Free Market? Sure, I’m Game.

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Finding a national consensus on matters like drug use, abortion and gun control is clearly a fool’s errand. Because we are, as a nation, so diverse and divided on matters of religious beliefs, ethical foundations and personal priorities, we will never – NEVER – come to a stable, lasting, nationwide accord on these issues.

Let’s start with drugs. Several states have decriminalized or even legalized marijuana use. Marijuana use was recently made legal in Washington and Colorado. Its use is not a criminal offense in more than a dozen other states. Others haven’t changed the legal status of marijuana and aren’t likely to.

The government of North Dakota recently passed anti-abortion laws that are considered to be the most restrictive of personal choice in the nation. New Jersey, along with states like Oregon and Nevada, has no active ban on the right of the mother to terminate pregnancy.  There are a number of workplaces (including hospitals) and schools affiliated with, for example, the Roman Catholic Church, which objects to contraception as sinful. Therefore, some of these church-affiliated institutions object to offering contraception as a part of employee or student health insurance. There are plenty of other employers and schools that have no issue whatsoever with offering contraception as a part of employee or student health coverage.

Guns control is an extremely emotional and divisive issue in the United States. This was demonstrated clearly last week when the Senate considered unsuccessfully a moderate proposal to nationally standardize required pre-sale background checks for firearms. Unrestricted private firearm ownership is considered nearly sacred by some of my fellow citizens but considered purely evil by others. In Alaska and Arizona, for example, gun ownership, and even carrying guns in public, is virtually unchecked. It is much more difficult to obtain a firearm in, say Connecticut or California, and nearly impossible to get permission to carry a firearm in public.

Now, we could all spend, like, forever trying to align on the ‘right’ approach to these policies but, in truth, we never will. Even if we rely on the courts to settle the ‘right’ approaches, they will not be settled permanently.

So, instead, let me propose something completely different – a solution driven entirely by free market principles. And it might look something like this.

The federal government tracks and posts accurate conditions reports on each state, listing up-to-date laws governing behavior on these ‘values’ issues. We, as consumers, decide where to live, go to school buy products, etc. based on those particular issues that matter to us.

If we want to smoke marijuana legally, we move to Washington or Colorado.

If we want to own the choices regarding our reproductive health, we don’t live in North Dakota or go to Notre Dame or St. Mary’s Hospital.

If we want to legally carry a firearm to the shopping mall, there’s always Arizona.

Now, the other side of market solutions is, states and employers and schools must be required to fully disclose their positions on these ‘values’ issues. Notre Dame University, for example, must have a statement in its marketing materials (alongside the intensely-focused cello player and the touchdown-scoring halfback) that says:

Dear Prospective Student:

This university is affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church, which considers contraception a sin. Therefore, our student health service does not and will not offer contraceptive services.

With that information fully disclosed, high school seniors can intelligently choose colleges that best align with their personal beliefs and priorities. Anticipate needing or wanting contraceptive services as part of student health? Notre Dame isn’t for you; go somewhere else.

I can imagine signs at state borders as well:

Welcome to Arizona.

We allow pretty much anyone to buy and carry a gun here.

Enjoy your stay.

If you don’t like being around a lot of people with firearms, you can always vacation in Massachusetts.

This is, of course, not a realistic proposal, for two major reasons.

First, when push comes to shove, institutions (states, businesses, colleges) are loathe to disclose their positions openly if it costs them money, tourists, students, or employees. Notre Dame is unlikely to tell promising high school seniors with non-Catholic values they should just look elsewhere. North Dakota doesn’t want to lose new businesses because of its position on abortion. And Arizona would literally starve to death if tourists stopped going to the Grand Canyon or baseball’s Spring Training because of its gun laws.

And second, so-called ‘values’ conservatives say they like the unfettered free market and personal liberty and all that, but what they really want is to force their agenda down the throats of everyone else. They don’t want Colorado to become a stoner’s paradise, not because they themselves don’t want to live in such a place, but because, according to their own personal values, marijuana is evil and no American should be allowed to partake.

So, for now, we’ll live with this endlessly boring political and judicial wrestle over ‘values’ issues, when what we really should do is just start erecting the new state border signs:

Welcome to Washington.

Flame on!

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My Case Against the NRA

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This is not a critique of gun owners. I know a great many people who own firearms. Without exception, they know their weapons and how to care for and use them, and are quite serious about safety.

Nor is this a statement about gun control, nor a discussion about the limits of the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution. I have previously written at length about both. You can read three previous posts about guns here, here and here.

This post is strictly about the National Rifle Association (NRA), its methods and indefensible positions on matters of public policy.

Here are some of the association’s most venal policy initiatives:

1. In 1994, the NRA opposed legislation to outlaw teflon-coated bullets, called “cop-killers,” because they are specifically designed to penetrate the body armor commonly worn by police.

2. Starting in about 2007, the NRA wrote and pushed for the adoption of legislation in several states that forced the owners of businesses and land to allow their employees and others to carry firearms onto their private property, even if they expressly denied their permission to do so.

3. In 2010, the NRA supported allowing people on the federal government’s terrorist watch list to buy firearms and asserted that preventing them from doing so would infringe on their 2nd Amendment rights.

4. In 2010, and over the strong objections of the nation’s law enforcement community, the NRA introduced federal legislation (through one of their more dependable toads, Rep. Todd Tihart of Kansas) that severely restricted the information the public was allowed to see about the sources of firearms (i.e., the identities of specific dealers) used in crimes.

5. The NRA has consistently opposed requiring background checks on the sale of every firearm in the US, using the back-door mechanism of so-called “private” gun sales (e.g., at gun shows).

6. The recent position of the NRA’s executive director, expressed mere days after another mass murder of innocents, namely putting armed guards in every American public school, is atrocious for its stupidity and cluelessness as well as its venality.

It’s completely clear that the NRA acts as the political agent of death merchants (i.e., arms manufacturers), not to secure and protect the rights of individual gun owners. How my smart, responsible, gun-owning friends can continue to support with their dues the NRA’s filthy work in consistent opposition to public safety is beyond me.

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Treyvon’s Real Killer

I grew up in a middle class neighborhood, the same one my dad did, went to its public schools, hung out on its corners and in its soda fountains and movie theaters. Almost all my friends did too.

More than a few of my old pals and classmates joined law enforcement – the police and sheriff’s department, mostly – just as my dad’s pals and classmates had, in the generation before.  Some of my cop classmates, I remember as smart, stable and together people. Others, less so. A few times, I’ve run into former goofballs, people who did the stupidest things you could possibly imagine, now wearing badges and guns, and all I could do was shake my head and laugh to myself.

But at least, I figured, in exchange for the burden of carrying deadly force, they have received intensive training on weapons and codes of conduct. They have clear responsibilities and consequences.

In Florida, it seems, civilians, without this training and clearly outlined responsibility, can carry firearms and use them – not only if their homes are invaded, not only if their lives are threatened, but if they believe they are in peril. No training. No code of conduct. No responsibility. For a good explanation of Florida’s so-called “stand your ground” law, click here.

I don’t know George Zimmerman, the man who allegedly killed Treyvon Martin, but I must ask why a member of a civilian neighborhood watch carries a gun at all. I keep an eye out on my neighbors’ homes too – I’m looking at a few of them right this minute – but I don’t carry a gun and go on patrol. If I saw anything suspicious, I wouldn’t shoot anyone (or get myself into a situation where I might have to). I’d call 911.

We all know who pulled the trigger, but the insanity of “stand your ground” and other laws like it led to this situation in the first place. Civilians don’t need to carry firearms in public. Not doing neighborhood watch. Not ever.

If we don’t change that, we’ll have more Trayvons. Many more.