Free Minds & Free Markets

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As Hyperloop Projects Advance, So Do Calls for Subsidies

Trump's infrastructure proposal includes $20 billion for projects like the Hyperloop.

HyperloopUnlim3d/Dreamstime.comThe idea of connecting America's cities via Hyperloop—a high-speed train propelled at breakneck speeds through vacuum tunnels—is being taken increasingly seriously. So is the possibility that the technology will get taxpayer support.

Just this week, Elon Musk's Boring Company secured a construction permit from the District of Columbia as part of its plans to build a Hyperloop line between the nation's capital and nearby Baltimore. The company had already received a permit to dig a 10-mile tunnel for the project from the Maryland Department of Transportation.

In the Midwest, meanwhile, the company Hyperloop Transportation Technologies inked an agreement with the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency to study the feasibility of a Hyperloop between Chicago and Cleveland.

So far, these projects have not relied on government support. An IDOT spokesperson has stressed that no state finding was involved in the deal. In Maryland, Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn told local radio station WAMU, "The development of this project is being done entirely by the Boring Company and has zero state and federal dollars. This is a private company undertaking a project with private funds."

But as these projects progress, taxpayer dollars may soon follow.

In January, a bipartisan group of U.S. representatives from Illinois, Ohio, and Pennsylvania sent a letter to President Donald Trump urging him to spend $20 million creating a Hyperloop Transportation Initiative. Last year, the Ohio State Legislature passed a resolution expressing support for the same idea.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies' press release about its feasibility study cites both the letter and the resolution favorably.

It would be easy to dismiss all this as empty talk were it not for the president's infrastructure package. Of the $200 billion in federal spending that Trump has proposed as part of the deal, $20 billion would be reserved for "transformative projects," described as "ambitious, exploratory, and ground-breaking project ideas that have significantly more risk than standard infrastructure projects, but offer a much larger reward profile."

Projects that fit this description could get as much as 30 percent of their demonstration costs, 50 percent of their planning costs, and a full 80 percent of their construction costs from the feds.

If that idea is included in the final legislative package, it's not hard to imagine the money landing in the pockets of Hyperloop project sponsors. White House advisers have already personally expressed their support for Musk's Hyperloop projects.

If that happens, it will be a shame—not just for Hyperloop skeptics but for Hyperloop fans.

The technology is still very much in its infancy. Prototypes have achieved speeds of only 240 miles per hour, despite promises that future Hyperloop vehicles will reach upward of 700 miles per hour. Dumping huge amounts of federal money on such a speculative technology risks costing taxpayers a bundle for an idea that turns out to be a dud.

And even if Hyperloops do prove to be part of our transportation future, public money always comes with strings attached. Otherwise economically feasible projects could be derailed by layers of regulation and politically expedient changes.

Something similar happened with California's high-speed rail. What was once supposed to be a straight rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles was, thanks to politically motivated demands, rerouted through the state's Central Valley, creating all sorts of complications, delays, and cost overruns.

Government officials should let the technology evolve, not try to transform it with a ton of tax dollars.

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Meet Mark Janus, Whose Supreme Court Case May End Compulsory Union Dues: Podcast

The social worker at the heart of Janus v. AFSCME explains why no public employee should be forced to pay union dues.

Mark Janus is a "child-support specialist" who works for the State of Illinois. He's also at the center of a Supreme Court case that may end the ability of public-sector unions to collect dues even from workers who are not members and who don't want to be represented in collective bargaining. Oral arguments in Janus v. AFSCME will be heard on Monday, February 23, and should be decided by the end of June.

In 22 states, public-sector unions can force non-members to pay for costs related to collective bargaining and workplace representation. Janus tells Reason's Nick Gillespie he was never told about that arrangement until he saw dues being deducted from his first paycheck. He argues that forcing him to pay for a service he doesn't want from a group he doesn't belong to violates his First Amendment guarantees of voluntary association and free speech. (His union explicitly supports candidates in elections.) "The union voice is not my voice," he has written. "The union's fight is not my fight."

The dispute, writes Reason's Eric Boehm, "is best thought of as a sequel to Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a 2016 Supreme Court case that raised the same question about whether public-sector unions can extract political dues from recalcitrant members. That case ended in a 4–4 draw after Justice Antonin Scalia's sudden death left the Court with an even number of conservative and liberal members. For obvious reasons, that means all eyes in this case will be fixed on the newest justice, Neil Gorsuch."

Audio production by Ian Keyser.

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The Looming Tower Tracks the CIA/FBI Fight over Bin Laden: New at Reason

Pulitzer Prize-winning book adapted into a Hulu miniseries.

'The Looming Tower''The Looming Tower,' HuluLawrence Wright in 2006 wrote a magnificent, Pulitzer Prize-winning history of modern jihad, The Looming Tower.

That was followed in 2007 by a one-man, off-Broadway show, My Trip to Al Qaeda, partly an adaptation of the book and partly a reflection about what it meant. Three years later, Wright turned out an HBO adaptation of the play. Both were widely praised.

And now Wright has turned his book into a Hulu miniseries about the handful of U.S. national security officials who saw bin Laden coming and tried to stop him, much to their government's indifference. It's scary, a little sickening, and entirely spellbinding. Television critic Glenn Garvin reviews.

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Supreme Court Ruling Means More People Who Plead Guilty Can Appeal

A self-proclaimed "constitutional bounty hunter" is unlikely to be freed, but his case sets a significant precedent for criminal appeals.

Wikimedia CommonsWikimedia CommonsCan a person who pleads guilty to a crime later challenge his conviction on the grounds that the criminal statute he was charged and convicted under is unconstitutional? On Wednesday, the Supreme Court said yes, in a decision that upends an important assumption of federal criminal procedure.

For decades, lower federal courts have held that by pleading guilty, a criminal defendant waives the right to raise most substantive and procedural claims on appeal. This rule has long reassured federal prosecutors that the guilty pleas, which make up of 95 percent of criminal case dispositions in U.S. district courts, will not generate complicated constitutional appeals. The Supreme Court's decision this week in Rodney Class v. United States may thus shift some of the focus of federal criminal practice, which is now heavily based on negotiating plea agreements, back toward litigation.

Writing for an ideologically unusual majority (composed of the Court's four Democratic-appointed justices plus Republican appointees Neil Gorsuch and John Roberts), Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that Class's claims "challenge the Government's power to criminalize [his] (admitted) conduct. They thereby call into question the Government's power to 'constitutionally prosecute' him. A guilty plea does not bar a direct appeal in these circumstances." Breyer argued that principle has deep roots in American law, citing decisions as far back as 1860.

Justices Kennedy, Thomas, and Alito dissented from the opinion.

This result is unlikely to actually free the petitioner, Rodney Class. Class was arrested in 2013 after bringing firearms onto the grounds of the U.S. Capitol, in violation of federal law. According to The Wall Street Journal, "Mr. Class told FBI agents that 'he was a 'Constitutional Bounty Hunter' and a 'Private Attorney General' who traveled the nation with guns and other weapons to enforce federal criminal law against judges whom he believed had acted unlawfully.'"

On appeal, Class wishes to raise the claim that the law against bringing firearms onto Capitol grounds violates the Second Amendment and the Due Process clause. He will now be able to do so, but under current Second Amendment precedents in the D.C. Circuit, where his appeal will be heard, it is unlikely that those claims will succeed.

But whether or not the ruling frees Rodney Class, it may require a revision of the federal plea colloquy, a largely scripted exchange between judge and defendant that must take place before the entry of a guilty plea. Toward the end of the colloquy—which can take as long as 30 minutes, depending on the judge—the defendant is asked whether he understands that by pleading guilty, he is waiving all possible appellate claims except for newly discovered evidence, ineffective assistance of counsel, and illegality of the sentence. The decision in Class will probably require, at minimum, an additional caveat during that portion of the colloquy.

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Assassin's Creed: Games with a Libertarian View of the World (New at Reason)

A look into the philosophy of Ubisoft's long-running franchise.

Video games have become one of our most influential, popular, and creative forms of media. Last year, the industry generated almost $150 billion in revenue worldwide, rivaling books and films and dwarfing music.

Gamers spend over three billion hours a week in the virtual worlds of their choosing. And more so than other contemporary forms of media, video games explore the themes of freedom and personal agency, allowing players to go where they want and do what they please—as long as they're prepared to bear the consequences. Two of the three best selling video games of all time are Grand Theft Auto 5 and Minecraft. They're polar opposites in terms of violence and target audience, but both were designed to offer players the opportunity to make their own destinies.

But it's the Assassin's Creed series, published by Ubisoft, that puts the conflict between liberty and authority at the center of its plots, its characters, and the alternate history in which the games are set. Reason takes a look at the series' narrative merits, and at the titular creed.

Click here for full text, a transcript, and downloadable versions.

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When Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel Was Accused of Corruption, He Responded: 'Lions Don't Care About the Opinions of Sheep'

Israel reportedly hired his political supporters to do outreach for the police.

Scott IsraelMichael Laughlin/ZUMA Press/NewscomBroward County Sheriff Scott Israel—the man whose agency failed to prevent the Parkland massacre despite having received a tip last November that Nikolas Cruz was plotting a mass shooting—has been accused of public corruption.

Two years ago, the Sun Sentinel reported that Israel was rewarding top political supporters by giving them and their family members cushy jobs doing public relations and community outreach for the Broward County Sheriff's Office. One such position, outreach manager, paid out a salary of $78,489. The person who got that job was the husband of Israel's campaign manager.

Israel had been a Republican but ran for office as a Democrat. He was first elected sheriff in 2012, then re-elected in 2016. According to the Sun Sentinel:

The outreach workers, who mainly attend community events, are in addition to political activists and others Israel hired into community affairs roles, writing and designing printed pieces about the agency, and sharing it on social media. The employee log shows six hired into community affairs roles, their salaries totaling $388,729.

Israel's opponents say he's built a publicly funded political machine, paying back supporters with jobs and using them to keep him in office. They say the money could be better spent, particularly after the sheriff complained about not having enough funding to secure the county courthouse, where a murder suspect recently escaped.

Asked about the allegations, Israel responded, "What have I done differently than Don Shula or Abraham Lincoln or Martin Luther King, Ghandi?"

He also said, "Lions don't care about the opinions of sheep." That's a paraphrase of a quote from the Game of Thrones character Tywin Lannister, a villainous public administrator known for promoting his family's interests ahead of the government's or the people's.

Were the employees hired to work at the Sheriff's Office competent? It certainly seems like a relevant question now that we know the authorities were forewarned about the dangers posed by Cruz. The office received at least 18 calls about Cruz's disturbing behavior and possession of weapons from 2008 to 2017. BuzzFeed has obtained records related to those calls. The most recent one, made on November 30, 2017, described Cruz as a "school shooter in the making." Broward County referred the matter to the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office but took no further action—even though a relative of Cruz had warned Broward County about Cruz's stash of weapons just three days before.

This news follows the resignation of Marjory Stoneman Douglas School Resource Officer Scot Peterson, who refused to engage the killer while the rampage was underway. Israel suspended Peterson after watching video footage of the SRO's behavior, saying that it made him "sick to my stomach."

Given the appalling failures that took place at Israel's office, the "sheep" might like to ask the "lion" some questions. Perhaps he could answer them in a less condescending and authoritarian fashion.

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A High School Student Faces Expulsion for Noticing the Square Root Symbol Looks Like a Gun

No adults seem embarrassed by this reaction. They should be.

Square rootWavebreakmedia Ltd / Dreamstime.comA Louisiana high school student was banned from school and had his home searched by deputies entirely because he made a joke out loud in a math class that the square root symbol looks like a gun.

That's it, folks. A kid at Oberlin High School in Oberlin, Louisiana, observed that if you kind of squinted, the square root symbol looks like a weapon. Then the social media rumor mill went to work and eventually this whole silly thing morphed into allegations that he was going to shoot up the school. Allen Parish Sheriff Doug Hebert has acknowledged in an interview with KATC that the student "did not commit a crime. He did not commit anything remotely criminal, nothing to remotely suggest any intent to do actual harm."

That should have been where the entire embarrassing incident ended, with a sheepish observation that the current climate of fear caused an overreaction that was understandable but still nevertheless an overreaction. And of course, the teen deserves an apology for being subjected to such an overwhelming response that assumes the worst of him with absolutely no evidence at all.

But that's not what is happening. Instead, KATC reports that the kid faces an expulsion hearing. Furthermore, not a single authority figure in their reporting, nor KATC's reporter, wants to even acknowledge that this was an overreaction. In fact, the school district is putting into place policies that are going to guarantee future overreactions.

Imagine not realizing (or not caring) how this system is going to result in manipulation and abuse:

Any student accused of talking about guns or school shootings will be investigated by three entities: the school board, the sheriff's department, and the district attorney's office.

If an incident like this occurs again, [Superintendent Michael] Doucet explained the protocol.

"The first thing we're going to do is remove that student from the premises with proper authority. Then, we're going to have a home visit done by detectives of the sheriff's department, and if no charges are filed, we're going to conduct a threat assessment on the student," Doucet said.

Gee, I hope those kids in Allen Parish don't have any enemies.

At the end of the piece, Doucet admits what's really happening here. It's administrative ass-covering. If something bad happened because they didn't treat this incident seriously, he says, then parents would get angry with him.

It's reminiscent of how the Transportation Security Administration will freak out at any jokes about bombs or guns, yet has a terrible record for assessing risk at airports. Any suggestion that schools should adopt airport-like security absurd and self-defeating.

Security theater isn't just bad because it treats everybody like criminals or threats. It's also bad because when you spread resources thin attempting to investigate inconsequential things, sometimes you miss the big things. The young man accused of the school shooting in Florida did more than just make a quip. He had a lengthy, documented history of troubling behavior.

Chasing down every single kid muttering the word "gun" is a terrible response designed for school administrators to declare that they're "doing something," even if what they're doing is screwing over their own students, censoring speech, and not actually making schools safer in any way.

Watch KATC's report below:

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6 Points to Consider in the Debate About Homelessness: New at Reason

Jeff Gritchen/ZUMA Press/NewscomJeff Gritchen/ZUMA Press/NewscomPolicymakers need to focus more on harsh realities if they want real solutions for homelessness.

Steven Greenhut writes:

It's amazing what a civil rights lawsuit and some federal judicial muscle have done to force officials in California to address the vexing homelessness problem in Orange County, especially in the dreary encampments along the Santa Ana River trail. Judge David Carter excoriated county and city officials during an unorthodox court proceeding on Tuesday that produced in hours an agreement that had been elusive during weeks of wrangling.

The deal lets local governments clear out the sprawling camps in exchange for providing 30-day emergency vouchers for people to stay at motels. The Orange County Board of Supervisors also announced that it will soon provide more than 300 additional beds or tents for the homeless at facilities around the county.

Homelessness isn't just an Orange County problem, of course. It's a growing mess throughout California and the nation. I've seen communities of all sizes and political dispositions wrestle unsuccessfully with it for decades. Cities such as San Francisco that throw money at the problem become magnets for homelessness, with sections of the city resembling an outdoor sewer.

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Curling Is the Closest the Olympics Ever Get to Anarchy

The culture of curling rejects appeals to authority and encourages civility even in the midst of intense competition. That's a lesson for American politics.

PHIL NOBLE/REUTERS/NewscomPHIL NOBLE/REUTERS/NewscomUntil the American men made a shocking run to the gold medal final, one of the biggest surprises of the Olympic curling tournament was a tiff between the Canadian and Danish women's teams that was over so fast non-curlers might have missed it entirely.

That brief moment summed up one of the best things about the game that, once every four years, captures Americans' attentions for two short weeks. And maybe it offers a lesson for American politics too.

Curling is a game where teams of four players slide 42-pound granite stones along a 150-foot sheet of ice, aiming for the center of a large target painted on the ice. Players use brooms to sweep in front of sliding stones to make the rocks travel farther. After all 16 rocks have been thrown, the one that's closest to the center of the target scores. That's one "end." After 10 ends, the team with the most points wins.

The Canada-Denmark controversy occurred in the fifth end of their match last week. Danish "skip" (captain) Madeleine Dupont was sweeping one of her own team's rocks as it slid to a stop inside the house (target). At the very end of the shot, her broom contacted the rock—a fact that she immediately admitted to her Canadian counterpart, Rachel Homan.

In the parlance of the game, this is called "burning" a rock. When a rock is burned, the skip of the other team—in this case, Homan—has three options. She could choose to leave all the rocks exactly where they are, like declining a penalty in football. She could choose to remove the burned rock from play. Or she could choose to move the burned rock (and any rocks it might have hit after it was burned) to where she, and the opposing skip, mutually agree it would have ended up without having been touched.

On this particular shot, the burned rock had nearly stopped before it was touched. The touch likely made only the smallest of changes in the outcome of the shot. In those circumstances, traditionally, the skips will either leave the shot where it stopped or make small adjustments to the rocks and continuing playing. Taking the rock off the sheet, while legal, is frowned upon as bad sportsmanship (and bad strategy, since everyone burns rocks once in a while, and all skips want the benefit of the doubt when it happens to them).

But that's exactly what Homan did. She yanked the burned rock off the sheet, and lined up her team's next shot while Dupont gave a disapproving look and slight shake of the head. That's all.

Well, not all. Commentators noticed what had happened. "I think that was a rash move to take it off," said Joan McCusker, an Olympic gold medalist who was calling the game for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. "They should have left it in play. It doesn't look good on you." Homan's unsportsmanlike move rankled curling fans from Alberta to Winnipeg, and older curlers dutifully stepped up to blame the younger generation for ruining the spirit of the sport.

Still, maybe the most notable thing about the entire incident is what didn't happen. There were no referees blowing whistles, no instant replay reviews from six different angles. There was no appeal to authority of any kind, not even by the Danish skip who felt, well, burned by what had happened (though Denmark rallied to win the game, 9-8).

Curling is a sport that, more so than almost any other, is played in a state of anarchy.

That's not to say that curling doesn't have rules, of course. The length of the sheet, the size and weight of the rocks, and the method for scoring are standardized. Players aren't allowed to touch the rocks with their brooms. Sliding past the "hog line" before releasing a shot is forbidden.

But it is a game with very little in the way of law enforcement, even in games played at the highest competitive levels. This makes curling quite an outlier at the Olympics, where every sport has judges determining winners and losers based on a scoring rubric that no one really understand, or referees calling fouls and penalties, or officials making sure everyone completes the same course without going out of bounds.

Curling officials are relegated almost entirely to an appellate role. If the two teams really cannot agree on which stone might score in a given end, for example, officials can be called upon to conduct a measurement. This is a relatively rare event. Otherwise, scoring is entirely the responsibility of the two "vice-skips" (the second-in-command on each team), and any other disagreements—like where a burned rock should be placed—are settled between the skips.

The lack of referees and judges requires that, above all else, curlers must be good sports. The first page of the official rulebook doesn't describe the size of the rocks or the length of the sheet or the method of scoring. It talks about "the spirit of curling." That might sound a little hokey in our cynical age, but it's actually one of the things that makes the game so much damn fun. A "call your own fouls" mentally is not unexpected in pick-up basketball game or rec center softball leagues, but it is pretty unusual to see at the Olympics.

At the risk of straining the analogy too far, the culture of curling offers a few lessons for an American political culture that has become toxic in so many ways.

Like curling, politics is a sport that requires players to call their own fouls and meet out the proper repercussions for them. Before that, though, both require good sportsmanship, and a mutual expectation that both sides will respect the unwritten rules of the game.

That doesn't require agreement or cooperation, of course. Opposing skips in a curling match are not working towards a common goal. They won't help sweep each others' stones (or whatever the curling equivalent of empty cheers for bipartisanship would be). They are both trying to win the game, but competition doesn't require tossing sportsmanship or civility out the window. This idea of civilized rivalries—of ambition counteracting ambition, without any need for a higher authority to restrain it—is a fundamental element of the American political system.

Like curling's somewhat nuanced rules about what to do with a burned rock, political discourse is not a black-and-white affair. Too often, I think, we behave like Homan did last week. If our opponents make a minor mistake, we want to pounce on the opportunity to gain a temporary advantage by yanking their stone out of play (or making a mockery of them on social media). The short-term gain is offset by a decline in respect and an increased likelihood of reprisals. Winning matters, but how you win matters too.

Maybe we flock to curling every four years not because of the hypnotic motion of the stones across the ice or the excitement of a perfectly executed hit-and-roll, but because the game is a reminder that even diametrically opposed teams can disagree and get along without having to be told what to do.

Maybe that's all a bunch of nonsense and I'm still high from watching the U.S. team upset Canada to reach the final round.

Still, the most important part of the "culture of curling" is the expectation that a winning team will buy a round of drinks for the losing team (yes, even at the Olympics!)—a good reminder that no dispute is so big it can't be settled over a beer.

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School Resource Officer Who Failed to Confront Mass Shooter Previously Defended Cops Living at School Rent-Free

Scot Peterson, SRO of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, also failed to assist a CPS investigation into Nikolas Cruz.

ParklandIan Witlen / Rmv/ZUMA Press/NewscomScot Peterson, the 54-year-old Marjory Stoneman Douglas school resource officer who resigned after security footage revealed he made no effort to engage alleged mass killer Nikolas Cruz during the rampage last week, previously lobbied Broward County school officials to continue funding a program that allowed cops to live in mobile homes on school property rent-free.

Not only did Peterson fail to confront Cruz—he also failed to assist a previous investigation, undertaken by state authorities, to determine whether Cruz was a threat to himself or others. His mistakes compound the errors made by other law enforcement entities, including the FBI and Broward County PD.

The housing program was in effect at 32 different Broward County schools. Officials reasoned that cops living at the schools would mean 24-hour security. But a 2015 audit determined that the program was a waste of money.

The auditor said, "Frankly, I'm embarrassed," and "I would shut it down immediately," according to the Sun Sentinel. Officials could find no evidence that the live-in cops were deterring crime.

Officer Peterson took a different view.

About a dozen officers from the program attended the meeting. They called the report skewed and lauded the advantage of keeping law enforcement on school grounds.

"These colleagues work hard. We are crime prevention, an audit report will never show how much we prevent," said Scot Peterson, an officer who has lived at Atlantic Technical College in Coconut Creek since 2000. He said he's arrested several juveniles for breaking into school property.

Yet according to the audit, one of the officers had even made the decision to sublet his on-campus mobile home to two people who weren't police officers. Most of the officers did not turn in monthly reports detailing their activities, and failed to respond to 73 percent of security alarm triggers. But ending the program would be unfair, said Peterson. "You are talking about the livelihood of some of these people," he said at the time.

The housing program for school resource officers wasn't really about safety. It was welfare for state employees. Seen through this lens, Peterson's utter failure to confront the shooter isn't particularly surprising.

The New York Times has more information on Peterson:

In February 2016, the sheriff's office received what it described as "thirdhand information" that Mr. Cruz "planned to shoot up the school" and had posted a picture on Instagram of a "juvenile with guns." A deputy determined that Mr. Cruz had knives and a BB gun and forwarded the information to the school resource officer at Stoneman Douglas High. That was Deputy Peterson.

The Times also notes that the Florida Department of Children and Families—the state's child protective services agency—investigated Cruz in 2016 but determined that he was not at risk of harming himself or others.

According to the agency, its Adult Protective Investigator (API) attempted to talk to Stoneman Douglas's SRO (Peterson, presumably) about Cruz, but:

The school resource officer was contacted and refused to provide specific information to the investigator. Florida law does not give APS the authority to compel law enforcement to provide additional information during an investigation.

We can add this oversight to the lengthy and ever-growing list of catastrophic law enforcement failures at play in the Parkland shooting. Don't let anyone say putting even more cops in schools is a reasonable response.

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Gun Violence Restraining Orders Could Cause More Police Shootings

Unless crafted carefully, the proposal could set up more standoffs between armed citizens and police.

Wikimedia CommonsWikimedia CommonsIn the wake of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, some conservative commentators—and a handful of libertarians—have proposed a measure they say would help disarm potential killers while respecting the Second Amendment rights of the general public: Gun Violence Restraining Orders, or GVROs.

The general idea is to enable the relatives or friends of a potentially violent person to petition a judge for a civil order temporarily suspending that person's ability to purchase or possess firearms. Like other restraining orders, they could be contested by the restrainee, with the petitioning party bearing the burden of proof.

Since they're individualized and judicial, GVROs avoid the "collective punishment" of gun prohibition and, if crafted well, will respect due process. You can see why they might appeal to civil libertarians. But there's a potential problem here too, arising from the way restraining orders work in practice.

I used to work at D.C.'s local courthouse, where I saw judges issue dozens of domestic violence restraining orders. Typically, a person seeking one comes to court on a walk-in basis and appears before a judge within an hour or so. The defendant is usually absent. If the petitioner presents sufficient evidence of threats, stalking, or prior assault (a sworn statement combined with text messages, photos, or bruises is usually enough) the court will issue a the temporary order without ever having heard from the defendant.

This procedure makes good sense. Restraining orders are meant to address imminent threats, so it would be silly to force the petitioner to notify their stalker and then wait around several days for a court date. But long-term restraints on a person's free movement require more than a mere allegation. So these "stay away" orders issued in absentia are limited and short-term. Usually they just tell the restrainee to not interact with the petitioner and to show up in court a few days later, where the judge can hear evidence from both sides and impose the appropriate longer-term restraint, if any.

Once issued, these temporary orders have to be served on the person they restrain before they take legal effect. That ensures that the restrainees have actual notice that they've been restrained and have been told what it is they're now banned from doing.

This is where the trouble starts for GVROs. Presumably, the process for obtaining GVROs would be substantially similar—it would have to be, given that they also need to address imminent, not speculative, threats.

But think of the situation that arises once a temporary GVRO has been issued in absentia and needs to be served. Someone now has to knock on the door of (or otherwise track down) a person who is known to be armed and alleged to be dangerous, serve that person with court documents, and then take away whatever guns the person already has.

Domestic violence restraining orders are sometimes served by police officers, but can also be delivered by any adult who is not the petitioner. It's a tricky enough business as it is, given that restrainees do not tend to be the calmest and politest members of society. Throw guns into the mix, and things get even dicier. There would be a strong impulse to mandate that the orders be served by police officers. The officers, in turn, would be understandably tempted to bring heavy armor and firepower along with them when serving the order.

Cops, understandably, don't like knocking on doors when all they know is that there's an angry person with a gun on the other side. Ask them to serve GVROs, and you'd likely see an explosion in the number of paramilitary-style no-knock SWAT raids and the associated police shootings that some portion of them inevitably cause.

Civil libertarians have worked for years trying to curtail these aggressive police tactics and the chaos they produce. If implemented carelessly, GVRO laws could increase the number of these raids. To avoid that, a GVRO law would have to include specific procedures for how the orders should be served, and for how the restrainee should be deprived of guns he already owns without needless violence.

The order could simply be served like other court papers, providing a window for restrainees to surrender firearms within a certain time, only involving police in the event of non-compliance. Police who serve GVROs could be required to wear plain clothes and effect service on a knock-and-talk basis to keep the restrainees from feeling provoked. There are probably other workable solutions, too.

A great example of how not to implement GVROs can be seen, perhaps not surprisingly, in Congress, where a proposed bill does a terrible job of protecting due process. Running afoul of all the concerns about GVROs articulated by Reason's Jacob Sullum, the proposal sets the standard of proof for issuing orders at the very low "reasonable suspicion" level, the same "slightly more than a hunch" standard used for "stop and frisk" searches—even less certainty than is needed to obtain a search warrant. The bill at least provides for a hearing within 30 days, but in practice an asserted "reasonable suspicion" is almost impossible to disprove.

Just as significantly, the bill sets out no guidance on how to serve GVROs or carry out gun seizures without prompting violent confrontations.

If advocates are going to propose GVROs as a serious way to address mass shootings while respecting liberty, they need to think carefully about the details of what they're suggesting and the likely consequences. Congress has so far failed to do that, tearing ahead instead with a poorly crafted bill that might cause more shootings than it stops.

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MO Gov. Arrested, Trump Announcing New Sanctions on N. Korea, and Amsterdam Bans Tourists From Gawking at Prostitutes: A.M. Links

  • J.B. Forbes/TNS/NewscomJ.B. Forbes/TNS/NewscomMissouri governor Eric Greitens is indicted for felony invasion of privacy. Read all the juicy background here.
  • Trump to announce new sanctions against North Korea.
  • NRA head defends gun rights in CPAC speech while the President Trump and Congressional Republicans express openness to new regulations.
  • Amsterdam bans tourists from gawking at prostitutes.
  • Trump accuses Cali cops of going soft on street gangs.
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Movie Review: Annihilation: New at Reason

Natalie Portman in a brilliant and semi-baffling fantasy.

There's one scene in Annihilation that is so hair-raisingly horrific, it's still creeping me out days after I saw the movie. I'd like to tell you about it, but of course I can't.

Writer-director Alex Garland, whose first feature, the 2014 Ex Machina, was already fairly disturbing—although not in the throat-grabbing way that this picture is—has adapted a novel by Jeff VanderMeer in an unusual manner. Garland has chucked quite a bit of VanderMeer's narrative, and has chosen instead to preserve the book's atmosphere of cellular chaos and hovering dread within a new structure, and to top it off with blazing psychedelic imagery. If you can deal with the picture's crepuscular ambiguity, there's a lot to look at here, and quite a bit to think about (or at least puzzle over), writes Kurt Loder in his latest review for Reason.

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Brickbat: Quick on the Trigger

Guy with a gunInnovatedcaptures / Dreamstime.comWhen an armed man entered the Faith City Mission in Amarillo, Texas, security guards took the man down and a student wrestled his gun away from him. Then police officers responding to a call of a hostage-taking entered the mission. At least one of them shot and wounded the student who'd taken the gun from the man.

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Armed School Resource Officer Stayed Safely Outside School While Mass Killing Was Underway

Sheriff on Marjory Stoneman Douglas cop's failure to act: "Sick to my stomach."

Scott IsraelCHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/NewscomA school resource officer who worked at Marjory Stoneman Douglas was on campus at the time of the mass shooting, but did not enter the building to engage the killer—even though the SRO was armed.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel suspended the SRO, 54-year-old Scot Peterson, after watching video footage of Peterson declining to enter the school during Nikolas Cruz's six-minute rampage; Peterson has now resigned, according to The Washington Post.

When asked what Peterson should have done, Israel told reporters in no uncertain terms that the officer had a responsibility to confront the killer and attempt to stop him.

"I think he took up a position where it looked like he could see the western-most entry into the building and stayed where he was," said Israel. "Never went in."

Peterson's failure to act made Israel "sick to my stomach," the sheriff said.

Two other officers have been placed on restricted assignment pending an investigation; we don't yet know whether these officers are guilty of similarly bad judgment.

Make no mistake—Peterson's failure to engage the shooter was a monumental error. We don't know whether the SRO would have been able to stop a psychopath armed with an AR-15, but it was his job to try; he might have at least slowed Cruz, thus saving lives. Why are we paying armed guards to keep schools safe if they flee the very danger they are supposed to prevent?

It's difficult to fathom the depths of law enforcement's collective failure—at every conceivable level—to take any action that might have averted the Parkland tragedy or mitigated the death toll. The FBI didn't follow-up on tips about Cruz's verified instability. Broward County didn't take preventative measures despite receiving more than 20 calls about Cruz over the years. And the officer whose job it was to keep kids safe stood idly by while they were murdered—even though one of the big lessons of Columbine was that lone officers should rush toward the sound of gunfire in school shooting scenarios.

At the very least, these revelations about the abysmal incompetence of law enforcement should shake our confidence that more cops, more security, and more surveillance are the solution to mass shootings—and that the corresponding civil liberties tradeoffs are remotely justified.


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