Saturday, August 25, 2007

Do Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton Read This Blog?

Back in December of 2005, I suggested that, in order to win over libertarian voters, “At the very least, prominent Democrats should come out in favor of the federal government respecting state medical marijuana laws, as it has so far refused to do.”

According to Reason’s Hit and Run Blog, “Barack Obama has joined the seven other Democratic presidential candidates in promising to call off the DEA's medical marijuana raids if he's elected.”

Nice to know someone was listening.


Jonathan said...

Congratulations! Let us pray that your advice becomes ever more irresistible to politicians.

Tim of Angle said...

Any "libertarian voter" who can be seduced into voting for a statist Democrat because they're in favor of looser drug laws would be rather dimwitted. I suspect that it's more pandering to left-wing stoners than any concern for federalism. Let's see how they position themselves with respect to gun control laws before we start celebrating.

Jonathan said...

I can't envisage ever voting for a Republican or a Democrat, even if I were entitled to (which I'm not).

However, as a libertarian who's never felt the slightest urge to own a gun, whether I'm legally entitled to do so or not is in practice the least of my worries. It seems strange from over here (in Europe) that Americans are so obsessed with guns.

Arthur B. said...


Owning a gun is symbolical, it means you can defend yourself and others against an agressor. It implies individual responsibility,it implies that might doesn't make right. Guns are ambassadors of libertarian individualism, this is why although I don't feel I personally need a gun I think it is an extremely important matter.

Some defend gun ownership on the basis of defense against government. I really don't think this is practical, being unnoticed is actually much easier. However, the IRS does have lots of weapon, there's probably a reason for it.

montestruc said...

Laws regarding arms ownership vary a lot over Europe, from near total bans such as in the UK to fairly liberal as in Finland, Sweden and Norway.

What seems interesting to me is the theory that a modern military can put down an insurrection by an armed population is being rather brutally proven dead wrong in Iraq.

Please to note that the people of the US outnumber the people of Iraq by about 10:1, and are about 10 times as wealthy on average (which is a good measure of military capability) And yet the US military with the aid of the UK military cannot control the population of a nation 1/10 the size of the USA and with about 1/10th the per capita mean wealth, even though only a small fraction of that population is actively fighting and they do not have the enormous political (army fighting people they are related to), logistical (the American people are the source of supply for the US Military) advantages the American people would have in such a fight.

Jonathan said...

I'm afraid we've wandered off topic here; tim_of_angle started it, but I seem to have aggravated it. My apologies.

arthur_b thinks that owning a gun "implies that might doesn't make right". It implies the opposite to me. However, my point was a practical one: as I've lived for 53 years in various different countries and never felt the need of a gun, why would I want to buy one? Defending myself against imaginary aggressors would seem a bit paranoid.

As for the American people defending themselves against their government: I'm afraid the last time they tried it (1861) it caused horrendous bloodshed and damage, and it failed. The trouble is that you will never get the American people, or any other people, to unite in any such cause. So, instead of the people fighting the government, you get civil war: the people fighting the people. It's happened in other countries too: Spain and England, to name two that I happen to be familiar with.

Anonymous said...

"As for the American people defending themselves against their government: I'm afraid the last time they tried it (1861) it caused horrendous bloodshed and damage, and it failed."

What history book are you reading pal? And whose side are you on: the slave traders?

jimbino said...

Jonathan never heard this exchange between a Yank and a Brit:

Brit: Why do you Yanks feel you need to own guns?

Yank: Because it keeps our government from taking away all our liberties.

Brit: But your government has never even threatened to take away your liberties.

Yank: See!

Furthermore, we Yanks are in a stonger position than the Iraqis because our government has taught some of us, at great expense, how to make and use NBC weapons!

Jonathan said...

Dictatorships remove liberties crudely, at a stroke.

Democratic governments erode them gradually, a bit at a time, hoping no-one will notice.

I'm no friend of governments. However, anyone pointing at Iraq as an example of resistance to government should pause and wonder whether he really wants his own country to resemble Iraq today.

Michael Roberts said...

It seems to me that the governments of north america have taken away an auful lot of liberties...

Anonymous said...

anonymous -- the civil war was often depicted in the South as protecting a way of life (in which slavery featured prominently) from government aggression. Perhaps Jonathan has been reading texts that mention this sort of thing?

As for Iraq being a strong example of the potential of armed resistance, keep in mind that the violence is mostly being directed against other Iraqis, rather than occupying forces. A better model might be the recent conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. However, given that Hezbollah's success had mostly to do with their use of rocket-propelled grenades, which are not widespread among the American population.

Lastly -- Arthur, I don't see how owning a gun implies individual responsibility. That you're responsible enough to own a gun without shooting other people? Congrats. I bet that most non-gun owners are equally "responsible", and don't need a gun to imply it.

Jonathan said...

Thanks, Aaron and Unnr.

The American Civil War was a well-organized attempt by a large minority of the American people to detach itself from the authority of the US government. It failed, at enormous cost. In this context, I don't think it matters whether you love or loathe the Confederates. If you plan to organize any similar armed resistance to your government, you should bear their experience in mind. Even if they had won their independence, it would still have been at enormous cost.

David Friedman said...

My medical marijuana post seems to have morphed into a gun control thread, so I might as well contribute.

I think the idea that the Second Amendment was intended to make it possible for the people to defeat their government and its professional army is a plausible interpretation of the relevant history, but it isn't the basis on which I would defend the right to bear arms at present.

If the populace is disarmed, it is dependent for its protection on the police. The more that is the case, the more willing people will be to give the police power. One advantage of a society where ordinary people can be and often are armed is that they will feel, and be, less dependent on police and so less willing to put up with increases in the power of law enforcement.

Going back to my original point ... . It isn't a matter of persuading libertarians that Democrats have suddenly become libertarian--merely that they are marginally more libertarian than Republicans. Just at the moment, that isn't a very high standard.

Jonathan said...

It must be very difficult to assess how many votes the Democrats might gain by being seen as marginally more libertarian than the Republicans. But, as you say, apparently the Democrats themselves have been thinking about it.

Referring back to Tim of Angle's comment, Democrats and Republicans alike are clearly committed statists, and a libertarian who votes for either party with any enthusiasm is surely deluding himself. But some voters hold their noses and go for the lesser of two evils.

"If the populace is disarmed, it is dependent for its protection on the police. The more that is the case, the more willing people will be to give the police power."

That sounds plausible. But if you consider the virtually disarmed population of the UK and the relatively armed-to-the-teeth population of the USA, is it true that the British police have much more power than their American equivalents? I have no expertise on the subject, but I wouldn't have thought so.

Owning a gun gives you little or no protection against most kinds of crime and is no substitute for a police force of some kind -- whether it's government-run police or private security agency.

Jonathan said...

It seems to me that owning a gun gives some protection mainly against casual, unpremeditated, incompetent assaults, and (in the USA*) amateurish burglaries.

Any sensible burglar will enter your home when you're not there.

If any competent murderer is after you, you'll be dead before you realize you're under attack.

A gun is irrelevant to any crimes that don't involve physical confrontation between criminal and victim.

Have I missed something?

I apologize again for the off-topic discussion. I'm afraid I can't resist following a train of thought, even when it's gone off the rails...

[*If you shoot a burglar in the UK, you'll be in serious trouble unless you can plausibly plead self-defence. Burglary in itself isn't regarded as a capital crime.]

montestruc said...


It is I think instructive to look at the variation in types of crimes across the USA in relation to the types of laws regarding self-defense and gun ownership.

One type of crime that is historically common in New York is sometimes called strong-arm extortion where organized criminals will threaten business owners with damage to their property or personal injury unless they pay insurance. In New York, a person has a duty to retreat before an attacker even within their own home and may not use deadly force to defend themselves unless they have a reasonable fear of imminent threat to life or injury.

In the US South and Midwest, this sort of crime is rare, and the laws allow a person to defend themselves and their property with no retreat and the threat can be to property alone. Thus a creditable threat to destroy a shop owners property is enough for the shop owner to legally pull a gun and demand the would be extortionist to leave. Thus such crimes are not economical for the criminal with such laws.

Likewise burglaries in states that have liberal laws about self-defense (in the classic sense of liberal) tend to always be while the owner is not at home, as the owner can kill the burglar with almost risk of penalty, while the burglar is on the hook for felony murder if the home owner dies of heart failure if he surprises the owner.

I agree with David about the standard, but my take is that American conservative libertarians from the south, and mountain states put a lot of stock in gun rights, and are much more swayed by arguments on those lines than about free speech or drug issues.

Jonathan said...


If a criminal gang decides that a certain type of crime isn't worth the trouble, that probably just means that it's found some other easier type of crime to commit. The total amount of crime committed is unlikely to decrease.

If an extortionist gang is serious about remaining in the extortion business, it just has to make an example of anyone who pulls a gun on its members. For that reason, if I (hypothetically) pulled a gun on a gang member, I'd walk in fear of my life for weeks afterwards. But maybe the average gang would rather find some easier crime to commit. There are plenty to choose from.

montestruc said...

Jonathan wrote;

"If a criminal gang decides that a certain type of crime isn't worth the trouble, that probably just means that it's found some other easier type of crime to commit. The total amount of crime committed is unlikely to decrease."

True, however the fact of the matter is that it deters violent property crimes. This is born out by the statistics in the USA in that in NY state burglary with the home owner in residence is not uncommon, but in Texas (for example) it is rare, but burglary while no one is home is more common.

Jonathan again:

"If an extortionist gang is serious about remaining in the extortion business, it just has to make an example of anyone who pulls a gun on its members."


But they don't. That sort of crime is almost unheard of in the USA outside of jurisdictions in the USA where the right of self-defense, and right to bear arms are limited.

In any case that cannot work in this sort of legal set up, as even if the extortionists win the gunfight, they are liable for murder charges which the police will treat much more seriously than extortion, while if the defender wins he has little or no risk of prosecution.

The more of a reputation the gang has for killing people who resist, the more likely they are to be arrested for murder.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious to know what you think about Obama's promise today to open a DEA in New Orleans if elected. I'm not sure if his 2 statements contradict each other or not, being that Obama is a bit vague on the issue still. I put my two cents in on my blog.

Anonymous said...

However, as a libertarian who's never felt the slightest urge to own a gun, whether I'm legally entitled to do so or not is in practice the least of my worries. It seems strange from over here (in Europe) that Americans are so obsessed with guns.

To gain some understanding, I respectfully suggest that Europeans ponder the role that American guns played the last time Europeans fought against totalitarian European governments in a major way.

... and the recognized importance of American arms was not limited to government-issue weapons in the hands of government-issue soldiers. I've read that in November 1940 the following advertisement ran in various American publications (including American Rifleman, a leading publication of the gun-obsessed):


British civilians, faced with threat of invasion, desperately need arms for defense of their homes.

THE AMERICAN COMMITTEE FOR DEFENSE OF BRITISH HOMES has organized to collect gifts of pistols, rifles, revolvers, shotguns, binoculars from American civilians who wish to answer the call and aid in defense of British homes. The arms are being shipped, with the consent of the British Government, to CIVILIAN COMMITTEE FOR PROTECTION OF HOMES, BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND.



I personally have never owned a gun, and have never particuarly felt the urge to, to date. But if that ever changes, I want the right to get one, quickly. A gun is like a fire extinguisher: you may never need it, and it won't protect you from every danger, but when find yourself needing one, it appears there is no substitute.

In addition, that late European war made quite a mark upon the American psyche, and has provided American pro-gunners with some rather vivid if perhaps overblown pro-gun imagery. A friend of mine once said, "We need to have guns in case our own government ever 'goes Nazi,'" and while he was partly lampooning the rhetoric of the pro-gun movement, he essentially agreed with it.

Could an American government "gone Nazi" run roughshod over an armed American populace? Maybe. But not as easily or as quickly as it could over an unarmed one. Sometimes the objective is not to win, but to deter.

Jonathan said...

I was born nine years after the end of the Second World War, and I don't spend my time mentally refighting it. I think it's mostly older people who do that, in any country.

"A gun ... won't protect you from every danger" -- a gun is not a force field, it's not inherently protective. Any bullet shot at you will do the same damage to you whether you have a gun or not. The only way you can use it for protection is to kill or intimidate all of your enemies, before they do it to you, and without missing even one of them.

Anyone reckoning to defend his home from an invading German army in 1940, all by his little self with his little gun, was just looking for a heroic way to commit suicide.

Jonathan said...

We've wandered so far off topic that this is becoming funny...

However: if the Germans had managed to invade Britain in 1940, I think individual Brits would have had about three sensible options: join the armed forces and resist in a coordinated manner; emigrate if able to do so; or prepare to live under Nazi rule if necessary.

To try to defend your own home with your own gun on your own initiative would have been a lunatic option.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry I'm so off topic, but this is important and, I think, interesting.

I was born nine years after the end of the Second World War, and I don't spend my time mentally refighting it. I think it's mostly older people who do that, in any country.

Not so much in the USA. I was born 16 years after the end of WW2, but that struggle still looms large in our national memory, and suffuses much of our popular culture. We're still making WW2 war movies. To the extent the Iraq war has any support, it's because some people are able to make comparisons to the fight against Hitler and the rebuilding of Germany and Japan as friendly democracies.

Growing up, when I played "army" with the other kids in our neighborhood, aiming toy guns from behind bushes, we didn't pretend we were fighting the North Vietnamese, our actual shooting enemy at the time. Or North Koreans from before that. We were fighting German Nazis.

Recently I've been thinking about how much influence the war against European totalitarianism has had upon the modern American pro-gun movement. If that European war had never happened, I think that movement would be much weaker today. Gun-owning Americans, at least in part, would indeed be arming against an imagined enemy, rather than a remembered one.

Whether an irregular resistance against the Nazis would have been effective or quixotic in real life -- something we can only speculate about now -- it's clear that possibility is very much on the minds of pro-gun Americans. The question is asked, "What if the German Jews had been armed?" And we have a little organization over here called Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership as a direct result of that question, and a supposed answer. So at least one American pro-gun organization exists directly as a result of the WW2 experience.

A few years ago, the then-president of the American Rifle Association warned against gun control and the need to defend against overzealous US government officials, speaking of the latter a bit intemperately as "jack-booted thugs." That threatening imagery is a direct import from European fascism. (The only people over here who might wear jackboots are motorcycle cops and hourse-mounted police, and you don't see all that many of those, nor are they particularly scary.)

In short, one very important reason that modern Americans cling to their guns is that the European experience has given them a vivid warning to fear. Nobody here would be asking, "Can it happen here?" if it had never happened "over there."

To be honest -- and I don't mean this personally, Jonathan, you seem to be a good libertarian-minded guy -- I get a little riled when I hear Europeans say, "We Europeans don't understand your American obsession with guns and your 2nd Amendment." It reminds me of a small child saying, "I don't understand why you won't let me help carry in the grocery bags from the car." Well, the reason is that last time, you dropped the bag that had the eggs, the jar of pickles, and the glass bottle of cranberry juice in it. It splashed me, I had to help clean up the mess, and my clothes bear the stains to this day. That's why.

Brinck said...

Another reason for the strength of American gun culture is that armed private citizens were essential to the formation of our country. The same arguments for the "silliness" of individuals defending their homes and communities against Nazis could be made for late 1700s Americans fighting the overwhelmingly powerful British army.

Jonathan said...

The French Resistance had guns. They were a bit of a nuisance to the Nazis, nothing more.

If the Nazis had been met by disorganized armed resistance from the whole population of any country, I think they would have systematically exterminated the population of that country. Subsequent countries might not have been keen to go the same way.

As I already said, if you're buying guns to defend yourself against your own government, bear in mind that in any such conflict many of your fellow citizens will be on the side of the government. Are you keen to fight another civil war like in the 1860s?

In the 1770s, weapons on both sides were fairly similar. The British Army then didn't have tanks, machine guns, helicopters, etc. It was also trying to keep its forces supplied across the width of the Atlantic -- a more significant problem then than it would be now.

Jonathan said...

Incidentally, I sometimes detect an American attitude that "Europeans" in general were responsible for the Second World War.

Germany, Italy, and Japan were responsible for the Second World War. Britain was no more responsible for German aggression than the USA was responsible for Japanese aggression.

Our countries were allied against a global menace -- the "axis of evil" of the time. The USA didn't join the alliance until it was itself attacked; but better late than never. Britain (and its fading empire) never really recovered from the First World War, and by 1939 it was in no state to battle a global menace by itself.