Gun Control Under Control

Florida has become the latest state to liberalize its gun laws, with the passage of legislation allowing average citizens to carry concealed handguns. The fourth-largest state in the country, fast-growing Florida may influence other states to reconsider their gun control laws.

Under the new law, which took effect October 1, anyone over 21 who has been a Florida resident for at least six months can obtain a concealed-weapon permit. An approved gun training course is a prerequisite, and drug addicts, alcoholics, and convicted felons are excluded.

A separate law passed simultaneously prohibits local governments from imposing their own restrictions on concealed weapons. Such restrictions were draconian in some localities—Broward County, which includes Fort Lauderdale, required applicants to pay $500, pass a background check and a mental examination, be endorsed by the chief of police, be approved by a hearing officer after an interview, and have an approved reason for carrying a gun. A whopping 22 of the county's 1.2 million residents had permits under the old system.

As gun-control analysts have noted, restrictive laws don't stop people from carrying weapons. Sixty-three percent of Dade and Broward County residents who answered an informal poll by a Miami Herald Columnist said they carried concealed weapons in their cars. The new law is clearly popular: David Register, director of licensing, said that the state expects to process 130,000 applications for permits each year. Even before applications became available in mid-September, some 15,000 requests had poured in.

Though pro-gun advocates are usually thought of as rural and blue-collar, much of the support for Florida's new laws came from white-collar and professional residents. Says Rick Manning, the National Rifle Association's Florida liaison: "Self-defense for individuals is one of the foremost issues on people's minds—their ability to choose whether to have a firearm for self-defense."

Eleven states, ranging in population from Vermont to Georgia, already had nonrestrictive concealed-weapons laws, some of which were passed in the last decade. Since Florida passed its law, Manning says, "We have received a number of phone calls and a lot of interest from legislators…trying to get bills in their states."

Libertarians Off and Running for '88

The 15-year-old Libertarian Party, which has been running candidates for president since 1972, met in Seattle over Labor Day weekend and nominated former Republican congressman Ron Paul of Texas for head honcho in 1988. More than 750 delegates and observers attended the Seattle convention, which nominated Andre Marrou, an ex–Alaska legislator, for vice-president.

The party platform, as in previous years, advocates the more or less immediate withering away of most of the state, on the premise that "that government is best which governs least." On foreign affairs, delegates expressed support for a noninterventionist policy and for abrogating the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the USSR.

Party officials speak optimistically of a rebound by the LP, which saw its presidential vote total dip from 920,000 in 1980, when the party fielded Los Angeles attorney Ed Clark, to 220,000 in 1984. National party chairman Jim Turney told REASON that "we've built the party back up." He was loath to predict the 1988 vote total, except to say that "several million" is a possibility if the Democrats and Republicans nominate lunkheads and the "John Anderson factor" kicks in.

The fight for the nomination was spirited, and Paul, who joined the LP earlier in 1987, won on the first ballot by a bare majority, with 196 votes. His main contender, American Indian Movement activist Russell Means, won 120 votes; Connecticut tax resister Jim Lewis, 49; and others and none of the above, 17.

Paul is seen as a skillful fundraiser who can attract conservatives likely to be dismayed with the GOP's choice. In Congress, he was a principled opponent of state activity, often casting the sole vote against proposed legislation. But he has his detractors: some Libertarians worry that his hard-money enthusiasm will fail to excite voters while his conspiracy views (international bankers in cahoots with the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations) will turn off the media.

Most attendees seemed to leave the convention heartened and hopeful that the LP is on its way back. Chairman Turney, noting the "harmonious atmosphere" that blanketed Seattle, is betting that the LP's recuperative powers will surprise more than a few people come November '88.

Have We Got Some Questions for the Census Takers

How many bedrooms do you have? How many kids? Do you have fire insurance? How long does it take you to get to work?

Who wants to know? Not the Office of Management and Budget—it's trying to get those questions taken off the 1990 census, arguing that answering them isn't worth Americans' time. Under the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, OMB is legally obligated to ferret out such time savings.

But planners of every description, from banks and developers to local governments, do want to know all about your bedrooms and kids, and they'd rather get the information for free than pay some private data collector. Sputtering with fear that they won't get their decennial data fix ("OMB Moves to Cripple 1990 Census," warned the trade newspaper Nation's Cities), they've persuaded some members of Congress that OMB's suggestion poses a major threat to truth, justice, and the American way.

"I can't remember constituent complaints about the census," claims Rep. James Scheuer (D–N.Y). But OMB estimates that filling out census forms costs Americans $450 million of time at $15 an hour; Sen. Paul Sarbanes (D–Md.), a foe of the change, calls that estimate "grossly overstated," since the median wage is $10 an hour. At that rate, the cost would still be $300 million—hardly chicken feed to anyone but Sarbanes.

What do "we" get for all that money? Why should the the taxpayers be paying for marketing data for private firms? And how did we get from a constitutionally required headcount to everything you always wanted to know about everybody but were afraid to ask? Now those are interesting questions.

Forget Glamour, We'll Take the Money

In 1980, Congress gave every man, woman, and child in the country $250 a year—by deregulating trucking.

This unglamorous act has completely transformed the way U.S. companies manage their transportation and inventory systems—the buzzword is "logistics"—and saved $56 billion to $90 billion a year through greater efficiency, figures Robert V. Delaney. One of the best-known logistics experts in the country, he reports on trucking deregulation in a recent Cato Institute study.

"Our inventory is now on wheels," he writes, explaining that many companies have slashed inventories, and the costs they entail, by using trucking more efficiently. In 1983, for example, Ford reduced its inventories by $750 million, Chrysler by $200 million. And many companies are now using outside firms that supply door-to-door traffic management services—impossible under the old regulations.

But deregulation still isn't complete. While most federal restrictions are gone, many states regulate trucking within their borders. As a result, they actually hurt their own manufacturers. For example, notes Delaney, Texas retailer Neiman-Marcus pays $1,000 more to ship a container load of blue jeans from a manufacturer in its own state than from a company in Taiwan. And it is cheaper to truck goods to San Francisco from Reno, Nevada, than just across the Bay Bridge from Oakland.

"The Asians and the Europeans are significantly ahead of us in the development of efficient logistics systems because economic regulation has frustrated the development of such systems in the United States," writes Delaney. "Economic regulation is unjust in its principles, impractical in its means, and ruinous in its consequences. It is time to finish the deregulation job begun in 1980."

Garbage Out, Good Sense In

Ridley Arms, a 241-unit apartment complex in Ridley, Pennsylvania, was throwing away money.

The complex's management found the trash collection services provided by the township inadequate, so it contracted with a private refuse hauler to dispose of its 90 cubic yards of weekly garbage. The cost, over five years, was about $23,000.

So far so good. But wait…Ridley Arms was also required by town ordinance to pay a trash collection fee, as a tax, to the local government. Though the complex didn't use the town's trash-collection services, its fee amounted to $58,000 over five years.

Ridley Arms went to court. And won. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania found that although Ridley's ordinance was not unconstitutional, it was "unreasonable." The court ordered the town to reimburse Ridley Arms for the taxes paid.

The court's opinion noted that the private contractor provided better service than the government and for less than half the price. "Taxpayers," Justice Flaherty opined, "have adopted a fatalistic view that no matter how outrageous, how costly, how uncompetitive a government activity is, if it is sponsored by government it is not open to successful challenge."

But this shouldn't be, said the good judge. "Governmental systems and clarifications which require the payment of taxes or the curtailment of freedoms were never meant to be regarded as unchallengeable."

Maybe the users of better, more cost-effective private educational services should try a Ridley challenge.

California Dreamin': The FDA Fades Away

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. That's apparently the thinking of California's Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp, who successfully pushed for a law that would allow his state to conduct its own testing of experimental drugs on AIDS patients, without waiting for the federal government's approval.

AIDS is an "extraordinary medical emergency," argued Van de Kamp, and "business as usual is not enough." He said the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) just isn't moving quickly enough in authorizing tests for new drugs. The new law will allow California pharmaceutical manufacturers to proceed with tests after obtaining state approval.

While the feds have authority over drugs sold across state lines, the states themselves have jurisdiction over drugs made and dispensed solely within their borders. California is already overseeing tests of at least a dozen experimental medicines, including several used in cancer research and X-ray diagnoses.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Van de Kamp predicted that the AIDS drug testing proposal would "echo like a thunderbolt…in the corridors of the federal medical bureaucracy." FDA spokesman Bill Grigg told REASON he didn't understand why drug companies would need such a measure, since the FDA takes just "a week, five or six days" to approve AIDS test proposals. If there are new drugs for AIDS out there, said Grigg, "we haven't heard of them."

Grigg suggested that perhaps the real objective of the bill was to get state research money. And in fact, the measure would appropriate over $500,000 to finance the tests, and Van de Kamp conceded that the program could eventually cost the state up to $25 million.

Wading through a state bureaucracy rather than the federal one may not be any improvement. But it's note worthy that at least one state is this fed up with the feds.

Out of the Mouths Of…

Economist Nikolay Shmelyov of Moscow's Institute for the U.S. and Canada, writing in the Soviet Union's leading political and literary magazine, Novy mir, in June:
"What is holding us back? Primarily the ideological fear that we will release the evil genie of capitalism from the bottle.…

"The economic situation of enterprises and cooperatives will have to depend directly on profit.…Our suspicious attitude toward profit is a historical misunderstanding, the result of the economic illiteracy of people who thought that socialism would eliminate profit and loss.…

"Who is going to drum into the heads of our managers that the time of administrative methods is passing, and that economics has its own laws which are just as terrible to violate as the laws of the atomic reactor in Chernobyl?"

Bobby Godsell of South Africa's Anglo American Corp., hardest-hit by black miners' three-week strike in August, to Los Angeles Times reporter Michael Parks:
"I really, profoundly believe that the strike was part of a transition towards a modern, non-racial democracy.…

"A lot of people have said, 'Well, you guys wanted unions, you've got them now, and I'm sure that you're sorry.' I'm afraid that I'm completely unrepentant. I'm neither surprised at the strike, nor am I sorry that we encouraged the development of black trade unions.

"Democracy is a clumsy, costly, conflict-ridden way of running a society, but the alternative is not terribly attractive."

Global Trends

Indians Slay an Octroi pus

DELHIIn a historical first, Indian business and industry united last summer to strike against the state government of Maharashtra, demanding abolition of the duty known as Octroi. A legacy of British rule, Octroia tax levied on any goods entering an Indian city or statehas always been viewed as an obnoxious imposition on commerce. There were two main objections: it breeds corruption and wastes time and fuel at the collection checkposts.

The strike began, amidst fiery rhetoric, on May 25. Remarked Ramakrishna Bajaj, guiding spirit of the agitation, "Our movement succeeded because it is from the grass roots. Five hundred trade and manufacturing organizations joined us. So did the Bombay Goods Transport Association, which has a membership of 20,000 registered trucks." Four days later, Bombay witnessed a silent march of traders, small industrialists, and transport operators, followed by agitation at four Octroi check posts in the city.

While the anti-Octroi battle raged, the residents of Bombay were an anxious lot: supplies of essentials had almost disappeared, due to the role of the transporters in the strike. Even chemists and druggists downed their shutters. (Milk and water tankers were exempted from the strike on humanitarian grounds.)

The determined strikers were successful: Maharashtra chief minister S.B. Chavan announced reforms that will abolish Octroi by May 31, 1988. The state had given in.

—Probir Kumar Sarkar

Novelist Urges Peru to Bank on Liberty

Eighty percent of the financial sector is already in state hands in Peru, and when President Alan Garcia announced a plan in July to take over the rest, nationalizing the nation's 10 private banks, the move roused energetic opposition from an unusual quarter. It was not a politician or a front man for the rich, but the honored novelist Mario Vargas Llosa who fired the first volley with an editorial in a Lima newspaper condemning as a step toward totalitarianism Garcia's attempt to gain total control over credit.

Next, Vargas Llosa worked with Hernando de Soto of Peru's Institute for Liberty and Democracy to organize a protest as, in Vargas Llosa's words, "a show of solidarity for liberty." In late August, 100,000 people took to the streets in Lima to hear his appeal for economic freedom for all Peruvians. Rejecting the rich-versus-poor premise behind Garcia's plan to "democratize credit," Vargas Llosa emphasized that he had not come to defend poor bankers but to defend everyone.

Llosa, in works such as The Real Life of Alejandro Mayta, has established himself as a novelist of renown, skilled at limning the complexities of Latin American social and political fabrics. Over the years he has become increasingly active in politics. He has, for instance, been harshly critical of Fidel Castro at a time when many other Latin writers have praised the Maximum Leader or equivocated.

Although Garcia tried to downplay the protest against bank nationalization, it clearly stalled the issue. Peru's senate debated the measure through September, and observers predicted that if it ever passed, it would be considerably watered down. Meanwhile, Vargas Llosa says that this is just the beginning of a crusade to reverse the encroachments of the state on people's private lives.

For Your Information

Groups or individuals mentioned in this month's Trends:

Peruvian Protest
Institute for Liberty and Democracy
P.O. Box 5441
Lima 18, Peru

Libertarian Race
Ron Paul for President
1120 NASA Rd. 1, Suite 104
Houston, TX 77058
(713) 333-1988

Libertarian Party
301 W, 21st St.
Houston, TX 77008
(800) 682-1776

Florida Guns
Rick Manning National Rifle Association
1600 Rhode Island Ave., N.W.
Washington, DC 20036
(202) 828-6000

Cato Institute
224 Second St, S.E
Washington, DC 20003
(202) 546-0200