Zero Rating

https://yro.slashdot.org/story/16/12/16/2014245/att-verizon-tell-fcc-to-back-off-on-net-neutrality-complaints

AT&T wants companies to pay to “sponsor” their zero-rated data. This is the obvious violation of net neutrality. Even if the zero-rating looks good for consumers in the short run (because they can watch video without counting it towards their usage), it is bad for consumers in the long run. Any new video service will count against consumers’ data caps, giving that company a disadvantage. They can only compete if AT&T, at their sole option, chooses to allow them to sponsor zero-rating, and if AT&T charges them the same rate. And even then, this idea of pay-for-access is terrible for many other reasons.

Gun Control Ideas

This is an excerpt from a Facebook discussion about gun control.

First, I recommend everyone read this link, which started the discussion: https://popehat.com/2015/12/07/talking-productively-about-guns/

[In the comment thread, someone suggested licensing, registration, and insurance. Another person then made a comparison to cars.]

I think one can make a reasonable argument that training and licensing is keeping with the “well-regulated” spirit of the amendment. That said, it will do nothing to stop people who steal the guns from their relatives (like multiple recent mass shooters), or this last guy who was licensed and trained.

I don’t think the insurance thing would help, unless you’re also proposing a radically different type of insurance than we’re used to. If someone steals my car, I’m not liable for what they do, and thus my liability insurance is irrelevant. If I use my car to kill a bunch of people and myself, that’s criminal and my insurance doesn’t have to pay; I’m liable, but that’s irrelevant if I’m dead and have no assets.

Here are some ideas I like (numbered for identification, not for priority or order):

1) Spend as much money as it takes to investigate each-and-every NICS denial and prosecute 100% of those which were legitimate denials. Every. Single. One. Right now, we prosecute less than 0.1%! Can you imagine any other scenario where the government literally directly says, “No, what you(r customer) just tried to do is illegal.” and then prosecutes essentially nobody?

2) Fix issues where certain data (especially mental health data) that is already supposed to make it into NICS is not making it into NICS in some cases. (I don’t recall the details of this problem off the top of my head.) But, we need to be careful and ensure that simply seeing a counselor doesn’t result in a gun rights revocation, or it will disincentivize people from getting help.

I don’t know how much the above will help, but it’s unreasonable to ask for more laws when the existing ones aren’t being enforced.

Other measures might be okay, but they definitely need safeguards. For example:

3) Require NICS checks for non-family private transfers. But, only real sales, not loaning your gun to your friend at the range. And, if you call NICS and they can’t process with X minutes (say 5 or 10) or you get no answer having called twice waiting Y minutes (say 3 or 5) in between, that counts as an approval. This rule is critical, because otherwise the government can enact a de facto gun ban by simply defunding the background checks.

On the other hand, laws need to respect civil rights and be evidence-based:

4) Eliminate Gun Free Zones. This is a violation of people’s rights. Research shows it makes things worse, not better. Criminals who are going to commit murder don’t care about another charge, especially if they’re going to kill themselves anyway. These laws just disarm potential victims.

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Suggestions to ban only rifles (or subsets thereof) are a bad idea. Not only do more murders use knives than rifles, but more murders use no weapon at all (fists, etc.) than rifles: https://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/crime-in-the-u.s/2014/crime-in-the-u.s.-2014/tables/expanded-homicide-data/expanded_homicide_data_table_8_murder_victims_by_weapon_2010-2014.xls Rifles are a very small portion of the murder problem. And, if we outlawed rifles but not handguns, then I suspect a lot of the rifle murders would just become handgun murders.

The typical bans suggested are: 1) all guns, 2) handguns, 3) “scary-looking” rifles (assault weapons ban). It’s well-established (even by gun control supporters) that the assault weapons ban accomplished nothing.

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I think the most important question that people ask themselves is: what problem do I want to solve?

If the question is, as was brought up, “The legal system should honor the original meaning of the 2nd Amendment.”, well, I think SCOTUS needs to go a lot further (further than even I would support) in what is allowed. To justify the current limits on paper, I think we’d have to amend the constitution to limit the 2nd amendment.

If the question is, “Guns are inherently a dangerous tool and should be regulated accordingly.”, I personally want enforcement (since we have essentially none), plus I’m at least open to (and think I want) a few more limits. When you get outside of sound bites, I found that many other pro-gun rights people I talk to agree with me. The other day, I saw some poll numbers that suggests a majority of the public supports the additional limits I mentioned. Granted, I also want to repeal one limit, too.

If the question is, “What can we do about mass murders?”, I honestly don’t know. Not making the killers infamous might help a little. Tackling social problems is probably the best approach. Any popular proposed gun rule I’ve heard short of a total gun ban (to the extent it would even be possible) would not have stopped one or more recent mass shooters. And, there’s a risk some might move to bombs; it wouldn’t take many people moving to bombs to end up with the same total death toll, since bombs are even more deadly. Rights aside, I cannot support a complete ban, because I believe it will increase innocent deaths. We would trade less mass murder victims for more routine crime victims.

If the question is, “What can we do about total crime deaths?”, I think the answer is similar, but also involves approaching drug use in a public-health way rather than a criminal-law way. Tobacco is a public health problem, but Philip Morris isn’t having shootouts with its competitors.

If the question is, “What can we do about suicides?”, I’m not sure. I really, really want to reduce depressive suicides. But if people were driving their cars off cliffs, I wouldn’t want to ban cars. I’m not sure if there’s a middle ground with guns that helps. But I do think we need to spend more money, time, and attention on mental health. Our local hospital is booked up a month or two out; that’s completely unacceptable for people who need help now.

If the question is, “How can I get rid of all guns, because I don’t think anyone should have guns.”, my answer is that you don’t have the right to decide that for me.

Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act

This is another Facebook comment being kept here for posterity:

Regarding H.R. 1076…. I just read the text of the law and one source for the NRA’s position on it: http://www.americas1stfreedom.org/articles/2015/11/20/using-the-terrorist-watchlist-against-gun-owners/

The NRA seems to make some points worth considering:

1) Are terrorists (as defined in this law, and known to be such at the time of the purchase) actually buying guns from legal sellers?

I share their skepticism. If this isn’t a realistic problem, then there’s no point for the law and everything else is moot. So supporters need to prove that point first.

2) The NRA is saying this is based on the terrorist watch list, which is a mess: “Consider, for example, that even three federal legislators, including Sen. Ted Kennedy, found themselves on the list. As Charles C.W. Cooke pointed out on nationalreview.com, some 280,000 people on the list have ‘no affiliation with known terrorist groups’ but simply fall under ‘reasonable suspicion.'”

I didn’t parse the text of the law enough to know if using the terrorist watch list is what would actually be happening here. The text talks a lot about the attorney general denying a transfer, but would that be implemented in practice by blanket denying based on the watch list? It certainly could be. And it sure seems like that’d be a lot easier than trying to create a separate subset list of “terrorists to not allow to buy guns”. Plus, if they did create a separate list, there’s a potential for backlash if they miss someone who is on the bigger list, so that factor will encourage the use of just one list.

I think it’s widely agreed that the watch list is problematic in many ways. That’s why certain people have to deal with TSA redress numbers, etc.

3) There are essentially no consequences for listing someone.

As far as I know, this is generally the case with a lot of laws, so I’m not sure whether that’s creating a new or bigger problem here specifically.

Overall, I don’t see a lot of point for the bill. If this actually is a problem, the bill doesn’t seem too terrible to me. Ideally, I’d like to see the government be required to pay your court and attorney costs if you prevail on a challenge to your being listed.

Public Accommodation Laws

I wrote the following comment in response to a Facebook post about religious freedom laws, which have been in the news lately.

I appreciate the argument that people should not be forced into conducting business with others, but I’m not sure if any bright line rule works well here. Some things to contemplate:

Is it the right balance to allow a gas station owner to refuse to sell gas to gay people, black people, members of another religion, etc.? Does your answer change if all the gas station owners in the same town feel the same way? (For example, if the result is Muslims can’t buy gas in a town.) What if we scale up to the vast majority of the gas station owners in a county, half a state, or more?

Should the threshold should be different for “essentials” (food, fuel, housing, etc.) than for optional things (wedding cakes)? If so, what’s essential? Is Internet access essential? What about cable TV? Maybe they’re separately special because they tend to be natural monopolies? What about the one formal wear business for a hundred miles?

In regards to the cake examples… One possible answer is that speech is different than products. For example, we might say: yes, we should prohibit the black baker from refusing to sell a cake solely because the buyer is a KKK member, but we will not compel him to write a message on it with which he disagrees.

If so, is the baker’s free speech right absolute? Or if he is willing to write “Congratulations!” on a cake for some customers, can he be compelled to use the same text for anyone (including for gay weddings, graduating from seminary of another religion, etc.)?

What about pharmacists and various types of birth control? Or doctors and abortions? Or doctors refusing patients on (non-religious, public health grounds) who are anti-vaccine for non-medical reasons?

To come full circle, can the gas station owner refuse to sell to people with tattoos for non-religious reasons (because he associates tattoos with gangs)? What if he just thinks tattoos are stupid? If religious reasons are special, who decides what is a legitimate religious interest and what is a legitimate religion?

Balanced Budget Amendment

I just sent the following to my representatives in Congress:

I’d love to know your position on a balanced budget amendment.

I’m very disappointed that the debt compromise deal that appears like it will pass does not include a balanced budget amendment. It seems ironic to me that Democrats seem in favor of actually balancing budgets (e.g. under Clinton) but it’s the Republicans that want to mandate it with an amendment.

I have yet to meet any average American opposed to a balanced budget amendment. I understand the position about deficit spending being useful in times of economic recession, but that’s something that can be addressed by a supermajority exception clause.

Even if it doesn’t come up as part of the debt ceiling deal, I encourage you to work towards passing a balanced budget amendment.