all, he lives in a bubble and probably never hears any voices other than those from the leftist echo chamber.

Regardless, what makes this episode especially amusing is that Brazil is moving in the right direction on civil rights for gun owners.

Here are some excerpts from a CNN report in May.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has signed an executive order relaxing gun rules in the country, making it easier to import guns and increasing the amount of ammunition a person can buy in a year. Bolsonaro announced the signing of the decree at a Tuesday news conference, arguing “it is an individual right of the one who may want to have a firearm or seek the possession of a firearm… obviously respecting and fulfilling some requirements.”The conservative provocateur…appears to delivering on his campaign promise to loosen gun laws. …Among the other changes, it simplifies the procedure to transfer the ownership of a firearm, and eases import restrictions on firearms,”allowing free initiative, stimulating competition, rewarding quality and safety, as well as economic freedom, so privileged by the Lord,” the Brazilian government wrote in a statement. …Bolsonaro had previously signed a decree in January making it easier to own a gun in the South American country.

I’m glad that law-abiding people in Brazil now have a better chance of protecting themselves from criminals.

Combined with the spending cap adopted a few years ago, there’s some small reason to hope that Brazil could become the next Chile.

Though we’ll have to wait and see if the country enacts some desperately needed pension reform.

In the meantime, kudos to Bolsonaro for doing the right thing on guns.

And too bad nobody in Brazil asked Obama why Brazil wasn’t following his empty advice.

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My opinions on crime are very straightforward.

This set of principles explains my views on a wide range of issues, such as the War on Drugs, asset forfeiture, money laundering, search and seizure, and the death penalty.

But I sometimes come across an incident that challenges these principles.

Let’s look at a horrible story from Michigan about girls being genitally mutilated.

Dr. Jumana Nagarwala was arrested in April 2017 and accused of leading a criminal conspiracy that involved multiple doctors and resulted in the mutilation of nine girls over the course of twelve years. The practice, which is universally recognized as a gross violation of human rights, is traditional among the Dawoodi Bohra, the Muslim sect to which Nagarwala and his co-conspirators belong.

My visceral instinct is for some tit-for-tat justice. The so-called doctors should receive equivalent treatment, without the benefit of anesthesia.

Since that’s not an option, a very lengthy prison sentence could be the next-best alternative.

But something very unusual happened. The barbaric doctors had been charged by the federal government based on a federal law against genital mutilation, and a judge decided that the statute exceeded the proper powers of the federal government.

A federal judge dismissed charges Tuesday against several Michigan doctors accused of mutilating the genitals of numerous underage girls, ruling that the federal prohibition against the practice is unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge Bernard Friedman argued that the 22-year-old federal law prohibiting female genital mutilation (FGM), which went unused until last year, constitutes federal overreach. …the judge’s ruling entirely clears four defendants in the case, including three mothers who allegedly handed their underage daughters over to Nagarwala to be mutilated.

This is a quandary.

I want the “doctors” to be thrown under the jail, yet part of me is very happy that a federal judge actually acknowledges that the Constitution imposes some limits on federal power.

Too bad Judge Friedman wasn’t sitting in for Justice John Roberts when the Obamacare case was (wrongly) decided.

Anyhow, here’s what has since happened.

In response to the case, Michigan governor Rick Snyder signed new laws prohibiting the practice of FGM, but as those laws applied only to future violations, the defendants in this case were charged under the old federal statute. Twenty-three other states, however, do not have laws banning the practice, leading critics of the judge’s ruling to suggest that parents intent on mutilating their daughters for religious purposes will simply travel to states where they can do so legally.

I have a couple of concluding thoughts.

First, I imagine that all 50 states – even crazy California – will pass laws against this barbaric ritual. So there’s no reason to relax my strong support for federalism.

Second, I hope Michigan authorities figure out how to charge the so-called doctors under existing state laws against assault, kidnapping, and anything else that might work.

In conclusion, I’m not under the illusion that any system will deliver perfect justice. But I do think we would get the best-possible outcomes if we adhered to constitutional principles and restricted the size and scope of the federal government.

P.S. Let’s not forget that jury nullification also should exist as an additional bulwark against bad laws and abusive officials.

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The War on Drugs is a bad idea. Not because people should be using drugs, but rather because the societal harm of prohibition is much greater than the societal harm of legalization.

Moreover, even though I personally disapprove of drug use, I adhere to the libertarian principle that people should be free to do what they want (even stupid things) with their own bodies.

Today, though, let’s focus on the practical argument and look at some fascinating academic research from Evelina Gavrilova, Takuma Kamada, and Floris Zoutman (two economists and a criminologist). Here’s a summary from the abstract of their study.

We examine the effects of medical marijuana laws (MMLs) on crime. …Using data from the Uniform Crime Reports, we show that the introduction of MMLs lead to a decrease of 12.5 percent in violent crime, such as homicides, aggravated assaults and robberies in states that border Mexico. We also show that the reduction in violent crimes is strongest for counties close to the border (less than 350km)… Analysis from the Supplementary Homicide Reports data reveals that the decrease in homicides can largely be attributed to a drop in drug-law related homicides. We find evidence for spillover effects. When an inland state passes a MML, this results in a decrease in crime in the nearest border state. Our results are consistent with the theory that the introduction of MMLs reduces activity by Mexican drug trafficking organizations and their affiliated gangs in the border region. MMLs expose drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) to legitimate competition, and substantially reduce their profits in one of their most lucrative drug markets. This leads to a decrease in drug related crime in the Mexican border area. Our results indicate that decriminalization of the production and distribution of drugs may lead to a reduction in violence in markets where organized drug criminals meet licit competition.

In other words, legalize drugs and you get less violent crime.

And for those who want some of the underlying economic analysis, here’s the relevant section of the study.

Figure 2 represents the market for marijuana. For simplicity we assume that illicit and medical marijuana are perfect substitutes in consumption, such that the supply and demand of both substances can be represented in a single figure. SDTO represents the supply curve for marijuana by DTOs. S0 represents the combined supply of marijuana by DTOs and local farmers that were already active prior to the introduction of a MML. A MML allows for entry of additional local farmers and thus shifts the combined supply to the right to S1. This results in a reduction in the price of the drug, an increase in the overall quantity, and a reduction in the quantity sold by DTOs. The shaded area in the graph depicts the aggregate loss in revenues for DTOs.

Here’s the graph that shows how legalization creates significant losses for drug smugglers.

The shaded area may seem somewhat akin to the deadweight loss caused by taxation, but keep in mind that the losses to drug dealers are a plus to society while the economic losses from bad tax policy are a minus for society.

Now let’s shift from economics to bureaucracy with a story that captures the Drug War mindset (h/t: Reason).

If Illinois legalizes marijuana for recreational use, law enforcement officials fear job losses for hundreds of officers — specifically, the four-legged kind. …There are about 275 certified narcotic detection K-9s in Illinois… Because many K-9s are trained not to be social so their work won’t be affected, Larner said a number of dogs would likely have to be euthanized.

Yes, you read correctly. Defenders of the War on Drugs are threatening that they will kill their dogs if pot is legalized.

Needless to say, this is a perverse version of the Washington Monument Ploy. Quite similar to what happened several years ago in Massachusetts.

Let’s close with a clever – but quite accurate – look at how the current system operates.

I especially like the part at the bottom, which shows the cycle that creates more violence, though it also should have shown ever-higher profits for drug dealers.

The good news is that we’re winning on this issue. More and more states are liberalizing and we’re gaining more and more allies (libertarians such as John Stossel and Gary Johnson,  but also traditional skeptics such as Pat RobertsonCory BookerMona Charen, John McCain, and Richard Branson).

P.S. The one downside to legalization is that politicians get a new source of tax revenue.

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I’m a fan of college football rather than the NFL, so I haven’t paid much attention to the controversy over players protesting against police misbehavior during the national anthem.

However, the topic is now trending. The 2018 season’s about to start and Colin Kaepernick is being featured in a new ad campaign for Nike, so I figure why not insert myself into the discussion.

The bottom line is that Kaepernick and the other players have identified a very real and very important issue.

I’ve written on many occasions about the need for better policing.

Though I don’t think the problem is systemic racism or pervasive brutality.

Some of that exists, of course, but I assume the vast majority of cops want to do a good job and treat people fairly (except when giving me traffic tickets).

The real problem is that politicians have enacted far too many laws, many of which don’t make sense or don’t have any victims, and then they expect the police to use those laws to generate more revenue.

This is a recipe for more Eric Garner tragedies.

That being said, NFL players are not going to win the hearts of middle America by actions that can be portrayed as being anti-flag, anti-police, anti-military, and/or anti-country. Heck, they’re playing into Trump’s hands with that approach.

The players would have much more success (both in terms of the issue and with respect to their own popularity) if they portrayed their cause as one that affirms and extends American ideals.

NFL players should come up with some inclusive pro-America slogan about “The Constitution Protects Everyone” or “The Principles of the Founding Fathers Apply to All Americans.” And then they should be ostentatiously patriotic (in the proper sense), standing for the national anthem, with one hand over their hearts and one hand holding both an American flag and some sort or symbol of their campaign.

Trump would have a hard time attacking that kind of approach.

More important, I’m guessing a lot of Americans who heretofore have been rejecting the message of Kaepernick, et al, may start paying attention. And that would be the ideal outcome. After all, the goal should be to change policy, not generate noise and controversy.

For all intents and purposes, I’m suggesting the football players adopt the strategy Martin Luther King used when fighting Jim Crow laws. Dr. King explained that equality of law was an American principle. He embraced the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, even though slavery and other sins meant America was grossly imperfect at that point.

But he wanted an inclusive message. I hope that today’s NFL players copy that approach. Assuming, of course, they actually want better policing and a better America.

P.S. Until and unless there’s a better strategy, Nike will probably suffer the same adverse consequences as Dick’s, which lost customers after kowtowing to the anti-gun crowd. Irritating a big chunk of the buying public is not a wise idea.

P.P.S. I believe in a tough-on-crime approach, but only if laws are just.

P.P.P.S. If you want some cop-related humor, click here, here, and here.

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On several occasions, I’ve shared horror stories of government brutality and asserted that all decent people should be libertarians.

If you still are not convinced, today we’re going to look at seven stories about so-called civil asset forfeiture, which is a sanitized term. Most people call it stealing.

Or “policing for profit.”

Let’s look at how this third-world scam operates, starting with a disgusting example of asset forfeiture from Reason.

Rustem Kazazi, an American citizen, was just trying to get on a plane to return to his native Albania last October, from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. He was initially flying to Newark where he’d catch a connection to Albania. …Given facts about the Albanian banking and finance system and the advantages of cash there, he chose to turn his life savings into U.S. dollars and bring them with him to cover expenses related to the above house needs and his long stay rather than deal with bank transfers… Kazazi ran his carry-on luggage through the x-ray machine, like we all must. In that luggage was his life savings in cash, $58,100. There was zero attempt to be clandestine or smuggle-y about it. It was divided into three labeled and marked stacks of $100 bills, all in one envelope with $58,100 written on the outside.

Here’s how despicable bureaucrats reacted.

TSA agents noticed the money. …They called Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) on Kazazi, who took him off to a private room to grill him, as well as strip him naked… They kept his money, without telling him why, then tried to get him to just get on his flight without it. The receipt they handed him made no reference to the specific amount they’d confiscated. When he refused initially to just go on with his day as if he hadn’t just suffered a horrible crime, they escorted him out of the airport. …In December CBP finally formally informed him via a “Notice of Seizure” that they’d taken $57,330 from him, $770 less than he insists was actually taken. The Kazazis filed all the officially required forms and notices to proceed with trying to get their money back… CBP agents tried to finagle the Kazazis into withdrawing their demand for federal court action, but failed.

The good news is that the invaluable Institute for Justice has intervened.

Kazazi and his family today filed a formal motion for return of property…with the assistance of consistent civil-forfeiture-justice fighters from the Institute for Justice… Let’s hope the courts do the right, and legal, thing, demand CBP obey the law and return the stolen money.

And here’s a nauseating example of theft-by-government from Texas.

For nearly a decade, Anthonia Nwaorie dreamed of starting a medical clinic in her hometown in Southern Nigeria. Last October, the 59-year-old nurse was boarding a plane in Houston with medical equipment, supplies, and about $41,000 in cash — which had taken her years to save — when Customs and Border Protection officials stopped her. …Nwaorie said she was detained for hours. She missed her flight to Nigeria and the customs officers seized all her money. …CBP took the money because Nwaorie, a U.S. citizen since 1994 who lives in Katy, had not declared that she was taking more than $10,000 out of the country — a technical requirement that her lawyers say is not well-publicized…six months after her money was taken, Nwaorie has not been charged with a crime.

Once again, the great people at IJ are involved.

Lawyers at the Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Virginia-based public interest law firm, say her case demonstrates just how abusive the practice of civil forfeiture — which allows the government to take property that is believed to be tied to a crime — can be. ….the Institute for Justice filed a class-action lawsuit against the agency on Nwaorie’s behalf, demanding that CBP return her money without forcing her to sign any written agreement. They’re also asking a federal court in Houston to void all such agreements that might have been signed by others trying to get seized property back.

George Will opined about another reprehensible example from Texas.

On Sept. 21, 2015, Serrano drove to the Eagle Pass, Tex., border crossing, intending to try to interest a Mexican cousin in expanding his solar panel installation business in the United States. …they searched his truck — this was unusual for a vehicle leaving the country — and one agent said, “We got him!” …Having found five .380-caliber bullets in the truck’s center console — he has a concealed-carry permit but had no weapon with him — they handcuffed him and seized his truck under civil forfeiture, saying it had been used to transport “munitions of war.”

The heroes at IJ are on the case.

Assisted by litigators from the Institute for Justice (IJ), whose appearance on the West Texas horizon probably panicked the government into pretending to be law-abiding, Serrano wants to make the government less larcenous and more constitutional when it is enriching itself through civil forfeiture. …Serrano is suing for restitution but also seeking a class-action judgment on behalf of others who have been similarly mistreated. …Robert Everett Johnson is one of the IJ lawyers… Johnson says: “Imagine being detained at an airport checkpoint because you innocently forgot to take a tube of toothpaste out of your luggage. But rather than asking you to throw it out or put it in a plastic bag, the TSA agents told you they were seizing all of your luggage, including the toothpaste tube.” That happened to Serrano at the hands of a government — the one north of the border — that felt free to say, “You have no rights here.”

Here’s an example of this despicable practice from Wyoming.

Phil Parhamovich…had spent years restoring and selling houses, cars, and musical instruments, often clocking 12-hour workdays, to save up more than $91,000. And now it was all going to pay off: He would buy a music studio in Madison, Wisconsin… Then came the police stop… By the time it was over, police in Wyoming would take all of Parhamovich’s money — the full $91,800. Parhamovich, who has no criminal record, was not accused of or charged with a serious crime; he only got a $25 ticket for improperly wearing his seat belt and a warning for “lane use.” …state officials said they consider the cash “abandoned.” The state has even moved to forfeiture the money without notifying Parhamovich of the relevant court hearing until after it happened.

You won’t be surprised to learn who got involved to protect Parhamovich’s rights.

According to Parhamovich and his attorneys with the advocacy group, the Institute for Justice, this is another classic example of policing for profit and the problems it causes. Police initiated the stop for a minor traffic violation, but quickly escalated it further and further until they took a man’s life savings — all to use that money for their own law enforcement purposes.

This story has a happy ending (except for the fact that the cop isn’t in jail for stealing).

Wyoming lawmakers, citing this story, have now banned the roadside waivers that police used to wrongly take Phil Parhamovich’s $91,800. Previously, Parhamovich…got…his money back during a court hearing.

The IRS also participates in this thuggish racket, as reported by the Washington Post.

Oh Suk Kwon, who left South Korea for America in 1976, served as a fleet mechanic in the U.S. Army. After four years in the military, decades of working in an electrical plant and as an auto mechanic, after raising the kids and seeing them off to their adult lives, Kwon finally bought a gas station in Ellicott City in 2007. It meant everything to him. Just a few years after he opened it, zealous government investigators…seized all of the station’s money on a hunch — and wiped the family out. No, they weren’t money launderers or terrorists or mobsters or tax evaders. The government found no evidence of criminal activity. …the gas station went under, and Kwon’s wife died amid the stress of it all…the agency won’t give Kwon his money back. …He’s heartbroken that the country he loves is treating him this way.

The story has additional examples.

…fervent investigations targeted scores of small businesses in Maryland. The best known of these was South Mountain Creamery… the creamery was accused of structuring — farmer Randy Sowers also said his bank teller told him to keep the deposits under $10,000 to cut paperwork — the farm’s entire operating budget was seized. …The government eventually found out that the cows weren’t drug mules and the chickens weren’t gangsters and allowed Sowers to sign a settlement agreement to get back half of about $60,000 that the IRS took. Sowers did it because he needed that money to keep the farm going. Another Maryland farmer, Calvin Taylor, had about $90,000 seized in 2011 after the government snagged him in a similar investigation. He couldn’t take the time to fight the charge, either, and agreed to a settlement where the government returned about $41,000.

Once again, the IJ people are fighting to protect people from rapacious government.

The farmers didn’t walk away from the fight. Backed by the libertarian Institute for Justice, Sowers, Taylor and others testified before Congress, petitioned and fought for three years to get their cash back.

The awful thugs at the IRS also stole money in Connecticut.

David Vocatura watched $68,000 disappear. He was at his family’s bakery in Norwich, Connecticut, when a squad of armed IRS agents filed into the store. The agents wanted to know if Vocatura and his brother Larry were trafficking drugs or running a prostitution ring. The brothers had no idea what they were talking about. …the IRS refused to believe Vocatura’s Bakery was operating on the up and up. Agents said the business raised red flags because of a series of cash deposits in sums under $10,000, the amount at which banks are required to report transactions to the federal government. …The agents had no evidence of other wrongdoing, but thanks to a controversial law enforcement tool known as civil asset forfeiture, they didn’t need any to seize every penny in the Vocaturas’ bank account… The IRS has…[been] subjecting David, 53, and his brother Larry, 69, to a series of increasingly aggressive legal maneuvers — including threats of significant prison time and additional fines — in an attempt to strong-arm them into permanently forfeiting their assets.

Naturally, IJ is riding to the rescue.

…the Institute for Justice, a libertarian public interest law firm, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on behalf of Vocatura’s Bakery, demanding that the IRS promptly return their money. …Hours after the suit was filed, the IRS said it would finally give the Vocaturas their money back.

But the jackboots in government are vindictively going after the family.

Peter S. Jongbloed, assistant U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, served the Vocaturas a grand jury subpoena calling for them to turn over every financial record from the six years between March 2007 and April 2013, so the agency could finally begin investigating the business’s tax and regulatory compliance. …“At this point, the government is in so deep, they’ve put these guys through three years of hell — and held onto their money for three years — and so they feel like they need to justify it,” said Robert Everett Johnson, an attorney for the Institute for Justice who is representing the Vocaturas. “So now they’re going to conduct this investigation into the bakery in some effort to try to find something that will make it look like they were doing the right thing all along.”

Let’s review one final example of banana-republic law enforcement, this time from Alabama.

The morning of June 29, 2010, began much like any other at FAR Computers in Ensley. Frank Ranelli, who has owned the computer repair business for more than two decades, was doing some paperwork in his windowless office when he heard loud banging on the front door. When he answered it, he was unaware that about 20 officers with the Homewood and Mountain Brook police departments were surrounding his store, some wearing flak jackets and carrying assault rifles. Within moments, a Homewood police sergeant had declared a room full of customers’ computers, merchandise and other items “stolen goods,” Ranelli recalled. …The police proceeded to confiscate more than 130 computers – most of which were customers’ units waiting to be repaired, though some were for sale – as well as the company’s business servers and workstations and even receipts and checkbooks. …Nothing ever came of the case. The single charge of receiving stolen goods was dismissed after Ranelli demonstrated that he had followed proper protocol in purchasing the sole laptop computer he was accused of receiving illegally. Yet none of the property seized by police that summer morning more than seven years ago has been returned to him.

The article references the stellar work of IJ.

Alabama’s laws, however, still provide the state’s citizens with few protections from the practices, earning the state a “D- for its civil asset forfeiture laws” in a November 2015 report by the Institute for Justice, a Virginia nonprofit advocacy law firm. Alabama laws stack the deck against victims of asset forfeiture by establishing a “low bar to forfeit” and not requiring a conviction to do so; offering “limited protections for innocent third-party property owners”; and letting “100% of forfeiture proceeds go to law enforcement,” the report stated. …In a time of increasingly tight budgets for many law enforcement agencies, seizing property offers an opportunity for them to increase revenue without politicians having to raise taxes.

The good news (relatively speaking) is that some states are trying to curtail this evil practice.

The bad news is that cops in some states have figured out how to steal regardless.

In theory, New Hampshire has reformed its asset forfeiture laws. The state passed a bill in June 2016 to keep police from seizing and keeping people’s property unless those people have been convicted of a crime. And yet New Hampshire Public Radio reports this week that the state’s cops are still trying to keep stuff seized from people who have been accused but not actually convicting of criminal behavior. …when the reforms were passed…there was a big loophole. The U.S. Justice Department’s “Equitable Sharing” program allows local law enforcement agencies to partner with the feds for busts, then funnel the forfeiture through the looser federal program, which doesn’t require convictions, back into the local police budgets. Doing this allows them to skirt any state-level restrictions on asset forfeiture.

In other states, the establishment is going nuts trying to preserve their shady scam.

…a local prosecutor and police officer say the state will be welcoming violent drug cartels if a Republican lawmaker gets his way. State Sen. Kyle Loveless has been trying to muster support this year for a bill that would reform a controversial law enforcement tool known as civil asset forfeiture. …Loveless sees this as a fundamental violation of people’s rights to due process and property and says the lax standards have gotten innocent people in Oklahoma caught in the civil asset forfeiture net. On Thursday, he sparred with Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler and Eric Dalgleish, a major at the Tulsa Police Department, over the merits of his bill to require a criminal conviction to permanently take someone’s property. …Kunzweiler, the district attorney, said the extra level of protection was unnecessary and that raising the bar for forfeiture would effectively roll out a welcome mat to ruthless drug traffickers from Mexico. …Dalgleish later said that cartels were keeping a close eye on Loveless’ legislation and even lobbying for its passage.

Shame on Kunzweiler and Dagleish. What reckless and dishonest demagoguery.

And three cheers for Sen. Loveless, who deserves a lot of love for putting the principles of the Constitution first.

Sadly, the Trump Administration is on the side of theft-by-government, which is especially disappointing since there was a small move in the right direction during the Obama years.

P.S. Just like intrusive and ineffective money-laundering laws, wretched asset forfeiture laws are largely the result of the foolish War on Drugs. One bad policy generates another bad policy. Lather, rinse, repeat.

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I’ve periodically featured folks on the left who have rejected gun control.

  • In 2012, Jeffrey Goldberg admitted gun ownership reduces crime.
  • In 2013, Justin Cronin explained how he became a left-wing supporter of gun rights.
  • In 2015, Jamelle Bouie poured cold water on Obama’s gun control agenda.
  • Last year, Leah Libresco confessed that gun control simply doesn’t work.

Now it’s time to look at another person who has changed his mind.

Here are some excerpts from a column in the Des Moines Register written by a long-time supporter of gun control.

I was 14 years old when John Lennon was killed — it affected me deeply and it was the biggest event that led to my anti-gun feelings. As I got older, my heroes were JFK, RFK and MLK, which furthered my anti-gun sentiments. …I thought the Second Amendment was not relevant to our modern-day society and it should be repealed. …In 2012 I tweeted: “@BarackObama please repeal the 2nd amendment and stop the @nra.” …I was a lifelong Democrat. In the 2016 presidential debates I watched…Hillary Clinton… I voted for her. …I was a little turned off by…the NRA.

But he began to change his mind as the election was happening.

I decided to leave San Francisco and to build a house in Washington. …as my house was being built I started wondering what I would do in the event of a home invasion. I knew right away becoming a gun owner was going to be the best way to defend myself.

Sounds like he’s part of the 22 percent in my poll who support the 2nd Amendment because of concerns about crime.

But he also enjoyed the process of becoming proficient.

I gave it a lot of thought and decided I was going to purchase a gun and learn to shoot… I started going to the range and discovered that I really enjoyed target shooting.

His philosophical shift apparently wasn’t because he was convinced by the NRA, but rather because he grew increasingly concerned about the left’s radical opposition to private firearms (something I’ve noticed as well).

I gradually came around to see how extremely anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment the left was. For a large portion of them, their ultimate goal is a full gun ban and to repeal the Second Amendment — I know I was one of them.

And even though he no longer considers himself on the left, he doesn’t want his friends on that side of the debate to misinterpret his views.

To my easily confused friends on the left — no, I am not calling for violence; no, I am not a terrorist, no, I am not racist. Peace.

Since the author’s overall perspective has changed, I guess he doesn’t belong on my “honest leftists” page, but his shift on gun rights is nonetheless worth noting.

Hopefully he’s now sufficiently “woke” on guns that he would be part of the resistance if his former fellow travelers on the left ever tried a gun ban.

To close on a humorous note. Here’s the visual version of my IQ test on guns.

Other examples of gun control satire can be found here, here, here, and here. Along with a bonus David Hogg edition.

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Beginning in the 1980s, money-laundering laws were enacted in hopes of discouraging criminal activity by making it harder for crooks to use the banking system. Unfortunately, this approach has been an expensive failure.

Amazingly, some politicians actually want to make these laws even worse. I wrote last year about some intrusive, expensive, and pointless legislation proposed by Senators Grassley, Feinstein, Cornyn, and Whitehouse.

Now there’s another equally misguided set of proposals from Senators Rubio and Wyden, along with Representatives Pearce, Luetkemeyer, and Maloney. They want to require complicated and needless ownership data from millions of small businesses and organizations.

David Burton of the Heritage Foundation has a comprehensive report on the legislation. Here’s some of what he wrote.

Congress is seriously considering imposing a beneficial ownership reporting regime on American businesses and other entities, including charities and churches. …the House and Senate bills…share three salient characteristics. First, they would impose a large compliance burden on the private sector, primarily on small businesses, charities, and religious organizations. Second, they create hundreds of thousands—potentially more than one million—inadvertent felons out of otherwise law-abiding citizens. Third, they do virtually nothing to achieve their stated aim of protecting society from terrorism or other forms of illicit finance. …Furthermore, the creation of this expensive and socially damaging reporting edifice is unnecessary. The vast majority of the information that the proposed beneficial ownership reporting regime would obtain is already provided to the Internal Revenue Service.

Richard Rahn criticizes this new proposal in his weekly column.

…what would you think of a member of Congress who proposes to put a new regulation on the smallest of businesses that does not meet a cost-benefit test, denies basic privacy protections and, because of its vagueness and ambiguity, is likely to cause very high numbers of otherwise law-abiding Americans to be felons? …Some bureaucrats and elected officials argue that the government needs to know who the “beneficial owners” are of even the tiniest of businesses in order to combat “money-laundering,” tax evasion or terrorism. …Should the church ladies who run the local non-profit food bank be put in jail for their failure to submit the form to the Feds that would give them the exemption from the beneficial ownership requirement? …Given how few people are actually convicted of money-laundering, the overwhelming evidence is that 99 percent of the people being forced to submit to these costly and time-consuming proposed regulations will not be guilty of money-laundering, terrorism or whatever, and thus should not be harassed by government.

Writing for the Hill, J.W. Verret, an expert in business law from George Mason University Law School, highlights some of the serious problems with this new regulatory scheme.

Legislation under consideration in Congress, the Counter Terrorism and Illicit Finance Act, risks tying entrepreneurs’ hands with even more red tape. In fact, it could destroy any benefit some small businesses stand to gain from the tax reform legislation passed last year. It would require corporations and limited liability companies with fewer than 20 employees to file a form with the Treasury Department at the time of formation, and update it annually, listing the names of all beneficial owners and individuals exercising control. …Given the substantial penalties, this will impose a massive regulatory tax on small businesses as they spend money on lawyers that should go toward workers’ pay. …It is unlikely someone on a terrorist watch list would provide their real name on the required form, and Treasury will probably never have sufficient resources to audit names in real time.

Professor Verret explains some of the practical problems and tradeoffs with these proposals.

…some individual money laundering investigations would be easier with a small business registry available. But IRS tax fraud investigations would be much easier with access to taxpayers’ bank account login information — would we tolerate the associated costs and privacy violations? …How is the term “beneficial owner” defined? How is “control” defined? As a professor of corporate law, I have given multiple lectures on those very questions. What if your company is owned, in part, by another company? Or there is a chain of ownership through multiple intermediary companies? What if a creditor of the company, though not currently a shareholder or beneficial owner, obtains the contractual right to convert their debt contract into ownership equity at some point in the future? …for the average small business owner, navigating those complexities against the backdrop of a potential three year prison sentence will often require legal counsel. Companies affected by this legislation should conservatively expect to spend at least $5,000 on a corporate lawyer to help navigate the complexities of the new filing requirements.

Needless to say, squandering $5,000 or more for some useless paperwork is not a recipe for more entrepreneurship.

So how do advocates for this type of legislation respond?

Clay Fuller of the American Enterprise Institute wants us to have faith that bad people will freely divulge their real identities and that bureaucrats will make effective use of the information.

It is time to weed out illicit financing and unfair competition from criminals and bad actors. …Passing the House Financial Services Committee’s Counter Terrorism and Illicit Finance Act should be a priority for the 115th Congress. …Dictators, terrorists and criminals have been freeriding on the prosperity and liberty of the American economy for too long. Officials at FinCEN are sure that beneficial ownership legislation will exponentially increase conviction rates. We should give law enforcement what they need to do their jobs.

Gee, all that sounds persuasive. I’m also against dictators, terrorists, and criminals.

But if you read his entire column, you’ll notice that he offers zero evidence that this costly new legislation actually would catch more bad guys.

And since we already know that anti-money laundering laws impose heavy costs and catch almost no bad guys, wouldn’t it be smart to figure out better ways of allocating law enforcement resources?

I don’t know if we should be distressed or comforted, but other parts of the world also are hamstringing their financial industries with similar policies.

Here’s some analysis from Europe.

…a new reportfrom Consult Hyperion, commissioned by Mitek, reveals that the average UK bank is currently wasting £5 million each year due to manual and inefficient Know Your Customer (KYC) processes, and this annual waste is expected to rise to £10 million in three years. …Key Findings…Inefficient KYC processes cost the average bank £47 million a year…Total costs for KYC processes range from £10 to £100 per check…In the UK, 25% of applications are abandoned due to KYC friction… The cost of KYC checks is much too high, placing too much reliance on inefficient and error-prone manual processes,” said Steve Pannifer, author of the report and COO at Consult Hyperion.

And here’s an update from Asia.

Anti-money laundering and know-your-customer compliance have become leading concerns at financial institutions in Asia today. … we estimate that AML compliance budgets across the six Asian markets in this study total an estimated US$1.5 billion annually for banks alone. …A majority of respondents (55%) indicated that AML compliance has a negative impact on their firms’ business productivity. …An additional 15% felt that AML compliance actually threatens their firms’ ability to do business. …Eighty-two per cent of survey respondents saw overall AML compliance costs increasing in 2016, with one third projecting that costs will rise by 20% or more.

The bottom line is that laws and regulations dealing with money laundering are introduced with high hopes of reducing crime.

And when there’s no effect on criminal activity, proponents urge ever-increasing levels of red tape. And when that doesn’t work, they propose new levels of regulation. And still nothing changes.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Here’s the video I narrated on this topic. It’s now a bit dated, but everything I said is even more true today.

Let’s close with a surreal column in the Washington Post from Dana Milbank. He was victimized by silly anti-money laundering policies, but seems to approve.

I did not expect that my wife and I would be flagged as possible financiers of international terrorism. …The teller told me my account had been blocked. My wife went to an ATM to take out $200. Denied. Soon I discovered that checks I had written to the au pair and my daughter’s volleyball instructor had bounced. …I began making calls to the bank and eventually got an explanation: The bank was looking into whether my wife and I were laundering money, as they are required to by the Bank Secrecy Act as amended by the Patriot Act. …the bank seemed particularly suspicious that my wife was the terrorist… The bank needed answers. Did she work for the government? How much money does she make? Is she a government contractor? …a week later they came back with a new threat to freeze the account and a more peculiar question: Is my wife politically influential?

Sounds like an awful example of a bank being forced by bad laws to harass a customer.

Heck, it is an awful example of that happening.

But in a remarkable display of left-wing masochism, Milbank approves.

The people who flagged us were right to do so. …Citibank, though perhaps clumsy, was doing what it should be doing. “Know your customer” regulations are important because they prevent organized-crime networks, terrorists and assorted bad guys from moving money. Banking regulations generally are a hassle, and expensive. But they protect us — not just from terrorists such as my wife and me but from financial institutions that would otherwise exploit their customers and jeopardize economic stability the way they did before the 2008 crash.

I guess we know which way Milbank would have responded to this poll question from 2013.

But he would be wrong because money-laundering laws don’t stop terrorism.

We’re giving up freedom and imposing high costs on our economy, yet we’re not getting any additional security in exchange.

And I can’t resist commenting on his absurd assertion that money laundering played a role in the 2008 crash. Does he think that mafia kingpins somehow controlled the Federal Reserve and insisted on easy-money policies and artificially low interest rates? Does he think ISIS operatives were somehow responsible for reckless Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac subsidies?

Wow, I thought the people who blamed “tax havens” for the financial crisis deserved the prize for silliest fantasies. But Milbank gives them a run for their money.

P.S. You probably didn’t realize you could make a joke involving money laundering, but here’s one featuring former President Obama.

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