Saturday, March 30, 2013

a political take on equality

  I would have at one point been convinced that one of the core separations between Republicans and Democrats is their perception of equality.

  In my view, Republicans seek equality under the law, and there are many examples of this in practice.  A flat tax, often pressed by conservative pundits, treats all citizens equally in terms of responsibility to bear the burden of government programs.  Affirmative action in schools and business are to be shunned, not because Republicans are against racial equality, but because they see that equality expressed in a meritocracy, where employers and schools will want the best students to attend their universities.  They believe social programs like welfare must be shrunk to the minimum safety net, in part because it constructs a false class hierarchy of those who should provide for others, and those who should be provided to, rather than individualism that advocates equal opportunity, and equal consequences.

  It seems to me that Democrats, on the other hand, seek a practical equality in the world.  They see deck is stacked from birth.  Income inequality is the great impediment to practical equality in our country, and social programs that seek to restore a balance in wealth for the poor should be paid for by the excess of the extraordinarily wealthy.  They see affirmative action as necessary because institutional racism prevents practical equality.

  This interpretation of views on equality doesn't quite fit into the context of the current debate over gay marriage.  I wonder what the debate would look like if it did?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Gun Control

Gun control legislation is just on the horizon.  Will any significant change make it through congress?  It is hard to say...  Powerful lobbies like the NRA are throwing their full weight into defeating any new laws that might crop up.  I find myself having mixed feelings about gun legislation.  I have never owned a gun, and probably never will.  Guns are incredibly dangerous, and due diligence should be done to make sure gun owners are sufficiently capable of handling guns responsibly.  We make teens take drivers education classes, and only allow them to drive with an adult supervisor for something like 500 hours.  We make barbers take nearly 2000 hours of classes before they can cut hair.  To get a gun?  As long as you have the money, there is a legal way to get it.  That is a scary prospect.

And yet, I find myself coming back to the arguments against much of the proposed legislation, and find it more compelling.  There is a striking amount of fear mongering and sheer ignorance that goes into pushing these controls.  Many people hear "assault weapon ban", and think they are talking about banning machine guns.  Semi-automatic weapons must be m-16s, not handguns, right?  Wrong.  Automatic weapons are already banned.  Most hand guns are semi automatic.  Deaths are misrepresented as murders, when in fact, most deaths are suicide (another issue that I have mixed feelings on), and many are accidental.  Right now, the FBI has told us 323 people were murdered by rifles in 2011.  Is that really a good enough reason to take away someones rights?  Consider, 34,367 people were killed by cars.  More than 34000 more!    That seems like a much larger safety risk to the public.  More than 728 murdered by "hands and feet".  Does that number keep you up at night?  Probably not.

Then consider the effectiveness of the laws being proposed.  The reality is that handguns are far more dangerous in society.  They are easy to conceal, and account for the majority of gun deaths.  But the legislation seems to be focused on which guns look scariest, not which guns are most responsible for gun violence.  I looked through the restrictions proposed by Senator Feinstein, and just scratch my head at the lack of common sense.  Banning weapons that have a pistol grip, a detachable stock, or a forward grip.  How does that make a weapon more dangerous?  I've seen no quantitative evidence that makes a compelling case for these restrictions.  As far as I can tell, these restrictions produce a set of weapons that looks scary, and could shake the confidence of the voting public.  Nothing more.

 Perhaps the biggest concern I have is that gun rights are enshrined in the very document that protects us from government intrusion into our basic rights.  People often argue that the 2nd Amendment is a relic, meant for times when people needed guns in their daily life just to survive.   But there were other reasons, first most in my opinion, giving the people a means to check tyranny.  I watch power endlessly being channeled into the institution of the presidency, and I think it could only be a matter of time before someone comes along and tries to consolidate it for themselves.  It has happened in democracies like Venezuela with Hugo Chavez, Russia with Vladimir Putin, and once upon a time, democratic elections in Germany elected Adolf Hitler.  I have a hard time looking at the Arab Spring, watching defenseless civilians slaughtered by their own government, and thinking that these people are in a better position to stop tyranny without guns.

Perhaps more importantly, what does it mean if we chip away at our common principals, the lines in the sand we claim the government can't cross.  It is awfully hard to deny that the 2nd Amendment explicitly says the government can't deny the right to bare arms.  If I argue that a fluid constitution should be interpreted through the lens of modern times, what happens when the next guy tries to do the same thing with the 1st Amendment?  To me, its more important that we prevent the erosion of our cherished principals, even if it carries a high price.  We've sent hundreds of thousands of men to fight and die around the world for this reason, always because it means that much to us.  If ever we were to strictly limit weapons, I'd insist it would start with modifying the constitution.

So I circle back to the beginning.  I still truly have mixed feeling about gun control.  But the gimmicks put forward by congress aren't really about making us safer, and come with a high cost to our rights.  I would support an effort to revoke the 2nd Amendment BEFORE passing comprehensive gun control legislation.  I would support a reasoned debate, not based on fear mongering, but on a quantitative analysis of the costs to our freedoms vs the benefits.  I want all gun owners to be responsible and well trained.  This is the kind of action I want to see.  Not the theater we instead get.