How often does legal gun possession prevent crime? Why does government fail with such disastrous consequences? Military manpower crisis ahead. A new model for funding roads is needed. There might be a problem with the idea of revoking work licenses for failure to pay student loans.
How often does legal gun possession prevent crime? If you don't think it happens very often then you might think a policy of restricting gun rights will lead to greater public safety. The question is difficult to assess because it involves events that rarely get reported—as when a would-be criminal doesn't commit a crime because he is deterred by the knowledge that a potential target is armed. That point is lost when the question is conflated—as it often is—with the question "What's more common, crimes committed with guns or justifiable shootings of criminals in the act?"
Despite the inherent opaqueness of the issue, there has been some research on it, which Jim Agresti has rounded up:
[A] range of credible data suggests that civilians use guns to stop violence more than 100,000 times per year.
For instance, the above-cited 1995 paper was based on a survey of 4,977 households, which found that at least 0.5% of households over the previous five years had members who had used a gun for defense during a situation in which they thought someone "almost certainly would have been killed" if they "had not used a gun for protection." Applied to the U.S. population using standard scientific methods, this amounts to at least 162,000 saved lives per year, excluding all "military service, police work, or work as a security guard."
Since this data is from the 1990s and is based on people's subjective views of what would have happened if they did not use a gun, it should be taken with a grain of salt. However, the same survey found that the number of people who used a gun for self-defense was about six times greater than the number who said that using the gun "almost certainly" saved a life. This amounts to at least 1,029,615 defensive gun uses per year, including those in which lives were saved and those of lesser consequence. […]
Anti-gun researcher David McDowall and others conducted a major survey of defensive gun use that was published by the Journal of Quantitative Criminology in 2000. The authors did not take their survey results to their logical conclusions by using the common practice of weighting them to determine what the results would be for a nationally representative survey. But when one does this, the results imply that U.S. civilians use guns to defend themselves and others from crime at least 990,000 times per year. This figure accounts only for "clear" cases of defensive gun use and is based upon a weighting calculation designed to minimize defensive gun uses.
Similarly, a 1994 survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] found that Americans use guns to frighten away intruders who are breaking into their homes about 498,000 times per year.
In addition, notes Agresti, a committee convened by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council reported in 2013: "Almost all national survey estimates indicate that defensive gun uses by victims are at least as common as offensive uses by criminals, with estimates of annual uses ranging from about 500,000 to more than 3 million…."
From where does incompetent government come? On February 16, two days after Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people at a public school in Parkland, Fla., the Federal Bureau of Investigation revealed that in January it had received through its tipline information about Cruz's behavior that suggested he might commit a mass shooting. The FBI further revealed that, contrary to protocol, the information was never forwarded to its agents in Miami for further investigation. One of the reasons government can fail with such disastrous consequences, writes David French, is that there are rarely consequences for those who fail:
It's time for Americans to face facts. With few exceptions, our governments — local, state, and federal — are not constructed to be competent. The permanent class of civil servants —the career officials who work for multiple presidents, governors, mayors, or town officials — work within bureaucracies that are designed from the ground up to be insulated from effective accountability and discipline. They enjoy a job security that private-sector workers can't begin to imagine.
A few years ago, a USA Today report rocketed around the Internet for a few days and then faded into obscurity. Too bad. It should have triggered an extended national conversation and extensive legal reform. The headline was sensational, but true: "Some federal workers more likely to die than lose jobs." It traced the number of employees laid off or fired in multiple federal agencies and found that turnover was microscopic to nonexistent.
Even assuming that a federal worker is a better class of employee than your average private-sector employee (a debatable presumption), the numbers were amazing. The Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Trade Commission collectively employed 3,000 people. They fired no one. NASA employed almost 19,000 and fired 13. The EPA employed almost 19,000 and fired 19.
In other words, incompetence is baked into the bureaucratic cake.
The military is facing a manpower crisis. A lack of education, poor health or physical fitness, and a history of criminality have made most young Americans unable to serve in the military. Thomas Spoehr and Bridget Handy write:
According to 2017 Pentagon data, 71 percent of young Americans between 17 and 24 are ineligible to serve in the United States military. Put another way: Over 24 million of the 34 million people of that age group cannot join the armed forces—even if they wanted to. This is an alarming situation which threatens the country's fundamental national security. If only 29 percent of the nation's young adults are even qualified to serve, and these negative trends continue, it is inevitable that the U.S. military will suffer from a lack of manpower.
A new model for funding highways is needed. Robert Poole explains how it could work:
I now think that a far better model would be to reconceive highways as another category of network utility, in addition to the familiar examples of electricity, water supply, telecommunications, and natural gas. Most network utilities are not run by government agencies, with key decisions made by legislators. Instead, the providers are organized as companies that sell services to customers, under government oversight. That's true regardless of whether those companies are owned by investors or are government enterprises (like municipal electric and water utilities).
If highways were provided by highway utility companies—investor-owned concession companies, government toll agencies, or nonprofit user co-ops—a great many things would be different. For example:
People would pay for highways based on how much they use them, just as we pay for water by the gallon and electricity by the kilowatt hour.
People would be just as familiar with what highways cost, based on their monthly bill, as they are with the cost of cable television, cell phones, electricity, etc.
Per-mile highway charges would be subject to some form of regulatory oversight, based on the extent to which the highways and bridges in question had competitors or were essentially monopolies.
Large-scale highway investments—for new highways and for replacing worn-out ones—would be financed via the capital markets, just as individuals do in buying a home and as other utilities do in building new facilities, rather than being paid for piecemeal out of annual appropriations.
Major highway investments would be primarily business decisions, not political decisions, subject of course to the same kinds of land-use and environmental constraints faced by all other commercial developments.
Highway operations would be managed in real time, to provide customers with the quality of services they were willing to pay for.
Highway companies would have strong incentives to keep their facilities in excellent condition, to attract and keep customers.
There might be a problem with this plan. Caleb Trotter writes:
According to the [New York] Times, at least 19 states, from California to Virginia, have statutes authorizing such heavy-handed collection practices.
These policies have a practical problem, noted by the Times: It's difficult for a person to bring overdue loan payments current after removing his or her ability to work in his or her chosen field.
The phrase "you can't squeeze blood from a turnip" comes to mind. But these laws may also be unconstitutional.
In the 1957 Supreme Court case Schware v. Board of Bar Examiners of the State of New Mexico, the court held that under the 14th Amendment's due process clause, state licensing requirements "must have a rational connection with the [professional's] fitness or capacity" to work in their chosen profession.
In that case, Rudolph Schware had applied for a law license, but was denied when authorities accused him of lacking a "good moral character" on account of his pro-communist activism some 15-plus years prior.
The Supreme Court reviewed the evidence and held that Schware's past political activism and resulting arrests were insufficient to call his character into doubt or have any bearing on his ability to practice law. Therefore, the court ordered that he be allowed to sit for the state bar exam.
Likewise, the ability to afford personal loan payments doesn't appear to have much connection to one's ability to do his or her job. There are numerous circumstances—from medical problems to divorce or temporary unemployment—that might cause someone to default on a student loan.
It's hard to see why that means someone should not be permitted to continue offering services as a licensed cosmetologist, for example. The license revocation or suspension only becomes a Catch-22, because if they can't work, they can't earn the money to pay back the student loan.