Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Drunk Teenagers Can Effectively Estimate the Impact of Decisions on Lifetime Income

Feels like I’m three beers into a beat down of Professor Vic on the foosball table after three or four dogs at the Wienery.  The good professor left a comment that is worth looking at for what I am up against in making my case, because a guy like Professor Vic is exactly who I am referring to in saying that some of my liberal friends are more conservative than they think they are.  Rather than a comment of complete capitulation, along the lines of - “Ahh, now I see it, you’ve been right all these years and I have been a foolish naïf, and I am thankful for your forbearance in always treating me with kindness and friendship despite my ignorance.  I will go forth and sin no more” -  I get agreement on two fundamental points, and resistance in the main.  So I win some battles but lose the war.

First, the two areas of agreement: 1) “the Jerky is clearly right that 2-parent families are clearly better at raising kids”; and 2) “No doubt that welfare programs make single motherhood more common.”  Put the two together and you have here a big concession – that welfare leads to more instances of problematic child rearing.  And by problematic, I mean for the kids themselves – they are more likely to drop out of school, have dimmer lifetime economic prospects, etc. – as well as for society, which faces a higher likelihood of criminal behavior.  Even the first point – the superiority of 2 parent families – is one that is by no means held by all liberals; many influential authors, particularly African American women, have gone to lengths to argue that such a view is mere prejudice.  Such nonsense spawns from an impulse to deny the elephant in the room – if your community is racked with illegitimacy rates close to 70 percent, people might start noticing that this is the source of many of the problems faced by such communities, and that racism has little to do with the problem.

But the second point – that welfare adds to the rolls of single moms – is a huge point of agreement, because it gives the lie to the notion that opposition to welfare is necessarily mean spirited or motivated by selfishness.  For that reason, it is a point that very few people on the left either grasp or willingly admit – better to think yourself morally superior to the Scrooges on the right.  Even Professor Vic is somewhat schizophrenic on the point.  If welfare increases single motherhood, it does so through the standard economic explanation – reducing the private costs of single motherhood is tantamount to subsidizing it, and any subsidy will increase supply.  So if welfare adds to the little bastard population it does so via a rational economic decision on the part of the mother.  Welfare affects decisions.

But here is Professor Vic denying a point he has already conceded: “Lots of bad choices are being made by parents out there, so how do you minimize the effects of these bad choices on the kids?” The first part of the sentence treats the choice as independent from the policies intended to minimize the bad effects of said choice.  As Professor Vic astutely recognizes, once a kid is involved you have to consider the welfare of the child in addition to the incentives for more children being placed in such a situation.  As I said in the initial post, if the stork randomly delivers these babies to various single moms, it changes the whole issue – now the welfare of the child can be considered without changing the equation.  He recognizes there is a “trickier” trade-off, but then either ignores the trade-off entirely, or alternatively assumes that current welfare policy is either optimal or insufficient; otherwise he would agree some scaling back of welfare is good public policy.  
Professor Vic accepts the frequency of bad decisions given current policy.  Currently, almost 40 percent of children are born to unmarried parents; in 1940, it was approximately 4 percent (http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db18.pdf).  Apparently back in 1940, contra Professor Vic, making life “miserable for single parents in the hope that a couple of drunk teenagers fooling around in the back seat of a Chevy do an accurate lifetime income estimation before doing the  deed” worked quite effectively.  If we think of 1940 as the normal number, Professor Vic is willing to accept a tenfold increase in single parenthood in order to make it easier for what might otherwise be the 4 percent of kids born out of wedlock.

This comparison no doubt glosses over broad cultural changes that have also affected the illegitimacy rates, one of which was the loss of the stigma surrounding pre-marital sex or single motherhood.  Perhaps there is no stuffing the genie back in the bottle, but even if such stigmas were to re-emerge, I doubt they would have much effect given current welfare policies.  It is already the case that motherhood is viewed by many teenage moms as a path to independence from their parent(s), who they know will not approve of them getting pregnant – they already face significant disapproval at home, which has little deterrent effect. 

If we go back to 1940, prior to the emergence of the welfare state, a teenage pregnancy was a ticket to prolonged dependence upon your parents, not independence from them.  Which also highlights what is in many cases the false trade-off posited by Professor Vic – i.e. assuring the welfare of the child inadvertently improves the welfare of the mother, but such is not the intent of welfare.  Does a welfare system that enables a single parent to move out of grandmom and granddad’s house improve the welfare of the child?  Absent welfare, in the majority of cases extended family would step up to see to the well-being of the child.  With welfare, the single mom who likes to make bad choices can safely tell such family to go pound sand.  Starting with the 4 percent, how many of them would have been raised with the help of grandparents who simultaneously try to help the mother step up to her responsibilities?  I would guess at least 3 percent.  Now the tradeoff becomes even worse – to ensure the material welfare of 1 out of 100 kids, you jeopardize the overall welfare of 39 out of 100 kids. 

Suppose there were a disease that was both extremely painful and eventually fatal.  And some maliciously evil Big Pharma company were to develop a treatment that removed the physical pain, and maybe even extended the lifespan of the patient, but at the cost of making the disease contagious, to the point where the epidemiology would suggest a 40 fold increase in the incidence of the disease.   Oh, and let’s add that only children suffer from the disease.  Would you approve the drug? 

Putting all that aside, Professor Vic has three suggestions for either bringing the 40 percent number down or otherwise limiting the fallout from single motherhood.  First, to limit the number:  “Obviously, you could try to prevent pregnancies to unwed mothers in the first place, which is why John is a big supporter of Planned Parenthood.”  Right, because pharmacies don’t sell condoms or the pill at prices that are a fraction of the cost of the smokes and cell phone data plans that most impoverished single moms already can afford, I need to support Planned Parenthood (or Obamacare for that matter) so they can get it for free.  Planned Parenthood has zero effect on the prevention of pregnancy.  Planned Parenthood exists to end pregnancies, not prevent them.  In so doing, there is an argument that they help to reduce single motherhood (and there is a counter-argument), but the logic of that as a policy prescription is “destroy the village to save it.”

Second, again to limit the number: “You could break down barriers that prevent people from getting married, which is why John is a big supporter of marriage equality.”  Yes, because most unwed mothers got knocked up by their gay partner?  Although I think Professor Vic would be somewhat surprised by my opinion of marriage equality, that is an issue for another day, and it is a complete non sequiter for the issue of single parenthood. As I’ve argued, policies that make welfare contingent upon not being married are the biggest barrier preventing parents of children from getting married.  Other than that, I cannot think of any significant barrier to would-be parents getting married. 

Third, to limit the fallout: “You could provide generous subsidies to education so that all kids, regardless of parental status, have the chance to maximize their potential, which is why John is a big supporter of public funding for education.”  Professor Vic, what if I told you I know of a school district where the per-pupil spending at the primary and secondary level is close to $30,000 per year (http://www.cato.org/blog/census-bureau-confirms-dc-spends-29409-pupil)?  And, as is your wish, it is free to all residents regardless of parental status.  Would you move there and send your kids happily off to those great schools?  That city is Washington, D.C., and your girls would be breaking the color barrier as the only white kids in attendance.  (In 2010, when D.C. was under-reporting its expenditures to the Census Bureau by 40 percent, it was still tops in the country.)   You wouldn’t have to worry about them for too long – chances are they would drop out eventually.  And for the record, I am a supporter of public funding of education, which is not the same as public education.  Unlike welfare, the benefits go directly and unambiguously to the kids.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Barbarians at the Gates

Lesson number 1: if people are more educated about economics, they will tend to be more conservative.  In a lot of these posts, I’ve focused on the ignorance surrounding the economic effects of taxation and simple welfare policies, but I can and will expand this to many other areas – unions, trade, minimum wage laws, regulation, etc.  Lesson number 2: many people who lean Democrat champion policies and the changing of cultural norms that are inimical to their own cultural conservatism.  
Every society faces the equivalent of the barbarian invasion on ancient Rome with the spawning of each new generation of kids, which is the perpetual consequence of men and women getting their freak on, as the kids these days say.    Every kid born to this world is a threat to civilization.  The question is how to convert the barbarian hoards to the Roman ways prior to their pissing in the aqueducts. 

The best way, as is now indisputably established by countless Federal grants bent on using social science techniques to confirm common bleeping sense, is that a kid, especially a boy, be raised in a two parent family.  If a boy is raised as such, he is much less likely to spend his teen years lopping off the heads of the Michelangelo statues; if a girl is raised as such, she is much less likely to repeat the same mistake of having a boy out of wedlock, who then joins the fun by stealing concrete benches out of the Coliseum with his wayward uncle. Everyone in polite society – conservative or liberal - knows these fundamental truths. 
I have great friends who are liberals – despite deep and profound differences in politics we share a common and laudable goal in child rearing - raising kids to become responsible adults who develop their talents and contribute to civic life.  In short, in their actions these friends reveal a fundamental agreement with me in their regard for the role and importance of family.  But for reasons that are many, they simultaneously champion changing norms and mores, as well as government policies, which have the effect of diminishing marriage and family and adding more diapered barbarians bent on future mayhem.    
Single parenthood is a negative externality.  In general if a behavior or choice carries with it a negative externality, you want to tax it so the one responsible for generating it considers the fuller social cost in his or her decision.  On an island the full cost of the petty crimes of the fatherless kid is borne fully by Mommy dearest, but in the city, when the kid breaks out of the crib and onto the street, bullets start flying and there is a cost borne by someone other than the mom.  Because potential moms don’t face the full potential cost of single motherhood, they oversupply the little barbarians.  In small numbers, we can absorb and minimize the cost.  Back in my day, the few kids who could run free at an early age stealing small sections of railroad found few potential accomplices who wouldn’t face the wrath of two parents, and because everyone knows you need two people to carry a small section of railroad, such petty crimes never made it past the planning stages.  But once you start adding in a few more kids into the neighborhood with plenty of time on their hands, a distracted mom, and a non-existent dad, suddenly things quickly progress from the planning stage to the doing stage.  And the costs begin to multiply.  The costs are not limited to the effects of crime on the victims, or to the increased need for crime prevention and enforcement.  Much of it is more innocuous – taking the form of the many programs that comprise welfare. 
Although this is fundamentally an issue of culture, the recognition that single motherhood is a negative externality ties it right in with the general economic ignorance of the voting public.  Given the negative externality, there is some optimal level of cost that should be foisted on potential single mothers and/or the shiftless irresponsible fathers.  The right amount of cost leads to acceptably low rates of illegitimacy.  If you look at changes in society over the last sixty years, they take two forms.  First, we’ve instituted policies (the Great Society, Obamacare, etc.) that subsidize single parenthood, thus alleviating the private costs that were always assumed by the single mother and her family.  Second, we’ve otherwise removed any social stigma connected with single motherhood, which has the effect of removing the “tax” that we traditionally levied on pre-marital sex.  Remember, optimality requires adding to the cost of single-motherhood beyond the private costs faced by the single mother; we’ve removed much if not all of that private cost with welfare, and additionally eliminated the stigma that had the effect of making people consider the fuller social costs of out-of-wedlock births.
Welfare is nothing if not well-intentioned – helping those most in need and all that – but it unambiguously subsidizes single motherhood.  If getting on the dole is tough, as it once long ago was, adding a (or another) mouth to feed looms as a hardship, and the would be single mothers are careful to require that would-be suitors “buy the cow” if they want to sample the milk.  Absent any stigma attached to single motherhood, bearing the full cost of raising the child alone would still limit the extent of illegitimacy.  If you make it easy to get on the dole, some young women will purposefully get pregnant to get an income stream that grants them full independence from their parent(s).  Indeed, our welfare policy has even worked against the societal pressure for the father to step up and make an honest woman of the mother – it is much harder to collect welfare if the father marries the mother.  Marriage for the young mom brings with it the uncertain reliability and perhaps limited income potential of an uneducated father, and this is compared to the no strings attached benefits of food stamps, Section 8 housing, Medicaid, etc.  Young single moms may be uneducated, but they’re not stupid.  They know that there are worse things than the dole – marrying a loser or living under the autocratic rule of your parents – “whatever!”
Perhaps 1950s America was no less engaged in premarital sex, but the costs of the obvious consequence was borne locally, principally by the family of the woman – hence shot gun weddings to make sure the father stepped to the plate to handle the costs.  Absent this, the costs were still absorbed by the mother and the family, and the costs were appropriately ramped up (tax the negative externality) by the stigma attached to single parenthood.  If your daughter got knocked up, there was some judgment of you as a parent, so you took pains to make sure that it didn’t happen.  If it did, you took out the shotgun and paid for a wedding.  Failing that, you suffered the cost of the stigma, and such was life.  Now, we can look back at that time and bemoan the cruelty, intolerance, and judgmentalism, but we cannot ignore the beneficial effect of that stigma.  The effect was the protection of children, plain and simple, because the child born to the single mom is the one member of society who bears the largest cost of single motherhood. 
Social pressures exerted on unexpected fathers, and some basic moral counseling for young single women that helps them avoid unexpected pregnancy, still persists among the well-educated set.  But elsewhere?  Sex is the ultimate democratic good – income and wealth can be “inequitably” distributed – but at least the poor have their sex.  Indeed they do, which is largely why they stay poor.   And in the past – people were held to account for the obvious consequences of sex outside of marriage.  Now we dare not be critical of people who find themselves in difficult straits due to getting knocked up.  The cost has been spread so that the shotgun wedding is no longer in play, the behavior has been excused and women and men left off the hook for one of those unfortunate consequences of unfettered sex; indeed, the women in these cases have been lionized as heroic victims – no stigma there.  Fathers feel less obligation to the mother because there is no shame assumed by the mother, and because the financial well-being of the mother and child is not at issue.  Your girlfriend got pregnant?  Shit happens, as the kids these days say.
But stigmas have a funny way of morphing and persisting.  In its uglier aspects, the olden days stigma attached to the kids as well – the child is a “bastard” and all that - but to the extent that the stigma made a woman think twice before having a kid, it prevented kids from being born into a single parent home.  You know where the stigma is now?  Smack dab on the foreheads of the kids, but in a different way.    Regardless of what lip service we all (liberal and conservative) may pay to the notion that single motherhood is noble, to the notion that we should not judge such mothers, to the notion that stigmatizing single motherhood was an ugly injustice that we are glad to be rid of, people of means will spend any amount of money to make sure that their kids live their lives in a cocoon safely protected from all the progeny of the noble and proud single moms.  They don’t want their kid joining in on coloring Hitler mustaches on the Mona Lisa. The village can raise the little vagrants if they far outnumber them, but as the ranks of the vagrants grow, the village simply moves to the next town over or sends its kids to Sidwell Friends.  The kid is still a bastard, we just don’t call him one.

Erosion of the stigma, and simultaneously the not coincidental emergence of generous welfare policies, have the combined effects of assuring that more kids each year be born without the benefit of two loving parents.  These changes can only be viewed as beneficial under the assumption that the stork delivers babies at random.  But of course the stork doesn’t deliver babies at all.  Babies come from the decision of young adults, and those decisions have become more and more prone to yielding fatherless kids as a direct result of these changes.  Right now in America, the percentage of out-of-wedlock births by major ethnic groups is as follows: 68 percent for blacks, 45 percent for Hispanics, 24 percent for whites, and 15 percent for Asians.  The situation created by welfare policies are self-reinforcing, in that they yield a generation of kids who will themselves be much more dependent on the state, thus increasing the demand for more generous welfare, which ensures further dissolution of family. 
If you’re celebrating the gains made on behalf of the welfare state in the last 4 years, don’t break your arm patting yourself on the back, because these advances likely come at the cost of more kids being deprived of the full parental guidance you were probably blessed with.  You can wring your hands over ancillary issues such as gun control and the occasional random massacre of innocents, but meanwhile please don’t celebrate policies that lead to the rearing of kids who will quite predictably be the perpetrators and victims of the less random versions of violent crime.  It's like a bad drug - the initial demand doubles the subsequent demand.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Free Riding the Gun Owners

Just when I was about to tell you the second of two factors that leads me to believe many who vote for the Democrats are more conservative than they think they are, I left you hanging for over a month.  Work got busy, and then of course the holidays came along.  Now that I’m back, I’ll leave you hanging for another week while I digress on ye olde gun debate.

As is the Hatcher’s style, rather than re-hashing all of the standard arguments pro and con, I’d like to point out some factors that seem to go widely ignored, and which have more general application outside of this particular debate.  Full disclosure, I am not a gun guy – I only recently overcame my fear of power tools, and am proud to say that I now only tremble slightly when I need to use a chainsaw.  So I am not writing this while admiring my collection of firearms.  My mode of self-protection is to not be a drug dealer, and to make enough money to live in gated communities.
Prior to considering the issue of rights, I want to look at the issue on purely economic grounds.  Let’s define a few economic terms before getting started.  An externality can either be a cost (negative externality) or a benefit (positive externality) from a private activity borne or enjoyed by someone other than the guy engaging in that activity.  If a neighbor has outdoor speakers that blare the collected works of Vanilla Ice 24 hours a day, this would generate a negative externality (unless you are Vanilla Ice, and even then maybe).  In contrast, if a neighbor invests in landscaping that makes her yard look like the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, enhancing the beauty of the street, there is a positive externality.

As a general principal, if some private activity generates a negative externality, in principal we would like the private actor to bear the externality cost in some form (a tax, for example), so that the full cost of the activity is considered by that actor relative to the benefit.   A tax that increases the cost of that activity will not in all cases eliminate that activity, but it will ensure that those who still engage in it are doing so because the private benefits they receive exceed the full cost to society; in principal (though rarely in practice), the tax revenues generated from those who still partake can be redistributed to those who suffer from the negative externality in such a way as to make them whole, and all is good.   Although some activity or purchase may generate a negative externality, we do not in general outlaw the activity or purchase.  The private benefit may exceed the sum of the production costs of the item and the externality cost, in which case we do not want to bar the activity entirely. On the flipside, for the those activities that generate a positive externality, because the private actor faces the full cost while receiving only the private benefit, you generally get an under-provision of such activity.  Policies that would somehow subsidize these activities would be good for increasing overall welfare. 
The Sandy Hook shooting is clearly an example of a negative externality of gun ownership – a legal gun owner does not protect her stash of guns, they are stolen, and terror ensues.  From my understanding, the killer was not able to obtain guns legally due to laws in place.  If no one other than the police (assuming they are able to prevent the theft of their guns) is in possession of a gun, there is no possibility for the killer to steal them, and the mass gun killing doesn’t occur, although it may have otherwise been achieved (a home made bomb, or some other method).  It follows that if gun ownership were banned, and all guns could be confiscated from the law abiding and non-law abiding alike, Sandy Hook doesn’t happen, or at least doesn’t happen with a gun.  For the sake of argument, let’s say it doesn’t happen at all.

Gun ownership for law abiding citizens can therefore in theory have a negative externality on society, and it is not limited to such guns being used with malicious intent.  Guns not properly secured or handled by their owner may be involved in accidental shootings and killings, as happens from time to time.  But the presence of a negative externality, as stated, is no rationale for banning gun ownership.  There is a private benefit to be considered for the gun owner, which is the feeling and reality of enhanced security for themselves and their families.  
Admittedly, the true probability of being the victim of a violent crime, for which one would rationally desire a gun, is probably very low for most people, and many who purchase guns may do so because they over-estimate that probability.  This comes from a combination of factors – there is the “availability cascade” – we are inundated in the news with stories of violent crime, which are preceded by prime time shows that revolve around violent crime, and so we naturally over-estimate the probability.  Perhaps, as according to Obama, some are irrationally driven to “cling” to their guns because they are adrift in the modern world, and are excessively risk averse. 

No matter whether a person severely over-estimates his probability of being assaulted, or whether his degree of risk aversion is excessive, it doesn’t really matter:  It is an indisputable fact that there is a private benefit of enhanced security.
As is so often the case, many gun control advocates themselves possess guns, or hire armed security, under the entitled perspective that the threat to them is real, whereas the threat to the average Joe gun owner is wholly imagined.  There was a local newspaper in New York state that published the addresses of all gun owners in a certain county in the aftermath of Sandy Hook (obtained via the Freedom of Information Act)  – such was the outrage over this editorial idiocy that the paper saw fit to hire armed security – guns for me, not for thee.  These people are making an implicit judgment – that either other people are over-estimating the probability of victimhood, or that they are excessively risk averse, and that for one or both of these reasons they are being irresponsible in owning a firearm, and perhaps should be restricted from doing so, but my right to do so should not be abridged because I face a real threat.

One Democratic politician living in the country covered by the gun-map stated that as a result of this publication he felt it necessary to buy a gun.  His logic - every criminal in the county now knows that his particular house is occupied by a guy like the Hatcher whose only method of defense is that used by Monty Python in the great skit on the Inquisition – making the criminal sit in the comfy chair and poking him with soft pillows.  Here, the knowledge of the criminal is key.  Prior to the publication, the criminal had no idea what households were or were not armed to the teeth, and therefore the criminal assumes that each house has some probability of gun ownership.   This acts as a general deterrent for all – gun owners and non-gun owners alike.  (Although my amateurish criminal mind would assume that any house with a Volvo parked in front of it would be occupied by an unarmed liberal who would blame his robbery on “society” and fret over the self-esteem issues of his assailant, surprisingly nearly as high a percentage of Democrats own guns as Republicans, so picking victims based on Volvos versus F-150s is not an effective strategy.)
And guess what?  The general deterrence afforded to non-gun owners from the knowledge on the part of criminals that many households own guns, but the lack of knowledge as to which particular households do, is a great example of  … drum roll please … a positive externality.  The non-gun owning dweebs like me who “use our words” are free riding on the paranoid delusions of the gun clingers!  We don’t have to pay for the gun, or learn to use it responsibly – we just sit back and enjoy a life devoid of violent crime.  A city like Chicago, which has some of the strictest gun control laws in the country, suffers from significant levels of violent crime – criminals there know that the law-abiding by definition will not own guns, and are easy marks.  Even the Batman massacre occurred at the only one of four or five movie theatres relatively equidistant from the killer that posted an explicit prohibition from bringing in a concealed weapon (which is allowed in the state in general).  Just as when the newspaper published the addresses of all gun owners (and thus non-gun owners), specific prohibitions against firearms provide the criminal full knowledge of where the easy target lay, and the general positive externality of gun ownership vanishes.

It follows that you don’t have to arm all schools in order to have some degree of prevention against another Sandy Hook – you just cannot make it obvious which schools are or are not armed.  In fact, if all schools voluntarily announced their policy vis-à-vis armed security, there is no positive externality – the gunman simply avoids those with armed security, and the threat to those without such goes up.  Right now every sicko knows for the most part none of them are.  In the wake of 9/11, for example, I believe it became policy to have marshals on commercial flights (not sure if they just stepped up resources for this or started doing it for the first time): while it is not feasible to have them on all flights, you get a general deterrent effect by not announcing which flights do and do not have them, and of course for the same reason the air marshals are trained to blend in – they’re not supposed to look like a cop.    
So there you have it – gun ownership has a negative externality, which in isolation suggests that you would want to tax it, but it also has a significant positive externality, which in isolation suggests that you would want to subsidize it.  So the economic logic of whether more or less gun control is beneficial or harmful even ignoring the private benefits to the gun owner himself is ambiguous – it could go either way as to whether the non gun-owners are better or worse off.  There is one economist, John Lott, who has done significant work on sorting out that question, and has concluded “more guns = less crime”, i.e. the positive externality trumps the negative externality (although some portion of that crime prevention is gun owners thwarting an assailant, which technically is a private benefit).  I believe most of his work has held up, although I can’t say I follow it too closely. 

How can I be so cavalier and not look further into the research to make sure he is right?  Because there is the question of what is right and wrong, which in some cases is completely independent from the economic question.  As an example I repeat over and over again, I do not think it is right for government to tax the income of a subset of people to transfer it to another set; I believe this whether or not the benefits to the recipients exceed the costs to those taxed.  (Beyond that, I think the benefits to the recipients are woefully small in comparison to the costs to those taxes, so even on the pure economics of the question it is a bad idea.)  Similarly, the right to protect yourself from violence is way too obvious to have to argue, and if some people believe doing so requires owning a firearm, they should be entitled to own a firearm.  Even if one person’s choice to do so leads on net to slightly increased danger for others, which I don’t believe it does, this does not trump your right to self-protection. 
Clearly we do draw a line at what we allow people to purchase for the purpose of self-protection – to my knowledge no one is legally entitled to purchase a working tank, an armed drone aircraft, or surface to air missiles.  Which brings us to the issue of assault weapons, where the gun control debate seems to always play out.  I confess to no extensive knowledge of the distinctions between assault and other more conventional weapons, but it seems to me we are kidding ourselves that a ban on such weapons would have any effect on massacres of this type – Sandy Hook didn’t rely on them to my knowledge, and even if it did, the killer had enough time strolling the school with no armed resistence to do the same damage with other types of guns.  Banning them doesn’t mean you’ve cut off a supply to those really looking to use them for violence. 

Most gun advocates think that the assault ban weapon is the Trojan horse – once achieved, they’ll come for the next category until finally they’ve reduced us all to defending ourselves with karate.  I think there is reason to suspect that, as many cities have gone that route.  But everyone understands that in rural areas hunting, and the guns necessary for hunters, provide important ecological benefits at no cost to the taxpayer.  That is the irony – in the relative safety of rural America, you can own all you like; in the crime-ridden city, they tell you you can’t.  So where you most arguably require a gun for self-protection, you are SOL.  Cities tend to be liberal in orientation, and as such many liberals are self-selecting to live in communities where they restrict their own rights to self-protection, but they also restrict those who may not live in the best part of town. While this is a shame, when you have a city like Washington D.C. that is 95 percent liberal, at least most people are supportive of the gun ban.
So why the big to-do over assault weapons?  The cynical view is that it’s great for business for both parties.  Each party, I think, probably understands that to ban or not to ban will probably have little to no effect either way, but its value as an “issue” to campaign on – and in particular to raise money on – is gold for each.  It’s the liberal that always picks this fight – which suggests it is one that plays particularly well to the “expressive” voting inclinations of their base.  It feels good to be on a certain side of this issue.  The flipside of that good feeling is the license it provides one the pure sport of scorning those they regard as gun nuts.  Sure, some of them probably believe it would have an effect, and are earnest about their scorn, but for the smarter among them it is an issue that allows them their favorite pastime of parading their tribal superiority.

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