I’ve not written about the tragedy in Aurora, CO. It is, at first blush, out of my lane here at OTE, and it is such a viscerally wrenching event that it seems out of place among posts on price movements and Spanish bond yields.
But I’m having trouble getting it out of my head, and one of the reasons has a lot to do with two central themes of this blog: market failure and government failure.
I have, for example, consistently stressed the role of government policy to offset market failures, or “externalities,” such as the safety net or jobs programs in recesssions, or investments in R&D that are beyond the scope of private firms (e.g., the internet or advanced battery technology).
These are externalities that affect our economic lives but what about those that affect our personal lives, such as public safety? If we cannot safety visit public venues, like movie theaters…if we, as parents, have to worry about the real, even if rare, possibility that our kids could be fatally attacked by a murderous, pathological person who’s armed to the teeth, is this not too a societal failure?
And if politicians are unwilling to address this existential threat, is that not a government failure? More assuredly, it is.
So, where does that leave us? The gun lobby argues that the answer is to take matters into our own hands and arm ourselves against such events, as their rep did on the Diane Rehm Show yesterday (I didn’t hear the whole show, but this sounded like a good debate worth listening to).
But for most of us, that doesn’t solve the problem of public safety. In my terminology, it’s a YOYO solution (you’re-on-your-own) to a systemic problem. And when you’re dealing with a systems problem, YOYO solutions are unreliable: basically, if you choose not to carry, and many of us will make that choice, you have to hope that a well-trained marksperson is there when you need him or her. In matters of life and death, that is foolish public policy.
So what are the systems solutions given the second amendment? Perhaps they are the kinds of ideas in this oped, like:
…restrictions on the purchase of large volumes of ammunition. Who, besides a soldier in battle or a policeman in a siege, needs 6,300 rounds, or a 100-round “drum” magazine like the one in Mr. Holmes’s AR-15 — a modified semiautomatic version of the military full-automatic M-16 — that allowed it to fire as fast as his finger could squeeze the trigger?
(The online ads for drum magazines make one’s skin crawl. On a site called Woot! a 100-round magazine was advertised for $99.95: “Just the ticket, should things really heat up and the lead needs to fly. Of course, this means less time spent reloading, and more time for shooting as fast as you can pull the trigger.”)
When such purchases are made online, software could easily trigger an electronic tripwire signaling that a private individual is stockpiling an army’s worth of ordnance. Yes, that invokes privacy issues but it’s a tradeoff that most of us would probably be willing to make.
In this spirit, one of the first things I read after the tragedy that made sense to me was from Mayor Bloomberg, who said this on the morning after the attack:
Soothing words are nice. But maybe it’s time that the two people who want to be President of the United States stand up and tell us what they’re gonna do about it.
Given that their goal is to get elected, I understand the resistance to a full-on challenge of the gun lobby, though even as I write that I have a sickening feeling that I’ve sacrificed sanity for some freakish version of contemporary reality. But to fail to address any dimensions of the policy failures and stop with sympathy and flags at half-mast is unacceptable.
And as long as we’re talking about existential policy failures, feel free to swap out “climate change” in place of “public safety” above. There too, the anti-environment lobby has smothered the opposition such that even as record heat waves, wildfires, drought, spiking crop prices, and “derechos,” wreak havoc, we largely get “nothing to see here folks…move along” from the policy process.
So look, all’s I’m saying here is that you don’t have to get wound up in constitutional debates* or social justice or even common sense (God forbid!) to make the case for some action here. You just have to believe that there is a role for public policy to insure the safety of its citizens from unreasonable threats as we go about our lives. Maybe I’m nuts, but that sounds like a very low bar that even the least courageous policy maker should be able to get over.
OK, back to bond yields…
*Though, if we must debate the framers’ intentions re the 2nd amendment, why not be strict constitutionalists? It’s not their fault that they couldn’t envision the evolution of weaponry…if they could have, they might well have seen this differently (a guy on the D Rehm show was excellent on the 2nd amendment debate). Thus, if you want to “bear arms,” as is your right, you can bear a musket — that’s it.