Life, Liberty and Property in ’09

It’s time once again to examine the old year and hope for a good new year. Let’s review some of the top developments in 2009 in the Lockean categories of life, liberty and property.

Life

According to the FBI’s preliminary report, murders in the first 6 months of 2009 were down 10% compared to the previous year. Final crime rates for 2009 won’t be released until sometime in 2010, but if the trend continues throughout 2009, it would be the biggest one-year decrease in murders since at least 1960, the earliest year for which Bureau of Justice Statistics data is available. It would also give 2009 a per capita murder rate 51% lower than the all-time high in 1991.

During the same time six-month period, U.S. gun sales (as measured by the number of transactions on the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System [NICS], the “background check” when a gun is purchased from a dealer) were up by about 24%. As the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) points out, the number of privately owned firearms in the U.S. rose by about 2%, to record levels. NRA-ILA also stated: “[T]he firearms that were most commonly purchased in 2009 are those that gun control supporters most want to be banned – AR-15s, similar semi-automatic rifles, and handguns designed for defense.”

In a nutshell, in the last several years gun ownership has reached all-time highs while crime rates remain at or near record lows. “What this shows,” said Alan Gottlieb, Executive Vice President of the Second Amendment Foundation, “is that gun prohibitionists are all wrong when they argue that more guns result in more crime. Firearms in the hands of law-abiding citizens are no threat to anyone. Perhaps violent criminals were actually discouraged by all of those gun sales earlier this year, because the media made a point of reporting the booming gun market.

He continued: “Anti-gunners have lost another one of their baseless arguments. Millions of Americans bought guns during the first six months of [2009], many of them for the first time. Yet with all of those new guns in circulation, coupled with an increased demand for concealed carry licenses around the country, the streets have not been awash in blood, as gun banners repeatedly predict.”

In a slightly different vein (yet still in the life category), for the first time since the Gallup Poll began asking the question in 1995, a majority of Americans (51%) called themselves “pro-life” in 2009. According to Iowa Right to Life the number of abortions performed nation-wide peaked at about 1.6 million in 1990 (almost the same year as the all-time high murder rate mentioned above, hmm…) but has been trending downward since. It was at about 1.2 million in 2006 and is “back to levels not seen since the late 1970s.”

Iowa had 5,888 abortions in 2005, 6,728 in 2006 and 6,649 in 2007. I haven’t read any hard numbers for ’08 or ’09, but I would imagine they remained in that same range.

Liberty

The big news in Iowa this year was that Iowa became the third state to legalize gay marriage. The Iowa Supreme Court issued a ruling in April on the case Varnum v. Brien. It was argued that Iowa’s law violated same-sex couples rights to equal protection and due process.

Not everyone was happy with the decision however. “A handful of people who were not elected to office — they were appointed — have rendered a decision, a decision that is contrary to the will of the people, it is contrary to God’s law and it’s time for the people through their elected officials and elected representatives to decide what the law is going to be in this state,” said Danny Carroll, chairman of the Iowa Family Policy Center’s board of directors.

But government exists to protect the rights of individuals from tyranny (even tyranny of the majority). Regardless of whether you morally approve of homosexuality or not, the ruling is certainly good for individual rights in Iowa. The argument made by social conservatives, that gay marriage is destructive to society, doesn’t seem to be resonating with anyone but conservatives themselves. Nonetheless, efforts are underway to reverse the ruling.

Second Amendment supporters ended the year with more friends than they started with. This summer the gun control group Iowans for the Prevention of Gun Violence (IPGV) dissolved due to lack of funding. However, a new group of Second Amendment defenders sprung up in the state. The group Iowa Gun Owners was formed in January ’09. In their first year in existence they managed to get a “Vermont/Alaska style” right-to-carry bill introduced in the Iowa legislature and earned it a tied procedural vote (to proceed, not be enacted) of 49-49 in the Iowa House. Not a bad first showing.

There was some work done on legalizing medical marijuana in Iowa in 2009. In July the Iowa Board of Pharmacy began holding hearings on the issue, but has not yet voted on its recommendation to the state legislature. In March a state Senate subcommittee held a hearing on medical marijuana bill, but the bill didn’t advance out of the subcommittee. Although it remains to be seen what will happen, at least there is discussion of legalizing the pharmaceutical use of a drug that is less dangerous and addictive than many other commonly prescribed drugs.

In 2009 storm clouds continued to gather at the national level, with healthcare “reform” set to mandate insurance coverage and involve the government in some of our most personal decisions.

Property

In June I reported on a county government flanking maneuver to circumvent the state’s anti-Kelo eminent domain law. The Clarke County Reservoir Commission voted to condemn the farmland of two dozen families in order to build a new 900-acre reservoir near Osceola. Critics have charged that planners have inflated the areas water needs in order to justify the new reservoir. In August the Clarke County Farm Bureau stated that they would NOT be helping the landowners whose land will be taken. Construction of the lake has not yet begun at this time.

In Washington and Des Moines our elected officials continued to bury this and future generations in debt in 2009. Since this will have to be paid back (with interest) it will obviously cost Americans a lot of money, therefore leaving less money available to us to acquire property (and less to pursue happiness with as well).

Governor Culver signed bonding issues adding almost $1.7 Billion in state debt, despite the fact that a Des Moines Register poll showed that 71% of Iowans opposed it. In D.C., President Obama and the Democrat Congress added about $1.45 Trillion in U.S. debt in 2009 alone. The U.S. public debt currently stands at over $12 Trillion. Our total unfunded liabilities amount to almost $107 Trillion.

So 2009 was a mixed bag for freedom lovers. Unfortunately, I think the few advances in personal freedoms are vastly overshadowed by the fiscal crisis looming on the horizon. Will we draw that crisis closer or will we begin to back away from it in 2010? I’ll tell you next year.

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