Monday, April 23, 2007
Tribute to Boris Yeltsin
Unforeseen Contingencies rarely has anything nice to say about politicians. But in Boris Yeltsin’s case, “we” make an exception.
If any one person can be said to have brought down the Soviet Union, it was Yeltsin. Even more importantly, he began establishing a tradition of restraining government from interfering with free speech and free press, even when his advisors argued against it. And Russia’s privatizations occurred under Yeltsin. Although these included varying degrees of corruption, they helped greatly reduce the power of the Communist Party and the state, and began the building of a market economy. Boris Nikolayevich was hardly a libertarian, but he did move Russia in the direction of much more freedom. In particular, he consistently opposed hardline communists and those who would return to Russia’s historical authoritarian roots.
The greatest tragedy of Yeltsin is that he chose a successor, Vladimir Putin, who is consistently dismantling Yeltsin’s accomplishments by re-nationalizing the “commanding heights” of the economy, suppressing free expression, and returning to government by security apparatchiks. It’s too bad – Russia needs another Yeltsin, not a Putin.
Well, eternal vigilance is the price of freedom. Yeltsin did his part; the vigilance part is now up to the Russian people. Yeltsin at least gave them a legacy to defend.
До свидания, Борис Николаевич.
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Rethinking Gun Control
On the other hand, laws restricting firearms have nearly 100% compliance rates, a remarkable achievement.
For example, at Virginia Tech, it appears that 99.9975% of the students complied with the prohibition on possessing a firearm on campus. The law worked remarkably well, and did exactly what it is supposed to do. When the one student in 40,000 violated the law and began murdering his fellow students, no one took the law into their own hands. "Fighting criminals, that’s a job for the police, not the citizen." This an example of gun control working: it did exactly what it is supposed to do – it rendered the law-abiding citizens helpless.
The consequences might not be what some would hope, but that's a different matter. Everyone knows that no law will be obeyed 100% of the time, and it’s rather obvious that in the case of gun restrictions the people who obey the laws, the people who can be trusted with guns, will be rendered helpless. People who can’t be trusted will violate them and will be much freer to commit whatever mayhem they choose.
A ban on private ownership of firearms would no more eliminate firearms or violence than bans on drugs have eliminated drugs. But a gun ban would certainly increase the relative firepower of criminals vs. honest citizens.
Do you think this doesn’t really matter? Consider, for a moment, the places with most heavily armed people in this country – private and public shooting ranges. I’ve spent considerable time on such, and the weaponry is amazing – rifles with high capacity mags, handguns of every sort, shotguns, and most shooters seem to have multiple weapons handy at any one time. When was the last time you heard of a massacre occurring at a shooting range? The answer is: you haven’t heard of one. It doesn’t happen. Even psychopaths aren’t so crazy as to try that. And were one to try, he wouldn't need to commit suicide – he wouldn’t have enough time left to even contemplate it.
Psychopaths who want to commit mayhem don’t go to shooting ranges, they go to places where everyone is unarmed. Armed robbers don't go there either, they go to places where everyone is unarmed. Disarming the law-abiding citizen simply increases the opportunities – the set of prey – for the psychopath and the criminal. It also helps foster the feelings of helplessness and powerlessness that politicians need to thrive, which explains why politicians of both parties are interested in gun control.
Outlawing firearms cannot possibly eliminate violence or crime. The arguments are so obvious that I suspect most advocates are disingenuous when they argue otherwise. Everyone knows that 99.9975% is a remarkably high rate of compliance for a law. The effects of such rates of compliance are clearly horrific, catastrophic. Gun control advocates are prepared to accept such effects as a side consequence of rendering us helpless. A far better approach to crime control would be to provide firearms, along with training in how and when to use them, to as many citizens as possible, something like the Swiss/Israeli approach. The closer America, or any other country, approached a shooting range environment, the better.
Oh, it’s a dream, I know, to think today’s politicians would see it this way. We’re not supposed to be responsible. We’re not supposed to have any real power or independence. We’re supposed to be contented consumers, workers, taxpayers, voters – completely powerless, a herd of domestic animals to be managed. If a few of the herd are lost because of the docility forced on them, well, that’s just a cost our managers will have to bear.
Happily, all of us are not yet entirely domesticated. Now is a good time to buy more guns, stock up on ammunition, and – most importantly of all – reaffirm you are an independent being, free by right, and no one’s domestic animal.
A good place to begin this last is by reading (or rereading) Jeffrey Snyder's classic essay "A Nation of Cowards."