Want to Reform the Criminal Justice System? End the Drug War

Protesters say America’s criminal justice system is unfair.

It is.

Courts are so jammed that innocent people plead guilty to avoid waiting years for a trial. Lawyers help rich people get special treatment. A jail stay is just as likely to teach you crime as it is to help you get a new start. Overcrowded prisons cost a fortune and increase suffering for both prisoners and guards.

There’s one simple solution to most of these problems: End the war on drugs.

Our government has spent trillions of dollars trying to stop drug use.

It hasn’t worked. More people now use more drugs than before the “war” began.

What drug prohibition did do is exactly what alcohol prohibition did a hundred years ago: increase conflict between police and citizens.

“It pitted police against the communities that they serve,” says neuroscientist Carl Hart in my new video. Hart, former chair of Columbia University’s Psychology department, grew up in a tough Miami neighborhood where he watched crack cocaine wreck lives. When he started researching drugs, he assumed that research would confirm the damage drugs did.

But “one problem kept cropping up,” he says in his soon-to-be-released book, Drug Use For Grown-Ups: Chasing Liberty in the Land of Fear, “the evidence did not support the hypothesis. No one else’s evidence did either.”

After 20 years of research, he concluded, “I was wrong.” Now, he says, our drug laws do more harm than drugs.

Because drug sales are illegal, profits from selling drugs are huge. Since sellers can’t rely on law enforcement to protect their property, they buy guns and form gangs.

Cigarettes harm people, too, but there are no violent cigarette gangs—no cigarette shootings—even though nicotine is more addictive than heroin, says our government. That’s because tobacco is legal. Likewise, there are no longer violent liquor gangs. They vanished when prohibition ended.

But what about the opioid epidemic? Lots of Americans die from overdoses!

Hart blames the drug war for that, too. Yes, opioids are legal, but their sale is tightly restricted.

“If drugs were over the counter, there would be fewer deaths?” I asked.

“Of course,” he responds. “People die from opioids because they get tainted opioids….That would go away if we didn’t have this war on drugs. Imagine if the only subject of any conversation about driving automobiles was fatal car crashes….So it is with the opioid epidemic.”

Drugs do harm many people, but in real life, replies Hart, “I know tons of people who do drugs; they are public officials, captains of industry, and they’re doing well. Drugs, including nicotine and heroin, make people feel better. That’s why they are used.”

President Eisenhower warned about the military-industrial complex. America’s drug war funds a prison-industrial complex. Hart says his years inside the well-funded research side of that complex showed him that any research not in support of the “tough-on-drugs” ideology is routinely dismissed to “keep outrage stoked” and funds coming in.

America locks up more than 2 million Americans. That’s a higher percentage of our citizens, disproportionately black citizens, than any other country in the world.

“In every country with a more permissive drug regime, all outcomes are better,” says Hart. Countries like Switzerland and Portugal, where drugs are decriminalized, “don’t have these problems that we have with drug overdoses.”

In 2001, Portugal decriminalized all drug use. Instead of punishing drug users, they offer medical help. Deaths from overdoses dropped sharply. In 2017, Portugal had only 4 deaths per million people. The United States had 217 per million.

“In a society, you will have people who misbehave, says Hart. “But that doesn’t mean you should punish all of us because someone can’t handle this activity.”

He’s right. It’s time to end the drug war.

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Censorship is a Loser Move

Censorship is running rampant, but I’ve seen people argue that it’s not censorship unless government is doing it. That’s not correct. Censorship doesn’t only refer to government action.

While the First Amendment prohibition of censorship only applies to government organs, because those are the only ones who can use legislation to prevent someone from expressing an opinion (or telling an inconvenient fact) or hearing the same, it is still censorship if I prevent you from speaking or being heard. I’m not individually obligated to promote or “host” your message, but if I take action to prevent it from getting to those who want to hear it, I’m censoring just the same as if I banned you from expressing it.

If I deleted comments from my blog which expressed an opinion I didn’t like, it would be within my rights… and it would still be censorship. I wouldn’t feel right about doing it because, to me, censorship is never ethical, even when you have the right to do it.

The first definition of “censor” is “an official” who suppresses [things] deemed objectionable on moral, political, military, or other grounds. But the second expands that to be anyone who does something similar. That encompasses employees of Twitter, Google, Facebook, and all other quasi-governmental, pseudo-private, institutions.

As I have pointed out on the topic of “private prisons“, if it’s wrong to do something, it doesn’t magically become right just because it’s not being done by a direct government employee. It’s wrong if done by a corporation or by a private company or by an individual. Murder isn’t wrong only when committed by a cop, and censorship isn’t wrong only when committed by a government censor. Even though the First Amendment only applies to the direct government employee.

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On Riotous Looting

One of the many foundational reasons for the strong possibility of police brutality is the fact that people have either willingly or under coercion outsourced their own security to a group of people who claim not to have any duty to provide it. In actuality, security is the prerogative of each and every individual, not some legal mafia who are more interested in enforcing their prohibitions over peaceful and nonviolent activities in order to fill their bank accounts. The sooner society realizes this, the sooner it will do something to curtail, among other things, the possibility of riotous looting as a result of police brutality. And that’s today’s two cents.

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How Lockdowns Matter

How much do lockdowns really matter?  Researchers recently noticed that behavior drastically changed before regulations did.  Malone and Bourassa offer a provocative comparison in 538:

This sort of mass behavioral change in such a short time is significant. It took over 50 years and hundreds of billions of dollars in prevention efforts to lower the percentage of people who smoke in the U.S. from 42 percent in 1965 to 13 percent in 2018. Americans reacted to the threat of COVID-19 in a relative blink of an eye.

A reasonable point, but multiple caveats are in order.

1. Lockdowns can easily prolong behavior they did not initially cause.  If the government stopped discouraging smoking, few people think it would mount a major resurgence in a year or a decade.  But almost everyone thinks that people would start returning to normal life in a few months… unless draconian enforcement stops them.

2. Lockdowns clearly amplify behavioral changes.  Look at Florida beaches: lots of people return the day the law changes.

3. The welfare cost of prohibition is much greater than the welfare cost of large behavior changes.  Why?  Because the suppliers and demanders most reluctant to change their behavior have the highest consumer and producer surplus!  Thus, if only 20% of people would eat in restaurants if it were legal, the value of those few meals could easily be half the value in the market.  Check out this textbook graph:

The triangle between the red “tax wedge” bar and the intersection of supply and demand shows the welfare loss of shrinking the market.  Double the quantity reduction, and you multiply the welfare loss four-fold.  In the real world, of course, the curves are rarely straight lines; instead, enthusiasts’ consumer surplus normally soars into the stratosphere.

4. The massive expansion of unemployment benefits and coverage greatly increases the sustainability of the lockdown; new limits on evictions and foreclosures do the same.  So if the question is, “How much do emergency policies matter?” rather than “How much do lockdowns matter?” there can be little doubt that the answer is “a lot.”  Most people simply don’t have enough personal savings to stop working for months without massive help from the government.  And even many people who do have such savings wouldn’t want to burn through their assets for a marginal increase in safety.

What this means is that crisis policies make a big difference – for good or ill.  People are taking many precautions voluntarily; but many other behavioral changes hinge on coercion and subsidies, especially after a few weeks of going corona-crazy.

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Federal Gun Control in America: A Historic Guide to Major Federal Gun Control Laws and Acts

For Americans, the crux of gun control laws has been how to disarm dangerous individuals without disarming the public at large. Ever-present in this quest is the question of how the perception of danger should impact guaranteed freedoms protected within the Bill of Rights.

Not only is such a balancing act difficult as-is, but there are also two additional factors that make it even more challenging: America’s federal government is constitutionally bound by the Second Amendment, and politicians notoriously take advantage of tragedies to pass irrational laws when emotions are at their highest. As President Obama’s former Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, once famously remarked:

“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

This line of thought is not new to American politics. From the emancipation of enslaved Americans and the organized crime wave of the 1930s to the assassinations of prominent leaders in the 1960s and the attempted assassination of President Reagan in the 1980s, fear has proved a powerful catalyst for appeals about gun control.

Below is an overview of the history behind major gun control laws in the federal government, capturing how we’ve gone from the Founding Fathers’ America of the New World to the United States of the 21st century.

Second Amendment in America’s Bill of Rights: Ratified December 15, 1791

Congress added the Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States specifically “to prevent misconstruction or abuse of its powers.” The Second Amendment is the foundational cornerstone of every American’s right to bear arms, stating:

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The right to bear arms was second only to the first – the most vital freedoms of religion, speech, the press, the right to assemble and the right to petition government for redress of grievances. Meanwhile, conflicting views have left government and personal interest groups struggling to reconcile technological advances, isolated but significant violent anomalies and the constitutional mandate protecting the natural right to self defense and this most basic aspect of the Bill of Rights.

First and Second Militia Acts of 1792: Passed May 2 and 8, 1792

The U.S. Congress passed the Militia Acts of 1792 less than a year after the Second Amendment’s ratification. The first act’s purpose was “to provide for the National Defence, by establishing an Uniform Militia throughout the United States.” This measure established the need and command structure for a state-based militia. The second act defined conscription parameters for those militias, limiting armed service to “each and every free able-bodied white male citizen” 18 to 45.

Colonial Gun Regulations

Even today, the majority of firearms laws are state-based and vary considerably. While CaliforniaConnecticut and New Jersey have the most restrictive laws, ArizonaVermont and Kentucky have some of the least stringent. For more than a century, the young United States relied primarily on “state” laws:

  • The earliest came from Virginia, the result of fear of attack by Native Americans. The 1619 law imposed a three-shilling fine on able-bodied men who failed to come armed to church on the Sabbath.
  • By 1640, slave codes in Virginia prohibited all “free Mulattos and Negroes” from bearing arms. In 1712, South Carolina enacted a similar law.
  • During this time in Virginia, gun laws for Native Americans were similar to those for white men – as they were not barred from possessing guns (unless they were gathering food on land held by white men). There were, however, prohibitions against providing “Indians” with weapons and ammunition. Native Americans could own weapons, but there were strict regulations on how they could obtain them.
  • Throughout the Antebellum South, LouisianaFloridaMarylandGeorgiaNorth CarolinaMississippi and even Delaware all passed multiple measures denying guns to people of color, requiring court-issued permits, and allowing search and seizure of weapons as well as punishment without trial.

Continue reading Federal Gun Control in America: A Historic Guide to Major Federal Gun Control Laws and Acts at Ammo.com.

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Anti-Liberty Pro-Gunners

I’m a member of a “gun owners’ group” on Facebook. I rarely post anything there because the majority of the other members are statist clowns.

Generally, they embrace Right-Statist policies, no matter how anti-liberty those policies are.

Most hypocritically, they support police, even in the comments they make while posting links to stories about cops murdering innocent people. They seem to really believe cops would never enforce anti-gun “laws” even while seeing them enforcing those types of “laws” everywhere every day. It’s insane!

When I point this out I get attacked.

Some legislation enforcement goon was puffing out his chest (in comment form), saying he would never participate in gun confiscation, but when I asked about other gang activities I suspect he participates in (prohibition, rules against full-auto weapons, seat belt enforcement, “speeding” tickets, etc.), people lost their minds. I was the bad guy.

They get all dreamy-eyed when a sheriff poses and says no gun confiscation (ala Bob’O O’Rourke) will be allowed to happen in this state (New Mexico). No recognition of the illegal “laws” those same sheriffs help enforce every single day– including gun confiscations.

I’m surprised they haven’t kicked me out of the group yet– but, like I say, I rarely comment on anything, because of what invariably happens when I do.

Right-Statists are anti-gun, just like Left-Statists are. They just use different excuses and go after guns from a different angle. If you’re a statist, you are anti-liberty at your core.

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