Tag Archives: Newtown

And There’s Nothing To Be Done

Our nation finds itself in the midst of two significant discussions right now.  The first is about how to resolve the so-called “fiscal cliff”, the wholly manufactured end-of-the-year crisis created by the utter inability of our elected officials in Washington to get the basics of their job completed in a reasonably competent manner.  The second is about what to do in response to the spate of mass shootings that have taken place in the second half of this year, culminating in the slaughter of 26 in Newtown, Conn. a couple of weeks ago.

What strikes me about both conversations is that one side of the aisle has shown a tendency to throw out ideas they don’t like solely on the basis that such ideas don’t solve the entire problem.  Take, for instance, Mark Thiessen’s column in today’s Washington Post.  Thiessen argues that since President Obama’s proposed tax increase on high-income Americans won’t close the deficit completely that we shouldn’t do it.  Or, better yet, we should raise taxes on everybody just to teach them a lesson!

Sorry, taxing the rich won’t solve our problems — that’s nothing but fiscal snake oil the president has been selling. He is demanding $1.3 trillion in higher taxes on the wealthy over 10 years. Imagine he got it. We are adding nearly that much to the national debt every single year. Taxing the rich would not put even a minor dent in our debt. It would pay for less than three weeks of federal spending every year. The only way to pay for the current expansion of government is to raise taxes on the middle class.

So let’s do it.

But such arguments have also found a home in the debate about whether or not there should be additional gun control measures should be enacted following Newtown.  Here’s an example of such an argument from the National Review’s Rich Lowry:

How many guns are in the United States? The answer is 280 million. In a country with that many guns, how is gun control possibly going to succeed? If you ban a small subset of new guns for sale, what are you going to do about the rest? Let’s say you succeed beyond anything that is remotely possible. Let’s say you somehow stop the new sale of guns altogether and somehow decommission half of existing guns. What are you going to do with the other 140 million guns?

There are numerous problems with such specious lines of argument.  The first, and most obvious one, is that proponents of such ideas are not and have not suggested that these solutions — be it taxing the rich or banning high-capacity magazines — are complete solutions to the problem.

But these arguments are even more dishonest in another way.  As we’ve discussed before, these sorts of arguments are just other ways of framing the debate to protect entrenched interests at the expense of everyone else.  Thiessen and conservatives may be opposed to Obama’s tax increase on the wealthy, but their proposals are equally (or even more) inadequate in addressing the nation’s fiscal challenges.

For instance, over the last month, Speaker of the House John Boehner has included in his proposals provisions that would change the way inflation benefits are calculated for Social Security recipients and he also proposed increasing the eligibility age for Medicare from 65 to 67.  Combined, these two proposals would reduce the deficit over the next decade by less than Obama’s tax increase on the wealthy.  And, of course, Boehner’s proposals would have very real consequences for the low- and middle-income people impacted by them.  The Social Security change alone would decrease payouts to recipients by 0.3% per year.  After a decade, recipients would have lost 3% of their payouts.  That’s significant, given that 40% of retirees have 90% or more of their income from the program.

Meanwhile, those who oppose any additional gun control measures have thrown nearly anything and everything out to bolster their case.  Just look at the National Rifle Association.  In the 1990s, they called federal law enforcement officers “jack-booted thugs”.  Today, they’re calling for the federal government to fund armed guards in every school in the country.  And, they call for a database of the mentally ill without calling for a database of gun owners to cross-reference it against.  Putting the Second Amendment ahead of the rest, I suppose.

Closer to home, you have state representatives who ignore facts that don’t support their frame of reference.  The notion that the potential presence of an armed individual deters such mass attacks is bogus, even if you ignore the Columbine example.  In recent years, we’ve seen shootings on an Army base and in the state with the least restrictive concealed-carry laws in the nation and on a college campus that had its own police department and SWAT team.  And, just today, inside a police station.

The challenges we face are far too large to be dragged down by reasoning that is so small.  We can have an informed and reasonable debate and talk about a wide variety of solutions without engaging in debate that is intellectually dishonest to its core.  We should expect better of all of our elected representatives.  We may not be able to solve every problem completely, but some progress is better than none.  So let’s get on with it, already.

(Image above is Francisco de Goya’s And There’s Nothing To Be Done, courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, which depicts scenes from the Spanish War of Independence.)


Gun control options are many but solutions are hard to come by

The elementary school massacre in Newton, Conn. Friday is apparently going to prompt actual Congressional debate over potential new gun control measures.  Here’s a look at some of the options you might hear about in the coming weeks, with some pros and cons of each:

  • Firearm registration:  Would require users to register all of their guns with the state.  Would facilitate tracking of guns used in crime, as well as discourage ownership of prohibited weaponry.  Would be relatively easy to avoid, however, and viewed as a serious abridgment of Second Amendment rights.
  • Owner licensing and training:  Would require gun owners and purchasers to be licensed by the state.  Most proposals tie such licensing to requirements for successful completion of a gun safety course including passing a proficiency exam.  Process would likely create additional expense for prospective gun owners.
  • Liability insurance: Would require gun owners to purchase liability insurance that would cover any damages resulting from illegal usage of the weapon.  Presumably, this would discourage the ownership of semi-automatic weapons because insurance rates would be higher.  Would make it much harder for lower-income folks to own firearms.
  • Additional screening:  Would subject current or prospective gun owners to more intensive screening of their criminal and mental health background.  Would likely prevent more people with mental health problems from obtaining weapons, but will never be 100% successful.  Also, could be considered a significant invasion of privacy depending on what steps are involved.
  • Limits on magazine size:  The Bushmaster .223 semi-automatic rifle used by the Connecticut shooter had a detachable magazine that carried 30 rounds.  Some have called for the limit to be as low as six rounds, but most proposals place the number at 10 or 12 rounds as the maximum.  Significant numbers of these large magazines still exist today (and would continue to after a ban), and one could expect a robust black market to develop.
  • Ban on detachable magazines:  Some have called for a ban on detachable magazines altogether, which would require rounds to be loaded by hand instead of the quick change process facilitated by the detachable magazine.  Similar black market issues would exist with this option.
  • Other limits on ammunition sales:  Various options could be in play here, such as limits on the amount or type of ammunition that could be purchased.
  • Bans on certain types of weapons:  Congressional Democrats have already indicated that they will be looking to reinstate the Assault Weapons Ban which expired in 2004 — this legislation primarily impacted semi-automatic rifles with certain military features.  Could be somewhat effective — for instance, the AR-15 used by the Aurora, Colo. movie theater shooter would have been banned by the law had it still been in place.  However, there were legal weapons available that provided essentially the same function.  As with some of the other options, a robust black market would likely exist, unless the U.S. were to undertake an effort like Australia did in the mid-1990s, spending millions to buyback banned weapons.

The key thing to note about all of these options is that there’s no provision here that’s going to be a magic wand.  Guns are and always will be a part of American culture.  Mainstream debate (on both sides of the political aisle) reflect the fact that no one wants to take away the rights of law-abiding Americans to have a firearm for self-defense and hunting.  To reduce the number of tragedies like Newtown or Aurora or Columbine or Virginia Tech is going to require changes across a number of areas of American life — not just or not even primarily changes in gun laws.  It has to reflect that our system for treating folks with mental illness isn’t working.  It has to reflect that there are some things very wrong with our culture.  Bob Costas may have used the wrong platform to talk about it, but we need to rethink our love affair with firearms and begin to treat them with the respect that they deserve.  Ads like this don’t help the process along:

Source:  Bushmaster corporation website

Source: Bushmaster corporation website

Featured image courtesy of the Newtown Bee.

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