Archive for the ‘Featured’ Category

The Citizens’ Budget on TV

Posted on: December 17th, 2010 by admin

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This episode of Jon Caldara’s TV show the Devils Advocate first appeared on Colorado Public Television – Channel 12 on Friday, December 17th, 2010. It features a 30 minute discussion about the Citizens’ Budget and features Independence Institute Fiscal Policy Center director Penn Pfiffner – director of the Citizens’ Budget project.

The Citizens’ Budget

Posted on: November 23rd, 2010 by jlongo

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The report provides an overview of the structure, timing and size of the State budget. We speak to how the problems originated and how things have gone wrong in recent years. The Citizens’ Budget includes legislative, constitutional, and policy recommendations to close the looming state budget gap – without raising taxes – and move Colorado towards sustainable government for good. Use this Citizens’ Budget link for the full document.

How Much Does Government Cost You?

Posted on: September 17th, 2010 by admin

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Thanks to our friends at the Independent Institute out in Oakland, California, regular folks like us can figure out just how much the government is costing us in direct payments and in lost earnings over our lifetime.  From the About Page on the MyGovCost website,

The Government Cost Calculator is a unique service from The Independent Institute that enables any American to clearly understand three aspects of federal government spending.First, the Government Cost Calculator helps you determine how much you will pay for various federal programs now and over the course of a lifetime. Second, it compares those tax payments to the forgone earnings that would have been possible if such funds were kept and invested in private, market accounts. Finally, the Government Cost Calculator enables you to see the difference between government expenditures and your tax payments, clearly illustrating the growing debt obligations you face in the future.

All you have to do is input your education, age, and income into the Government Cost Calculator and you will get results that accurately reflect how much our overbearing government costs YOU!

The Changing Role of Government, 1850 to 2011

Posted on: August 27th, 2010 by jlongo

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A good friend of the Fiscal Policy Center and Free People, Free Markets alumnus Tom Ryan has a wonderfully informative organization and website called Reclaiming Moral Government. Tom has created a slide show that displays the changing role of government from 1850 to present day. The viewer gets to see governments expansion into our lives through a beautifully color coordinated time lapse. It is truly well done. Tom was also kind enough to sit down with Fiscal Policy Center director Penn Pfiffner for an podcast. They discuss Tom’s new Reclaiming Moral Government venture and what Tom hopes to achieve through it. Please take a few minutes and see for yourself how government has managed to stick its nose into every aspect of our lives over the last 150 years.

Americas Greatest Invention

Posted on: September 21st, 2006 by rotoole 2 Comments

Despite being demonized for years, the automobile may be the greatest invention of the past 230 years. Mass-produced automobiles and their relatives, trucks and tractors, vastly increased the mobility, income, and quality of life for the average American.

In 1920, when America had the most extensive urban transit and intercity passenger train service the world has ever seen, the average American traveled little more than 1,000 miles per year by rail. In truth, most Americans hardly rode trains at all, as only the wealthy and upper-middle class could afford the fares.

Millions of Americans never journeyed more than 50 miles from their birthplace. Those who left home might rarely, if ever, return to visit family and friends left behind.

The automobile changed all that. Today, the average American travels 16,000 miles per year by auto. Automobility is more evenly spread out among social classes, as more than 90 percent of American families own at least one car.

This huge increase in mobility contributed to a seven-fold increase in incomes in the last century. The auto gives people access to far more jobs, and employers access to a more highly skilled workforce, than could ever be possible relying solely on walking and mass transit.

The increase in mobility and incomes led to a 40-percent increase in homeownership rates. In 1900, homeownership was limited to the wealthy and white-collar workers. The automobile enabled blue-collar workers to buy and travel to and from their own homes.

Automobiles, trucks, and tractors revolutionized the production and distribution of food and other consumer goods. The share of incomes devoted to food, clothing, and other personal goods has dropped by 50 percent or more even as quality and variety have increased. The average supermarket today sells a hundred times as many different products as could be found in the average grocery of 1906, an increase almost solely due to automobility.

The automobile vastly increased our social and recreational opportunities. ‘No burden has ever set quite as heavily on farming and upon the farm family as has the curse of isolation and loneliness,’ wrote the editor of American Agriculturalist in 1927. The auto ended that isolation. Today, Coloradans think nothing of driving a hundred miles to go skiing, backpacking, mountain biking, or other sports that did not even exist before the automobile.

Automobiles allowed blacks and other minorities to escape their oppressors. ‘I’ve always viewed automobiles as freedom rides,’ says Washington Post writer Warren Brown. ‘The civil rights movement, which began with the Montgomery Alabama bus boycott, would have been a failure had it not been for the automobile,’ which blacks used to carpool people to work. Similarly, it is no coincidence that the women’s liberation movement took place only when most American households became ‘two-car families.’

Autos have been blamed for urban sprawl, but actually they produced significant land-use benefits. All American cities and towns together cover less than 130 million acres. Between 1920 and 1970, the area of private forestlands increased by nearly 130 million acres as farmers no longer needed those acres to pasture horses.

The auto was once justly blamed for being unsafe and fouling the air. Yet auto fatality rates per mile of travel have declined by 80 percent in the last fifty years, and pollution rates have declined by 90 percent. Today’s cars are among the safest forms of transportation in the world, and urban air is far cleaner today than it was in 1900 when coal-powered steam trains and other coal burning made cities a sooty nightmare. Today’s cars are also nearly 50-percent more fuel-efficient than cars of a few decades ago.

Despite the benefits of automobility, Denver, Boulder, Ft. Collins, and other Front Range cities are on a relentless crusade to get people to drive less. They put barriers in streets to increase congestion, limit parking in new developments, and divert highway user fees to transit, bike paths, and anything else other than increasing roadway capacity to meet the demand for auto travel. These policies risk killing the automotive goose that laid the golden egg of American prosperity.

Rather than discouraging driving, cities should be neutral regarding people’s personal transportation choices, making certain only that everyone pays the full cost of their choices. New highways funded out of a combination of gas taxes and tolls can relieve Front Range congestion. Coordinated traffic signals and other low-cost improvements can also greatly reduce delays and air pollution. These and similar programs will allow Colorado to continue enjoying the benefits of the greatest invention in American history.

A short history of Colorado Statehood

Posted on: July 23rd, 2004 by jkopel 2 Comments

A short history of Colorado Statehood

By Jerry Kopel

It could have happened to Colorado in 1865 or 1867, but thanks to President Andrew Johnson, it didn’t. Eleven years later, on July 1, 1876, Colorado voted 15,443 to 4,062 to adopt a state constitution proposed by a constitutional convention and to become a state. On August 1, 1876, President Ulysses Grant proclaimed Colorado the 38th state.

The campaign for Colorado statehood has a long and sometimes sordid history. It began in 1859 when Colorado settlers voted on whether they wanted to be a territory or to try for statehood. The vote was 2,007 for territory and 1,649 for statehood. The reason given Colorado didn’t have to pay for administering the government as long as it remained a territory. Federal funds would take care of that. So Colorado became a separate territory in 1861.

In 1864, Territorial Governor John Evans persuaded Congress to adopt an enabling act for Colorado statehood. It would have likely meant two more Republican U.S. Senators and three more electoral votes for President Lincoln’s re-election. However, a majority of the 6,192 Coloradoans who voted, (out of a population of roughly 35,000), voted against statehood.

Lincoln won re-election without Colorado’s help. His Vice President, Democrat Andrew Johnson, supported the Union. When Lincoln was assassinated, Johnson became president on April 15, 1865. Then began the fight between Democrat Johnson and the Republican Congress, which delayed Colorado’s statehood.

Johnson wanted to bring the southern states back into the Union with full rights, as if the war had not happened. Republicans wanted to punish the South and extend full rights of citizenship to African-Americans. Congress and Johnson realized that the Colorado and Nebraska territories would bring more Republican power to Congress if they became states.

In 1865, voters in the Colorado territory approved statehood and adopted a constitution. According to Democrats in Colorado, the decision was the result of fraudulent Republican votes.

The Congressional session ran from early March of 1865 through early March of 1867. Congress passed legislation to admit Colorado and Nebraska as states. On May 15, 1866, Johnson vetoed the bill to admit Colorado and pocket-vetoed a similar bill for Nebraska. Johnson claimed the 1864 vote in Colorado made the 1865 vote void and besides, Colorado didn’t have the population to qualify. I think he was correct on both counts.

In 1866, Congress had passed the Civil Rights Act granting freedom to every male citizen without regard to race. Furthermore, no state could deprive them of their fundamental rights including equal protection of the law. On March 27, 1866, Johnson vetoed the civil rights bill.

Congress overrode his veto, and then proposed the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (for civil rights) for ratification by state legislatures in 1866.
Ratification occurred in 1868, despite bitter opposition from Johnson who spent as much time on that issue as on his failed re-election. It would be another President Johnson, nearly a hundred years later, who would bring us the great Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Meanwhile in 1867, in order to produce more Republican Senators and more State Legislatures to ratify the 14th Amendment, the Senate Chairman of the Committee on Territories, Ben Wade, an Ohio Radical Republican, introduced Admission Bills for both Nebraska and Colorado. However, the Bills required their state constitutions to provide suffrage for African-American males.

Johnson vetoed both bills. But the U.S. Senate overrode the Nebraska veto and Nebraska became the 37th state on March 1, 1867. The Colorado vote to override the veto on that same day failed. There were 29 yes votes, 19 no votes, and 4 absent, falling short of the two-thirds majority needed.

In 1868, another attempt to grant Colorado statehood failed because of an inter-party fight between Republicans Henry Teller and John Evans as to who would be the second U.S. Senator Teller wanted Republican Jerome Chaffee, and Evans wanted Evans. After 1868, there were several more Senate attempts for statehood, but none passed. After all, the Republican Grant was president so who needed Colorado as a state and provide more electoral votes

In March 1875, Chaffee was completing a term as territorial representative from Colorado in Congress and he was able to push through an enabling act in his final week in office. To do that, he had to convince Congress that by 1875, Colorado had 150,000 people. By the time the 1880 census figures were published (and showed Colorado to have194, 000 residents), Chaffees projected figures must have been correct.

Chaffee, who became a U.S. Senator in 1876, deserves recognition as the trigger for Colorado statehood.

Jerry Kopel

Independence Institute
13952 Denver West Parkway, Suite 400
Golden, CO 80401
INDEPENDENCE INSTITUTE is a non-profit, non-partisan Colorado think tank. It is governed by a statewide board of trustees and holds a 501(c)(3) tax exemption from the IRS. Its public policy research focuses on economic growth, education reform, local government effectiveness, and Constitutional rights.

JON CALDARA is the President of the Independence Institute.

Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.

NOTHING WRITTEN here is to be construed as necessarily representing the views of the Independence Institute or as an attempt to influence any election or legislative action.

PERMISSION TO REPRINT this paper in whole or in part is hereby granted provided full credit is given to the Independence Institute.

The Truth About Gun Shows

Posted on: February 21st, 2000 by dkopel No Comments

There is no gun show loophole. Guns sales at gun shows are subject to exactly the same laws as apply to gun sales anywhere else. Research for the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as research by other scholars, and even research by Sarah Bradys organization shows that gun shows have almost nothing to do with criminal gun acquisition. Proposed gun show legislation would impose special restrictions on meetings of gun club, target shooting matches, hunting traps, and political meetings of Second Amendment organizations.

What the Bills Do: House Bill 1220 makes it a crime for a person under 21 to buy a handgun at a gun show. House Bill 1242 requires government approval for all firearms sales at gun showseven if the buyer and seller would not be required to get approval for a sale that took place anywhere else. Both House Bills define a gun show as any meeting of a gun club, gun collectors, hunting clubs, and Second Amendment organizations. Senate Bill 89 requires government permission for all firearms transfers, whether conducted at a gun show, between neighbors, or by inheritance.

I. There is no Gun Show Loophole

Close the gun show loophole, demands Handgun Control, Inc., and its Colorado surrogates. In fact, existing gun laws apply just as much to gun shows as they do to any other place where guns are sold. Since 1938, persons selling firearms have been required to obtain a federal firearms license. The federal Gun Control Act specifically states that a licensed dealer must comply with all laws, including record keeping, when making a transfer at a gun show. 18 U.S.Code 923(j).

If a dealer sells a gun from a storefront, from a room in his home or from a table at a gun show, the rules are exactly the same: he can get authorization from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation for the sale only after the CBI runs its instant background check (which often leads to false denials based on CBIs inadequate records).

Conversely, people who are not engaged in the business of selling firearms, but who sell firearms from time to time (such as a man who sells a hunting rifle to his brother-in-law), are not required to obtain the federal license required of gun dealers or to call the CBI before completing the sale.

Similarly, if a gun collector dies and his widow wants to sell the guns, she does not need a federal firearms license because she is just selling off inherited property and is not engaged in the business. And if the widow doesnt want to sell her deceased husband’s guns by taking out a classified ad in the newspaper, it is lawful for her to rent a table at a gun show and sell the entire collection.

If you walk along the aisles at any gun show, you will find that the overwhelming majority of guns offered for sale are from federally licensed dealers. Guns sold by private individuals (such as gun collectors getting rid of a gun or two over the weekend) are the distinct minority.

Handgun Control, Inc., claims that 25-50 percent of the vendors at most gun shows are unlicensed dealers. That statistic is true only if one counts vendors who are not selling guns (e.g., vendors who are selling books, clothing or accessories) as unlicensed dealers.

Now, suppose that someone claiming to be a gun collector is actually operating a firearms business. He rents a table at a gun show 50 weekends a year, and sells 20 guns each weekend. Selling firearms at the rate of 1,000 per year, and conducting a business week after week, he appears to be engaged in the business of selling firearms. If this man does not have a federal firearms license, then he is guilty of a federal felony. Indeed, every separate gun sale constitutes a separate federal felony. (The federal laws are section 922 and 923 of volume 18 of the U.S. Code.)

In short, gun shows are no loophole in the federal laws. If a person is required by federal law to have a federal firearms license, then the requirement applies whether or not the person sells at a gun show. And if a person is not required to have a license, then the persons presence at a gun show does not change the law.

The gun prohibition lobbies express outrage that a person can buy a firearm at a gun show without going through the state background check, though this is only the case when the purchase is made from the minority of tables that do not have an FFL. However, even if the non-FFL gun collector sold his gun from his home rather than from a gun show, a federal background check still would not be required.

Why should the location of the sale determine whether a background investigation will be required

II. Gun Shows and Crime Guns

Denver Congresswoman Diana DeGette says that 70 percent of guns used in crimes come from gun shows. SAFE head Arnie Grossman claimed in the Denver Post that most guns used for criminal purposes are purchased at guns shows.

The true figure is rather different, according to the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Justice. According to an NIJ study released in December 1997 (Homicide in Eight U.S. Cities, a report that covers much more than homicide), only 2 percent of criminal guns come from gun shows. (The same study found that twenty-five percent of crime guns came from gun stores, even though FBI permission is required for every purchase from a gun store.)

That finding is consistent with a mid-1980s study for the NIJ, which investigated the gun purchase and use habits of convicted felons in 12 state prisons. The study (later published as the book Armed and Considered Dangerous) found that gun shows were such a minor source of criminal gun acquisition that they were not even worth reporting as a separate figure.

At the November 1999 recent meeting of the American Society of Criminology, a study of youthful offenders in Michigan reported that only 3 percent of the youths in the study had acquired their last handgun from a gun show.

Even for the tiny percentage of criminal guns acquired at for gun shows (and the 25% figure for gun stores) does not mean that the criminal necessarily purchased the gun himself at that location. Many persons with criminal records use a straw man purchaser–someone with a clean record who buys the gun, and then transfers it to the criminal.

Straw man purchases have been classified a federal felony since the Gun Control Act of 1968; the federal law against straw purchases was strengthened in 1986 by the NRA-sponsored Firearms Owners Protection Act.

According to the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence (the legal/educational arm of Handgun Control, Inc.), the group’s own survey of major-city police chiefs found only 2 out of 48 who said that guns from gun shows (both legal and illegal sales according to the questionnaire) were a major problem in their city.

At the command of the Clinton White House, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms produced a paper in early 1999 which said that 10% of gun traces (not crime guns) came from gun shows (included purchases made from licensed dealers, and purchases from private individuals). As the Congressional Research Service has explained, BATF gun traces reveal no meaningful information about gun use in crime; traces are initiated at the request of local police, and can be requested for all sorts of reasons (e.g., to aid the recovery of a stolen gun, for curiosity). Most BATF gun traces do not involve crime guns taken from violent criminals.

What about the other charges against gun shows, such as Denver Congresswoman Diana DeGettes highly-publicized charge that gun shows allow illegal assault weapon sales In fact, the 1994 Clinton assault weapon law bans the future manufacture of certain firearms based on cosmetic characteristics, such as whether the gun has a bayonet lug (as if criminals were conducting bayonet charges against convenience stores). The law imposes no controls on the pre-1994 supply of so-called assault weapons. It is perfectly legal to own, buy, and sell these pre-1994 guns. It is legal for a licensed federal dealer to sell such guns from his store, or at a gun shows; and it is just as lawful for a private individual to sell such guns.

III. Columbine and Other Notorious Crimes

Although the horrible murders at Columbine High School have energized anti-gun activists, no proposed federal law would have made any difference. The adults who supplied the Columbine murder weapons (Robin Anderson and Mark Manes — the latter a son of a longtime HCI activist) were legal purchasers.

And by the time of the crime, the older perpetrator (we refuse to give him publicity by uttering this name) was already 18 years old. Thus, the perpetrator himself could have legally bought firearms in a gun store, or anywhere else.

Before making unsupportable claims that punitive laws against gun show vendors and customers would have prevented Columbine, gun prohibition lobbies made similar, unsupportable claims about other notorious crimes.

The man who perpetrated the Oklahoma City bombing stole guns from an Arkansas gun store. He sold those stolen guns, as well as racist literature, at gun shows. Imposing more controls on gun shows patrons would have had no effect on the Oklahoma City perpetrator. He was a vendor, not a customer. His customers werent the criminals; he was.

David Koreshs Branch Davidian organization often rented a table at gun shows, where they sold novelty items, such as empty grenade hulls and ready-to-eat meals (army-type survival foods). One of Koreshs devotees, Paul Fatta, was a licensed firearms dealer who sold firearms at gun shows in full compliance with federal laws. The major source of the Branch Davidian arsenal came from purchases through another licensed firearms dealer: Hewitt Handguns. Purchased in full compliance with federal laws, these guns were registered by the dealer on the 4473 forms, which were made available to BATF agents when they began the investigation of Koresh.

The federal firearms crimes which Koresh and his group allegedly committed–illegal manufacture of machine guns and explosives without registration–were conducted entirely in private. Gun shows had nothing to do with them.

IV. The Real Basis for the Campaign against Gun Shows

Gun shows are huge gathering points for people who are interested in Second Amendment issues. Gun rights groups frequently set up booths at gun shows to distribute literature and recruit members. Gun shows are places where Americans properly exercise their First and Second Amendment rights, and neither gun show patrons nor vendors deserve the mean-spirited campaign of abuse to which they have been subjected.

As Rep. Ken Gordon has acknowledged, requiring government permission for every transaction at a gun show is simply a first step to requiring government permission for every other firearms transaction. After all, if it should be illegal for a widow to sell a gun without a background check at a gun show, then it should also be illegal for her to sell the same gun through a classified ad, and it should likewise be illegal for her to sell the gun to her neighbor.

In California, Handgun Control, Inc., has achieved its objective of outlawing all private gun sales. In California, you cannot sell a .22 squirrel rifle to your cousin. Instead, you must route the transaction through a licensed gun dealer, pay a fee for a background check, undergo a two-week waiting period, and have your sale registered by the California Department of Justice.

Attacking gun shows is the first step to abolishing all privacy regarding firearms, en route to implementing universal gun registrationwhich is now being pushed in California.

And the step after that New York City, England, and Australia have already used gun registration lists to confiscate long guns. They are following the strategy enunciated by HCI founder and President Nelson Pete Shields, who explained in 1976:The first problem is to slow down the number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. The final problem is to make possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition–except for the military, police, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors–totally illegal. (Richard Harris, A Reporter at Large: Handguns, New Yorker, July 26, 1976, p. 58.)

Commendably, H.B. 1242 and S.B. 89 require that CBI records be destroyed with 48 hours of an approval of a sale. But in practice, the 48 hour period means that at least two daily computer back-up tapes will be created, and these will be, in effect, permanent records which could be accessed by a future government interested in gun confiscation.

Also, H.B. 1242 and S.B. 89 have no enforcement mechanism to prevent the illegal retention of records. A better system would be to require that records of approvals be destroyed immediately; if the records are supposed to be destroyed eventually, there is no reason for them to be kept for 48 hours. Also, a legal cause of action should be created, allowing the recovery of civil damages from all government employees who participate in the illegal retention of records.

V. Defining Hunting Trips as Gun Shows

When a person hears the phrase gun show, he naturally thinks of weekend events where dozens of people rent tables at a specific location, to sell firearms and firearms-related accessories, books, and clothing. But all of the bills before the Colorado legislature define gun show much more broadly. H.B. 1220 and H.B. 1242 define gun show as any event sponsored by gun clubs or gun organizations. This would include the monthly meeting of a local gun club, a competitive target shooting event, a political strategy session of National Rifle Association members, or a hunting trip sponsored by a gun club.

Indeed, if two people become friends through membership in a gun club, and, years later (not at a club meeting), one person sells the other a gun, then they are both criminals, because Any transfer of a firearm that occurs as a result of contacts made at a gun show shall be deemed to be a transfer at a gun show.

Even more ridiculous is the H.B. 1242s definition that gun show even includes private events (such as birthday parties) sponsored by almost any gun owner. According to the bill,

Gun show means an event or a function sponsored by:

A national, state, or local organization or person involved the sale, collection, competitive use, or sporting use of firearms; or

An organization, association, or person that sponsors functions involved in the sale, collection, competitive use, or other sporting use of firearms in the community.

(H.B. 1220 has a similar definition, but omits the word person.) In other words, if a person is a hunter (and therefore is a person involved in thesporting use of firearms) and he sponsors an event or function, then the event or function is a gun show, according to H.B. 1242. So if a wife who hunts throws a birthday party for her husband, the party is a gun show. If a man who collects guns organizes the office Christmas party, the office party is a gun show.

The effect of this extremely broad definition is a bait-and-switch. Although sold to the public as legislation about gun shows, H.B. 1220 and H.B. 1242 would bring every firearm saleeven sales by persons who have never been inside a real gun showwithin their control. This definition is inconsistent with the Colorado Constitutions requirement that the subject matter of every bill be clearly expressed in the title.

Under current law, persons aged 18-20 may not purchase handguns from Federal Firearms Licensees (at a store, or at a gun show), but they may purchase handguns privately. Although purporting only to affect handgun purchases at gun shows, H.B. 1220 would criminalize almost every handgun purchase by an 18-20 year old (e.g., a 19-year-olds purchase of a handgun from someone in the hunting club he belongs to). Again, if the objective is to completely strip 18-to-20-year-olds of their civil right to purchase a handgun, then the objective should be clearly stated in the bills titleand not created obliquely by calling events gun shows that are not really gun shows. How are young people supposed to comply with the law if the law calls things what they are not

Of course most people participating in target shooting competitions, gun club meetings, gun rights group meetings, birthday parties for gun owners, or club-sponsored hunting trips would not think of themselves as participating in a gun show. Failing to comply with the special restrictive laws that H.B. 1220 and 1242 create for gun shows, the participants at target shooting events, hunting trips, NRA meetings, and the like would be turned into criminals. For example, if a gun club held a target shooting match, one participant might offer to buy a gun belonging to another participant. The participants would not know that they were legally required by H.B. 1242 to (somehow) get the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to perform a background check before consummating the sale. Both participants would become criminals.

The false definition of gun show also creates huge privacy risks for everyone, regardless of whether they own a gun. If any gun club meeting, hunting trip, or birthday party can be a gun show for which the CBI is required to perform background checks at anyones request, then anyone can call CBI, claim to be at a gun show (since gun shows would be ubiquitous, with hundreds per week, under the statutory definition). The caller could then order CBI to run a background check on any target of the callers choosing.

So if you show your drivers license to a clerk in order to write a check, the clerk can wait a few hours, claim to be at a gun show, and call the CBI to get them to run a background check on you.

The problem with defining gun shows shows why gun shows, however defined, should not be subject to special punitive legislation. The laws about gun sales should be the same, no matter where the sale takes place. To the extent that public opinion polls suggest approval for restrictive laws targeted at gun shows, the opinion is based almost entirely on the false, media-fostered perception that laws about gun shows are currently less restrictive than laws about gun sales anywhere else.

Conclusion: The mean-spirited campaign of vilification against gun show operators, vendors, and customers is unjustifiable. All available data about crime guns show that gun shows play virtually no role in criminal gun acquisition. The so-called gun show loophole is a fraud; laws at gun shows are already the same as everywhere else. To impose additional restrictions solely on gun shows is to make laws at gun shows more restrictive than at any other location. Such special legislation would entrap many people at target shooting events, gun club meetings, political meetings, hunting trips, and similar events into unintended criminal violations. The effect is to punish people for exercising their constitutional right to assemble and their right to arms at the same time.

Prepared by David B. Kopel, Research Director, Independence Institute
January 21, 2000

Mandatory Seat Belt Laws Cause Dangerous Driving, and Invade Privacy

Posted on: February 10th, 1999 by mkrause 2 Comments

Synopsis: House Bill 99-1212, which makes driving or riding in a car without a seat belt into a quot;primaryquot; traffic offense, is yet another attempt to control peoples own decisions about risk taking. Research shows that when reckless drivers are forced to buckle up, they drive even more recklessly. Thus, careful drivers (who wear seat belts by choice) are endangered. Moreover, mandatory seat belt laws also increase the risk that minorities or other groups will be victimized by pretextual traffic stops.

What the Bill Does: What the Bill Does: This bill makes failing to wear a seat belt a more serious offense. At present, drivers are not cited for failure to wear a seat belt unless they are stopped for some other reason. This bill would make failing to wear seat belts a primary offense, meaning that police officers could stop vehicles and write citations whenever they see the seat belt law being violated. The bill makes the driver responsible for a Class B traffic infraction unless he, and all front seat passengers, are wearing seat belts.

Discussion: Discussion: The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that wearing a seat belt in an automobile accident reduces the risk of serious injury or death by roughly 50 percent. NHSTA argues that if the U.S. could achieve the 85% seat belt use rates enjoyed in quot;other countries,quot; 5,421 fewer people would have died in motor vehicle accidents in 1996. These estimates are based on police-reported restraint use information for each individual occupant fatality, and include potential lives saved in all seating positions. Proponents of increasing the penalty for not using seat belts claim that increasing penalties increases usage, and that increased usage lowers traffic injuries and deaths.

Some states already have primary offense laws. A survey of seat belt use among the fatally injured suggests that seat belt use in that group was 15 percent higher in states with primary offense enforcement laws. In 1996, states that treated seat belt use as a primary offense reported that seat belts were used 74 percent of the time. States that treated seat belt use as a secondary offense reported usage rates of 61 percent.

Unfortunately, data like these fail to show that making seat belt usage a primary offense decreases traffic injuries and fatalities. In fact, no jurisdiction that has passed a seat belt law has shown evidence of a reduction in road accident deaths. To explore this odd but highly robust finding, experimenters asked volunteers to drive five horsepower go-karts with and without seat belts. They found that those wearing seat belts drove their karts faster. While this does not prove that car drivers do the same, it points in that direction.

A similar study was done with real drivers on public roads. When subjects who normally did not wear seat belts were asked to do so, they were observed to drive faster, followed more closely, and braked later. In other words, people who are naturally cautious voluntarily choose to wear seat belts, and voluntarily drive safely. When reckless people are forced to wear seat belts, they quot;compensatequot; for the increased safety by driving more recklessly.

Nor is it clear that making seat belt use a primary offense will significantly change either usage or motor vehicle injury and death rates. It is important to keep in mind that some people wear seat belts whether there are laws requiring it or not. States with more risk averse populations may also have populations that are more likely to both drive carefully and buckle up. They may also be more likely to pass primary seat belt laws. New York passed a primary seat belt law in 1984. In 1996, its observed seat belt usage rate was 74%, and a large fraction, 46%, of its fatally injured car occupants were wearing seat belts. Its fatality rate per 100,000,000 vehicle miles traveled (VMT) was 1.3. But Iowa, which has had a primary law since 1986, had a fatality rate per VMT of 1.7 in 1996 despite the fact that its observed seat belt use rate was 75% and fully 50% of its fatally injured car occupants were wearing seat belts.

Colorados fatality rate per VMT, 1.7, is the same as Iowas. This is in spite of the fact that Colorados observed rate of seat belt use was just 59%. Furthermore, high observed usage does not guarantee a lower death rate. Wyoming had no primary law and an observed usage rate of 72%. However, its fatality rate was higher, at 1.9 per VMT, and only 28.8% of its fatally injured car occupants were wearing seat belts.

The point is that there is more to highway safety than seat belt use. The age of the population, the condition of the roads, the speed at which people habitually travel, their affinity for drink, and a great many other factors all make a difference. Making failure to wear a seat belt a class B infraction will probably not do much to changes behavior, let alone accident results, if only because relatively few motorists will even know that the change has occurred, let alone what it means.

Seat belt laws differ from traffic laws in that they attempt to regulate behavior that poses no danger to others. A person who refuses to wear a seat belt increases his own risk of injury or death, but not necessarily anyone elses. Traffic laws have historically sought to regulate driver behavior that poses an obvious risk to others. Everyone can see that running a stop sign endangers others. Since the law makes obvious sense, most people obey it. A person who refuses to wear a seat belt increases his own risk of injury or death, but not necessarily anyone elses. Traffic laws have historically sought to regulate driver behavior that poses an obvious risk to others. Everyone can see that running a stop sign endangers others. Since the law makes obvious sense, most people obey it.

As the 20-year experiment with artificially low speed limits demonstrated, laws designed to regulate individual risk do not necessarily enjoy high rates of compliance, and low compliance with one law may erode general respect for all laws. This seems to be a particular problem when government tries to regulate the risk involved in routine activities that generally end without incident.

When people see no reason to change the risk they are exposed to, they do not change their behavior. Frustrated government officials then proceed to ratchet penalties higher and higher in an effort to save face and force compliance. Since not enough people were thought to use seat belts in 1987, Colorado passed a law requiring front seat passengers to buckle up. Now quot;enoughquot; people still are not using seat belts and the response is to increase police powers and to make the legal penalty harsher. What if that doesnt work, either Just how much should otherwise law-abiding citizens have to pay for failing to wear a seat belt when that activity poses no danger to others Should it cost them their license

Moreover, granting police increased ability to stop people for something which does not endanger other people is an invitation to selective enforcement and abuse. Making seat belt laws a primary offense gives unscrupulous police officers a pretext to pull over minorities, young people, people with pro-gun bumper stickers, or any other type of person the police officer may not like. In the context of enforcement of laws against speeding or running a red light, the danger of abusive enforcement is much less; the drivers conduct has provided objective evidence that he is a danger.

Laws against dangerous driving can be easily enforced just by observing how the car moves. In contrast, seat belt laws can only be enforced by looking into the interior of the car. Will photo radar stations eventually be photographing the occupants of a car, to see who is wearing seat belts

The real question is not about seat belts. The real question is whether, and how much, government can and should regulate the risk that a free adult chooses to incur. Trying to convince people to wear their seat belts is one thing. Requiring them to do so when educational efforts fail is another.

Have the Amendments fixed the Bill The House transportation Committee added an amendment to sunset the quot;primary offensequot; portion of the bill. But the sunset does not go into effect if a study to be performed by the Commissioner of Insurance finds that the bill reduced auto insurance rates by 5% or more. It is rather unusual for government studies ever to find that less government is needed. Accordingly, the sunset provision is unlikely to have any effect.

The full House made two other notable changes. First, the quot;primary offensequot; portion would not go into effect until December 2, 1999. But the police would still be allowed to stop vehicles in order to issue warnings. Thus, the risk of the seat belt stop being used as a pretext for additional police intrusion wold remain.

The other change from the House attempts to deal with the problem of seat belt stops as pretext stops, but fails. The Amendment states that a seat belt violation is not justification for arrest (it wasn’t anyway), and that a seat belt violation is not probable cause for a search of the car (it wasn’t anyway).

The problem with allowing seat belt stops was never that the seat belt violation itself allowed an arrest or a search. Rather, once the police officer has initiated an encounter based on the seat belt violation, he can simply ask for consent to search the car. Such quot;consent searchesquot; do not require probable cause, since they are based on the quot;consentquot; of the driver. but unless the driver is a lawyer, it is unlikely that the driver will understand that he has a real right to refuse consent. The inherently coercive atmosphere of a traffic stop, along with the presumed authority of the policeman, means that almost all drivers who are asked for quot;consentquot; will allow a search.

In the rare case where the driver does not consent to a search, the police officer can use the seat belt stop to develop probable cause. For example, quot;When I asked for consent to search the car, the driver seemed nervous. I thought his explanation of where he was going was suspicious. I saw him make a furtive movement as I approached the car. Based on my training as a police officer, I knew that the driver was traveling along a road commonly used for drug deliveries (e.g., I-70 or Colfax Avenue).quot;

Prepared by Linda Gorman and Dwight Filley, Senior Fellows, Independence Institute

Census Confidentiality The Check is in the Mail

Posted on: May 4th, 1990 by admin No Comments

Some promises shouldn’t be taken seriously. The check is in the mail, or Of course I’ll respect you in the morning, or I won’t raise taxes. To that list should be added, Your answers to census questions will remain completely confidential.

Already this census season, many of homeless people have refused to divulge personal information to census takers. Some of the homeless have fears that their personal plight will be revealed to far-away relatives. That intuitive distrust of the Census Bureau may be valid.

During the 1940 census, American citizens of Japanese descent dutifully noted their forebears’ ethnicity on the census form. Those Japanese-Americans believed the Census Bureau assurance that their answers would remain secret. But in 1942 the federal government began rounding up citizens who were of Japanese descent and imprisoning them in concentration camps. How did the Justice Department know where to find Japanese-Americans The Censusnbsp; Bureau told them.nbsp;

The bureau kept its promise of confidentiality, it never disclosed any individual’s name and address. Instead, the bureau told the Justice Department’s concentration camp office when census tracts (small neighborhoods) had high proportions of citizens with Japanese ancestry. Knowing which neighborhoods to concentrate on, the concentration camp officials descended for house-to-house searches.

Today illegal or recently legalized aliens may fear deportation. If in the late 1990s the United States suffered an unexpected resurgence of racism and xenophobia, how would the Department of Justice know which neighborhoods to search for illegal aliens The Census Bureau would probably hand over lists of neighborhoods with high proportions of low-income People with Hispanic or Caribbean ancestry. It is little wonder that many, recent immigrants refuse to cooperate with the census.

When other government agencies call for assistance, the Census Bureau may not even keep its word about the sanctity of data on individual households. During World War. I the bureau turned over the name-and-address lists to the Justice Department for use in the search for draft resisters.

Even Americans who don’t fear persecution or prosecution may be concerned about census confidentiality. The Census Bureau is already advertising its new commercial product that will. help marketers and credit bureaus zero in on individual households. The TIGER (Topical Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing) system willnbsp; include demographic data by census block. (A census block comprises 200 or fewer people.)

Names and addresses will be omitted, but most of the other confidential census data will be divulged — including those on marital status, health and income.

Credit bureaus such as TRW, which already have vast computer files on nearly everyone, will be able to use TIGER to find out a good deal more. For example, the census long form asks how many cars a household owns.

TRW could buy the data for a census block and find. that only one household in the block owns three cars. As a credit-reporting service, TIM might already have a file on a particular household in the area that 64 taken out three car loan. TRW, by matching this data with the TIGER data, could then use confidential census information to learn about the income, dependents, house size, race ethnicity and marital status of members of the household.

The Census Bureau, since it did not disclose anyone’s name and address, would claim that it had kept its vow of confidentiality.

The federal government has gone into the business of helping commercial enterprises find out. intimate personal data, such as the fact that an unmarried couple is living together. The legality of the Census Bureau’s operating as a reporting service for businesses is dubious.

The Constitution authorizes a census for the purpose of congressional apportionment and for direct. taxation (a tax based on the population of a state). For those constitutional purposes, a simple name and address questionnaire would suffice.

The Census Bureau has shied away from legal confrontations over its extensive, collection of personal information. The. penalty for refusing to -answer the census is only $100, and false answers, bring a penalty of only $500. Yet the bureau did not prosecute a single nonrespondent in 1980.

Perhaps the Census Bureau is afraid of what courts would do with a census case. In West Germany in the early 1980s, a census boycott and then a court injunction delayed the census for several years. When Germany’s highest court finally heard the case, it ruled that many citizens could refuse to answer many census questions such as those about place of employment number of automobiles, health and income.

In the United States those questions still must be answered on the long census form, but the bureau steers clear of a court test of their legality. Homeless people, recent immigrants and people with an old-fashioned skepticism about big government probably will continue to resist a government agency that has turned itself into a for-profit adjunct of the credit bureaus.

David Kopel is a Denver lawyer and an Associate Policy Analyst at the Cato Institute

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