The growing consensus around the 2nd Amendment

In the Navy, I was trained to safely use handguns like this one.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision in McDonald v. City of Chicago, ruled that the 2nd Amendment applies to state and local laws, as well as federal laws.  Their decision will likely end the handgun ban in Chicago, two years after a similar law was struck down in the District of Columbia.  The ruling is likely the final blow to gun prohibition in this country as a principle.  However, the ruling was not a free for all for gun rights.  In fact, the decision supported reasonable restrictions on gun rights, enough to make the Brady Campaign President Paul Helmke happy:

‘”The crucial part of the ruling today is that it really is fairly narrow,” noting that the court acknowledged gun-control restrictions that fall short of bans. “The one extreme of handgun bans, total gun bans, that’s off the table now. But they’ve also taken the extreme any gun, anywhere, anybody, anytime–that’s off the table too,” Helmke said.’

Now, advocates of strict gun control point out that 258 Chicago public school students were shot last year.  However, those guns were introduced into the city in the midst of the handgun ban, which begs the question of whether prohibition really works. Certainly, a close look at the ‘War on Drugs’ would show you that the war is being lost.  Looking at guns, what level of restriction is reasonable?  A consensus has grown supporting the 2nd Amendment in this country, so much so that both Sarah Palin and Harry Reid applauded yesterday’s ruling.  In fact, Democrats look to benefit politically from this ruling in November.

However, what about the gun show loophole?  Should potential gun owners be required to undergo a background check before purchasing a weapon?  The loophole, where buyers can get guns from private dealers at gun shows, exists.  The NRA argues that the loophole is a ‘myth:’

“Though Congress specifically has applied the background check requirement to dealers only, and specifically exempted from the dealer licensing requirement persons who occasionally sell guns from their personal collections, gun prohibition activists call this a “loophole.” Gun prohibitionists also falsely claim that many criminals get guns from gun shows; the most recent federal study puts the figure at only 0.7 percent.”

Obviously, there is a conflict between the report from ABC and the NRA legislative wing.  There is no doubt that the NRA would be tickled pink if all gun laws were struck down.  However, the consensus around the 2nd Amendment does not go as far as the NRA fantasizes.  Most people would support reasonable restrictions.

Anyone who has watched the Wire has no illusions about gun restrictions keeping guns away from criminals.  In fact, gun laws are often used as valid charges to arrest criminals by police.  Any gun regulation should make it a sensible process to buy and sell weapons.   However, there should also be enforceable restrictions, requiring background checks, that are reasonable.  Education on gun safety should be part of that restriction.

I grew up in Northwest Pennsylvania, and underwent hunter safety training in middle school.  Guns were very common in that rural community, but it was clear to me at a young age that they were dangerous and needed to be handled the right way.  Later, in the Navy, I was responsible for many weapons, and their safe use.  We conducted lots and lots of training for the folks who had to bear those weapons on watch.  In the Navy, when weapons were taken for granted, the conditions for misuse were created.  That is why training and education are so crucial.

At the end of the day, while some will look at yesterday’s Supreme Court decision as a victory for gun owners and the NRA, I look at it as a reflection of the growing consensus around reasonable restriction.  Like abortion and other emotional issues, there will always be zealots on both sides.  However, as Politico observes, the decision removes those zealots from the decision making process in November.

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Proposition 14 passes, but Lincoln survives.

Corruption in California is Terminated?

Blanche Lincoln managed to survive her primary battle with Bill Halter, but Proposition 14 passed in California:

“Under the new measure, only the top two vote-getters in a primary election — regardless of their political party — will advance to a November runoff. Currently, the top vote-getter in each party advances to the fall campaign.”

As I mentioned yesterday, this system, in Kentucky, would have left Rand Paul out of the November election.  This will make get out the vote operations essential in all counties.  Proposition 14, supported by the Governator, could he his last major political act as Governor.

One note to keep an eye on: California passed a similar measure in 1996, only to have it overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.


Regulatory capture and the question of government

Today it is very fashionable in some circles to blame the federal government for all of our ills.  In that line of thinking, free markets would thrive if we could only loosen the grip of federal and state interference.  Freed from the grasp of interference, Adam Smith’s invisible hand would encourage the good and punish the bad actors, and create a utopian market based society.  Unfortunately, in today’s globalized world, where mega-corporations exercise more power than most states, that view is also naïve.

Critics would say that the government should only do what they claim it is good at, law enforcement and highway paving, and leave all other activities to the free market.  Unfortunately, these fundamentalist capitalists do not understand the true power of mega corporations today.  It is not simply a question of whether a corporation is a person, as the Supreme Court reaffirmed in the Citizens United decision.  It is a matter of super agency.  A close look at the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico is very illuminating, although the recent bank crisis also offers a raft of evidence to spark concern about unchecked power.

A report today in the Sunday Times shows just how far regulatory capture penetrated the various federal agencies responsible for oversight of offshore oil drilling.  Now, just to be clear, critics of the federal government claim that the federal government, if it would only abstain from providing education, regulating health insurance, and other tasks which they deem it to be inefficient, would as a result become outstanding guardians of offshore drilling.  The outstanding reporting of the Times shows otherwise.  It shows that British Petroleum, and the other oil companies, in a market that is not free, but rather amounts to an oligopoly, flexed their political and economic power to write the laws and staff the agencies which would regulate it:

‘“The pace of technology has definitely outrun the regulations,” Lt. Cmdr. Michael Odom of the Coast Guard, at a hearing last month… As a result, deepwater rigs operate under an ad hoc system of exceptions. The deeper the water, the further the exceptions stretch, not just from federal guidelines but also often from company policy.’

When BP set its sights on Mississippi Canyon Block 252, they asked for relaxations from numerous federal regulations, knowing they would receive approval.  They received exemption from a federally mandated environmental review, and from the federal requirement for the blowout preventer valve to be tested at a mandated pressure.  They used equipment that violated even company policy, because the rig was 45 days behind schedule, and BP was paying an expensive lease to TransOcean throughout the delays.  Why did the Minerals Management Service go along with this egregious behavior?  Interior Secretary Ken Salazar knows:

‘The Minerals Management Service, which regulates offshore drilling, went along with these requests partly because the agency has for years had a dual role of both fostering and policing the industry — collecting royalty payments from the drilling companies while also levying fines on them for violations of law.  Its safety inspections usually consist of helicopter visits to offshore rigs to sift through company reports of self-administered tests.  Even Ken Salazar, the interior secretary, who oversees the minerals agency, has said that oil companies have a history of “running the show” at the agency, a problem he has vowed to correct.’

Now that Salazar, and the residents of Louisiana and Florida can plainly see the regulatory capture at work and at fault, will they be able to correct it?  Turning to the banking industry, with all of the influence that Citibank and Goldman Sachs wield, did you think that the impending banking regulation would truly go against their wishes, even after the collapse of the global economy?  What about the tragic explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia?  Sure, America has already largely forgotten that disaster, in which 29 miners died.  Unfortunately, as Arianna Huffington points out, the Mine Safety and Health Administration was similarly captured by Massey Energy and Big Coal:

‘Former Massey COO Stanley Suboleski was appointed to be a commissioner of the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission in 2003 and four years later he was nominated to run the Office of Fossil Energy in the Energy Department. Today, he’s back on Massey’s board. And Massey exec Richard Stickler was made the head of MSHA by President Bush in 2006. Talk about hiring the foxes to guard the hen house.  Massey has also mastered the D.C. art of buying friends in high places. Back in 2000, Massey was responsible for a coal slurry spill in Kentucky that was three times larger than the Exxon Valdez spill. The company very successfully limited the damage — not to the environment, but to its bottom line. Once Elaine Chao, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell’s wife, became Secretary of Labor, which oversees the MSHA, she, according to Jack Spadaro, an MSHA engineer investigating the spill, put on the brakes. Two years later, Massey was assessed a slap-on-the-wrist $5,600 fine. The same year, Massey’s PAC donated $100,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which was chaired by McConnell. And Massey’s CEO Don Blankenship has personally donated millions to the campaigns of judges and politicians.’

To those denizens of the Tea Party and Libertarians who hunger for the diminishment of the federal government, be careful what you wish for.  BP was concerned only with its bottom line, not that of the residents of Louisiana.  Regulation is gamed today; in the utopia imagined by some critics, there would simply be no checks on mega-corporations like BP.  Their bottom line would be the only bottom line.  Citizens United was only the beginning.