Thursday, December 27, 2012

My Pragmatic Plan for Gun Control

It goes without saying that whatever resolution Congress comes up with on the issue of gun will be so convoluted as to be rendered inconsequential.  I have no doubt that the final bill will complex and filled with “exceptions.” Every special interest- on either side of the issue- will have to be satiated and every member of Congress will have to be able to claim “victory” to their respective constituencies. What is so frustrating is that crafting a bill that is respectful to gun enthusiasts worried about the “slippery slope,” and gun control advocates demanding stronger limitations on access is actually feasible, avoiding the aforementioned contrivances.

As I have argued in posting after posting, the majority of Americans demand pragmatism from its leaders; they want something that is easy to grasp, enforceable, and reasonable in its scope. With this in mind, I would like to suggest such a plan:

1)      Background checks specifically designed to weed out those with a history of mental illness. This is more difficult than one might think, since our HIPPA laws limit access to an individual’s medical records and history. It seems that the only way to approach this is to simply broaden the type of purchases that require background checks, and to possibly create a list of criminal behaviors that are indicative of someone with “instability,” using this as a “red flag” to restrict purchases.

2)      Limits on the size of magazines and limits on the number of automatic weapons that any individual may purchase in a given time frame. I would personally prefer a ban on all automatic weapon purchases, but this will certainly delay passage of any legislation and rekindle the “slippery slope” debate.

3)      A national gun “buy back” program modeled on the program recently run in Australia. The program could be run by government at local levels, many of which have already run such programs in their own cities and suburban communities. The current buy back in Los Angeles has shown great success. Rather than provoke those concerned with “big brother” taking away “our” guns, give individuals an incentive to turn in some or all of their weapons.

4)      Use moral suasion in much the same way that we have approached issues like drug use and drunk driving. Aggressively challenge the “no snitching” mentality that dominates inner city neighborhoods and construct a message to dissuade people from feeling the need to own a gun, or at the very least own their own arsenal of guns.  Make people aware of statistics associated with gun ownership and gun violence, statistics that demonstrate who are the real victims of gun use. And take the issue of moral suasion into the business and entertainment industries, reminding business executives that they are parents too. Confront those that glamorize violence and try to actually trigger a sense of shame in adults that profit from the excesses of gun violence. This moral message should also be constructed towards children and young adults that revel in the violence of popular video games. It is imperative that we try to influence the next generation of possible gun purchasers.

5)      Although hampered by free rider issues, encourage and support community watch programs so that people don’t feel the urgent need to defend themselves. Tie these programs to community policing policies like those that have been developed as part of a “broken windows” approach to police work.

6)      Provide funding for schools that want to study ways to improve their security, and funding to support reasonable strategies to do so. On this issue Wayne LaPierre is correct; we have a duty to do more to make our schools safe. I do not support arming teachers or administrators, but as a former teacher I can tell you from experience that much can be done to make schools more secure.

7)      And finally, require all gun owners to take out insurance on each of their weapons. Every car owner in New Jersey, and I assume in the nation, is required to have liability insurance, assuming the risk for any injuries that a “victim” may incur. The NRA already offers such insurance to its members; such a program should now be expanded and required of all gun owners.

In much the same way we approach First Amendment issues, restrictions on gun ownership should be structured around the lenses of “time, place, and manner.” For those demanding a more aggressive and forceful approach, this plan will probably be a letdown. But we do need to remember that gun ownership is a constitutionally protected right, and so restrictions on this right must carry a presumption towards personal liberty.

It is going to be a fool’s mission to think that we can craft a bill to stop the next mass murderer, but there is much we can do to end America’s “love affair” with guns and prurient love of gun related violence, especially violence in the name of entertainment. I wouldn’t doubt that some people actually derive some sort of sexual gratification from owning and firing a weapon. For whatever reason, American is awash in guns, and it would be the height of irresponsibility for our political leaders to act impotent. Take away guns where we can, use guilt, shame, incentives, and a stronger sense of community to lessen the demand for guns, do a better job enforcing laws and protecting fellow citizens,  make guns less “sexy,” and make gun owners more accountable for  actions taken with the weapons they own.  Taken together, the “Brown Plan” is a pragmatic approach to gun ownership and gun violence, and pragmatism is the key. Americans don’t need “holier than thou” speeches, and they don’t need to have the fears of Big Brother unnecessarily stoked. They need solutions, and this is one that will work.


Friday, December 21, 2012

A Conversation with James Madison

Imagine sitting in front of the TV with James Madison (who miraculously reappeared in modern times) the day after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary.

“My G-d,” exclaimed Madison, “I can’t believe the horrible things that men continue to do to their fellow man, and to kill children, this is an unspeakable horror.”
“I agree,” declared the host, “to kill so many children so quickly and shamelessly is an act of pure evil.”

“But how was this act carried out?” Madison wondered, “What kind of weapon was used?”
“It was a Bushmaster AK-47 automatic rifle, “ I responded as I took my cell phone from my pocket and logged onto You Tube. “If you take a look at this ‘picture box’ you can see how it works.”

I let Madison view the You Tube demonstration of the automatic weapon in action at a shooting range.
“That is a rifle?” Madison questioned. “But it shoots so many bullets so quickly. Why do you allow people to own such destructive weapons?”
“Well,” I answered, “People are allowed to buy these weapons because of the Second Amendment that you wrote in the Bill of Rights.”

“Are you freaking insane?” Madison shouted. “Are you modern people nuts?”
Enough said.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Role for Average Citizens on Gun Task Force

President Obama predictably called for the establishment of a Task Force to study the issue of gun crime, including obvious ancillary issues like mental health care and access to weapons.

The Task Force, to be chaired by the Vice-Presiden,  will undoubtedly include a variety of politicians and public policy experts with a broad base of knowledge on the issue(s). The panelists will of course cut across the political spectrum, including libertarians, conservatives, liberals, and some moderates. Of course, regardless of an individual's political leanings, the most important issue is whether the participants can set aside ideology once the hard work of constructing a viable pubilc policy recommendation is made. More important than broad ideological involvement is the need for pragmatism.

It has always been my position that the vast number of American citizens are "ideologically" pragmatic, and that pragmatism is truly the dominant ideology in our nation. Americans don't "swing" conservative or liberal, they gravitate to the Party that presents the most pragmatic public policy. Indeed, the current trend towards the Democratic Party does not represent a shift in thinking to a more liberal view, but instead represents the fact that Republicans have failed to offer any perceived pragmatic solutions to contemporary issue.

In addition to this need for pragmatism among the politicans and "experts," I believe that it is time for our "transformational" leader to do something truly transformative and include the general public in the Task Force.There is absolutely no reason that average American citizens cannot participate. Not only would there inclusion represent a true desire to give citizens a voice, but it would help insure greater transparency in the process.

There is no reason why a computer cannot select average Americans and see if they are interested in participating. If more citizens are desired, then maybe we should consider empowering a second Task Force that will directly represent public views. A survey can be used to insure the inclusion of diverse viewpoints, and a proven leader can be found to guide the Task Force.

I don't know about you, but I would be extremely interested in seeing what kind of solutions a "public task force" would come up with compared to theTask Force of experts.

The inclusion of average citizens in the policy making process would be a truly transformational act by our President. I implore him to consider seeking out and including average voters in this Task Force and any future task force empowered to constuct new public policy. Its time to make our democracy a bit more democratic, and this would be a wonderful step in the right direction.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Undemocratic Supermajorities

I am absolutely flabbergasted with the use of so-called supermajorities for the passage of "important" legislation in the Senate. It absolutely flies in the face of the traditional notion that our government is run on the basis of simple majority rule.

Please explain to me why some legislation should require 60 votes to pass? The inordinate power that this gives to the minority to thwart legislation is completely without justification.

This shift in the balance of power to favor minority views is a slap in the face to our founding fathers.

The efficiency it creates and the requisite deal making it  engenders  no doubt contributes to the already horrible opinion the public already has for our Congress.

This is tantamount to a legislative filibuster, causing endless delays in a body already known for its indecisiveness and rancor.

I have poured over the writings of our founding fathers and no where have I found the belief that's 41 percent opposition rather than 51 percent opposition is sufficient to strike down lelegislation.

This is a travesty that must be stopped.

Monday, December 3, 2012

End Use of the Word "Entitlement"

In political discourse, the choice of certain words can weigh heavily on the tenor of debate. Words like "death tax" and "job creators" create imagery that necessarily affects perspective. Controlling the language of political debate allows one to influence public opinion and from that, policy choices.

Nowhere is word choice more important than in the current budget debate. Republicans are putting pressure on Democrats to make important concessions on entitlements. Now I'm not saying that entitlement programs aren't  in need of reform, but I am adamant that reductions in funding to program participants is absolutely wrong in this current economic environment. The Bush tax cuts created the most egregious redistribution of income in our lifetime.

In order to help deflect pressure to decimate these programs I implore the Democrats to begin referring to entitlements as "earned benefits," because quite frankly that is what most of those programs represent.

In the same way that the word mandate negatively impacted Obama's health care program, many Americans tend to recoil at the notion that people feel entitled to something because it strongly suggests that they are getting something for nothing, and that is just not the case.

It's Democrats are ever going to gather the support they need to sustain these programs, they need to control the language of debate. Calling these programs what they actually are, earned benefits, will put Republicans on the defensive and help the majority of Americans who ever come to depend on these services in times of need.