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February 21, 2002
Reason - Panic Attacks

If one article sums up perfectly what I have felt on airlines, in the media, and reading gun laws since September 12, 2001 it is this piece in Reason by Jesse Walker. Quoting:

The most important parallel between the current scare and a moral panic may be the loosest. Some panics dissolve quickly, leaving no institutional legacy. But others are frozen into law, even if the initial fears that inspired them quickly fade. Even minor panics can leave a legal imprint. The late-�80s frenzy over freeway shootings, in which a small handful of unrelated incidents were mistaken for an emerging trend, faded quickly when the Road Warrior-style bloodbath failed to arrive. Even so, California passed three freeway violence bills, ranging from a mild measure beefing up the highway patrol to a law adding five years to convicted freeway shooters� sentences.


Violent crime, too, has inspired several panics, with public worries suddenly focusing on a threat that is relatively rare (such as serial murder) or a weapon that criminals rarely use (such as the guns carelessly lumped together as "assault weapons"). The first group of fears has inspired many laws; from the 1930s to the �50s, for example, many states passed "sexual psychopath" legislation. As the criminologist Edwin Sutherland noted at the time, there was no correlation between which jurisdictions rushed such bills into law and which jurisdictions saw an actual increase in such crimes. More recently, it�s doubtful that carjacking would be a federal offense were it not for the exaggerated attention it received in the early �90s.

The second group of fears, of course, has unleashed several waves of arbitrary gun control legislation. Assault weapon laws, for example, did not prohibit guns based on their destructive power; comparably powerful weapons remained legal. Nor did they ban models that were misused especially frequently; the affected guns actually accounted for less than half a percent of American homicides and an even smaller percentage of all gun crimes. They were banned because they looked scary.


An awful lot of the new and proposed "security" measures will do little or nothing to improve Americans� security. It�s now clear, for example, that intelligence agencies received several scattered signals of the impending attacks. Their failure to foresee the atrocities seems to have stemmed not from limits on their surveillance powers but from dysfunctional bureaucratic relations that kept them from connecting the data into a coherent picture. Nor is there good reason to believe that a federal airport security force will be more competent than the private guards formerly in place. What�s important is the security incentives the airports face, not whether the people hired to stand guard are public employees.


At times like this, actual effectiveness may not be the first thing on every decision maker�s mind. It takes time, and a certain amount of creativity, to make effective changes in airport security; meanwhile, the government and the airlines still have to go through the motions of doing something about the threat. So they toss on useless regulations, presumably on the theory that the illusion of security will be reassuring, and that rules that are especially intrusive and rigid -- that is, more noticeable -- will heighten the illusion. This isn�t protection; it�s a protective ritual.

Just read the whole thing... Thanks to Instapundit for the link in the first place.

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