Think tanks wrap-up IV

WASHINGTON, May 9 (UPI) -- The UPI think tank wrap-up is a daily digest covering opinion pieces, reactions to recent news events and position statements released by various think tanks. This is the fourth of several wrap-ups for May 9. Contents: why gun ownership is vital; Iraq war is increasing nuclear proliferation among rogue states; Democrats don't like John Edwards for president.

The Ludwig von Mises Institute


(The LVMI is a research and educational center devoted to classical liberalism -- often known as libertarianism -- and the Austrian school of economics. LVMI seeks a radical shift in the intellectual climate by promoting the market economy, private property, sound money and peaceful international relations, while opposing government intervention.)

AUBURN, Ala.-- The "why" of gun ownership

by James Ostrowski

Something happened in Buffalo, N.Y., late last year that contradicts the propaganda of those who support "gun control" -- the control of law-abiding people who wish to own a gun for protection against the assorted nefarious elements in this world. A citizen actually used a gun, a shotgun, to defend his home and his family against armed intruders. ("Man who fatally shot intruder was victim of previous home invasion," Buffalo News, 11/14/02.)


No, his gun wasn't taken from him and used against him. No, his gun wasn't stolen. No, he did not have time to wait for the police, though they did arrive moments later. Yes, he was able to get to his gun in time. Yes, he did point and aim and hit the evil target.

According to the propaganda, people rarely if ever use guns in self-defense.

Gun control is one of those notions that seems to make sense on the surface; that reasonable people are initially inclined to accept; that seems to offer an easy solution to a difficult problem. That is the problem with gun control. It is wishful thinking: simplistic, naïve, even juvenile.

It is typical liberal thinking: social problems can be solved by putting words on paper in state and federal statute books. And not only liberals: the Bush administration has upset the National Rifle Association by agreeing to legislation that would extend the ban on semi-automatic firearms that were previously in use for decades and are virtually never used in crimes.

Whenever you hear about bans of this or that weapon, remember that no word on paper ever changed human nature. There are bad people out there who will prey on good people. They will not be deterred by words on paper in Albany, N.Y. or Washington. Good people, however, wishing to obey the law, will be deterred. That is why muggers, rapists and murderers know that in gun control havens like New York City and Washington, citizens are virtually helpless against them.


Alas, the powerful gun control lobby is losing its war. The general public always believed what the Constitution said, that "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." The liberal legal establishment said the opposite: the right of the people to bear arms means that the people do not have the right to bear arms.

It turns out the people were right. An ever-increasing number of judges and legal scholars, even liberals, now acknowledge what should have been obvious. Americans have an individual right to bear arms. These include Harvard law professors Alan Dershowitz and Laurence Tribe and the United States Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit.

A major book, highly touted by gun controllers such as Gary Wills, "Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture," by Emory University Professor Michael A. Bellesiles, has been thoroughly discredited as based on shoddy if not fraudulent scholarship and the author has been forced to resign his professorship. Bellesiles tried to contest conventional wisdom and argue that in colonial times, Americans had few guns and many did not work.

He didn't seem to be aware that the American Revolution was sparked by an attempt by British gun controllers to seize American guns at Concord. At Lexington and Concord, these allegedly poorly armed Americans somehow managed to inflict 273 casualties on the best-trained army on Earth at the time, the Redcoats.


A good antidote to Bellesiles's book is "Guns and Violence" by Bentley College history professor Joyce Lee Malcolm, published this year by Harvard University Press. Malcolm argues that in England the rate of violent crime had been declining for centuries as more guns became available and only started to increase with the passage of stricter gun control laws.

Finally, we found out on Sept. 11, 2001, that the entire $400 billion security apparatus of the federal government cannot protect us from catastrophic terrorism, but a few handguns in the cockpits, long discouraged by federal policy, might have saved the day. The idea that pilots should be permitted to be armed against intruders is still controversial, after nearly two years and two bloody wars that killed many thousands.

The primary purpose of the Second Amendment is to provide the citizenry with the means for resisting governmental tyranny. In the 20th century, many governments around the world murdered millions of their own unarmed or disarmed citizens. This occurred in the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, communist China, nationalist China, and elsewhere.

It did not happen, and could not happen, here, where 70 million Americans own firearms. Fortunately, the Second Amendment, the amendment that provides Americans with the means to protect all the others, is here to stay.


(James Ostrowski practices law in Buffalo, N.Y. )

The Independent Institute

(II is an independent public policy research organization whose goal is to transcend the political and partisan interests that influence debate about public policy. II aims to redefine the debate over public issues and foster new and effective directions for government reform, by adhering to the highest standards of independent scholarly inquiry, without regard to political or social biases.)

OAKLAND, Calif. -- Look to Iran for the real costs of the war in Iraq

By Ivan Eland

The Bush administration is apparently astonished and concerned to learn that Iran has hastened its drive to get nuclear weapons. Would an American military presence in neighboring nations on two sides of that country -- in Iraq and Afghanistan -- have anything to do with that acceleration?

Countries like Iran (and Libya, Syria and the many other nations seeking weapons of mass destruction) noted that the United States invaded Iraq -- a nation without nuclear weapons -- but treated North Korea -- a nation that went out of its way to inform the United States about its possession of nuclear weapons -- much more gingerly. If you were an Iranian leader, what would you do?


Perhaps the main reason the neo-conservatives, both inside and outside the Bush administration, pressed for an invasion of Iraq was to achieve a "demonstration effect." Their thinking was that other rogue nations (Syria and Iran in particular) would be intimidated and improve their behavior.

On the surface, there are some signs of increased cooperation with the United States on the part of Iran (helping out in Afghanistan and offering to assist with any downed American aircraft in the recent war with Iraq) and Syria (pledges to close the offices of anti-Israeli groups). But in secret, those nations are most likely racing as fast as they can to obtain weapons of mass destruction -- to keep the United States from doing to them what it did to Saddam Hussein's regime.

The apparent acceleration of Iran's covert nuclear program proves that the Iraq war's intended demonstration effect has turned into a "proliferation effect."

President George W. Bush has said: "One of the things we must do is work together to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It is a major issue that faces the world and it is an issue on which the United States will still lead."


Yet the administration's aggressive counter-proliferation policy of launching of "pre-emptive" attacks against states that are attempting to gain or possess weapons of mass destruction is backfiring. War on Iraq or not, proliferating nations know that U.S. public opinion will not support wars on the many countries that are developing or have such super-weapons.

Before the Iraq War, the Pentagon noted that 10 nuclear programs, 13 countries with biological weapons, 16 nations with chemical weapons, and 28 countries with ballistic missiles were either existing or emerging threats to the United States and its allies. So chances are good that if countries conduct such programs in secret and bury or hide the facilities to secure them from U.S. air strikes, they can eventually obtain weapons whose technology is now fairly old.

Aggressive U.S. military actions around the world merely motivate thuggish regimes to redouble their efforts to get super weapons faster.

The intimidation strategy against rogue states has backfired in the past. The larger than life neo-conservative myth of their icon, President Ronald Reagan, dissuading Moammar Qaddafi of Libya from terrorist acts by bombing his tent is just that -- a myth. After the 1986 air strikes on Libya, the historical record indicates that Qaddafi accelerated his terrorism but merely did it more covertly or contracted it out to independent terrorist groups.


The large number of Americans killed in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland alone should have dispelled that myth. Similarly, intimidation will probably not curb fearful rogue states from trying to improve their chances of survival by developing super weapons. Even though rogue states are despotic they do have legitimate fears of attacks by regional foes and now the United States.

Given the large number of nations that are working on weapons of mass destruction (particularly nuclear weapons), the United States may have to accept the unpleasant fact that some unsavory regimes might have them or get them. The good news is that most of those nations are poor and can afford no more than a few nuclear warheads. The bone-crushing dominance of the U.S. nuclear arsenal -- with thousands of warheads -- should be able to deter such countries from launching an attack on the United States.

Leaders from rogue nations are often portrayed in the American media as irrational and incapable of being deterred from attacks against the United States but have acquired, in their ascent to power in their own nations, the pragmatism of many politicians. In fact, if the United States refrained from unnecessary military interventions in the backwater regions of most of the rogue nations, those nations would have no cause to launch such weapons against the faraway United States in the first place.


But Bush has taken the opposite road of profligate and unneeded military interventions. The American public and media have basked in the glow of old glory being draped over the statue of Saddam in Iraq. But the unseemly downside of such American military adventurism may lie hidden in deeply buried bunkers in nations like Iran.

(Ivan Eland is a senior fellow and the director of the Center on Peace & Liberty at The Independent Institute.)

The Cato Institute

WASHINGTON -- What John Edwards' money said

By John Samples

People are fond of saying that "money talks" in politics no less than in life. In presidential elections, money has something to say, but you have to listen closely. Take the case of Sen. John Edwards, D-N.C., who wants to be the Democratic presidential candidate.

Recently we learned Edwards had raised over $7 million for his campaign, second only to front-runner Sen. John Kerry D-Mass., This success gave Edwards credibility with journalists and party leaders. On the bad side, he had to give back some of the money when it turned out the donations violated federal law. Now the Department of Justice is looking into the case.

Having to return the donations surely says little about Edwards' personal integrity. Some employees of a law firm in Little Rock, Ark., apparently gave the Edwards campaign the maximum legal donation of $2,000 believing their employer, a friend and supporter of the senator, would reimburse them. That's illegal under federal law, and once the violation became known, the Edwards campaign promptly returned the money. The rest of us can take some comfort in knowing that Edwards did the right thing, at least once the Washington Post found out his fundraisers had done the wrong thing.


Edwards' mini-scandal grew out of the intense competition for the Democratic presidential nomination. He faces an uphill battle to become the Democratic candidate in 2004. The media have already crowned Kerry as the front-runner. Faced with Kerry and other tough rivals, Edwards desperately needed to prove his candidacy was serious.

Fundraising aside, Edwards' appeal to the Democratic faithful lies elsewhere. He is putting himself forward as a political moderate from the South. He offers the prospect of a return to the 1990s when another Southern moderate, Bill Clinton, won two terms in the White House. Edwards hopes Democrats will recall the electoral disasters brought on the party by a Northeasterner (Michael Dukakis) in 1988 and a Midwesterner (Walter Mondale) in 1984.

Edwards has a point. No one should doubt the power of regionalism in American politics. All presidents since 1972 have been from the South or the West. Edwards has one essential trait for winning the presidency.

But Edwards is not Jimmy Carter or Bill Clinton (not to mention Reagan or Bush). He's not a former governor. All presidents since 1972 (save for George H.W. Bush) have held the highest office in a state far from Washington.


That's not surprising. Americans regularly tell pollsters they don't trust the federal government. Their faith in Washington has improved ever so slightly of late but probably not enough to elect a Washington insider (or someone from Massachusetts). Edwards is a senator (and hence, an insider) but only recently arrived (elected in 1998).

He might hope to run a populist campaign and hope his Southern charm carries him the rest of the way. Yet Edwards became rich as a trial lawyer and gets most of his campaign funds from his fellow plaintiffs of the bar. He has gotten about 60 percent of his funding for the presidential campaign from other lawyers. There's nothing illegal or immoral about that. Lawyers also have a right to participate in politics.

Having trial lawyers for friends and supporters, however, contravenes the image Edwards hopes to cultivate as an outsider who will stand up to the special interests in Washington. Fairly or not, trial lawyers seem to have found their own presidential candidate in Edwards.

Edwards will say trial lawyers fight for the little guy against big corporations who have done them wrong. His opponents will surely point out that two thirds of Edwards' money comes from donors giving the legal maximum of $2,000. That may make his populist rhetoric sound hollow.


We should not be concerned that Edwards' campaign broke some campaign finance rules. We should wonder why he has not attracted broad support from Democratic donors.

Americans hope to elect a president who seeks, to the best of his ability, the good of the nation as a whole. For now, Edwards seems more of a lobbyist than a leader.

(John Samples is director of the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute.)

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