Pinal County officials are abusing their power by harassing a popular bar/restaurant

This was originally published in the Tucson Weekly

Our story begins with a father and son, Dale and Spencer Bell. Dale has operated successful restaurants in both South Dakota and Wyoming. He and his son, Spencer, opened a new venture in Pinal County, on the flats next to the San Tan Mountains. Hence the restaurant’s name: San Tan Flat.After three years of jumping through hoops, they finally opened in 2005 with Pinal County’s blessing. Shortly thereafter, Pinal County began to harass them mercilessly. County officials made them remove one of their two signs, reduced their road access from four entrances to one, and forced them to build a bigger parking lot. They also sent deputies out at night to measure decibel levels.

This sort of behavior usually indicates that some well-connected, turgid member of the community wants someone out of Dodge. In the older frontier times, they usually just sent the sheriff around to tell him, “Be out of town by sundown.” These are less direct, less honest, weenie times.

Dale complied with all of the harassing demands, until the county turned its sights on his customers: Officials claimed it was illegal for them to dance to the music in the courtyard. They cited an ordinance from 1962 that required “dance halls, penny arcades and bowling alleys” to be in fully enclosed structures.

San Tan Flat is a restaurant and bar. As Dale said to me, “I’ve never seen a penny arcade in my lifetime. I’ve never been able to put a penny in a machine and have it do anything, I don’t know how old you are, but I’m an old guy. … This thing is pretty obsolete, even in its language.”

With the help of the Arizona chapter of the Institute for Justice, Dale went to court.

The Pinal County attorneys stated, at four separate times during the initial hearing, that the supervisors thought the outdoor stage at the country/Western saloon and steakhouse would be used for “mimes, puppet shows, poetry readings and art displays.” Why, of course! Any cowboy worth his salt needs a little miming, and some poetry read to him every now and again. Those dang Bell boys deceived us!

Dale has determined that an upstanding member of the community, Pinal County Supervisor Sandie Smith, is directing the attacks against him. It’s a county appointee, the Pinal County sheriff, who sends his deputies out three times a night to test the decibel levels. So far, they have had no luck.

I asked Dale why Sandie Smith was trying to make his life miserable. He answered, “Why is she doing it? Possibly petty jealousy over the success of the business; possibly because we did not grovel, or kiss her butt, which is apparently what she was expecting us to do after we were open and permitted.”

He had some other ideas that involved millionaire developers, but it’s all just speculation.

The silver lining to this dark cloud is that the longer the episode drags on, the more support the Bells get–from people like George Will, who wrote of their plight in his Washington Post column, and people like Dale and Spencer’s customers. Quoting his customers, Dale told me, “They don’t say they like it; they say they love it!”

The significance of this case lies not so much in the fact that the petty commissars of Pinal County are being exposed; rather, it verifies what we in the freedom movement have come to realize over the past few years.

Traditionally, it was government at the federal level that sent edicts from far away for the great unwashed, doing away with federalism and exceeding its limited jurisdiction in a rather tyrannical way. It seemed to make sense that when people are reduced to numbers and formulas, they would be treated like them. Now we see those close to us, here at home, behaving in similar fashion. Whether they use eminent domain, civil forfeiture or “smart growth” central planning, our local officials are showing a lust to control people, and to control property that they do not own.

As the bizarre case of San Tan Flat exemplifies, it is not the remoteness of the power that is corrupting. It is the power itself.

Want fewer innocent people to get shot? Then add more guns!

This was originally published in the Tucson Weekly

“Going postal” entered the vernacular after a slew of shootings at post offices by “disgruntled workers.” Since then, new terms like “school shootings” have found their way into the language.What do schools and post offices have in common that would enable such carnage? If you said, “Schools and post offices are gun-free zones,” move to the head of the class. I would also like to note that there are no terms like “shooting-range shootings” or “going police-headquarters,” even though there are oodles of guns at those places.

Am I suggesting that these places are more dangerous than others by virtue of being “gun-free”? Well, yeah! If that fact is not intuitively obvious to you, you can read up on the subject by getting a copy of More Guns, Less Crime, by John Lott. If you really want to get your head around the idea, get hold of a copy of David T. Hardy’s DVD In Search of the Second Amendment, which will explain why the civil-rights workers of the ’50s and ’60s were not all murdered by the Ku Klux Klan (Hint: They packed pistols!) and why the KKK was able to unmercifully harass and intimidate the black citizenry for so long. (Hint: Black citizens were kept disarmed.)

On Oct. 28, 2002, a murderer entered the UA College of Nursing and shot to death professors Cheryl McGaffic, Barbara Monroe and Robin Rogers before shooting himself. He met with no resistance. It would appear that the banning of guns from the UA campus does not necessarily make that campus any safer.

There are some who insist that “more guns” is not the answer. Well, how many guns would it have taken to save at least one of those lives? Answer: More guns.

Fortunately, an island of sanity is rising up in this sea of brain-dead irrationality. A nationwide group of more than 8,000 students called Students for Concealed Carry on Campus (

concealedcampus.org ) is starting to pressure universities to allow students, with concealed-carry permits, to carry concealed weapons on campus.

Is there any serious objection to this? Should we not ask the same state government that owns the university, and issues concealed-carry permits, to trust its own judgment? The only downside that I see is that universities could expand the permit requirement to other rights, like free speech and free practice of religion.

The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) will soon hear an appeal to a district court decision that struck down Washington, D.C.’s ban on handguns. (By the way, I love the acronym “SCOTUS,” because it sounds like a disease of the nether regions.) Washington, D.C., has a virtual ban on all functioning privately held firearms. It is also the murder capital of the country … coincidence?

Hardy, a lawyer who lives in Tucson and who argued before SCOTUS (and who created the aforementioned DVD), predicted that the court would take the case. He also said that the current academic consensus–even in prestigious lefty institutions–is that the Second Amendment is an individual right. That’s bad news for the Brady Center types. Fortunately for them, members of SCOTUS put as much weight in their consciences, and their foreign policy goals, as they do in the Constitution itself. It will all boil down to whether or not “Justice” Anthony Kennedy likes the idea.

In the meantime, a mentally ill man earlier this month entered a “gun-free” shopping mall–where even the security guards were unarmed–and murdered as many people as he liked before he killed himself. A week or so later, a man who apparently intended mass murder (four guns and hundreds of rounds) entered a church, killed two people and then–oops! An armed security guard stopped the attack, and dozens of lives were saved. No “gun-free zone” there.

The fact is that “gun-free zones” do not deter violence; rather, they invite it. They provide a safe place to murder.

Shouldn’t property rights trump the war on drugs?

This was originally published in the Tucson Weekly

A local daily newspaper reports that “many pot seizures of below 500 pounds go unprosecuted.” The article goes on to say that pot seizures of less than 500 pounds account for 90 percent of the seizures, and about half of all the pot seized. The reason is that there are so dang many people caught importing herb that prosecuting the bulk of them would overwhelm the legal system.According to the National Drug Intelligence Center, there were 9,560 seizure incidents along the southern border in 2004, totaling 1,102,925 kilograms (we called them “kilos” back in the late ’60s, early ’70s) of marijuana. In English that translates to 2,426,435 pounds, or more simply, about 2.4 million pounds.Consider for a moment that the government has pinched so many pot haulers that it can only prosecute 10 percent of them, and their lost loads only represent the “inventory shrinkage” of the product crossing the border with Mexico–a minor factor in cost of goods sold. This does not address the product crossing the northern border, or the border with Humboldt County.Note to the Drug Warriors: Markets rule.

Let me take a moment to assure everyone that I am not a pothead. People who argue my position are usually dismissed as such. I do not claim any exceptional purity, but it is a fact that I have not partaken of any marijuana since Jimmy Carter was president.

Long before the Carter presidency, Lenny Bruce said, “Marijuana will be legalized … yeah … because all the guys I know in law school smoke it.” Well, it didn’t quite work out that way. It probably would be legalized if today’s lawyers could not easily get all the pot they wanted, and therein lies the key. The only way to attack the problem is to attack the market. That means turning law enforcement away from the importers, and toward the end user.

This approach has been tried, found to be successful, then quickly abandoned. The problem is that the end users are a huge percentage of us … 2.4 million pounds, and that’s just the shrinkage. If the transportation workers are overwhelming the system, imagine how many users there must be–your neighbor, your co-worker, your kid’s teacher, your stockbroker, your plumber, your lawyer of course, and Uncle Free and his hippie girlfriend Sunshine.

So, back we go to busting the “bad guys,” the people the end users pay to sneak it to them. Meanwhile, the market will not be denied.

Many moons ago, I was impaneled on a federal jury. As with most federal cases, it was a drug case. The accused was found by a couple of narcs parked down by the San Pedro river with a few hundred pounds of pot, a Mossberg 12 gage shotgun and a .40-caliber Daewoo pistol. This was apparently a very bad situation, but, other than the poor choice of pistol, I could not see why. At some point, the judge asked if anyone had a question. I raised my hand, he acknowledged me, and I asked, “Under what authority does the federal government engage in drug prohibition?” He said something about Congress saying we do, so we do. His delivery was light hearted; he chuckled. The rest of the folks chuckled along with him. I returned a steely stare to let him know that I was quite serious. I should have followed up with, “When the federal government engaged in alcohol prohibition, a constitutional amendment was passed to give it the authority. When the amendment was repealed, the authority ended. Which amendment to the constitution gives the federal government the authority to engage in drug prohibition?” Alas, it was a missed opportunity.

So, the federal government employs insane enforcement policies for laws that it has no authority to enact. Yet there is a principle that trumps all.

When we stand back and look at it, we see that it really is an issue of private property rights. Unless you are a slave, you own your body. Even if you believe that God owns your body, you are still the steward in this world. If you own it, you decide what goes in it. You are the authority in that regard.

The federal government lacks not only the legal authority to engage in drug prohibition, it lacks the moral authority as well.

Why not enforce the law against government handouts to big business?

This was originally published in the Tucson Weekly

Few things thrill me more than finding common ground with fellow citizens who do not share my enlightened political perspective. Recently, a constitutional issue came to my attention that may become the biggest unifying force against government malfeasance since the federal immigration bill.There are few things that aggravate laissez-faire economists more than government giveaways to private business interests. Not only is the practice morally repugnant, but it really screws up the free market by injecting artificial revenue into business that is not based on the choices of the people, but rather … well, I’m not sure on what it is based, but I have observed that these gifts tend to end up in the hands of large, national, wealthy corporations, as opposed to the small, local, struggling family businesses. The reason for this escapes me, but I’m sure that the city council members from Tucson, Oro Valley and Marana can provide one.

Our friends on the political left dislike it because they hate anything independent of the government in general–big corporations in particular–and they sure as heck don’t like large sums of government money going to private entities without overwhelming control attached to the deal.

Bottom line: No one likes to see tax money ending up as gifts to big business. There ought to be a law!

Well, as luck would have it, there is a law! Our friends at the Goldwater Institute–focus on the message, not the messenger–recently reminded us that there is a “gift clause” in the Constitution of the state of Arizona. The gift clause bars government at any level from giving grants, subsidies, property or lending its credit to private concerns. There are no exceptions. There is no test for “public benefit” or “general welfare”–just don’t effin’ do it. As the Goldwater Institute guys put it, “The Arizona Constitution erects a solid wall of separation between business and government.” This clause has been in the constitution since the get-go, and was pretty much respected for the first 50 years. It is in Article 9, Section 7 of the Arizona Constitution. You can look it up.

So there’s no need to pass a new law. It is already there–in the constitution, no less! No more exemptions from impact fees or permit fees, and no more sales-tax giveaways, right? Well, that would be true had we a functioning judiciary. Alas, the courts have essentially rendered the clause moot with bizarre case law dating back to the ’50s. Near the middle of the last century, judges began to view constitutional law not as the foundation of the government–the immutable rulebook–but as some quaint suggestions from dead white guys. They became above the law. The Supremes (members of the highest appellate court, not the Motown singing group) are the best examples of this.

If I were to make an analogy, I would imagine Justice Anthony Kennedy, or Stephen Breyer, as a chief of police. He would be charged with enforcing the law, and limit himself to that duty. Eventually, he may expand the scope of his vision. He may see the laws as guidelines, but realize that serving the greater good was his higher calling. He might, as a gesture of international goodwill, adopt some of the police methods used in South Africa–to honor their progress. If he were to be criticized, he could whine about the importance of respect for his position and the importance of his unfettered rule, with the knowledge that his was a lifetime appointment, from which he could not be removed, just like a king.

With councilmen flouting the law, and the judges flouting the law, there is a whole lot of flouting going on. What can we do? Can we demand that government officials obey the law–regardless of their branch of government? I don’t know. It seems like a tall order. Perhaps we should attend council meetings and start chanting “rule of law!” when they endeavor to violate it. Maybe we could do the same in the courtroom, or at least at the judges as they walk to their cars.

I preferred the separate branches of government when they kept each other in check, as opposed to coming together as a team. Hey, if they are a team, who is their opponent?