Freedom Updates: February 26, 2003

The Colorado Freedom Report:  A libertarian journal of politics and culture.

The Colorado Freedom

Freedom Updates: February 26, 2003

All Freedom Updates by Ari Armstrong unless otherwise noted.

John Lott and the Missing 98%
I have often quoted John Lott's book, More Guns, Less Crime. When it was published, it was the most comprehensive statistical study ever conducted about concealed carry laws. Now John Donohue has authored a new study giving Lott credit for launching the debate and for presenting basically accurate research. However, using updated statistics, Donohue finds mixed results for concealed carry laws on the crime rate. He concludes regression analysis is unable to distinguish the impact of concealed carry laws. Of course, we may draw on more than statistical regressions to evaluate the matter (see my recent discussion).

Lott, along with economists Florenz Plassman, and John Whitley, disputes Donohue's findings. The trio begins, "Analyzing county level data for the entire United States from 1977 to 2000, we find annual reductions in murder rates between 1.5 and 2.3 percent for each additional year that a right-to-carry law is in effect."

Lott's data concerning concealed carry has always been available to other researchers. Different researchers have debated about the proper ways to use that data in statistical regressions, and they have accused each other of making errors of analysis.

However, another of Lott's claims has been criticized as intellectually dishonest. On page 3 of the first edition, Lott writes, "If national surveys are correct, 98 percent of the time that people use guns defensively, they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack." In the second edition, though, the line is changed, "If a national survey that I conducted is correct, 98 percent of the time that people use guns defensively, they merely have to brandish a weapon to break off an attack."

Critics question whether Lott ever conducted that survey. I think the burden of proof lies with Lott to demonstrate he in fact conducted it. Certainly the changes in Lott's text, as well as a host of other strange circumstances described at the link above, call into question the existence of the survey.

Even if the survey was conducted, the 98% claim is unreliable, as it depends on too small a sample. Thus, Lott should have omitted the estimate or qualified it. Gary Kleck's surveys suggest, "Only 24 percent of the gun defenders reported firing the gun, and only 8 percent reported wounding an adversary" (Armed p. 313). Thus, while brandishment is much more common than firing, Lott's 98% claim seems high.

Lott has also defended his work on the internet via the pseudonym "Mary Rosh." While this does not in itself cast doubt on accuracy of Lott's conclusions, it is rather strange.

The 98% claim is one sentence in an entire book that has nothing to do with the central thesis about concealed carry. Thus, Lott is not in the same boat as Michael Bellesiles. Still, as Lott prepares for the publication of his book The Bias against Guns, he needs to be especially careful to expunge biases within his own work.

What the episodes concerning Lott and especially Bellesiles demonstrate is that intellectual honesty must always be paramount. Everyone is liable to make mistakes. We are morally bound to admit our errors and seek to correct them.

A news blurb in the February 21 Rocky states, "An asteroid the size of a tractor-trailer truck smashed into the moon [in 1953], triggering an explosion 35 times the force of the atomic bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima... NASA said." Amateur Oklahoma astronomer Leon Stuart witnessed the event, though his claim "was disputed for decades."

Of course, the real fear is that someday a large object will strike the Earth. Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle wrote the 1977 novel Lucifer's Hammer about the problem, and recent films Armageddon and Deep Impact fantasize about sending up spaceships to stop such a catastrophe. L. Neil Smith is reportedly working on a novel that deals with the matter as well.

The heroine of Michael Flynn's 1996 novel Firestar, Mariesa van Huyten, is obsessed with the problem. An amateur astronomer herself, Mariesa plots small impacts on Earth and tracks the paths of asteroids. She also turns the resources of her family's business empire to the enterprise of conquering space.

Of course, her space ventures are meant to be profitable in other ways, from everything to servicing satellites to providing solar energy to the cities of Earth. But her ultimate drive is to build a safety network capable of locating dangerous objects and redirecting them.

Firestar, the first novel in a series, takes us through the early test flights, the political wrangling, and eventually the first ventures into space by a private organization.

Flynn develops complete characters. Sometimes I found myself wishing he'd edited the book down a bit; at times it almost reads like a soap opera. Still, the realistic people who populate Flynn's story are a welcome relief from the flat characters of some other works of sci-fi.

One especially interesting subplot involves a school Mariesa starts to develop talent for her space program. We see the students develop from uneducated cynics to talented young adults. (Some remain cynical.)

Flynn is certainly aware of libertarian ideas and even expressly mentions them. He is also obviously keen on the idea of private space exploration. Yet he is more accepting of state intervention than most libertarians are.

Overall, Firestar is a great book that will help keep alive the romantic vision of space exploration. Hopefully it is more prophesy than fiction.

Don't Prosecute the Heroes
New York prosecutors are charging local heroes as criminals. According to a February 20 Newsday report by Sean Gardiner, three New Yorkers recently used a so-called "illegal gun" to defend themselves and their loved ones. They should be getting medals for their heroism and community service. Instead, they're being treated as criminals.

  • On February 18, Manuel Falquez, while on leave from the Air Force, shot and killed an armed burglar at his mother's house.
  • On February 10, "record store owner Amalio Santos shot and killed Carlos Ugalde, 27, after Ugalde and another man broke into Santos' Briarwood home, police said." Santos is a retired air marshal.
  • On December 14, Ronald Dixon "wounded Ivan Thompson, 40, a longtime criminal, after Thompson broke into Dixon's home and was heading toward the room of Dixon's 2-year-old son, police said."

Here's the kicker. Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes said, "We're not disputing that Mr. Dixon had a right to shoot the person who broke into his house. But he had no right to have that gun."

An e-mail from John Stossel reported, "Dixon has also been arrested and charged with 'criminal possession of a weapon.' He's threatened with up to a year in jail, because his gun was unlicensed. Prosecutors want to put him in Riker's Island -- the same jail where the burglar was sent. Head prosecutor Charles Hynes wouldn't talk to 20/20 but said of Dixon's case, 'You get caught with a [unlicensed] gun in Brooklyn, you're going to do jail time.' Dixon will fight that in court March 11... When the career criminal, who was in Dixon's house, got his first conviction, he got probation, no jail time. But Dixon has to go to jail? Give me a break!"

On March 29, former state legislator and author of Colorado's Make My Day law Vickie Armstrong will speak in Grand Junction. The subject of her talk is, "New York needs the Make My Day Law." For details, see the calendar page.

Meet the Republicans
A February 26 e-mail from states:

Colorado's Republican state senators and representatives invite you to join them as they hold a series of town hall meetings across the state on Saturday, March 1, as part of the third annual Republican Legislators Listening Tour.

After listening to staff economists talk about the state budget during Monday's joint session of the General Assembly, Republican legislators are looking forward to hearing from constituents on March 1...

See the web page for scheduling details.

Media Watch

Quillen on Saving Money-- Denver Post columnist has a good idea to ease the state's budget crunch: end the war on drugs. In a February 25 column, Quillen writes, "Exact figures are hard to come by, but millions of dollars must be spent each year on spies, snoops and stings, followed by the costs of prosecution and imprisonment, along with settlements to the victims of wrong-address raids and the like. There's no evidence that any of this spending has reduced drug usage or made us a safer society, so it's pretty much a waste of money that might be better spent elsewhere."

Prohibition Causes Crime-- Jim Muhm writes in a letter to the February 25 Denver Post, "It isn't the use of drugs that causes crime against other persons. It's the misguided war on drugs that allows and encourages drug sellers to charge exorbitant prices for their product, thus impelling users to turn to crime to pay for their habit... Legalize drugs, just as tobacco and alcohol now are legalized, and the crime and corruption attendant to drug use will disappear."

Bruce Defends TABOR-- In a February 21 article for the Denver Post, Julia Martinez wrote, "Lawmakers need to stop griping and get rid of employee pay raises, merit increases and 'wasteful' programs to balance the state's checkbook, the author of Colorado's Taxpayer Bill of Rights said Thursday. Douglas Bruce said there is no need to change anything in his revenue-limiting TABOR law, as some legislators have suggested." Martinez and the Post deserve credit for covering the issue from a perspective many at the paper disagree with.

Knight Defends TABOR-- Finally somebody in shining armor rides along to defend the Taxpayer's Bill of Rights. In a February 26 column for the Denver Post, Al Knight argues Amendment 23 worsens the budget situation, but TABOR is defensible. He points out that the supporters of the "single subject rule," an initiative passed to prevent future TABOR-like changes, now find that rule makes it impossible to allow the voters to repeal parts of TABOR and Amendment 23 with one vote. Knight adds, "There is and was a sound public policy basis for TABOR. The same cannot be said of Amendment 23. TABOR was passed in 1992 precisely because it promised to end what had become a familiar tax-and-spend cycle. That cycle isn't hard to understand. In good times, government increased spending and in bad times it raised taxes. When good times resumed, the cycle started all over again. Anyone who thinks that the removal of TABOR wouldn't re-establish that cycle ought to lie down until the fever passes."

Littwin's Paranoia-- Sometimes Mike Littwin is a great writer. Other times, he is paranoid and ignorant. In a February 25 column for the Rocky, Littwin said Jim Dyer's bill will assist gang members. But gang members are by definition involved in criminal activity, so it is already illegal for them to possess guns. Denver's laws haven't stopped the criminal misuse of guns -- they have only limited the freedom of the law-abiding. It's about time Denver cops started focusing on actual crimes rather than the make-believe "crimes" of innocent citizens.

LP Whacked-- James Thiel writes in a February 20 letter to the Boulder Weekly, "[M]ost third parties are whacked. The Libertarian Party is a prime example. Over 30 years in existence, and to this day they have been unable to elect... a single Congressman or Senator. The reason: They don't represent the views the majority of people hold." I have several responses. First, electing U.S. congresscritters is not the sole measure of success. Second, if you run a libertarian as a Democrat or Republican, the libertarian will do well, and if you run a liberal or conservative as a Libertarian, he or she will do poorly. For instance, Ron Paul is a libertarian who won office as a Republican. Third, there is at least some evidence that more Americans have libertarian views than liberal or conservative ones.

"Berserk" Cops?-- Ron Bain wrote a February 20 article for the Boulder Weekly titled, "Cops go 'berserk' during Springs peace protest." It began, "Colorado Springs police silenced the state's largest anti-war protest on Saturday, Feb. 15 with tear gas, rubber bullets, tasers, riot gear and police dogs." Bain quotes LPCO member Lidia Seebeck, who said the police were already restricting traffic before any protester entered a street.

Do Dems Want Guns Outlawed?-- According to the February 21 Rocky Mountain News (page 22A), Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Tim Knaus handed out a bumper sticker that read, "If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will shoot their kids accidentally." Unintentional shootings have fallen dramatically for the past century and are much lower than other common types of fatal injuries, though of course more progress can be made through education and an emphasis on personal responsibility. If guns were outlawed, nobody could legally use a gun for self-defense or any number of other legitimate uses, yet the criminal black-market in guns would be robust. Perhaps Chairman Knaus can clear something up for Colorado voters: Does the Democratic Party of Colorado advocate outlawing all guns?

Privatize Iraqi Oil-- In a fascinating Speakout column in the February 21 Rocky Mountain News, economists Mohammed Akacem and Dennis D. Miller advocate the privatization of Iraqi oil. They reference a general plan by Milton Friedman to give the public shares of de-nationalized industries and allow the free exchange of those shares. This plan would increase Iraqi support for a regime change, "help put to rest the 'blood for oil' charge," and foster other market reforms in Iraq and across the Middle East, the authors argue.

The Colorado Freedom