Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Obama doesn't care about evidence

Today President Obama announced his list of 12 legislative recommendations and 23 executive actions for gun control measures to capitalize on the wave of enthusiasm following the Sandy Hook shooting. Some of the measures are ho-hum, such a call to nominate an ATF director and have the Consumer Product Safety Commission review safety standards for gun locks and gun safes.

But, of course, there was a lot of nonsense recommended by the president, such as a federal ammunition magazine cap at 10 rounds, a ban on so-called assault weapons and having the Centers for Disease Control conduct a $10 million study to answer a question we already know.

I'm reminded of a brilliant article David Bier wrote last week that questions the philosophy behind the gun-grabbers demand that we provide a reason why we should be allowed to possess semi-automatic rifles like an AR-15.

Free societies place the responsibility on those who would restrain the freedom of an individual to justify their action, not on the individual to justify his freedom. But the proponents of government action have completely inverted this premise - government power now requires little justification - it is presumed valid - and exercising liberty requires a great deal of justification.  

Russell's Teapot taught us the burden of proof is on the claim maker. If we apply this logic to government power, shouldn't it be up to the President Obama to show us the evidence that his policies will reduce the murders of innocent people?

Where is the evidence that restricting magazine sizes will stop or minimize mass shootings? The claims from the anti-gun folks are quite grand. Lawrence O’Donnell was ahead of the curve on this idea. Back in July MSNBC's he guaranteed that the Aurora movie theater massacre would have ended early if the shooter hadn't used a hundred-round drum magazine:

California has made the sale of hundred-round clips illegal. California restricts those magazines to ten bullets. And so, if you’re an aspiring mass murderer here in California, and you decide tonight to obtain your killing tools legally, as our most recent mass murderers have done, you will be forced to reload after your first ten bullets, and if you try doing that in a packed movie theater, I promise you, you will not finish reloading. You will be taken down by the freedom of the people in that theater to attack you the second you have to stop firing and reload. The ten-bullet clip is about the freedom to stop mass murderers after they’ve fired ten shots, instead of a hundred.

But that shooting never lasted 100 rounds. The shooter's gun jammed on him. No one tackled him. He simply switched to a second weapon, as most of these shooters have had the option to do. Reloading can take one to three seconds. O'Donnell's wild claim, peppered with confident statements like "I promise you" was a swirl of useless conjecture. Where is the hard evidence that this policy will make a difference?

Banning weapons that have certain non-essential features and labeling them "assault weapons" based on the stock or the grip is another useless move lacking evidence. The research ranges from showing the 1994 federal ban on so-called assault weapons failed to make a clear impact on gun violence to inconclusive. There is no reason to believe passing these feel-good laws will prevent violence.

I think the most telling recommendation President Obama made today was his effort to fund another study on video games hoping the conclusion will be different. From Joystiq:

Obama mentioned video games once during the conference, asking Congress to provide $10 million for the Centers for Disease Control and other scientific agencies to research the causes of gun violence. 
"While year after year, those who oppose even modest gun safety measures have threatened to defund scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence, I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it," Obama said. "And Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds. We don't benefit from ignorance. We don't benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence."

Well, we do know the science here. In fact, the Supreme Court took that scientific fact into account back in 2011. We already have the answer to this question.

Imagine if the president said he wanted to fund a new study to determine if vaccines cause autism, or if George W. Bush was behind the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Try ending that request with "We don't benefit from ignorance."

The president does not practice an evidence-based approach to running this government. The list he produced today had some reasonable approaches, but he couldn't help himself from peppering it with dubious measures.

In an authoritarian world, all freedoms are restricted unless the government permits them. In a world of liberty, all freedoms are permitted unless the government restricts them.

I believe freedom should come first. There are times when it is needed for the government to restrict some of our freedoms, but the burden of proving the necessity of those restrictions falls on the government. If they want to take a right away it is up to them to prove to us why they should be allowed to. We shouldn't have to come up with a compelling reason for why we deserve each and every freedom we get to keep.


  1. "In an authoritarian world, all freedoms are restricted unless the government permits them. In a world of liberty, all freedoms are permitted unless the government restricts them."

    May we quote you? It's a very good line that expresses - very well! - a thought I've been having about how a liberal democracy should function for awhile now.

  2. Go for it, but the idea itself comes from my summary of David Bier's excellent article linked above.

  3. In retrospect, I deserve more credit for this way of framing the issue. It just occurred to me a piece I wrote last February details the differences in how progressives and libertarians argue for drug legalization and gay adoptions. Libertarians say the government doesn't have the right to do that and progressives feel compelled to argue why it should be allowed.

  4. "O'Donnell's wild claim, peppered with confident statements like "I promise you" was a swirl of useless conjecture."

    Personally, I'm like the, "swirl of useless conjecture" line.