There is nothing wrong with virtue signaling.
Go on, put an “In this house, we believe…” sign in the yard. Wear a MAGA cap. Paste an “I stand with whatever or whomever” sticker on the bumper. Tweet some #umbrage.
Those who disagree will tsk tsk. How self-righteous! How uncouth! But others will nod with approval. And that’s the point of virtue signaling to gesture solidarity with the tribe.
It’s a mostly harmless human inclination. However, when elected officials conduct public policy as virtue signaling, they waste taxpayers’ money and further erode respect for the institutions they represent. Sadly, elected officials in several Colorado counties are guilty of doing just that.
After a drag queen’s fake boob was exposed at PrideFest at the Douglas County Fairgrounds in late August, Douglas County Commissioner George Teal threatened to prevent PrideFest from returning, claiming such “adult entertainment” violated zoning laws. With little likelihood of drawing additional support from other commissioners and even lower chances of prevailing against a potential lawsuit, Teal’s threat appears to be an empty family values gesture.
This isn’t the first time Teal has virtue signaled via official act. Earlier this summer, he and fellow commissioner Abe Laydon directed the county’s legal staff to look into taking over Denver’s Daniels Park. The cost of purchasing the land would be nearly twice the county’s annual budget. The only reason the two Douglas County commissioners raised the issue is because the Denver City Council voted to prohibit concealed carry of firearms in parks ostensibly to curtail violence.
The Denver ban, like the threat to take over Daniels Park, is itself a kind of virtue signal as it will likely not affect gun crime. According to data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Investigations and Colorado sheriffs analyzed by law professor David Kopel, “an adult with a concealed handgun permit is about 39 times less likely to be arrested than an adult without a CHP.” In other words, the Denver ordinance targets those least likely to commit gun crimes.
The Denver City Council enacted this meaningless tough-on-gun-crime gesture to signal to its base that its elected officials are tough on guns. Douglas County Commissioners counter signaled its support for gun rights by threatening to take over a park it couldn’t afford, tit for tat signaling if you will.
Meanwhile, an hour north, Boulder County Commissioners just banned gun shows at the county fairgrounds. The vote came on the heels of a court injunction against the county’s ban on so-called assault weapons and large-capacity magazines because the ordinance is likely unconstitutional.
The gun show ban won’t meet constitutional muster either. California gun owners are challenging a similar law on 1st and 14th Amendment grounds. As their lawsuit notes, gun owners have already succeeded in quashing a gun show ban on the Del Mar Fairgrounds. A judge issued an injunction because the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in their constitutional claim.
Boulder’s ordinance is futile for other reasons. Law-abiding gun owners can drive to gun shows in other counties, burning more fossil fuels on the way, and criminal gun owners don’t normally go to gun shows. In fact, criminals purchase firearms at gun shows even less often than they purchase AR-15s or riffles of any kind.
A U.S. Department of Justice survey of state and federal inmates regarding the possession and use of firearms during the crime for which they are serving time found that 0.8% of prisoners purchased the firearm in question at a gun show and only 1.5% of inmates carried a rifle. Maybe those with a “science is real” bumper sticker should follow the data.
Threats to ban Pridefest or legal actions to forbid concealed carry, commonly used rifles, or gun shows run afoul of 1st, 2nd, and 14th Amendment-protected freedoms and are likely to come to naught.
Same goes for the threat to revenge-purchase Daniels Park.
Elected officials in these Colorado counties are nonetheless content to waste staff time and taxpayer money on futile pursuits so they can signal to their bases that they care. They are doing something!
How about this instead: get a yard sign.
Krista L. Kafer is a weekly Denver Post columnist. Follow her on Twitter: @kristakafer.
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