Archive for December, 2012

Getting Past the Talking Points on Guns Reveals Much Common Ground

Posted in Uncategorized on December 15, 2012 by thebluebros

I don’t want to write about guns again. And I really don’t want to write about school shootings. I had a really sexy piece all ready to go on tax policy, but the fiscal cliff and the banter between Obama and Boehner seem so insignificant this weekend following the tragic events that occurred on Friday in Connecticut.

I am a person difficult to rattle, but the school shooting in Connecticut rattled me. Maybe it is because I have three young children, or maybe because my wife was working one mile from the last mass shooting a few days ago, or maybe because of frequency with which we are now dealing with mass shootings, or because of the body count, or some combination of these things. For whatever reason(s), I am rattled, and more than a little upset that I hear no one in any position of leadership offering up ideas of what can be done to at least reduce the number of mass shootings Americans face.

As I sift through the slog of Facebook posts on the subject, it occurred to me there is a lot of agreement over what can and should be done. I made this realization from two comment threads I was involved in on Friday. Both comment threads began with gun advocates and gun control advocates unfairly characterizing the other side’s beliefs. The gun advocates falsely claimed the other side wanted to take their guns away, and the gun control advocates falsely claimed gun owners were unreasonable, irresponsible, and wanted to arm school children. For those who had the stomach to stick around, however, something really interesting happened as these conversations progressed and people started to actually communicate as opposed to repeating mindless slogans.  Gun control advocates began to propose specific solutions (as opposed to saying “WE NEED MORE GUN CONTROL!”) and common ground began to emerge.

In one conversation, I witnessed an adamant gun-rights advocate agree that he would be open to the following new gun laws: (1) requiring background checks for all people buying guns; (2) mental health evaluations for people buying guns; and (3) requiring safety classes for any person purchasing a gun. It astonished me to hear him say this because for so long I assumed he took the NRA’s hard line of accepting NO gun legislation. In the second conversation, the original poster had posted that we should not use this tragedy to pass any more gun laws. When pressed, however, she clarified that when she said we did not need any more gun laws, what she really meant was that we shouldn’t ban the owning of or use of guns. In fact, she even went so far as to say she was open to new laws that would put into place background checks on gun sales and creating a gun registry.

What these conversations show is that the vast majority of people of every political leaning recognize that there are things we can do to better regulate guns in a way that can reduce the number of these senseless shootings without significantly impacting the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Many of those regulations have already been discussed here (e.g., background checks, mental health assessments, gun registries, trigger locks, training classes, etc.). No one expects better gun regulations to end all gun deaths, but they can significantly reduce them.

The push for better gun laws is not to imply that guns are the sole cause of these mass shootings. Obviously there are other factors at play such as mental illness, availability of medical treatment, culture of violence, etc., and we need to focus on the role each play. With that said, the existence of many factors is not a reason to do nothing. We can debate whether guns are a major or minor contributor to these incidents, but one cannot reasonably argue they play no factor. For that reason, action is required. Furthermore, these gun control laws would not be written in stone. If they proved ineffectual or placed too high a burden on responsible gun owners, then we could reevaluate them and adjust, alter, or repeal them where it makes sense (we did end the assault weapons ban so we know its possible to repeal laws). Until we try something, however, we will not know what works and what does not work. And we know if we do nothing we will continue to see more of these shootings and that is something I think we can all agree is unacceptable.

The last thing I will say on this issue is that true gun worshippers who oppose any type of gun regulations ought to be careful of their unequivocating opposition to common sense gun legislation. By coming to the table and talking, gun rights advocates could have a say in what is done. If they continue to scream from the sidelines that nothing should be done, there could end up being a lot more done than gun advocates ever dreamed. If nothing else, these shootings are outraging people in a way I have never seen before. For the first time ever, I heard a person today advocate for the banning of all guns, and I have heard from countless others who I have never heard speak out on any political issue suddenly calling for gun legislation. People are reaching their limits of what they will tolerate in the name of the 2nd Amendment and a critical mass is being reached.  We can do something to alleviate this problem, and it’s high time our leaders helped us bridge the ideological gap that is not as large as the NRA would have us believe.

– Dylan

The Fiscal Cliff: The Lesser of Two Evils

Posted in Uncategorized on December 13, 2012 by thebluebros

Since the election more than a month ago the political issue dominating headlines has been the pending fiscal cliff. Both sides continue to stress the importance of negotiation, and both sides claim that their path is the fiscally responsibility one. The Democrats stress the importance of cutting the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% while keeping the Bush tax cuts in place for everyone else; and making modest spending cuts to the budget. The Republicans say the Bush tax cuts should continue for everyone and that the budget can be trimmed by limiting tax deductions and making cuts to entitlement programs as well as discretionary spending. Meanwhile, others say that falling off the cliff is exactly what this country needs in that a fall off a cliff will force the country’s hand towards achieving fiscal responsibility.

 

Unfortunately, all of these plans are flawed in that none of them balance the budget. In every scenario, we are left with a budget deficit, meaning that with each passing year, our debt will increase. Both sides purport that the economy will eventually improve and that when it does, increased revenue (i.e. tax dollars) will be added to the budget, thus balancing things out and perhaps even creating a surplus. This is of course speculative. Both proposed budget plans fall short of actually balancing the budget, and both plans rely on projected revenues to balance things out in the future. So they both stink. That’s not to say, however, that each plan stinks equally.

 

The “plan” put forth by Republicans isn’t really a plan at all. It’s vague, pie in the sky conjecture. It’s essentially meaningless. Its singular goal is to provide the illusion that the Republicans have a plan. The only thing it specifically lays out is that it will raise the Medicare eligibility age from 65 to 67. The plan proposes significant cuts to discretionary spending but offers zero information on where those cuts will happen or who will be affected. Most Americans don’t know what goes into discretionary spending, but they become much more concerned when they learn that discretionary spending funds things like Veteran’s Affairs, the EPA, the Department of Homeland Security, all government-funded scientific research, and countless other crucial programs. The Republicans also propose eliminating certain tax deductions which they claim will not affect the middle class, but their plan does not detail which deductions are on the chopping block or how eliminating these deductions will somehow leave the middle class unscathed.

 

One cannot help but see the similarities between the Republican fiscal-cliff proposal and Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. Both plans claim to be bold and effective, but both plans fail to balance the budget for decades; rely on robust, best-case-scenario-type economies; and leave a lot of unanswered questions as to what programs and tax deductions will be cut. From the Republican budget plans we’ve seen so far, we can assume two things: (1) The Republicans don’t actually care about fiscal responsibility and (2) Their fiscal vision is so inconsistent with the values of every-day Americans that they choose to reveal as little as possible because widespread dissemination of the details would spell certain disaster for the Republicans in the court of public opinion and eventually the voting booth.

 

Obama’s plan to avoid falling off the fiscal cliff is far from perfect, but it does one important thing. It presents a clear, very specific plan. The Bush tax cuts will expire for the top 2%, and $4 trillion will be saved over 10 years by reducing spending on Medicare, a proposal that Obama talked about in detail at the debates. Opponents of Obama’s plan on the right and left certainly have valid criticisms of the plan (e.g., doesn’t provide enough stimulus; fails to make easy cuts to defense despite the winding down of two wars; does not provide a rapid-enough plan to reach a balanced budget). With that said, Obama, can take pride in stating that his plan does suck less than the Republican’s make-believe plan.

 

– Nathan

Bob Costas’ Hope for a Thoughtful Dialogue on Guns Ignores Reality

Posted in Uncategorized on December 4, 2012 by thebluebros

There is a lot to like about Bob Costas. He is a huge baseball fan; he does great interviews; he is a straight shooter; and he was in the movie Baseketball (scenes of him can be seen here and here—not sure how Trey Parker and Matt Stone got him to say some of that stuff). But this past Sunday, Mr. Costas went to a place I hadn’t seen him go before. He took a very strong position on guns before an audience not looking to hear a political message and an audience that includes many people likely hostile to such a view. For those of you who have not yet seen the video, it can be seen below:

Costas did something unheard of. He spoke rationally about guns. That is something that is just not done in the United States by anyone with a big microphone. On the rare occasion it does occur, it gets a lot of attention, as Bob Costas has (and while I believe there is some merit to the criticism that Mr. Costas chose an inappropriate forum to state his position, that will not be the subject of this article).

There can be little question that America’s gun culture combined with its lack of meaningful gun regulation is a terrible and deadly combination. The United States leads all developed nations in gun ownership and gun-related injuries. Despite the clear correlation between the number of guns and the number of gun-related injuries, gun rights advocates scream that more guns mean a safer citizenry. They never explain, however, why countries with much fewer guns have much lower rates of gun deaths than the United States: Canada’s rate is not even half of the United States’.  Australia’s rate of gun deaths is not even a third. Italy’s rate is ten times lower than the United States’. And Japan’s gun death rate is 146 times lower than that of the United States.

For the last several years, the United States has averaged about 100,000 gun-related injuries, and about one-third of those result in deaths. This is actually an improvement from 20 and 30 years ago (an improvement due in large part to our shift towards much longer prison sentences for violent criminals). There is also compelling evidence that a majority of these deaths and injuries would not have occurred had the perpetrator not had access to a gun. In other words, a gunman does not necessarily become a knifeman or poisonman if a gun is not available. Often times the gunman will just not commit the violent act, which supports Costas’ statement that without a gun being available, there is a very good chance Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend would be alive today.

No one is safe from our culture of gun violence. There have been 11 attempts to assassinate our presidents with the use of a gun, and four of those have been successful. To put it another way, more than 20% of our presidents have experienced attempts on their lives by gunmen, and our presidents have an assassination rate of 9% (13% over the past 150 years).

Despite the irrefutable evidence that our nation has a serious gun problem, we are paralyzed into inaction. This remains true even after the recent spate of gun-related tragedies caused an uptick in the number of Americans supporting strengthened gun laws. Nothing has been done, and nothing will be done. Many people blame Democrats for not having the courage to stand up to the NRA and gun manufacturers, but I can’t blame Democrats. Gun control will, for the foreseeable future, if not forever, be a losing issue for any candidate who takes up its mantle. The reason for this is that gun control is one of those few issues that produce “single-issue” voters, and all of the single-issue voters are on the pro-gun side of the gun issue.

Having grown up in a rural area, and continuing to know gun enthusiasts, I know first-hand just how important guns are for so many people. I cannot explain it. It is like a religion for many. I hate to judge anyone’s passions, but for many I know it borders on obsession or addiction. You want to see how rabid these people are, view the Bob Costas YouTube link above and read the comments. The hatred and vitriol against Costas is off the charts, and I bet those ugly comments were written by people who—when not talking about guns—are kind, respectful, and thoughtful individuals. These gun enthusiasts would vote against their own mother if she even suggested that requiring trigger locks was a good idea or that perhaps we should close the gun show loophole.

On the other side you have people like me, who—even though I do own a handgun—support reasonable gun laws, but would never vote for or against a candidate solely on the issue of guns. In fact, the issue of guns is so far down my political priority list that it is difficult for me to even envision it breaking a tie between two comparable candidates.

So what is the consequence of a political world that pits a small group of rabid gun worshippers who will vote against any politician who mouths the words “gun control” versus a large group of voters who support increased gun laws, but cast their votes based on a wide array of other issues deemed more important than guns? It creates a political culture where elected leaders realize that supporting gun laws can only cost them votes.

This political reality clarifies just how ridiculous those claims were back in 2008 when people thought Obama would come after people’s guns and their ammunition. Anyone with any political acumen knew this would never happen. Lo and behold, the only bill signed into law by President Obama relating to guns was a bill expanding gun rights. Specifically, Obama signed a bill that allows citizens to carry guns into national parks (an illegal act under George W. Bush). I am still waiting for these people to admit they may have been wrong about Obama coming for their guns.

With this political climate hostile to any hope of meaningful change with regard to our nation’s ineffectual gun laws, I worry about my friend Bob Costas. I respect him for taking a principled stand on something he believed in, but I certainly question the issue on which he chose to speak. There is likely no issue that could have cost him more fans without gaining him any. Costas is a good human being, but a lousy politician.

– Dylan