Archive for August 2012

TOS Blog Update: Paul Ryan, Abortion, Atheism, Poker, Phonak

Here I link to my recent blog entries for The Objective Standard. See my TOS category for a complete listing of my work for TOS.

August 19, 2012
Hold Paul Ryan to His Word

August 21, 2012
Todd Akin and the GOP’s Abortion Problem

August 24, 2012
Rand Supported Legal Abortion and Other Rights, Burns Notes

August 25, 2012
Atheism Rises in U.S.—But What About Reason?

August 26, 2012
Life Lessons of Poker

August 27, 2012
Phonak Brings Mozart to Once-Deaf Man

TOS Blog Update: Paul Ryan, Free-Market Liberalism, Rob Lowe

Here I catalog my recent blog entries for The Objective Standard. See my TOS category for a complete listing of my work for TOS.

August 11, 2012
Why I’m a Free-Market Liberal

August 12, 2012
Paul Ryan Rejects Ayn Rand’s Ideas—In Word and Deed

April 14, 2012
Nonlinear Ideas: Apps for a Linear Life

August 15, 2012
Rob Lowe Admirably Defends Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged

Mental Illness and Violence

Clearly, some individuals are prone to committing acts of violence, whereas other individuals (in modern civilizations, the overwhelming majority of individuals) are not.

I see three important conditions that can predispose a person to committing an act of violence: mental illness, psychopathy, and dangerous ideology. (A fourth condition, while more important, is fairly obvious: some people, through mental habit and irresponsible choices, turn themselves into criminals.)

Mental Illness

The mentally ill person suffers paranoid delusions, hears demonic “voices” or the like, etc.

We know, for example, that the Aurora murderer was seeing a psychiatrist, and she was so disturbed by his behavior that she contacted the police “several weeks” prior to his murderous rampage. (Please note that mental illness does not automatically negate moral and legal culpability.)

Regarding the recent murders near Texas A&M, the murderer’s mother regarded her son as seriously mentally ill.

A psychological report about the Tucson murderer notes his mental illness.

Apparently, the mentally are are not getting the help they need.

Last year, the Denver Post published an article titled, “Mental health services in a fragile state in Colorado.”

Following the Aurora murders, the Denver Post published the following comments by Clayton Cramer:

In most states in 1960, involuntary commitment required only a preponderance of evidence that a mentally ill person would benefit from treatment. If you were exhibiting evidence of mental illness, there was a good chance that you would be hospitalized, perhaps for a few months, perhaps longer.

The primary reason was for your own safety, but a side effect was that the society as a whole was safer.

As stricter due-process standards for commitment became public policy in the 1970s, state mental hospitals first emptied, then closed. (We now have as many mental hospital beds in this country per capita as we did in 1850 — and we did not have enough then.)

Murder rates rose. Random acts of mass murder, usually committed by people with mental illness histories (and not always with guns) became depressingly common. . . .

There were hundreds of lesser-known mass murders. Over the last 40 years, there have also been tens of thousands of almost unknown individual murders committed by the deinstitutionalized mentally ill.

In a recent talk, Dave Kopel argued that the government should fund more mental health services.

I am very sympathetic with the idea that it’s important to get appropriate help for the mentally ill. I am also deeply concerned about the civil liberties issues involved.

As for methods of financing, I do not have a well-developed theory on the proper relationship of government to mental health services. On one hand, clearly there is a relationship between mental health and public safety. On the other hand, most of what constitutes mental health services has little if anything to do with public safety. To me, this is not a central issue in today’s context, though it would be an interesting research project for somebody.

Of more immediate concern is the problem of forcibly locking up people because of an alleged mental illness. Recently Cato published a series of articles on this very topic.

Most mentally ill people do not harm others. Basic principles of justice demand that we not punish people for crimes they might commit. Surely involuntary confinement constitutes the most serious form of coercion (short of torture and execution).

Yet providing treatment for the mentally ill need not involve involuntary confinement. It could involve proactively offering help to those who need it.

Those who decline institutionalization might reasonably be subject to additional police scrutiny, if they pose a threat to others. As to whether and how the freedom of the severely mentally ill to, for example, purchase drugs and firearms should be legally restricted, I have no well-developed opinion.

The huge problem, as usual, is, who watches the watchers? Who evaluates the evaluators? Once the government gets in the business of forcibly restricting the freedoms of the mentally ill, what’s to stop government agents from abusing this power?

Indeed, what’s to stop government agents from arbitrarily declaring any political enemy or pesky critic to be “mentally ill?”

Yes, I fear murderers—though, as I’ve suggested, many people have a wildly disproportionate fear of the risks of homicide relative to other causes of death. But I fear a tyrannical government much more than I fear murderers. By my evaluation of the future, I’m more likely to be unjustly confined or physically harmed by the government than I am to face somebody trying to kill me.

My tentative conclusion, then, is this. Offer help to the mentally ill, but forcibly limit the freedoms of the mentally ill only in the case of a person who, by word and deed, poses a clear and present danger to the safety of others. (For example, if somebody threatens to shoot up a school or a movie theater, that should definitely raise a red flag with law enforcement.)

Psychopathy

Michael Shermer argues that a small but nontrivial portion of the population consists of psychopaths, who are disproportionately likely to commit acts of violence.

Therefore, Shermer argues, the government should ban all semi-automatic “assault” rifles.

There are many problems with Shermer’s position.

The most important problem is that Shermer would violate the civil rights of millions of Americans in a futile effort to stop a tiny number of psychopaths.

Shermer has no idea what an “assault rifle” even is, he ignores other guns of comparable capacity (pump-action shotguns, semi-automatic handguns), he ignores the usefulness of guns in self-defense, and he ignores the ability of would-be criminals to obtain illegal guns. See my longer post on the issue of firearms.

Shermer also here ignores the other two factors that often lead to violence: mental illness (or, if we count psychopathy as a type of mental illness, other types of mental illness), and dangerous ideology.

The problem of dealing with psychopaths is comparable to that of dealing with the mentally ill: How can we justify restricting the freedoms of those who might commit a crime in the future? The film Minority Report was intended as a warning, not a road map.

Whatever is done regarding the mentally ill and the psychopathic, clearly it is wrong—outrageously wrong—to restrict the freedoms of those who are not mentally ill and not psychopathic, in order to try to prevent harm by members of those two groups.

Dangerous Ideology

Far and away the greatest cause of violence, historically and today, is dangerous ideology. That is the cause of all religious wars, the Nazi holocaust, the Communist holocaust, the fascist Japanese war machine, and the modern Islamist assaults that now plague many regions of the world.

The Columbine murders seem to have been motivated by a nihilist ideology, not by mental illness or psychopathy (formally defined).

Notice that Michael Shermer does not call for prior restraint of free speech, even though expression is what spreads these dangerous ideologies.

The way to defeat dangerous ideologies, qua ideologies, is to argue against them. The way to defeat those who, motivated by dangerous ideologies, pose a specific and demonstrable danger to others, is to take police action against them at the civilian level, and military action against them at the regional or national level.

I would also note in this context that the danger of homicidal ideologies is a good reason (but hardly the only reason) to support the right of the people to keep and bear arms.

Summary

The central issue here is protecting the innocent against those who would do them harm. Part of that means protecting the innocent from the mentally ill, the psychopathic, and the homicidally zealous. An equally important goal—or, arguably, a far more important goal—is protecting peaceable citizens from the abuses of government.

Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Party 2012: Complete Video

Following is all the video I captured at the Independence Institute’s tenth annual Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms party. See also my previous post and my photographs.

I edited together some video of people shooting clay pigeons along with interviews with various participants.

Jon Caldara explains the purpose of the event. He says, “Freedom is not allowing people to do things that you approve of, freedom is about protecting people’s rights to do things you find distasteful.”

Dave Kopel defends the right to bear arms.

David Martosko of The Daily Caller offered the main talk of the day.

Given that Mitt Romney had just selected Paul Ryan as his running mate, I asked people what they thought about that.

Finally, Constitutional scholar Robert Natelson discusses the likely impact of the upcoming election on the course of the Supreme Court. He also says, “There’s already been a tremendous resurgence of popular understanding of the Constitution.”

Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Party 2012

The Independence Institute sponsored its tenth annual Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms party August 11, bringing in speaker David Martosko from the Daily Caller.

The event, held at Kiowa Creek Sporting Club, features a morning of shooting clay pigeons with shotguns followed by a barbecue with beer, mixed drinks, and cigars. See Patricia Calhoun’s write-up.

Following are my video and some photographs.

Tom Tancredo and Jon Caldara:

David Martosko:

Mike Krause:

Bobbie Ross, Brittany Zajic, and Dave Kopel:

TOS Blog Update: Flukenomics, Mars, Posture, Iran

Here I catalog my recent blog entries for The Objective Standard. See my TOS category for a complete listing of my work for TOS.

August 3, 2012
Iran Calls Yet Again for Annihilation of Israel

August 6, 2012
An Olympian Congratulations to Kirani James, Oscar Pistorius—and Össur Kristinsson
Advances in prosthetics.

August 7, 2012
Curiosity Drives Exploration of Mars

August 9, 2012
The Posture of Self-Esteem

August 10, 2012
Two Questions for Advocates of Obama’s Flukenomics
The government ought not force people to finance others’ contraceptives.

A Conversation with State Senator Nancy Spence

Last week I saw State Senator Nancy Spence at an Independence Institute event. She agreed to sit down for a video interview. Mostly we discussed “public” education and Colorado politics.

Obviously I don’t always agree with Spence—and there are quite a few tough questions I did not ask during this interview—yet I appreciate Spence’s long-standing commitment to Colorado politics. I wish her well as she leaves the legislature and begins new projects.

End the Drug War, David Williams Argues

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Milton Friedman’s birth, David K. Williams of the Gadsden Society drew on Friedman’s work to make the case against modern drug prohibition. He spoke at a July 31 event in Denver hosted by Liberty On the Rocks.

Watch his 18-minute talk:

Dr. Hsieh Makes the Case Against Medical Licensing

In a July 31 talk hosted by Liberty On the Rocks, Dr. Paul Hsieh made the case against medical licensing. The event was held on what would have been Milton Friedman’s 100th birthday, and Hsieh drew on Friedman’s work on licensing. (Hsieh noted that he does not agree with all of Friedman’s other positions.)

Hsieh argued that, far from guaranteeing the competency of doctors, medical licenses tend to lull patients into a false sense of security.

Moreover, Hsieh argued, licenses put doctors under the thumb of politicians, who in some cases have already tried to use threats of license revocation to force doctors to behave in ways that politicians deem best.

Watch the entire, 20-minute talk:

TOS Blog Update: Aurora Murders, Batman, “You Didn’t Build That”

Here I catalog my blog entries for The Objective Standard from July 11 through today. I’ve put an asterisk by my favorites. See my TOS category for a complete listing of my work for TOS.

July 11, 2012
Sword Enthusiasts Kickstart Clang with Cool Half-Mil

July 13, 2012
Islamist Ideology Leads to Murder—Again

July 15, 2012
Pacific Legal Foundation Scores Moving Victory

July 16, 2012
* No, Edolphus, Health Care is Not a “Right” or a “Privilege”

July 17, 2012
Legalized Looting on the Rise

July 19, 2012
Hands Off, Uber Car Service Tells D.C. Politicians

July 20, 2012
* “You Didn’t Build That”—Obama’s Ode to Envy

July 22, 2012
* The Dark Knight Rises—And Asks Us to Rise As Well

July 23, 2012
Government Spending Keeps Growing, and Growing . . .

July 25, 2012
* Thoughts on the Aurora Murders and Armed Citizens

July 26, 2012
Spotlight on Art

July 27, 2012
* Condemn Scapegoating in Aftermath of Atrocities

July 29, 2012
Celebrate the Cinema

July 31, 2012
End U.S. Extortion Payments to Egypt

August 1, 2012
* Keeping Crime Risks in Perspective

Articles on the Aurora Theater Murders

Here I collect the links to my notes pertaining to the Aurora theater murders, drawn both from this web site and from The Objective Standard.

Yesterday I visited the site of the memorial. See my Creative Commons photos hosted by Picasa. Needless to say, it is a solemn and sad place.

I also uploaded a short video of the memorial to YouTube under Creative Commons.

Incidentally, I was not able to capture clear images of possible signage at the theater, because the police have the area taped off far from the entrance. (Also, there was significant window glare, and my 10x zoom was not nearly adequate.) So I cannot offer definitive answers about that matter.

First, let us not lose sight of who’s at fault or what the perpetrator is: Evil.

In “Keeping Crime Risks in Perspective,” I argue that “it is counterproductive to obsess about crime or to make decisions based on irrational fears about crime.” I point out, “Of the 2.5 million deaths in 2010, around 118,000 were from unintentional injuries, 38,000 were by suicides, and 16,000 were by homicide.” Although we should recognize violent crime as horrific and try to stop it, we should also keep our risks in perspective.

In “Condemn Scapegoating in Aftermath of Atrocities,” I point out the foolishness and injustice of blaming legal abortion, the Batman movies, or the National Rifle Association for the murders.

A couple of my articles pertain to general matters of public safety:

* A Modest Proposal for Theater Security (That Would Actually Work)
I propose that theaters place the following sign prominently near the entrance: “Armed, off-duty police officers who carry their guns into this theater get unlimited complimentary movie entry and concessions. Please see management for details.”

* Civilian Responses to Active Attackers
I interview my father Linn about what regular citizens can do to effectively respond to active attackers.

Several of my posts focus on firearms:

* Thoughts on the Aurora Murders and Armed Citizens
I argue that gun restrictions generally have little impact on criminals, yet they make it harder for law-abiding citizens to defend themselves from criminals. I specifically address proposals regarding so-called “assault weapons” and the capacity of magazines.

* Guns, the Media, and Contributing Factors to the Aurora Murders
I discuss what it means for something to be a “contributing factor” to a crime, and what, if anything, the government should do about it.

* Notes About the Aurora Murders, Guns, and the Political Aftermath
I discuss gun magazines at greater length, and I address a few other details pertaining to firearms.

* Correcting the Denver Post’s Errors About Guns
I respond to a Denver Post editorial regarding so-called “high capacity magazines.” I also respond to a few other matters concerning the Post‘s coverage of the murders.

Finally, while it is a mistake to strongly tie the murders to the latest Batman film, obviously the two are historically linked. See my initial thoughts about the movie and my longer review of it, “The Dark Knight Rises—And Asks Us to Rise As Well.”