Guns, the Media, and Contributing Factors to the Aurora Murders

Christian FrenchWhile the moral guilt for the Aurora murders lies with the murderer himself, obviously with any crime it’s worth looking at contributing factors.

To take an example related to a different crime, consider that drunk driver Gary Sheats injured a woman and killed her child-to-be in an auto wreck after creating a “DUI history spanning three decades.” While obviously the moral fault is his, the fact that the justice system treated his previous drunk-driving crimes leniently increased the likelihood of him causing a disastrous wreck, and we might want to consider legislative reforms.

At the same time, we should avoid making unwarranted accusations or demonizing the innocent. Recently The Objective Standard published my article, “Condemn Scapegoating in Aftermath of Atrocities,” in which I point out the foolishness and injustice of blaming abortion, the Batman films, or the National Rifle Association for the Aurora murders. I will be disappointed, but not surprised, if others think of many new targets to scapegoat.

A contributing factor is anything with a causal bearing on the incident in question. The fact that Colorado legalized abortion obviously has no causal bearing on the Aurora murderers, so abortion is not a contributing factor. The fact that somebody sold alcoholic beverages to Sheats clearly is a contributing factor to his crime; it’s impossible to drive drunk without consuming alcohol.

Of all the factors that contribute to crimes, we knowingly and rationally accept some of them, whereas we rationally seek to mitigate or eliminate others.

First consider a couple of obvious things that we rationally accept, though they are contributing factors to crimes.

A contributing factor to drunk driving is driving itself, or, to narrow the example, driving for entertainment-related purposes (such as driving to a movie theater). Yet no one seriously proposes that we stop driving for purposes of entertainment, or that the government limit driving to only certain, politically approved purposes. Obviously we accept all the risks of driving as well worth the rewards.

The most obvious contributing factor to mass murders is the fact that people often meet in public. They meet in theaters, businesses, churches, restaurants, sporting events, concerts, and so on. Yet no one seriously proposes that we stop meeting in public, or that the government restrict public meetings. Obviously, the benefits of mass public meetings far overshadow the risks.

Now consider a contributing factor to drunk driving that Americans have actually tried to outlaw in the past.

Despite the fact that the sale of alcoholic beverages is a contributing factor to drunk-driving crimes, some of which kill the innocent, we’d be foolish to outlaw the sale of alcoholic beverages in order to try to stop such crimes. Americans tried that before (for broader reasons), and the resulting ignoble disaster was Prohibition.

Many people consume alcoholic beverages responsibly, and such beverages are quite important to many people’s lives; consider how enthusiastic some people are about wine, beer, Scotch, and so on. Prohibiting alcoholic beverages would constitute a large-scale violation of people’s rights to enjoy liberty, control their bodies and their property, trade freely, and pursue their happiness.

Prohibiting alcohol is not necessary or even very useful for curbing alcohol-related crimes. Regarding drunk driving, the police can and should pull over and, where appropriate, arrest dangerous drivers. Of course, this cannot prevent all drunk-driving crimes, but it can prevent many of them.

Another problem with the prohibition of alcohol is that it cannot possibly eliminate its production and sale. Millions of Americans (myself included) would manufacture or trade alcoholic beverages illegally. Prohibition would turn loose the police state on those millions of Americans, thereby violating their rights, and radically expand the violent black market. My guess is that the number of deaths and injuries resulting from prohibition would exceed those associated with drunk driving.

The upshot of these considerations is that we rationally accept the sale of alcoholic beverages, though it is a contributing factor to drunk driving.

Consider a broader example: the Fourth Amendment. No doubt certain crimes could be prevented if the police had the power to randomly search houses, cars, and bodily cavities at any police officer’s discretion. But we should never allow such a thing, because it would turn America into a police state and turn the police into the primary violators of rights. Thus, we rationally embrace civil rights and restraints on the police, even though such protections certainly contribute to the perpetration of some crimes.

Obviously the proper focus is on those contributing factors that we rationally should seek to mitigate or eliminate. We should remember that living entails risks. The only way to eliminate all risks in your life is to stop living. It is important, then, to figure out which risks we reasonably can mitigate or eliminate, and which we cannot, and then to mitigate risks appropriately. With that background, let us proceed.

The Government and Risk Management

The surest path to the destruction of a prosperous and free society is for its members to demand “there ought to be a law” for every real or imagined evil.

The proper purpose of government is not to micromanage our lives, not to decide for us what risks we may accept, not to enact controls based on “cost-benefit” considerations that ignore the nature of government.

The proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights. When government accomplishes that, it mitigates the risk of crime and enables us, as individuals, to make our own decisions about our lives.

If you want to invite lung cancer by smoking, you should be perfectly free to do so (consistent with property rights). If you wish to die young as a drunk, that is your right.

But if you try to criminally harm others or their property, then the government should seek to stop you.

Obviously the government cannot stop all crime. That is why the government properly recognizes and protects the fundamental human right of self-defense. And that is why we, as individuals, take numerous precautions to try to protect ourselves from crime; for example, we lock our doors and refrain from walking down dark alleys at night in dangerous neighborhoods.

As the rivers of blood flowing through human history illustrate, governments are not metaphysically restricted to the mitigation of harms; very often governments commit horrific atrocities. So it is obviously a foolish mistake to look on government as an agent capable only of mitigating risks; we must look on government as an agent capable of imposing overwhelming risks to our lives, our liberties, and our safety. It is the principle of individual rights that properly defines the ways in which government should act to mitigate risks, and the ways in which we as citizens should act to mitigate the risks of abusive government.

Thus, when seeking to mitigate risks in our lives, we must ask not only which risks we rationally can mitigate, but how those risks should properly be mitigated. Specifically, we must establish whether a particular risk should be managed by private individuals or by government agents.

The Media and the Publicity of Criminals

One of the “reasons” the Aurora murderer chose to attack people at the opening of one of the most popular movies in history is obvious. He knew doing so would cause his name and photograph to be plastered across practically every news-related web page in the world for months on end. He wanted to achieve global infamy, and he did.

Round-the-clock media coverage of mass murders give some murderers precisely what they want—publicity and attention.

Don Lindley, a former Denver police officer who teaches as Regis University, told the Denver Post: “The media [have] an awful lot to do with this. A lot of these offenders are driven by the exposure they will get. That’s what they want, in addition to payback for some hurt they think they’ve suffered.”

In an article for USA Today, Dave Kopel urges, “Don’t turn Aurora killer into [a] celebrity.” J. J. Gould writes a similar piece for The Atlantic.

That sensationalist media coverage of mass murders encourages more mass murders is obvious.

Hopefully it is equally obvious that it is not a problem for the government to try to solve, for that would violate rights of free speech, a pillar of a free society.

But journalists can take care how they report a story, and we as consumers of media can pay attention to what we promote and encourage.


The fact that the Aurora murderer was able to obtain firearms obviously allowed him to use those guns to kill and injure others.

It does not therefore follow that the government should ban certain guns or all guns.

As I’ve written, people own and use guns for self-defense, and doing so is their right. Moreover, as philosopher Michael Huemer argues, people benefit from gun ownership in other ways, as from their value in recreation.

Generally, gun restrictions impose harms on the law-abiding—especially by diminishing people’s ability to defend themselves from criminals—without doing much if anything to impede criminals. Everyone knows that it’s relatively easy to obtain every sort of illegal drug, and the same would be true of guns under a regime of gun prohibition. Moreover, murderers can cause mayhem in other ways, as by setting off bombs, lighting fires, and plowing vehicles into crowds of people.

The idea that attempting to control the gun ownership of millions of law-abiding Americans will somehow significantly cut crime is ludicrous.

What we need instead are laws and enforcement actions that target criminal activities and threats of such, and that leave peaceable citizens unmolested.

Other Contributing Factors

We know the Aurora murderer was seeing a psychiatrist. Was he taking prescribed drugs for emotional problems? Did he in fact send a package to his psychiatrist describing his criminals plans before he carried them out? These are important matters to investigate.

What about violent video games and movies? I have seen a video game in which the user plays a criminal who shoots and maims others and steals their belongings—that’s the point of the game. Such a “game” is disgusting, and it should not be sold. Nor should it be censored.

Many violent video games and movies, on the other hand, portray good people fighting evil people. Not all violence means the same thing. There is a profound moral difference between initiatory violence that violates the rights of others, and defensive violence.

Only a tiny fraction of those who play violent video games or watch violent movies commit acts of violence, and if a causal connection exists at all it is extremely weak. People have free will! A basic principle of a free society is that we do not punish or restrain the innocent on account of the guilty.

No doubt contributing factors to the Aurora murders can and will be discussed at mind-numbing length. Let’s remember some important points. The moral fault lies with the murderer. Scapegoating is wrong and counterproductive. We knowingly and rationally accept many things that contribute to crimes because we benefit from those things. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, just because something contributes to crime, doesn’t mean the government should ban it. If we wish to mitigate our risks of suffering harm, the most important thing we can do is restrain government to its purpose of protecting individual rights.


Creative Commons Image: Aalborg Stift

A Modest Proposal for Theater Security (That Would Actually Work)

Issaquah WA Police Car - (Public Domain)There is a very easy way that movie theaters—and other public venues, for that matter—could radically increase their security for extremely little cost.

They could place a large, obvious sign right outside the entrance with the following text:

Armed, off-duty police officers who carry their guns into this theater get unlimited complimentary movie entry and concessions. Please see management for details.

The marginal cost of filling an extra seat in a movie theater is zero. The marginal cost of giving the armed officer free popcorn is what—a quarter?

Theaters could make the same offer to those holding concealed carry licenses who have undergone adequate training, but that would be tricker to verify and more controversial.

Who could possibly argue with giving cops free movie tickets and concessions?

Not only could armed officers quickly respond to any threat that arose, their presence—and the huge sign announcing it—would create a serious deterrent to would-be violent scumbags.

I think it’s about time criminals understand that if they start attacking innocent people, some of those people are going to start shooting back.

Creative Commons Image: KDavidClark

Notes About the Aurora Murders, Guns, and the Political Aftermath

Here I offer assorted reflections about the political discussions involving guns that followed the horrific Aurora murders.

I’ve written a couple other pieces on the general topic. My major article is “Thoughts on the Aurora Murders and Armed Citizens,” in which I argue that citizens with guns stop and deter many crimes and that both “assault rifle” bans and magazine restrictions do little to impede criminals but limit people’s ability to defend themselves from criminals.

In a follow-up for my own web page, I further discuss magazine restrictions, and I answer some of the Denver Post‘s claims and arguments.

I’ve had a variety of other thoughts on the general subject, so I figured I’d round them up.

Standard Gun Magazines

As I’ve noted, the term “high capacity magazine” is nonsense, at least when applied to every magazine that holds more than ten rounds. (I will grant that a 100 round magazine is “high capacity.”)

Generally, the appropriate size of magazine is the one that fits the gun. Whereas a 20 or 30 round magazine often works great in a rifle, usually a pistol functions best with a 10 to 17 round magazine, depending on the size of the gun and its ammunition. Every semiautomatic that accepts detachable magazines comes with factory standard magazines. Such magazines should not be called “high capacity”; they should be called “factory standard.” And you can know that anybody who refers to a factory standard magazine as a “high capacity magazine” is trying to score political points by clouding the issue.

It occurred to me that it might be useful to describe typical magazines for the benefit of ignoramuses who presume to write the nation’s gun laws. The standard Glock .40 comes standard with a magazine that holds 15 rounds; an “optional” magazine holds 17. The standard Glock 9 mm comes standard with a magazine of 17 rounds; I will concede that the optional 33-round magazine is “high capacity” relative to that type of gun. A standard Glock .45 comes standard with a 13-round magazine.

As I’ve explained, if we care about people’s ability to defend themselves from criminal attack, then it is very important that we protect their right to buy magazines with the optimal number of rounds, as evaluated by the gun owner. (A peaceable person should have the legal right to buy a 33-round magazine, even though that typically isn’t very useful for self-defense.)

The Smith & Wesson M&P15 semiautomatic rifle comes standard with a 30-round magazine. A rifle is larger and built for carrying around on a sling or against one’s shoulder, so it can typically handle larger magazines. Plus, this particular rifle shoots the relatively small .223 cartridge (or 5.56 mm cartridge), so more rounds can fit in a magazine.

The crew on the Denver Post‘s editorial board might ask themselves if they’d rather criminals shot a much more powerful .30-06 round, because, after all, fewer fit into a magazine.

The reasons why it’s a good thing to protect people’s rights to buy rifles that come standard with 30-round magazines lies beyond the scope of this post. Here I wanted to convey the fact that is obvious to any gun owner: an eleven-round magazine is in no reasonable sense a “high capacity magazine.” It is a low capacity magazine for most guns typically used for self-defense.

As stupid as it is to ban truly high capacity magazines, it is even more stupid—even more damaging to the right of self-defense—to ban low capacity magazines, which is precisely what the Denver Post advocates.

My note to journalists is this: if you refer to an eleven-round magazine as a “high capacity magazine,” then you are either a moron or a hack dishonestly pushing your political agenda.

Obama’s Dishonest Campaign

Our Glorious Leader referred to an AK-47 in order to argue that citizens should not be legally allowed to own semiautomatic rifles.

What’s wrong with his remarks? As Wikipedia points out, the AK-47 is typically a fully-automatic rifle (though semiautomatic versions exist). Perhaps Obama hasn’t noticed this, but full autos are subject to a special restrictive tax courtesy of the 1934 National Firearms Act.

But perhaps we should excuse the President for this; after all, he seems not to be able to keep track of guns very well.

About that .40 Caliber. . .

Jacob Sullum claims the murderer had a 40-round magazine for his .40 caliber gun. That factoid seems suspect to me.

Sullum cites a KDVR article claiming that an unnamed “law enforcement source” said that the “handgun also had an extended magazine that held 40 rounds.”

Until a reliable, named source verifies that, I’ll remain skeptical. I checked around the internet, and even called up one gun supplier, and the largest magazine I found for the Glock .40 holds 31 rounds. But maybe there’s something on the market I’m not aware of.

The Jammed Magazine

It’s a little ironic that, because the murderer chose such a large magazine for his rifle, that caused his gun to malfunction. If he’d used only ten-round magazines, he likely would have caused even more mayhem and death.

Every gun enthusiast I’ve talked to says magazines that are actually “high capacity” tend to frequently fail. For more, see discussions by John Lott and Clifford Davis.

A Victim Disarmament Guide for All Occasions

If you advocate gun restrictions—more realistically called victim disarmament laws or criminal empowerment laws—then I have created a handy guide to help you respond to a variety of scenarios.

If a criminal uses small caliber rounds in relatively large magazines, you say:

“We must ban high capacity magazines!”

If a criminal uses large caliber rounds in relatively small magazines, you say:

“We must ban large-caliber guns!”

If a criminal uses a pump-action shotgun and a semiautomatic to perpetrate a crime, you say:

“We must ban high capacity magazines!”

If a criminal uses a gun that you happen not to like, you say:

“It’s an assault gun! Ban it!”

However many restrictions fail to stop a particular criminal, you say:

“Obviously that proves we need more such laws!”

If an armed citizen uses a gun to save lives, you say:

“My the weather is pleasant today!”

If a woman without a gun is raped and murdered by a criminal with a knife, you say:

“My the weather is pleasant today!”

Alternate response, “Hmm… Maybe we should ban knives.”

Creative Commons Image: Smarterlam

Correcting the Denver Post’s Errors About Guns

On the whole, the Denver Post—along with the Colorado media in general—has done a valiant job covering the difficult and horrifying story of the Aurora murders. Honestly, I’d have a very hard time reporting a story like that on location due to the emotional trauma of it all.

Yet, while most of the Denver Post‘s reporting on the Aurora murders has been good, its writers have made a couple factual errors related to guns and offered some imprecise commentary. Here my aim is to correct those problems.

Please note that this article is quite limited in scope; for my general discussion of gun policy, see my article published by The Objective Standard.

The “High-Capacity” Magazine “Ban”

A July 23 Denver Post editorial states:

We also know the high-capacity magazine [the murderer] is accused of using would have been covered under the federal assault weapons ban. Had the ban remained in place, that magazine would not legally be available. . . . A handful of states have laws placing limits on the number of rounds that magazines can hold. Under the assault weapons ban, such magazines were limited to 10 rounds.

The Denver Post‘s statement is factually misleading. The ban pertained to the manufacture and sale of new “high-capacity” magazines (excepting police), and to the possession of illegally manufactured magazines. Pre-ban magazines remained available, though granted, they were less available and more expensive.

The ATF explains:

The LCAFD [Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device] ban was enacted along with the SAW [semiautomatic assault weapon] ban on September 13, 1994. The ban made it unlawful to transfer or possess LCAFDs. The law generally defined a LCAFD as a magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device manufactured after September 13, 1994, that has the capacity of, or can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition. (emphasis added)

To state the point differently, two identical magazines, one manufactured on September 12, 1994, and the other on September 14, 1994, were treated totally differently under the law; it was perfectly legal to sell, buy, or possess the former, but not the latter.

Apparently federal politicians did not savor the idea of attempting to confiscate factory-standard magazines from millions of Americans. The Post, on the other hand, thinks “federal lawmakers ought to outlaw . . . high-capacity magazines,” apparently completely. How the Post envisions the enforcement of such a law—door-to-door sweeps of the homes of the hundreds of thousands of Coloradans who possess such magazines?—the paper does not mention.

The Post editorial also neglects to mention that the murderer first opened fire with a pump-action shotgun. If a future criminal uses only pump-action shotguns, will the Post then call for their abolition as well?

The Type of Semiautomatic Rifle

The Post‘s David Olinger, along with the paper’s editorialists and many other reporters, refers to the semiautomatic rifle in question as an “AR-15.”

Actually, the rifle is a Smith & Wesson M&P15, as the Post‘s Danielle Kess points out. The AR-15 is manufactured by Colt. This is a minor confusion; they are different brands of comparable guns.

Update: James Dao writes for the New York Times that the Smith & Wesson “belongs to a class of weapons broadly known as AR-15s, after the original civilian version of the rifle.” Wikipedia, on the other hand, claims, “The name ‘AR-15’ is a Colt registered trademark, which refers only to the semi-automatic rifle.” So this seems to be a case of applying a particular brand to a general category of item. As I noted, it’s a minor issue.

The Theater’s Gun Policies

Olinger writes:

On its website, Gun Owners of America, a group opposed to stricter gun laws, blamed Holmes’ ability to shoot so many people on the absence of guns in the audience.

“The gunman used a movie gunfight to cover his actions and further surprise the innocent patrons. Worse, the theater in Aurora reportedly has a ‘no guns’ policy,” the group stated. “Despite gun control’s obvious failure, the calls for more restrictions have already begun.”

According to various reports, theaters in the same chain as the one in Aurora prohibit people from carrying concealed handguns on their premises. But I have as yet seen no definitive evidence regarding the Aurora theater’s policies.

Perhaps somebody at the Post (or someone else) can track down the answer definitively.

The “Gun Lobby”

Twice the Post editorial refers to “the gun lobby” as that which “Congress [needs] to beat back” in order to pass more gun restrictions. Obviously, that’s not an error, but it is a cheap shot intended to demean rather than illuminate. A more accurate term is “gun-rights advocates” or “civil arms advocates.”

By referring to a “lobby,” the Post hopes to draw readers’ attention away from the fact that that “lobby” is quite simply the millions of Americans who support the right of gun ownership. It is also the millions of Americans who would have to live under the gun laws that editorial writers and disarmament advocates wish to arbitrarily concoct.

Those who wish to restrict the gun ownership of peaceable Americans often refer to “the gun lobby” in order to bring to mind some money-driven conspiracy (about which those on the left tend to obsess). No doubt gun manufacturers and sellers enjoy their profits, as they should. But “the gun lobby” in the sense of those who defend the right to own guns is, overwhelmingly, the mass of Americans who own guns or support that right.

But I will happily don the term “gun lobbyist” if the Denver Post editorial board will concede to being part of “the gun-restriction lobby”—or to state it more negatively, “the victim disarmament lobby.”

With such an overwhelming amount of detail to sort out quickly, it is understandable that a reporter might miss a detail or two. The editorial is just sloppy; my TOS article addresses the matter of “high capacity” magazines in more detail.

I want to end on a positive note and offer my sincere gratitude to the law enforcement officers who responded to the call, the medical teams who treated the wounded, and the reporters who keep the community informed about this horrible crime and its victims.

Amanda Muell Founded Networking Group Liberty On the Rocks

When Amanda Muell (see photo) founded Liberty On the Rocks, I didn’t think it would become be very important. I was very wrong. Chapters of the group have become key places for free-market activists to network, share ideas, and listen to outstanding speakers. (Note that I run Liberty In the Books, a project of Liberty On the Rocks.)

Here, as part of a series on free-market activism, Amanda discusses her activism. (As always, an interview does not imply agreement.) Please see my “activism” category for additional interviews and discussions about political activism.

Ari: What inspired you to start Liberty On the Rocks?

Amanda: My initial inspiration for starting the happy hours was to meet other people who were interested in free markets and liberty. When I saw the success of the model (i.e., meeting in pubs and taverns) and recognized the benefits of getting people together socially, I decided it was necessary to set up similar groups across the country.

Ari: What is the value in liberty activists meeting socially?

Amanda: When liberty activists and enthusiasts meet regularly in a social atmosphere, it makes it much easier for them to stay informed on current issues and up-to-date on how they affect our liberties. From these interactions, attendees become better informed, better versed in discussing the issues, and more motivated to defend liberty than they were before they were thinking about it on a continual basis. Also, by getting together socially, liberty activists can connect with enthusiasts who are looking to volunteer, learn, or take on a bigger role. This in turn helps to increase the size and effectiveness of the movement for liberty.

Ari: What tips do you have for the budding free-market activist? Why should others get involved?

Amanda: My first tip is to encourage people to do what they are passionate about. Doing something out of “duty” is much more difficult than doing something because you want to do it.

Secondly, it’s important to always consider your audience when discussing issues related to free markets and liberty. Attempt to tailor your message depending on the individual you are speaking with—and always ask lots of questions! Be sure to refrain from insults (it won’t get you anywhere), be respectful, listen and never claim to know something you truly don’t. Try to discuss these subjects from an angle that suits the other party. They may not be interested in the same topics as you, but they will care about making their own decisions for their family, maintaining a healthy bank account, etc.

Tip number three is never cease to learn! Join an economics book club or a liberty-oriented discussion group. Watch videos on Youtube and/or read books on relevant subjects from sources you trust. Join or start a Toastmasters club to increase your ability to persuade. But always continue to learn and challenge your opinions and understanding of liberty.

Lastly, it’s important to focus on the bright side as much as possible. The road to freedom will be long and arduous, but the end goal is worth the continued fight, even if it takes many years and doesn’t happen as quickly as you’d like it to. So don’t give up, no matter what you do, and always celebrate the victories, no matter how small.

I encourage anyone passionate about his or her freedom, family, wealth or future to get involved in the fight for liberty in whichever way suits them. Because we live in society we have no choice but to accept the desires of those around us, or attempt to affect change by influencing their opinion toward freedom. So if you are unhappy with the direction which we are headed (and you should be), educating yourself and those around you is the only sure fire way to ensure that change ensues. This can be effectively accomplished through peaceful parenting, which will help raise the next generations in a manner unfit with our system of government, which uses force, violence and intimidation to get its way.

In addition, other experiments such as the Free State Project and the Seasteading Institute will likely have dramatic impacts on the movement, as they attempt to experiment with different systems than the one we have today. This can be tremendously more effective than simply talking with others, as any successes will prove how effective and just a free society can be. And just as immigrants have flocked to the rich and opportunistic United States, they too will flood the borders of any society producing jobs, financial safety, and freedom. If this seems like a dream too big to accomplish, remember that anything can be done if the people will it. So never stop believing, and without a doubt, don’t give up!

Go See Dark Knight Rises

Christopher Nolan’s latest film, Dark Knight Rises, is extraordinary, showing that a “comic book” movie is capable of intellectual and adult themes as well as stunning action sequences. These are real people, some of whom happen to wear masks, not caricatures. I highly recommend it; indeed, I intend to see it at least one more time in theaters.

I do recommend that you watch the first two films first, as the final film continues aspects of those stories. Particularly, the first film, Batman Begins, sets up the “League of Shadows” conspiracy, while the second film, The Dark Knight, explains why Batman took the blame for another’s evil. (I’m very glad that the third film rectifies that injustice.)

I am glad to see that many have resisted naming the recent atrocity in Aurora in a way that invokes the film. Neither the film nor any of its creators deserve that association. Indeed, one little way of giving the perpetrator what he wants is to make that association; he obviously targeted the release of the film for symbolic purposes. We ought not fulfill any of that thug’s wishes.

I’d like to thank the Westminster Police Department for having an officer at the local theater. “We want people to know they can come out and have a good time,” in safety, one officer said.

Christopher Nolan, director of the film, writes on the web page for the film:

Speaking on behalf of the cast and crew of The Dark Knight Rises, I would like to express our profound sorrow at the senseless tragedy that has befallen the entire Aurora community. I would not presume to know anything about the victims of the shooting but that they were there last night to watch a movie. I believe movies are one of the great American art forms and the shared experience of watching a story unfold on screen is an important and joyful pastime. The movie theatre is my home, and the idea that someone would violate that innocent and hopeful place in such an unbearably savage way is devastating to me. Nothing any of us can say could ever adequately express our feelings for the innocent victims of this appalling crime, but our thoughts are with them and their families.

Thank you for the sentiment, Mr. Nolan, and thank you for your fine works of art. Please keep doing what you do best: make great art.

Civilian Responses to Active Attackers

It has been a horrible day in Colorado. All we can do is hope for physical and emotional healing for those who lived through the atrocity.

There have been a few rays of hope. Many at the scene acted courageously. Even while some in the national media disgraced themselves, as far as I’ve observed, the Colorado media has so far handled reporting of the story with sober responsibility. As far as I’ve observed, local officials and police officers handled the matter with bravery and professionalism.

The one constructive thing I thought of to do this evening was interview my dad Linn (shown in the photo), who happens to be visiting, about his thoughts on civilian responses to active attackers. My dad has assisted Alon Stivi of Attack Countermeasures Training in various training events in Colorado, the point of which is precisely to teach people how to respond to active attackers.

I thought hard about waiting a few days to release the interview; after all, right now the focus should be on the victims and their families, and doing what we can to help those directly harmed. But then I thought about the possibility of copy-cat crimes, so I decided to release the video now.

A comparison I considered is to flights after 9/11. After that, Americans just decided that they weren’t going to let hijackers have their way, anymore. I frankly think that mindset has done far more than anything TSA has done to deter would-be hijackers. Everybody knows the story of Flight 93. Now that Americans expect hijackers to try to kill them, rather than negotiate for political goals, I think we’ve pretty much decided to do whatever it takes to take down hijackers as quickly as possible.

But there doesn’t seem to have been a similar widespread mental change when it comes to on-the-ground terror. A message at the ACT web site currently states, “Duck and cover does not work. A theater full of people CAN take down a shooter and save lives. More people need to know how to prevent and respond to Active Shooters to prevent future tragedies.” That approach makes a lot of sense to me, and I hope it’s something that individual citizens, as well as law-enforcement agencies, seriously consider over the coming weeks and months. (Please note that ACT has not endorsed or approved the video of my interview with my dad.)

My dad makes several points, including these:

* Obviously if it’s possible to safely leave a dangerous area, do so (as a civilian).

* A group of people can disorient an attacker by pummeling him with objects at hand.

* With appropriate training, a few people near an attacker can take him to the ground and incapacitate him.

None of this is meant as next-day quarterbacking, but rather as an invitation to spend a few moments thinking about possible ways to respond to an active attacker, and perhaps possible ways to obtain additional training on the subject. For a given individual in the normal American context, the chances of ever encountering an active attacker are remote—and this context is worth bearing in mind—but obviously they are not zero.


Though the last thing we needed was another reminder, yes, some people are capable of committing horrific evil.

But we are Colorado. We will reach out to our neighbors. We will become a stronger community. We will build our lives and our values and oppose those who hate and destroy human values.

Sorrow quickly gave way to anger as I read the news accounts this morning. The new Batman movie is a global event and, because of that, a global discussion and shared experience. And the killer targeted that event specifically as an intentionally symbolic act of pure nihilism, pure destruction for destruction’s sake.

Undoubtedly we will now hear endless speculation about motives and influences. But, whatever the pretext, the killer chose to commit these atrocities against innocent and defenseless victims. The “reasons” why make no difference; there can be no reasons why, ultimately, except that he chose depravity.

We choose to live.

Brian Schwartz Blogs for Freedom in Health Care

Brian Schwartz works as a scientist, and in his off hours he blogs for the Independence Institute’s free-market Patient Power Now site. By focusing his intellectual activism on health policy, he has become an expert in that area, excelling at analyzing complex reports and incorporating that material into popular articles.

My interview with Brian is one of several I’ve recently released. Please see my “activism” category for additional interviews and discussions about political activism.

Ari: What originally inspired you to take an interest in political liberty?

Brian: After my freshman year of college I read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, Henry Hazlitt’s Economics in One Lesson, and Frédéric Bastiat’s The Law. From these I realized the injustice and harmful effects of government policies that violate people’s rights.

As a student as a small liberal arts school, I was surrounded by students who considered their left-wing political views to be “tolerant.” It was really an “emperor has no clothes” revelation for me that their “tolerance” for voluntary exchange and relationship ended when money entered the picture. To me this was an arbitrary and meaningless distinction in terms of whether or not to recognize the right to freely associate, or not associate, with others.

My primary outlet for developing my ideas were columns for the school newspaper and other publications. A friend pointed out how rare it was that I had articles published in campus publications that various people called “Common Sense” (conservative) and “The L-Word” (liberal).

Ari: How did you get into blogging for a think tank about health policy? How’s that going?

Brian: In 2006 the Colorado Senate Bill 208 became law. This bill established a “Blue Ribbon Commission” on health care reform that would evaluate reform proposals from citizens and organizations.

When the Commission solicited proposals in 2007, I had recently read David R. Henderson’s excellent book, The Joy of Freedom: An Economist’s Odyssey. The chapter on health care policy was my first real introduction to the topic. In short, my response was “Health care and insurance in this country are really messed up, and bad government policies are responsible. This is just wrong!”

I had recently returned to Colorado from a fellowship Washington, D.C., where I frequented Cato Institute and Reason magazine events. Working as an engineer, I still had an appetite to for free-market activism. When I heard about the health care Commission, I remember having the fleeting thought that I could become “a free-market health care guy.”

At this point, early in 2007, the Commission’s activities were in the news, and I wrote my first op-ed about health care. Before submitting it anywhere, I ran it by Linda Gorman, Director of the Independence Institute’s Health Care Policy Center. She liked it made some suggestions, and the Boulder Daily Camera published it. Looking at the article now, I can see how my current deeper understanding of health care policy would allow me to make the same points in a more concise and effective manner.

In early March I asked Linda if anyone was writing a free-market health care reform proposal for the Commission’s consideration, and said that if there was one, I’d like to contribute to it. Linda said she didn’t know of anyone. By the next week, after some prodding from you [Ari], I decided to submit a free-market proposal myself.

At that point I didn’t know what the proposal would consist of, as problems with health care policy involve a tangled web of federal and state legislation and regulations. Figuring out which issues to focus on was certainly a “drinking from a fire hose” process. I spent much of my evenings and weekends educating myself and writing, and eventually took a couple of vacation days off from work to finish the proposal.

By the end of April the (now defunct) Rocky Mountain News published an op-ed of mine summarizing the proposal. By the end of the year I’d had health care articles published in the Denver Post, and again in the Rocky Mountain News and Daily Camera.

In late June Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, arranged a lunch with me, you [Ari], and Linda Gorman to discuss (then) Governor Bill Ritter’s plans for health care policy in Colorado. I don’t think I’d met Jon before, or if I had it was very briefly. So I wasn’t prepared for Jon’s onslaught of crude jokes directed at me. I thought it prudent not to reply in kind with a “mom joke” of some sort, though he might have appreciated my playing along. But I think I “passed” in Jon’s eyes by merely being surprised and amused, rather than hurt or offended.

Anyway, by the end of the lunch Jon agreed to have my published health care articles posted on the Independence Institute site. They have been ever since. Jon also suggested that the II would support a blogger to follow and critique Colorado health care policy developments.

At the time I suggested that you do it, but eventually I changed my mind, and you had your own projects going on. In February 2009 at the Leadership Program of the Rockies retreat I asked Jon if the offer was still open. He said he’d think about it.

About a month later I saw Jon at a Americas Future Foundation event in Denver, and he asked me if I would do the health care blog. I called him soon after, suggested a monthly pay rate, and he accepted. The rate was probably less than he had in mind. went on-line in April 2008.

Ari: How do you mesh your professional and personal life with your activist life?

Brian: My main profession is in physics and engineering, so I keep my activism out of the office. To bring politics into the office is just not wise professionally. While “water cooler” conversations about policy issues are tempting to contribute to, I either refrain from participating or limit myself to a quick comment and then get back to work.

Ari: What tips do you have for the budding free-market activist? Why should others get involved?

Brian: If you value political and economic liberty, then integrity requires that you act to promote them. This does not necessarily mean that you must personally become an activist. Rather, you can donate money to organizations and causes that you think effectively promote liberty.

One reason for doing this is that, if you don’t enjoy any forms of activism, you probably won’t be good at them anyway. Related to this is your comparative advantage. Say you love your full time job, and it pays well. Or that you can make money freelancing in something you like more than activism. The extra time doing what you like can translate into extra income, which you can then donate to a free-market organization.

For example, say you’re good at computer programming—as a disproportionate fraction of free-marketers are—and are excited by your idea for an iPhone app. But free-market activism drains your energy. Then it’s certainly better to enjoy working on what you like, the iPhone app, and donate some of the revenue from it to an organization you like.

If you do get involved in free-market activism, I recommend that you:

Utilize your strengths. Think of your local community (or national community) of free-market activists as a sports team. Not everyone can, or should, play the same position. So figure out what position or positions you’d like to play. For example, you could write op-eds, blog, be on talk radio, talk to local groups, organize talks and other events, attend events and video the opposition doing silly things (e.g.,, or design websites.

Get to know people in your local free-market community. If there are local activists that you admire and would like to emulate, then figure out how to meet them so you can pick their brain. If there’s a Liberty on the Rocks chapter near you, attend. Even if you want to be active, but are not sure how specifically, then getting out to meet people is a good way to figure it out, too. You might start out by helping out on someone else’s project.

Being part of your local or state level free-market community also makes activism less solitary. Speaking for myself, this helps me stay motivated. It’s good to provide and receive positive feedback to others.

Specialize. It’s easier than you think to become a local expert on a specific topic influenced by state and local policy, such as education, energy policy, transportation issues, or health care. If you do this, you can quickly become a “go to” person for interviews on local talk radio shows or newspapers.

Once you know one policy area very well, you’ll realize how little you know about other ones. It takes a while to know the nuances of a specific policy issue, how to respond to common arguments against freedom, how current policies the interfere with free-markets cause problems, and how more market-oriented solutions work elsewhere or have worked in the past.

If you can, choose a field that is somewhat related to your profession. You’ll have more credibility that way. For example, Paul Hsieh, MD [read the interview] specializes in health care policy and heads Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine. But be careful not to mention your employer when advocating policy. Whatever your views, your employer mostly likely doesn’t want to be associated with them.

Learn persuasion techniques. I’m not talking about psychological tricks, but ways to communicate your ideas more effectively. I highly recommend Michael Cloud’s CDs and book on the matter.

On writing in general, I recommend On Writing Well by William Zinsser.

Write about topics that irritate you. On a recent EconTalk podcast, George Will explained how he chose topics to write about by quoting William F. Buckley: “The world irritates me three times a week.” Okay, I admit that this is kind of negative, but I find that if something irritates me enough, it’s more difficult not to write about it than to write about it.

Dr. Hsieh Stays Active for Liberty in Medicine

For his regular job, Paul Hsieh works as a radiologist. In addition to pursuing a demanding career in medicine, Dr. Hsieh has also become one of the nation’s foremost advocates of free markets in medicine. He blogs daily for Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine, and he contributes articles to The Objective Standard and other publications.

Last year I conducted several interviews on political activism, including one with Dr. Hsieh. I am publishing those now. Please see my “activism” category for additional interviews and discussions about political activism.

Ari: Briefly, how did you get into free-market activism?

Paul: I began in January 2007 in response the Colorado state legislature’s decision to appoint a special commission to create a “universal health care” plan for our state. A group of local free market advocates decided to organize the “Freedom and Individual Rights in Medicine” (FIRM) project to speak out against government-run “universal” health care, and to support genuine free-market health reforms.

Our founder, Lin Zinser, attended and spoke out at numerous meetings of that state commission. She also participated in several panel discussions, town hall meetings, community groups, radio shows—all to discuss and promote free-market health reforms.

For my part, I wrote several letters to the editor and op-eds on health care policy for local and regional newspapers. After this particular issue died in the 2008 state legislature, we’ve continued working on this topic when health care policy heated up as a national-level issue following the election of President Obama.

Ari: Will you please summarize what your activities entail, and how specifically you became interested in health policy?

Paul: I mostly write letters to the editor, op-eds, and articles for various venues. My op-eds have appeared in outlets including the Christian Science Monitor, Washington Times, Washington Examiner, Denver Post, and PajamasMedia. Some of my longer articles have appeared in The Objective Standard, which is a quarterly journal of culture, arts, and politics.

Some of my work has also been cited by Investor’s Business Daily and major political blogs such as Instapundit and Real Clear Politics.

Our web page offers a summary of our published op-eds and articles.

My interest in health policy was driven initially by a specific state-level political initiative. But since then, I’ve found that topic of health policy (including what constitutes genuine health care “reform”), encompasses some more important fundamental issues—such as the nature of individual rights, the propriety (or lack thereof) of government “entitlement” programs, and the proper role of government in our lives.

Because of my tight work schedule (and personal inclination), I’ve mostly concentrated on writing. I do relatively little public speaking. Nor have I chosen to accept invitations to appear on TV or radio. Of course this may change in the future as my own personal goals and circumstances change.

Ari: What personal rewards and benefits do you find come with free-market activism?

Paul: Some of the key benefits include:

1) I’ve gain a much better understanding of some of the fundamental ideas (such as the nature of individual rights and the proper role of government) by having to think about and articulate them to others.

2) I’ve met some truly fine people who are also interested in free-market health care reform (and more broadly in the restoration and preservation of American freedoms in general).

3) I’ve become a better writer.

4) I’ve gained a greater sense of rational optimism about our future. Although I recognize that the battles ahead will be difficult, my activism has helped give me hope that the fight can be won. By being active, one is helping to steer the debate in the right direction, rather than being a helpless passenger at the mercy of others driving the discussion.

Ari: How do you mesh your professional life with your activist life?

Paul: I do all of this writing on my own time, typically during evenings, weekends, and vacation time.

My employers are fine with my activist work, provided that I don’t presume to speak for them on any political issues—a perfectly reasonable and understandable position. Hence, my author byline always states that I’m a co-founder of FIRM, but does not mention my professional practice affiliation.

My physician colleagues at work know of my views. But my various medical practice partners encompass an extremely wide range of political views, varying from religious conservative to libertarian to mainstream Republican and Democrat to socialist. So I’m merely another person in a politically diverse group and it doesn’t affect our professional relationships with one another.

Ari: What tips do you have for the budding free-market activist? Why should others get involved?

Paul: Budding activists should get involved for personal, selfish reasons. They shouldn’t view activism as grim painful “duty” where they are “taking one for the team.”

Instead, they should find ways to make activism a positive enhancement to their lives. This will include finding areas of interest (perhaps specializing by topic or geographic region) and finding vehicles that suit their time and personality (writing vs speaking vs. technical or support activities).

It also requires a realistic approach to one’s goals. You can’t expect to publish columns in the Wall Street Journal after a month. Rather, one should start small and work your way up. A budding writer might start with blogging, then move up to letters to the editor, then op-eds, then longer articles. A budding speaker might start with small community groups or local Rotary Clubs, then try local radio and TV, etc.

Also, one should network with other potential allies and find ways to provide mutual intellectual and emotional support for each others’ projects.

Finally, be patient and persistent. And savor the small victories when they arise!

These tips will go a long way towards helping budding activists preserve their “staying power,” rather than burning out too quickly and quitting from frustration.