April 21, 2013

Manchin-Toomey defeat is a victory for individual rights

Filed under: personal liberty by Victoria Liberty @ 1:52 pm

The natural tendency is for rights to be whittled away bit-by-bit.

On Wednesday, 46 senators did the right thing. Although not a majority, it was enough to keep any new restrictions on the right to own firearms from passing. All of the gun control measures proposed in the Senate failed, including an “assault weapon” ban, limitations on the size of magazines and, most narrowly, the proposal by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Patrick Toomey (R-PA) to expand background checks to gun shows and online sales.

As a supporter of individual rights and liberty, I’m thrilled with the Senate vote. Universal background checks – as long as they only detect whether people have been convicted of crimes or declared mentally incompetent by a court – would not be the worst violation of liberty ever. But they would represent a decrease in privacy. By making it impossible to buy a gun in a way that preserves anonymity, increased background checks would contribute to the trend towards recording, documenting, tracking, and monitoring every aspect of people’s lives. Additionally, by requiring gun sellers to do the work of making sure purchasers meet the government’s criteria for gun ownership, background checks unfairly place the burden of law enforcement on private companies and individuals.

What I’m not so thrilled about are the reactions of those who oppose gun rights. To give just a few examples, President Obama called Wednesday “a pretty shameful day in Washington” Rev. Al Sharpton called the senators “political cowards.”  Lori Haas, whose daughter was wounded in the Virginia Tech shooting, called the vote “appalling” and “disgusting.” Tucson, AZ shooting survivor Patricia Maisch yelled “shame on you” when the results of the vote were announced and said afterwards of the senators, “They are an embarrassment to this country. I hate them.” And in a New York Times piece, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords wrote that the senators “gave into fear,” “brought shame on themselves and our government itself,” and “stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful.”

I could not disagree with these comments more. I’m not going to win any popularity contests for taking the opposite side as many vocal crime victims, survivors, and family members, but the truth is that on this issue, the above people and those who hold similar views are completely wrong.

They are wrong to presume that they know the motivations of others, as Rep. Giffords does when she states unequivocally, “These senators made their decision based on political fear and on cold calculations about the money of special interests like the National Rifle Association.” How can she be so sure that none of the 46 senators voted “no” because they genuinely oppose universal background checks?

They are wrong about the purpose of government. Rep. Giffords wrote that the senators who voted to protect gun rights “failed to do their job” and “should have heeded the voices of their constituents.” I am sick of hearing again and again, ad nauseam, that 90% of Americans support universal background checks on gun purchases. No matter what polls this is based on, no matter how accurate or inaccurate those polls are, this fact is irrelevant. Rights are rights, and they cannot be violated, no matter how many people wish them to be. Government’s job is not to enact policies that please the majority of people, but to protect the rights of unpopular minorities against the tyranny of the majority. As MassEquality was so fond of saying when there was the possibility of a ballot initiative to overturn gay marriage in Massachusetts, you shouldn’t be able to vote on rights. Yet so many advocate doing exactly this with respect to the right to bear arms. CNN’s John Avlon, for example, writes that gun control should pass because “in a democracy, the will of the people is supposed to have some sway.” Boston Globe columnist Juliette Kayyem writes that passing background checks is “nothing short of a battle for democracy,” and her colleague Adrian Walker writes that we should have gun control because “the vast majority of us don’t believe that any piece of gun control legislation is a threat to the Constitution.” I suspect neither would consider making this argument when it comes to gay marriage.

And they are wrong to react with such anger, vitriol, and personal criticism of their opponents. Over the centuries since the Bill of Rights was passed, anti-liberty people have won the majority of battles, and freedom overall has been gradually shrinking. Is it too much to ask that liberty supporters be allowed to enjoy a rare victory without being personally insulted? I generally prefer to write about the merits of ideas and policies instead of criticizing people personally. But when gun-rights opponents decide to start personally attacking gun-rights supporters by calling us cowards, I think I am entitled to respond in kind. This is a debate about whether or not individual rights should be sacrificed and freedom shrunk in order to make the world safer. If either side of this debate is motivated by fear, it’s those who would allow rights to be whittled away bit-by-bit to decrease the chances of something bad happening.

One brave person who dared to speak the truth was Minnesota radio host Bob Davis:

“I have something I want to say to the victims of Newtown, or any other shooting. I don’t care if it’s here in Minneapolis or anyplace else. Just because a bad thing happened to you doesn’t mean that you get to put a king in charge of my life. I’m sorry that you suffered a tragedy, but you know what? Deal with it, and don’t force me to lose my liberty, which is a greater tragedy than your loss. I’m sick and tired of seeing these victims trotted out, given rides on Air Force One, hauled into the Senate well, and everyone is just afraid, they’re terrified of these victims… I would stand in front of them and tell them, ‘Go to hell.’”

Davis was widely criticized for his comments and later called them “an emotional predecessor to a thought which can and will find a more refined expression by me and others in the future.” Although I probably would have chosen to express my views a little more diplomatically, Davis’s opinion is correct and needs to be heard. No one disputes that it’s horrible to be injured or to lose a person you love to violence. I extend my sympathies to anyone in this situation and can understand why they would want to prevent similar things from happening in the future. But suffering something horrible does not give anyone the right to demand that other people’s freedoms be taken away. It does not make sense to react to a crime by punishing innocent people, yet that is exactly what so many victims and family members are demanding.

I can’t read minds, so I don’t know exactly what motivated each senator in choosing which way to vote. I’m not sure what percentage of Americans support infringements upon the right to bear arms. I’m not sure exactly how powerful the NRA or other pro-gun-rights organizations are, or how much money they spend on lobbying. But these things don’t matter. What I am sure about is that the senators who voted “no” on the Manchin-Toomey amendment and the other gun control measures took the side of individual liberty.

On Wednesday, President Obama asked, “I’ve heard some say that blocking this step would be a victory. And my question is, a victory for who? A victory for what?” To answer his question, it was a victory for the principles of freedom and individual rights, and therefore a victory for all people.

January 22, 2012

Good luck with your recovery, Gabby!

Filed under: politics by Victoria Liberty @ 5:08 pm

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Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) announced today that she will resign from Congress to focus on her recovery from the head injury she suffered in a shooting rampage just over a year ago. The Freedom Bulletin would like to wish her the very best in her recovery and her future career, whatever shape it may take.

January 1, 2012

Freedom Awards 2011

Filed under: Freedom Bulletin by Victoria Liberty @ 12:52 am

Each New Year here at the Freedom Bulletin, I make a list of the top people of the year. It has taken different forms and has used different criteria over the years, but this year, like last, I decided to do a top 10 list. The following people are the 10 who, in my opinion, mattered the most in the fields of politics, law, individual rights, and freedom. The people in the list were chosen based on a combination of how interesting, influential, high-profile, and unique they are, as well as the importance (in my humble opinion) of the issues that they stand for or are associated with. Without further ado, here are the top 10 people of 2011:

10. Casey Anthony – Accused of murdering her 2-year-old daughter, Caylee, she was almost universally vilified by talking heads, trial watchers, and the general public, who ridiculed her partying ways and presumed her guilty because of the large amount of circumstantial evidence in the case. But her acquittal this year showed that, to one jury at least, reasonable doubt is still the standard to which criminal defendants must be judged, no matter how wrong the verdict may intuitively feel and no matter how unpopular it may be.

9. Dr. Virginia Moyer – The chair of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, she was behind the decisions to recommend fewer pap smears, mammograms, prostate cancer tests, and other medical screenings. After decades of ever-increasing pressure by society, government,  and doctors to undergo more and more frequent medical procedures, which take a huge toll on human dignity and quality of life, this is a small and long-overdue step in the right direction.

8. Gabrielle Giffords – This congresswoman from Arizona doesn’t need much of an explanation. It is amazing that she survived being shot in the head, let alone managed to return to Congress the same year. Her strength and bravery make her more than worthy of a place on this list.

7. SEAL Team 6 – Responsible for the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, they don’t need much of an explanation either. While I don’t believe in celebrating another person’s death, no matter who it is, it is undeniable that bringing an end to America’s 10-year-long pursuit of the world’s most dangerous terrorist is a significant event that changed the world.

6. Jesse Ventura – The former Minnesota governor and wrestler won at least one fan with his opposition to the TSA’s pat-downs and full-body scanners. Although his lawsuit against these unconstitutional and degrading security policies was (wrongly) dismissed, everyone should admire his outspoken and courageous stand for freedom.

5. Susie Castillo – A somewhat unlikely freedom fighter, this former Miss USA similarly gave star power to the fight against airport security excesses. Her candid and brave YouTube video decrying a pat-down that was more like a sexual assault went viral and brought much-needed attention to this issue.

4. Gary Johnson – Although he never picked up a lot of steam in the Republican primary and is now running for president as a Libertarian, he is a man of principle who, both in his personal life and his political life, stands up for what he believes in instead of doing whatever he thinks will make him popular.

3. Anne Sinclair – Married to possibly the most hated criminal defendant of the year (see below), she showed tremendous bravery by fighting for her husband’s freedom when most of the world expected and wanted her to abandon him. By standing up for his presumption of innocence, she also became an icon of loyalty and true feminism.

2. Dominique Strauss-Kahn – No longer a powerful politician or banker, he is an important figure nonetheless because he is this year’s most high-profile victim of race, gender, and class stereotypes. Accused of sexually assaulting an African hotel maid, the wealthy, libertine Frenchman was the perfect villain to many people, who ensured that he was immediately convicted in the court of public opinion. The charges against him were dismissed for lack of evidence, but not before he was severely and unjustly punished, losing his reputation, his privacy, many of his friends, and his political career.

1. Ron Paul – What is there to say about the good doctor and congressman that I haven’t already said somewhere on this blog?? One of my favorite politicians of all time, he has managed this year not only to bravely, consistently, eloquently, intelligently, and passionately voice his pro-liberty views on almost every issue, but actually gained quite a bit of popularity as well. It is exciting to see his poll numbers placing him in the top tier of presidential candidates and sometimes even as the frontrunner. In addition to being a warrior of principle, he has actually changed public opinion and GOP ideology in the direction of liberty, and it is that achievement that lands him in the top spot on my list.

January 18, 2011

Political rhetoric and WikiLeaks death threats

Filed under: politics,world news by Victoria Liberty @ 9:05 am

In a press release a week ago, WikiLeaks condemned death threats against founder Julian Assange and other staff members:

“When senior politicians and attention seeking media commentators call for specific individuals or groups of people to be killed they should be charged with incitement — to murder…A civil nation of laws can not have prominent members of society constantly calling for the murder and assassination of other individuals or groups.”

WikiLeaks also drew a parallel between these death threats and the Tucson shooting, and quoted Tucson Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who said that those who use “vitriolic rhetoric…have some responsibility when incidents like this occur.”

While I agree that people who call for the murder of those they disagree with are acting wrongly and should be punished, I actually believe that the threats against WikiLeaks are much worse, not only in degree but in principle, than the typical examples that people cite as “violent rhetoric” in the wake of the Tucson shooting. I don’t see anything whatsoever wrong with the following pieces of rhetoric:

  • Sarah Palin’s map with crosshairs over 20 districts (and to be fair, similar maps used by Democrats)
  • Palin’s call for people to “not retreat, instead reload
  • Calling the health non-reform bill “job-killing”
  • A picture of Glenn Beck holding a gun
  • A campaign event that involves target shooting (also, pictures of the candidate with guns and using the slogan, “Send a warrior to Congress”)

On the other hand, here are some things people have said about Julian Assange (from this site) which I believe were truly wrong to say:

  • “If Julian Assange is shot in the head tomorrow or if his car is blown up when he turns the key, what message do you think that would send about releasing sensitive American data?”
  • “A dead man can’t leak stuff…I’m not for the death penalty, so…there’s only one way to do it: illegally shoot the S.O.B.”
  • “He should be killed, but we won’t do that.”
  • “He should be underground — six feet underground. … He should be put in jail or worse, hanged in a public forum.”
  • “I think Assange should be assassinated, actually.”
  • “I’d like to ask a simple question: Why isn’t Julian Assange dead? …Why wasn’t Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago?”

Of course, Assange is not the only victim of incitement to commit murder. I’ve seen countless nasty comments about Sarah Palin on YouTube, such as, “I would not be troubled if Palin vanished suddenly, in fact, the less hardline, right-wing conservatives like her the better” and “I hope someone shoots her in the face.” A New York State Comptroller, speaking about George W. Bush, once called on people to “put a bullet between the president’s eyes,” and John Kerry once said, “I could have gone to 1600 Pennsylvania and killed the real bird with one stone.” These comments are wrong, just like the above comments about Assange.

I agree wholeheartedly with WikiLeaks about death threats and incitement to commit murder. But I think it’s important to differentiate these things from weapon-related metaphors, and to remember that the culprits can come from any part of the political spectrum.

January 14, 2011

Tucson shootings: stupid laws alert

Filed under: personal liberty by Victoria Liberty @ 11:13 am

As happens with most tragedies, many people are scrambling, in the wake of the Tucson shooting, to pass laws that violate everyone’s rights with the aim of preventing a similar tragedy from ever happening again.

Here’s a rundown of some of the stupid, wrong laws that people are trying to pass (or already have):

Rep. Peter King (R-NY) is planning to introduce a bill banning anyone from carrying a gun within 1000 feet of the president, vice-president, Congressmen, or federal judges. Hopefully the real Republicans in the newly Republican-dominated Congress will dispose of this bill as it deserves.

Rep. Robert Brady (D-PA) will introduce a bill banning people from using “language or symbols that could be perceived as threatening or inciting violence against a Member of Congress or federal official.” This would include Sarah Palin’s graphic “targeting” the districts of 20 members of Congress to focus on in the election. Ken Paulson of the First Amendment Center explains why this is wrong (not that it needs any explanation).

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) are trying to ban high-capacity ammo clips.

Arizona’s state legislature passed, and Governor Jan Brewer singed, a bill banning protests within 300 feet of a funeral. This, of course, was a response to the Westboro Baptist’s Church plan to protest at the funeral of 9-year-old shooting victim Christina Green. Although this law isn’t as wrong as the previous three, and I am no fan of the WBC, I think that people should have the legal right to protest no matter how wrong their opinions are.

But there is one good bill that has been drafted as a result of the shootings. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) is working to allow members of Congress to carry guns in the Capitol and on the House floor. I am completely in favor of this. Since having a gun, in itself, does not hurt anyone or violate anyone’s rights, people, including Congressmen, should be allowed to have guns wherever they want.

January 13, 2011

Gun control and the Tucson shootings

Filed under: personal liberty by Victoria Liberty @ 8:05 am

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Not surprisingly, many people have been calling for increased gun restrictions since Jared Lee Loughner allegedly used a Glock to kill 6 people and attempt to kill Representative Gabby Giffords on Saturday. Sadly, lots of people seem to have the philosophy that whenever something bad happens, everything whose existence enabled the bad thing to happen should subsequently be banned. I completely disagree with this philosophy, and I will address some of its proponents point by point.

Guns do not kill people, people kill people.

Harold Evans at the Daily Beast calls this a “routine bromide…chanted by ditto heads” and “a cowardly way of evading responsibility.” He claims that “Guns kill people. A single gun can kill a lot of them in seconds.”

Really, Mr. Evans? Have you ever seen a gun get up and decide to kill someone?

Evans writes that if Loughner had not been able to acquire a gun and a large magazine, he would not have been able to kill 6 people and wound 13. Gail Collins at the New York Times criticizes Arizona for allowing people to carry guns in a holster under their armpit and points out that if Loughner had had a pistol and not a Glock, he may have shot Rep. Giffords but not so many bystanders. And Drew Western at the Huffington Post calls it “surreal and shameful” that people are allowed to have guns near elected officials (and calls such people “gun-toting bullies”).

I’ll admit, for the purpose of this argument, that if guns were banned (or Glocks, or high-capacity clips, or guns near elected officials), shootings like Saturday’s would be less likely to occur. But that is no reason to ban guns (or Glocks, or high-capacity clips, or guns near elected officials). It is simply wrong to claim that if a tragedy wouldn’t have happened but for X, then X should be banned. What should be banned are all and only the things that violate people’s rights. Carrying a gun under your armpit doesn’t violate anyone’s rights. Neither does owning a Glock or a high-capacity clip or bringing a gun near a public official. Shooting innocent people, however, does violate their rights. And that is rightfully banned.

In an editorial, the New York Times writes that high-capacity clips “serve absolutely no legitimate purpose outside of military or law enforcement use.”  And Sam Stein at HuffPo begins his article with the question, “Is there a good reason to have 33 bullets loaded in a handgun?”

This mentality is simply wrong. People should not have to provide a good reason in order to be able to do something. As I’ve written numerous times, people have a right to do anything that does not violate the rights of others, no matter how pointless it may seem. The government should have to provide a good reason to ban something, not the other way around.

“Having won a Supreme Court ruling establishing a right to keep a firearm in the home,” writes the Times, “the gun lobby is striving for new heights of lunacy, waging a campaign to legalize the possession of a gun in schools, bars, parks, offices, and churches, even by teenagers.”

Allowing people to do things that, in themselves, hurt no one and violate no one’s rights - what lunacy!

And a final point: Evans thinks that politicians have refrained from banning assault weapons merely because they are “scared of the NRA.” Collins writes that Congress “did not have the guts” and are “afraid of the NRA.” And Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) is quoted as saying, “Everybody is petrified of the NRA.”

Notice a theme here? Please do not assume that people who disagree with you are motivated solely by fear. You might disagree with Congress’s failure to ban assault weapons, but at least admit the possibility that they just might, well, think that assault weapons shouldn’t be banned.

Harold Evans dares his opponents to “tell the Arizona shooting victims that guns don’t kill.” Well, to Rep. Giffords and the other 12 people who were wounded, and to the souls of Judge John Roll, Christina Green, Gabe Zimmerman, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwin Stoddard, and Dorothy Morris, I say, guns don’t kill. People have a fundamental right to purchase any kind of gun or ammunition they want, and carry it anywhere they want. It was unjust and tragic that you were wounded or lost your life. The blame for that rests solely on the person who decided to shoot you. The answer to this tragedy is to punish that person, not to punish everyone by taking our freedom away.

January 12, 2011

Sarah Palin on the Tucson tragedy

Filed under: politics by Victoria Liberty @ 4:17 pm

Sarah Palin responded today to accusations that she somehow contributed to Saturday’s Tucson, Arizona shootings. You can watch the whole speech above, and some of my favorite parts are below:

President Reagan said, “We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.” Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. They begin and end with the criminals who commit them, not collectively with all the citizens of a state, not with those who listen to talk radio, not with maps of swing districts used by both sides of the aisle, not with law-abiding citizens who respectfully exercise their First Amendment rights at campaign rallies, not with those who proudly voted in the last election….

There are those who claim political rhetoric is to blame for the despicable act of this deranged, apparently apolitical criminal. And they claim political debate has somehow gotten more heated just recently. But when was it less heated? Back in those “calm days” when political figures literally settled their differences with dueling pistols? In an ideal world all discourse would be civil and all disagreements cordial. But our Founding Fathers knew they weren’t designing a system for perfect men and women. If men and women were angels, there would be no need for government. Our Founders’ genius was to design a system that helped settle the inevitable conflicts caused by our imperfect passions in civil ways. So, we must condemn violence if our Republic is to endure.

As I said while campaigning for others last March in Arizona during a very heated primary race, “We know violence isn’t the answer. When we ‘take up our arms’, we’re talking about our vote.” Yes, our debates are full of passion, but we settle our political differences respectfully at the ballot box – as we did just two months ago, and as our Republic enables us to do again in the next election, and the next. That’s who we are as Americans and how we were meant to be. Public discourse and debate isn’t a sign of crisis, but of our enduring strength. It is part of why America is exceptional.

No one should be deterred from speaking up and speaking out in peaceful dissent, and we certainly must not be deterred by those who embrace evil and call it good. And we will not be stopped from celebrating the greatness of our country and our foundational freedoms by those who mock its greatness by being intolerant of differing opinion and seeking to muzzle dissent with shrill cries of imagined insults.

I love this speech. I might disagree with Palin on some things (like WikiLeaks, for example) but I agree with her 100% about her and the Tea Party’s responsibility (or lack thereof) for the shootings. Civility and respect do not demand that people sit there and take it when unjustly and falsely attacked. Palin fought back, as she should. Go Sarah!

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