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QOTD: Drilling in the Wilderness July 31, 2008

Posted by federalist in Energy.
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Rick Bookstaber has a knack for satire:

Just because I am that kind of a guy, me and a bunch of my like-minded buddies headed up to the pristine Alaskan wilderness and staked out an area about the size of Manhattan. We then brought in bulldozers and destroyed every trace of vegetation, ripped up the top soil, layered the entire area with discarded tires and sprinkled the top with empty plastic water bottles. Or maybe we didn’t.

But you will never know, because you have never been to Alaska. And you never will be. And even if you do go up there, you will never be able to find where we did or didn’t do this, because in the scale of things, it is like we took a divot on a golf course.

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How to Get the Federal Government Out of the Gun Control Business July 28, 2008

Posted by federalist in Natural Rights, RKBA.
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If we accept the more liberal “states’ rights” interpretation of the Second Amendment, which is that it only forbids the federal government from interfering with the militia rights of states, doesn’t that interpretation nullify most of the gun control currently practiced by the federal government? For example:

1. The National Firearms Act (NFA) requires the taxation and registration of any transfer of broad classes of firearms and accessories (e.g., machine guns and many other devices commonly used by the military) — even when the transfer is between individuals in the same state. How can the federal government regulate the disposition of militia arms within a state without interfering with that state’s right to regulate its militia?

2. The Gun Control Act (GCA) forbids a private citizen from acquiring a machine gun that was not registered privately prior to 1986. What if a state wants its citizens to be able to purchase new machine guns for militia service?

3. The NFA forbids the importation of Class III devices (which includes non-weapon accessories like suppressors) for purchase by private citizens. Again, doesn’t this infringe the right of states to regulate their militia? Is there an established theory by which the Commerce Clause legitimately supercedes the Second Amendment?

4. The Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 (which expired in 2004) further restricted the importation and sale of a wider class of weapons and accessories to “non law enforcement” personnel. Could states circumvent such restrictions by simply designating every “able-bodied adult” a member of their constitutionally protected militia? (And doesn’t the U.S. Code already make that designation?)

5. The federal government prohibits individuals from bearing arms in many locations outside of the District of Columbia — e.g., national parks, “federal” buildings within the states, airports. Is it clear that it has authority to do this in spite of the Second Amendment?

After extensive research I found this 1995 essay by Reynolds and Kates that addresses many of these questions, and which concludes that under the states’ rights interpretation “most federal firearms laws would not be applicable to citizens covered by state militia laws–though no doubt the federal government would retain the power to outlaw weapons obviously unsuited for militia use such as derringers, wallet-guns, umbrella-guns, and sawed-off shotguns.”

[F]ederal gun control laws could, in effect, be nullified by state legislation that requires militia members to possess banned weapons–legislation that might well reach a majority of the state’s population.

Many people are unhappy with the U.S. Supreme Court’s confirmation of the “individual right” interpretation of the Second Amendment in D.C. v. Heller.  Just to make sure we’ve got all the bases covered, let’s encourage the states to assert their Second Amendment rights by nullifying the NFA and GCA!

Gender Differences July 28, 2008

Posted by federalist in Human Markets, Social Politics.
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Mainstream Media continue to butcher this important fact of life: Sample variances of just about any measure of behavior, ability, or disability are higher for men than for women. This means that regardless of whether men or women are on average innately better at something, the best (and worst) in a large population are probably almost all men.

(It’s worth noting that apparently only the Wall Street Journal got this fact right in the recent reporting on this subject.)

Addendum: There is one non-reproductive ability exclusive to females, which is quite fascinating: Tetrachromatic vision. Because the genes for red and green rods are carried on the X chromosome, and because there is at least one known mutation for these receptors that changes their spectral sensitivity curves (and which leads to color-deficiency if inherited by a male), it is possible (though rare) for a female to have four distinct color receptors instead of the usual three, which in theory would allow such a “tetrachromat” to distinguish colors that appear identical to regular humans. Research on human tetrachromats seems to be sorely lacking at present, but in the course of checking out the state of the art I came across some other fascinating notes.

For one thing, apparently regular humans are actually tetrachromats: We have a fourth photoreceptor tuned to the near ultraviolet spectrum, but our natural ocular lenses absorb that wavelength so only people who have had their lenses replaced with artificial ones can enjoy ultraviolet vision. (This means that a natural tetrachromat with artificial lenses would in theory possess pentachromatic vision!) One unresolved question in current research is how effectively the visual cortex can exploit these extra color sensors. Given the evidence for neural plasticity one suspects that they would be fully utilized. But you don’t have to find a natural tetrachromat to test that: An amusing patent proposes eyeglasses that spectrally shift the image presented to one eye, which in principle allows a regular trichromat to distinguish colors as if he were a hexachromat. Of course this is nothing compared to the vision king of the animal world: The Mantis Shrimp has sixteen distinct photoreceptors and is also sensitive to both linear and circular polarization of light!

The Other Child Tax Deduction – Part II July 23, 2008

Posted by federalist in Taxation.
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Part I of The Other Child Tax Deduction noted that each of your children can collect up to $850/year in “unearned” investment income without having to pay taxes on it or file a tax return.  This is worth several hundred dollars a year in tax savings.

If you have business income there is the potential for even bigger savings through your children: IRS Publication 501 notes that dependents do not have to pay taxes or file a tax return on earned income of less than $5,350.  (This is from the standard deduction, which applied to unearned income also, so if they’re collecting interest as suggested in Part I then they can only earn $4,500 in wages and still be exempt.)

A child can only collect wages or income that are reasonable for work actually performed, so one has to be careful with this.  But the exercise is worthwhile since payments to them not only avoid taxes but also reduce your gross taxable income.  Wages to children can be further exempt from FICA and FUTA if the business is entirely owned by their parents, which leads to even greater savings for the family.

Another bonus: A child with earned income is eligible to contribute to IRA’s (up to the lesser of their earned income or the annual IRA limit).  If you’re willing to file a W-2 this means they could collect $9,350 in wages, contribute $4,000 to a (deductible) traditional IRA, and not owe any taxes.

Can Technology End Firearm Rights? July 2, 2008

Posted by federalist in Natural Rights, RKBA.
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Paul Robinson’s NYTimes essay “Shoot to Stun” has an important thesis: If less-than-lethal weapons become more effective for personal defense than handguns, presumably that technology would eliminate our Constitutional right to keep and bear handguns.

Robinson is optimistic on stun guns, though at present tasers are not as effective as handguns for personal defense. Taser darts cannot penetrate heavy clothing. A single stun device cannot defend against multiple assailants. And tasers cannot incapacitate a determined assailant long enough for help to arrive. But suppose less-lethal technology finally does produce a defensive weapon that is as versatile, reliable, and effective as a handgun. Would the government then be justified in banning the keeping and bearing of handguns? I suppose they would. After all, as Robinson points out, bullets are a sloppy and imprecise means of defense. There is no natural or Constitutional basis for preserving a right to arms that are less effective and more dangerous than ready alternatives.

Now, Robinson’s essay has some critical shortcomings. For one thing he appears unaware that a majority of United States have passed “Castle Doctrine” laws, which sanction the use of lethal force against anyone forcibly invading a home — without further regard to the presence of an “imminent threat” or to the “proportional” use of force.

Anyone trained in armed defense knows that ideally a handgun is kept only to enable you to fight your way to a rifle or shotgun. Handguns sacrifice defensive power and accuracy in favor of convenience and portability. But Robinson frames his entire essay in terms of the limited capabilities of handguns. Robinson seems to assume that our right to keep and bear defensive arms exists only for the purpose of personal defense against a small number of unsophisticated assailants, and only in a space extending ten or twenty yards from the defender (i.e., roughly the effective range of a handgun). I disagree with that assumption.

I maintain that the preamble to our Constitution’s Second Amendment extends our natural right to keep and bear arms from those suitable for immediate personal defense to any arms that are suitable for militia use. I.e., every person has a natural right to keep and bear arms suitable to defend himself and his property. But Americans enjoy an enhanced Constitutional right (still as individuals) to keep and bear any weapon that a government would provide to a military force in order to defend ground against a military aggressor. Americans are not subservient to any government. They are not legally dependent on their governments for defense (in fact, no government has an enforceable duty to defend its citizens). Indeed, Americans should stand ready as individuals to band together in their own defense against any government, foreign or domestic, that would attempt to forcibly infringe their natural or Constitutional rights. Hence government cannot infringe the extra-gubernatorial right of Americans to keep and bear arms suitable not only for personal defense but also for mutual military defense.

Will technology ever produce non-lethal devices capable of obviating the need for lethal military weapons? If an individual could surround his property with an impenetrable barrier then presumably he would have no need for weapons. However in practice one suspects that any technological defense is susceptible to technological countermeasures. An escalating cycle of countermeasures is ultimately won by the opponent with the most resources. Unless this rule is broken it will remain the natural right of individuals to defend themselves against adversaries (including wealthy adversaries) with “primitive” lethal weapons.