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“If there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if even one life can be saved, we have an obligation to try.”
“Within three months of the precrime program, the homicidal rates in the District of Columbia had reduced 90 percent.”
—Minority Report, 2002
In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, gun control advocates pressed with renewed vigor to revisit and restore federal gun control measures in an attempt to crack down on violence. Conservative opposition was loud and clear: minimizing tragedy and preventing violence is an insufficient basis to impose such regulations. These measures, touted by their proponents as “common sense,” infringe upon one’s right to acquire and use a firearm. While some studies have suggested that gun control measures can save lives, that fact alone does not persuade many who instead insist that the government lacks the legitimate authority to punish peaceful people because other gun owners have been irresponsible or outright criminal in their actions.
Simply put, supporters of so-called “gun rights” believe that preventing gun violence is not a reason to impose such regulations. They argue that despite such regulations, those who want to obtain and use guns will do so regardless of what the law says. These regulations will only violate individual rights, and turn innocent people into criminals.
Libertas Institute: Please describe your background.
Oak Norton: I’m originally from Pennsylvania and came to Utah to attend college back in 1991. I graduated in accounting and went to work for a public accounting firm for a while. I have a beautiful wife and five wonderful children, and never intended to go down the path of educational advocacy that I have.
When my oldest daughter was in third grade, I discovered at the end of her school year that she hadn’t yet learned the times tables. At a parent-teacher conference, I asked the teacher about it, noting that 30 years ago I had learned them in third grade. She said “we don’t do that anymore. It’s not part of the curriculum.” I asked her how she expected the kids to learn their times tables, and she said: “well, the smart kids will just pick it up as they go.”
I just about died. I immediately went to the principal’s office, and he reassured me that all the recent studies showed me that their new methods were the best way to teach math. It was called Investigations Math, and Alpine School District had implemented it in such a way to not teach children times tables, long division, and division by fractions. I was blown away. I couldn’t believe that anybody in their right mind didn’t need to know these things.
In a report published last year, a firm of accountants analyzed the degree to which states have become financially dependent upon the federal government. The report’s authors found, using audited financial reports from 2010, that “the percentage of total state revenues sourced directly from the federal government averages 40 percent.”
Touted as a limited government state, Utah came in 14th in the list—45.3% of its total state revenues coming from the federal government, far more than such big government states as New York and California. When totaling indirect and direct federal dollars coming from the feds to Utah, the total amounts to 25.2% of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP).
A 2011 financial report produced by the federal government states that “there is little question that current fiscal policies cannot be sustained indefinitely.” The Comptroller General similarly said in the report that “the current structure of the federal budget is unsustainable over the longer term.”
Controversy erupted in Utah County last fall as citizens in Highland, Utah, attempted (and succeeded) to overturn an action by their city’s council to allow all businesses to operate on Sundays. Previously, certain (but not all) businesses were required to shut down on the Sabbath, and the council changed the ordinance. Many citizens did not like this, and they narrowly defeated their dissenting neighbors to re-impose the ban. For more background, see articles here and here, this essay, or this cartoon.
Proponents of this Sunday business ban were quite vocal in affirming that a municipality somehow has the right to determine how best to shape the community through law, and to preserve the “day of rest” and “community feel,” the ordinance was important and necessary. Local control allowed for this option, they argued. What, then, would such persons say regarding a similar law at the state level?
In 2000, Larry H. Miller heavily lobbied for a change in Utah law to protect his car dealerships from national competition. The national chains usually operate on each day of the week, and Miller did not operate his dealerships on Sunday. (The same does not hold true for his Megaplex movie theaters.)
A free enterprise system is predicated upon informed consent and the right of contract. To the extent that public policy or social custom may interfere with these foundational elements of the market, they should be corrected. A few examples will illustrate their importance.
Imagine that your child breaks his arm while playing with friends. He is in need of medical services, and so you take him to the nearby hospital. Doctors perform the work they think is necessary, you’re sent home with your child in a cast, and you later find out what the cost is. In what other industry do consumers tolerate having zero information about the price of services prior to agreeing to the work?
When you buy over the counter medicine, for example, you contrast and compare between available options. Perhaps you wish to pay a premium for a name brand, or you’re willing to choose a less ideal option to save money. You analyze the products based upon their price, their reputation, their ingredients, their claims of what they can help you with, and other factors. But the important thing is that you are provided all of the relevant data to make an informed choice.
When doctors and medical administrators uphold a system that hides prices from consumers, because of precedent or preference, individuals are unable to sufficiently compare and contrast and make an informed choice.
Editor’s note: The following is a lightly-edited transcription of an interview with Klaus Bernpaintner, a recent immigrant to Utah from Sweden. He is a senior fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute in Sweden, and organizer of the annual FreedomFest in Stockholm.
Libertas Institute: In your perspective as a Swede, what’s it like to live like under that country’s government?
Klaus Bernpaintner: A lot of things have changed recently, even in the last ten years. We got a so-called conservative government, and people thought that a lot of the socialist nonsense would be done away with. Lowering taxes, increasing personal liberties… but that’s not happened. Instead, we have a “conservative” government that’s imposing the same social democratic politics.
They have made some things a little better. Some taxes have lowered slightly. But the personal liberties in Sweden have decreased, I would say. The most obvious case is in 2010 when they outlawed homeschooling. There are two countries in the “civilized western world” where that’s illegal: Germany, since 1938, and now Sweden since 2010.
I recently returned from a vacation with my family in California, where I grew up. Our days were filled with fun activities, family outings, and sights that brought back great memories. Despite my efforts to have a break from working in and thinking about politics, there was an ever-present reminder of how bad California’s overreaching, paternalistic state has become.
California outlaws using cell phones while driving. The various restrictions and regulations which prohibit and seek to punish the act of talking on the phone while driving are voluminous, but they aren’t hidden in obscure pages of the state’s legislative code. Instead, drivers are incessantly reminded of them.
In a 20 mile stretch of freeway, I counted easily over a dozen large, bright, electronic signs reminding drivers of the law, the associated fine if you were to be caught, and a statement saying that “it’s not worth it.” Apparently it’s not enough to criminalize the action—lawmakers feel they must provide propaganda to encourage increased compliance.
Utah has a long tradition of enjoying the theatrical arts. From the early days of the Salt Lake Theatre—the crown jewel of Western theaters—to the world famous Utah Shakespearean Festival, Utahns have valued wholesome entertainment for generations.
Within a few years after their arrival in the Salt Lake Valley, a devout pioneer populace eager to begin building their church’s temple were hungry for a little of the sweet life too. So, 31 years before completing a temple carved out of a mountainside, many hundreds of volunteers set to work on the red pine beams of the Salt Lake Theatre. At the time it was the grandest building in the territory and was considered by one outside observer to be “one of the Seven Wonders of the theatrical world.”
It attracted the likes of P.T. Barnum, Wild Bill, Al Jolson and scores of acting royalty. At a cost of $100,000 (a little over $2 million in today’s dollars) it required thousands of volunteer man hours to construct and primarily used reclaimed building supplies from the disbanded Camp Floyd and wagon wreckage from the trails around the territory. The Pioneer Theater was built in 1962 (at a smaller scale) to resemble the Salt Lake Theater (which was demolished in 1928) and cost about $1.5 million to construct (over $11 million in today’s dollars). It’s sobering to think what a comparable 1,500 seat venue would cost today.
Editor’s note: The following is a lightly-edited transcription of an interview with Eric Hill, whose home was wrongfully invaded in December at 2:30am as police were looking for a soldier who went AWOL.
Libertas Institute: Please tell us about your experience.
Eric Hill: On December 20, 2012, my oldest daughter came into my room at 2:30am saying that she heard some banging near her closet. I was half awake, of course, and told her to go back to bed. As I was telling her that, I heard some really loud banging. I told her to get in our bed (our youngest daughter was already in bed with us).
At that point I grabbed a baseball bat and went upstairs. On my way up I was peeking out of various windows and couldn’t see anything. I was confused. I walked to my daughter’s room, looked out her window and didn’t see anything. But then I heard the banging again. By this time I could tell that it was at the front door.
I yelled “who is it?” and didn’t get any response at all. Each time I asked that, they just pounded some more. I walked closer to the door, and finally at the top of my lugs I shouted again “who is it?” and finally heard “Ogden City Police!”
Culture is important. It shapes our general societal standards, it guides our behavior, and it establishes certain expectations we have of one another in our various interactions. It allows our history to influence our present and direct our future. It is a reflection of our ideals.
And government should have nothing to do with it.
Culture is largely organic, undefined by any central apparatus. It is modified through the collective actions and attitudes of the masses. It is the societal counterpart to the state’s top-down, arbitrary set of laws which are enforced by the few upon the many.
The government exists to protect life, liberty, and property. It can only legitimately operate with authority it has been delegated by the individuals who comprise it. Because no one person has the moral authority to impose and enforce his cultural standards upon his neighbor, he cannot petition a third party to do so on his behalf.
Culture is properly promoted and even “enforced” only through non-coercive means such as persuasion and even peer pressure. To empower the state to help define and enforce such standards is to promote an ideal at the point of a gun, for all government is force.