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Requalify the Franchise October 31, 2008

Posted by federalist in Government, Natural Rights, Uncategorized.
2 comments

American liberals have been fought for years to extend the right to vote as widely as possible.  Not just to felons, but also to convicts still serving time in prison.  Not just to those who lack proof of citizenship or identity, but also to those who lack an address.  In essence, they think that every adult human being should have an equal voice in our government, simply because they exist and can make their way to a poll (or mailbox, if they can secure an absentee ballot).  This is a hazardous premise for democratic government.  We need to aggressively refute the assumption that the franchise belongs to everyone.  Instead the franchise should, as envisioned by the Founding Fathers, be earned and retained.  Possible qualifiers might include some or all of:

  • Citizenship (i.e., an affirmative contract between an individual and a government).
  • Military service
  • Property ownership
  • Literacy, education, and/or other evidence of a sound and functional mind
  • Law-abiding behavior

After all, think of the moral hazard when:

  1. Those who don’t pay taxes vote on tax policy and the allocation of tax revenue?
  2. Those who have broken laws vote on the establishment and enforcement of laws?
  3. Those who have nothing to lose can vote on the use of government to take from those who do?
  4. Those who have no contract with or obligation to the government vote on its structure and policies?

The Rise of Oligarchy in the United States October 28, 2008

Posted by federalist in Natural Rights, RKBA.
8 comments

Oligarchy is typically associated with single-party Communist states: These are institutions that take rights and property from the general population and distribute them to preferred party members in order to reinforce their power.  They are essentially state-sanctioned organized crime syndicates.

The New York Post reminds us that the New York City oligarchy has usurped our natural right to self-defense:  NYC recognizes the rights of only about 36,000 people to keep and bear firearms — “a list that includes celebrities, billionaires, and politicians.”  For everyone else: “Carrying a firearm without a permit is a felony punishable by more than a year in prison.”

Survival Stockpiling October 17, 2008

Posted by federalist in Open Questions, Uncategorized.
6 comments

Imagine a catastrophe like an EMP attack that destroys our power infrastructure.  Before long the pumps that bring us water and fuel will stop.  What can you reasonably do to prepare to survive in such a post-apocalyptic world?  You and those for whom you care will need clean water, food, and shelter.  Eventually you may also find a need for other things, like medicine.

If you own a rural estate you can transform into a fully self-sufficient compound that’s great, but suppose that, like most people, you can’t move far away from cities.  With small amounts of land you might be able to install a well for fresh water and a garden capable of supplying some food.  With extra storage space you can stockpile food, though to maintain a food stockpile you have to either adopt a regimented rotation system or buy extended shelf-life emergency stores that you refresh every ten years or so.  You can’t stockpile significant amounts of fuel.

At some point you will almost surely want something from somebody else.  What can you acquire now that is easy to store and that would be very valuable to other people during a crisis?  At this point you may expect me to shout “Gold!” or “Silver!” followed by an offer to sell you coins near the current spot market price.  But I can’t imagine precious metals being worth very much in this scenario.  You can’t eat them.  They don’t keep you warm, nor do they protect or heal you.  They are not particularly useful for anything, and not many people today are competent at authenticating a piece of metal as being precious, not counterfeit.  In a crisis precious metals are not more useful than any other fiat currency; people will accept them only so long as they believe other people will.  Therefore a wad of twenty-dollar bills would be just as good as a pocket of gold coins — probably better since people are familiar with paper currency.

So it might make sense to keep some hard currency on hand, but in a major crisis where the supply of essential goods is in question barter will be the only kind of trade you can count on.  One other thing you can count on in such a scenario: If you do possess essential goods there will be a lot of other people desperate to take them from you.  Which brings me to the list of things I think are worth stockpiling for a crisis.  Each of these has two key characteristics:

  • High crisis value: These are things that you would want for yourself in a crisis, or that most other people would want enough to barter for in a crisis.
  • Easy to store: This means they pack a lot of “crisis value” into a relatively small space, and also that they have an extended shelf-life.

Which suggests:

  1. Knowledge and Skills.  Granted, some knowledge will be in greater demand than other.  Medical and survival skills are bound to be the most valuable.  Mechanics, crafts, agriculture and husbandry will probably also be quite valuable.  Nothing is easier to store than knowledge.  Useful books are also easily stored.
  2. Weapons.  Specifically firearms and ammunition.  In a crisis there are those with guns and then there is everybody else.  He who has a gun can defend himself and his possessions.  He who does not is at the mercy of the mob.  Guns and ammo have a virtually unlimited shelf-life if kept dry.  They are also among the densest stores of value for crisis barter.
  3. Water.  A well outfitted with a hand pump that produces high-quality water would be indispensable.  Don’t overestimate the reliability of municipal water: During the 2003 Northeast Blackout taps began to run dry after less than twelve hours!
  4. Medicine.  All varieties of analgesics, antibiotics, antifungals, antihistamines, antivirals, steroids, and vitamins are worth stockpiling.  (If you are concerned about biological or radiological catastrophes be sure to add doxycycline and potassium iodide to the list.)  They are a very dense store of value, though the ability to barter them may depend on how easily they can be authenticated.  Actual shelf-life needs to be determined, since “expiration” dates are really just a lower bound on shelf-life.  [Update: See this post on the question.] Other medical equipment should also be stockpiled though I would welcome a list prioritized by value density. [Update: See my list here.]
  5. Food.  Extremely valuable, but bulky and difficult to store.  You will almost certainly want as much as you can hold and maintain.  Vendors like Walton Feed sell dehydrated food sealed with oxygen scrubbers that can last for decades when kept in cool, dark storage.
  6. Seeds.  Eventually people with even a little land will want to start to grow food.  In such a case seeds are much more valuable than food.  But shelf-life is a concern as with food and drugs; all need to be stored in a cool, dry place to preserve potency.
  7. Liquor.  Distilled alcohol seems to be a reliable and relatively dense store of value.  It also has a virtually unlimited shelf-life.  I would stockpile sealed bottles of mid-grade well-known brands of liquor for bartering.  High in calories, alcohol can be used not only as food or fuel but also as an antiseptic or anesthetic in a pinch.
  8. Tools.  Most likely hand tools since any fuel or power is bound to be scarce for the duration of a crisis.  Here too I would welcome lists prioritized by value density.

They’re coming for our guns! October 15, 2008

Posted by federalist in Natural Rights, RKBA.
Tags: , , , , ,
3 comments

Preparing to take advantage of expected Democrat super-majorities in federal government, the Brady Campaign just published a report arguing for the reinstatement of a new, tougher, federal “assault weapons ban.”  Federalist Readers know that I oppose any infringement of the right of American citizens to keep and bear arms, including military arms.  But I’m always willing to consider opposing viewpoints, so I took a look.

The 63-page report was written by Brian Siebel, one of their staff lawyers.  It consists mostly of anecdotes describing the misuse of assault weapons as well as a sprinkling of arguments and opinions from officials and experts who favor new restrictions on assault weapons.

The report defines “assault weapons” using the features Congress referenced when enacting the Assault Weapons Ban in 1994, as well as those used by the six states that have “assault weapon bans” of various flavors: CA, CT, HI, MA, NJ, NY (see report footnote 102).  These characteristics include:

  • High-capacity magazines (i.e., any magazine that holds more than 10 rounds).
  • Folding or collapsible stocks.
  • Pistol or thumbhole grips.
  • Barrel shrouds.
  • Flash suppressors.
  • Threaded barrels (which allow for temporary attachment of suppressors).
  • Bayonet lugs.

I managed to speak briefly with Brian Siebel after reviewing this report.  His core argument is that none of these “assault weapon features” is useful enough for hunting or defense to justify the misuse to which they have been put by criminals.  This is an assertion worthy of consideration, and I don’t have a database of defensive uses of assault weapons to rebut it.  Nevertheless, I can offer two counter-arguments.

  1. The anecdotal evidence of assault weapon misuse does not incriminate these assault weapon features.  I.e., yes, many crimes have been committed with assault weapons.  But in none of the examples provided by the report is it clear that any of the assault weapon features enhanced the “mayhem” wrought by the criminals.  It appears in every case that if the criminal had instead used a non-assault firearm we could reasonably expect to have observed the same outcome.  This incrimination by incidental association is not a strong argument.  For example, I may assert that red cars with independent suspensions contribute to reckless driving.  I can cite a number of fatal accidents in which a reckless driver was using a red car with an independent suspension.  (I may even discover statistical evidence that reckless drivers prefer such cars.)  But of course there are many such fatal accidents that did not involve cars with those features, and many drivers of such cars that are meticulously law-abiding.  If the reckless drivers had been in almost any other car we could reasonably have expected the same outcome.  Hence, neither this color nor this suspension is incriminated as a feature that increases “mayhem.”
  2. We must also note that police forces worldwide have in recent years equipped their agents with assault weapons.  The police are equipping themselves against the same criminals that threaten civilians.  Therefore, if the government believes community police are justified in carrying these weapons to defend themselves and the community against criminals, then citizens should be equally justified in arming themselves with these weapons for their defense in the absence of police (who, courts have confirmed, do not have an enforceable duty to protect any citizen).

Siebel offers a number of questionable assertions, and a few outright falsehoods, in the core section of his report, “Assault Weapons Have No Sporting or Self-Defense Purpose” (p.14).  Here is a sampling with brief rebuttals:

Silencers are also illegal.

40 states allow for private ownership of silencers.  Is it fair to characterize something that is legal in 80% of the country as simply “illegal?”  Siebel declined to qualify this assertion.

A silencer is useful to assassins but clearly has no purpose for sportsmen.

Siebel doesn’t offer any examples of assassins exploiting the utility of a silencer.  In contrast, I have previously argued that a silencer offers many benefits to sportsmen and indeed any user of a firearm who doesn’t want to damage the hearing of himself or bystanders, or expose them to unattenuated muzzle blast.

Assault weapons were designed for military use. They have no legitimate use as self-defense weapons.

This is simply contradictory.  “Assault weapons” are tactical small arms optimized for the use of individual soldiers defending themselves and small units against attackers.  The military can equip its soldiers with a wide range of weapons for their personal defense.  Almost across the board it prefers assault weapons.

Assault weapons have never been “in common use” at any time.

Siebel declined to elaborate on this assertion, noting that the definition of “in common use” will be adjudicated by future courts.  Suffice it to say that millions of “assault weapons” continue to be owned and used by Americans.  Furthermore, they are standard issue to police and paramilitary forces both in the United States and around the world.