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This page contains a single entry by Westley Annis published on March 9, 2009 2:11 PM.

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What Can Liberals Learn From Doggy Poop and Swimming Pools?

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One of biggest goals among liberals is to drastically change, if not outlaw, the right to own guns. The number one argument is that if you outlaw guns then criminals will not be able to own guns meaning they won't be able to use them to further their criminal pursuits.

What these gun control advocates fail to see is that there are already numerous laws on the books that outlaw gun ownership by outlaws. The problem is in the cost, or anticipated jail time, to the criminal of being convicted of crime while using a gun.

As it stands now, in most states and on the federal level, the cost to the criminal of being convicted of a crime with and without a gun is negligible. A gun is a formidable weapon and can be seen as an equalizer, especially when the chances of your adversary having a gun is high.

Let's put guns aside for a second and look at something that is equally troubling to society, but maybe not quite as dangerous. Doggy poop.

On their blob, Freakonomics, economist Steven D. Levitt and journalist Stephen J. Dubner asked why do some citizens of New York City pick up after their dogs and others don't.

    First some basic numbers from their article:
  • One million - estimated dog population
  • 1978 - Year New York City enacted its "Pooper scooper" law
  • $50 - Fine for not scooping your dog's poop on a first offense
  • 471 - Number of dog-waste citations issued in a 12-month period between 2004-2005
  • 20% - Amount of cleanliness failures in city parks attributed to doggy poop
  • 102,004 - Dogs licensed in 2003
  • $8.50 - Cost of an annual dog license in 2005
  • 68 - Summonses issued for no dog license

What can we surmise just from these numbers? First off, the cost, in terms of actual dollars for not following the pooper scooper law is minimal. Second, your chances of receiving a citation is minimal, almost bordering on the same odds as winning a high-dollar lottery.

If the New York City Parks department is classifying a fifth of its cleanliness failures on doggy poop, you would have to guess that significantly more than one person per day is not following the law. Just using the numbers above, the amount of citations amounts to 1.3 citations per day, so clearly there is an enforcement issue also.

Levitt and Dubner proposed a radical system to accomplish two goals: increase the number of dogs licensed and decrease the number of people not cleaning up after their dogs. Their system is based on incentives and penalties with an ulterior motive, collect DNA samples of all dogs.

The incentive was to change how doggy tags were issued. Even though the cost was already minimal, make it free and maybe even pay the owner.

The penalties, however, would be much greater. Stepped up enforcement of licensing laws, akin to former Mayor Rudy Giuliani's broken window crackdown. Higher fees for not having a dog license.

Now, you may ask, why did they want to collect a DNA sample of all dogs? Once there is a large enough DNA database, the city can begin running DNA testing on the doggy poop found in the parks and on the streets, match it to the dog and the rightful owner and issue a citation by mail. When the chances of being caught go up, as well as the monetary cost of the fine, the economics of leaving the doggy poop and picking it up will shift, hopefully leading to more “law-abiding” citizens.

On a side note, the city of Petah Tikva, Isreal is implementing this plan. It will takes a few years to see if it will actually work or not.

What correlations can we draw between the doggy poop and guns?

As Levitt and Dubner stated in their article, people love their dogs and they love their guns, so you cannot effectively outlaw either one. Instead you need to outlaw the bad behavior. The offered one method for dealing with bad dog owners. How can we apply that to bad gun owners?

There has been a uptick in recent years of “right-to-carry” laws, namely the right to carry a concealed weapon. Most of these laws require that applicants go through an approved gun safety class as well as submit to fingerprinting and background searches and register their guns with the local law enforcement agency. The cost for this is high and is usually born by the applicant, which means only those who truly have a deep desire for one of these licenses goes through the process.

What if the cost was reduced to a bare minimum, or, as in the doggy case, the right-to-carry license was free or you were paid to get one? It can be expected that more people would apply for the license, which would allow law enforcement to learn more about the gun ownership in their jurisdiction.

Since a gun would now be more easily traceable, thefts of guns would be reported quicker. It may also help in reducing the sale of guns to criminals.

Right now, it is a very common, if unlawful, practice for people who can pass the current quick background checks required when purchasing a gun from a dealer to purchase a gun and then turn around and sell it to a criminal.

If the dealer records the sale to a right-to-carry license holder, that person will know that that gun is linked to him. If it is found to be used in a crime, he will then be linked to the crime. If he reports too many guns as being stolen, he will raise a red-flag among law-enforcement that he may be aiding and abetting criminals in the illegal possession of fire-arms.

This will help to reduce the number of guns that criminals can get their hands on.

The next step is to increase the penalties for committing a crime while in possession of a fire-arm. In recent years we have seen a number of new “hate crime” laws enacted. These laws increase the penalty for a crime if it can be determined one of the motivators was hate (if a criminal mugs a Jewish person and says any type of anti-Jewish epitate, the mugging becomes a hate crime with greatly increased prison sentences).

Why can't gun crimes be raised to the same level, if not higher, as hate crimes? When the cost of committing a crime using a gun is raised high enough, it will have a positive effect in reducing the number of crimes committed with guns.

The title of this article mentions swimming pools, so I'm sure you are wondering how swimming pools come into play. Swimming pools are mentioned to make you forget about conventional wisdom.

To quote from Levitt and Dubner in their book, Freakonomics (the book led to the blog):

Consider the parents of an eight-year-old girl named, say Molly. Her two best friends, Amy and Imani, each live nearby. Molly's parents know that Amy's parents keep a gun in their house, so they have forbidden Molly to play there. Instead, Molly spends a lot of time at Imani's house, which has a swimming pool in the backyard. Molly's parents feel good about having made such a smart choice to protect their daughter.

But according to the data, the choice isn't smart at all. In a given year, there is one drowning of a child for every 11,000 residential pools in the United States. (In a country with 6 million pools, this means that roughly 550 children under the age of ten drown each year.) Meanwhile, there is 1 child killed by a gun for every 1 million-plus guns. (In a country with an estimated 200 million guns, this means that roughly 175 children under ten die each year from guns.) The likelihood of death by pool (1 in 11,000) versus death by gun (1 in 1 million-plus) isn't even close: Molly is far more likely to die in a swimming accident at Imani's house than in gunplay at Amy's.

In other words, don't base your decisions on headlines alone.

On a side note, there are a ton of other things that Levitt and Dubner contradict conventional wisdom and I highly recommend reading their book, Freakonomics.

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