Driving home tonight I heard a radio story about efforts by gun rights group to “make sure” that “we” don’t overreact and over regulate gun shops and gun sales. And so, I decided to blog about it.
I know I haven’t written in a while – the combination of the bar exam, a new job and a pregnant wife. All good things. And meanwhile, I thought I was missing out on commenting on this political story or that one. On the election. Over before it started. On the fiscal cliff. But as momma always says, if you don’t have anything nice to say…
And then…Newtown, Connecticut.
Even though I felt compelled to write, I couldn’t. It would have been a bad idea. For starters, it hit really close to home. Because we live about 15 minutes away from Newtown, almost everyone in our area had a connection to those taken at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It was a bittersweet day. A friend and co-worker’s daughter (a 3rd grader) was hidden by her gym teacher and survived the assault. Our dear friends lost their nephew (a first grader). So, it was not a good idea to enter the public discourse.
I think I’m passed that. I think I have something different to say that is not reactionary and (hopefully) not personal.
Back to that NPR story and the idea that we need to “be careful” to avoid the over regulation of gun sales. I’m going to expand the idea (slightly) simply to make a point. It’s a market. A market that sells legitimate sporting guns, semi-legitimate recreational guns and illegitimate assault weapons. We left regulation up to the market. Minimal regulation based in a constitutional right, but nonetheless we committed to minimal market regulation. And the market failed.
The market failed to self regulate. The market failed to work. Supply and demand is way off. It’s laughable to me that after a major market failure, the market participants have the nerve to caution the rest of us about knee-jerk reactions and the “ignorance” of supporting gun control.
Well, I have bad news for you. This is the world we live in. And there is no turning back. Ask Ron Paul. As much as we want the libertarian world of personal freedoms and strict consequences for violating others’ rights, all we can do is influence the status quo. The behemoth is lurching forward. Practically speaking, we work within the system we’re given. There is no revolution.
In this system, when market actors prove that the market cannot regulate itself or the failure is so severe that the survival of a class or economy of people depends on emergency funding, the government steps in. We might not like it, but its reality.
Crude oil tankers. Autos. Investment banks. 19th Century steel mills.
Did the government solve everything? No. Of course, not. But the government made a difference. Government acted when no one else would (or could). Regulation comes in two forms and both are reactive (but only one is retaliatory). The first is emergency stimulus-style spending that aids an entire industry. The second is Dodd-Frank style oversight that penetrates an entire industry (for better or worse).
Either way, it is a reaction to a crisis. And we have a crisis. Gun violence.
The gun industry has proven that it lost control.
Tucson. Aurora. Newtown. Webster.
After a “market crash” like this, there will always be increased regulation. The NRA (read, all pro-gun lobbyists), the Second Amendment Foundation, common sense American sportsmen and even the (slightly misinterpreted) Second Amendment itself are not enough to stop the tide. The financial industry, the true market (itself), could not win a deregulation argument in the face of a breach of the public trust.
This is not a liberal agenda. This is the world we live in. In the days after the Newtown elementary school shooting, I heard more than one commentator (and some friends) claim that we live in a violent world and nothing we can regulate will stop true evil. This claim – there is no stopping truly determined child killers – is true (in some sense) but is disingenuous. We can slow them down, we can make their “goal” much more difficult. Likewise, I would say, this is the world we live in. The government is going to get involved in industries that cause (or at least don’t stop) major crises. There’s nothing we can do. This is the price of major societal failure.
We do not have to wait to decide what to do about guns. We don’t have allow a “cooling off” period. There was no cooling off period as GM was going out of business. There was no cooling off period during the bank bailouts and Dodd-Frank negotiations. And there is no cooling off period today. (And by the by, when is the last time cooling off worked?)
I know the response to this idea is going to be some variation on “two wrongs don’t make a right.” Government overregulation in one market doesn’t justify the same in another. I disagree. This. Is. What. We. Do.
Like it or not, the only legitimate response we have is to add layers of bureaucracy. Make it more difficult to evade background checks. Make it harder to get a gun. How? Paperwork. Our answer to everything.
Some people (members of the NRA) don’t believe in a world where background checks and government systems can keep the mentally ill from obtaining dangerous firearms. Some people (many people who aren’t members of the NRA) don’t believe in a world where good guys with guns have safe, successful shootouts with bad guys with guns and no one except the bad guy gets hurt. So, if I had to err on the side of one imaginary world or the other, I’ll take my chances with government regulation.
We had a major failure, we have a crisis and now we will get government involvement in the market. If you didn’t want the government to get involved, everyone should have done a better job when they (we) had the chance. Now, it’s too late.
And our only savior is a good guy with paperwork (sorry, I couldn’t resist).