The high bar

Imagine if we said that seat belts were not going to prevent all auto related deaths so we did not make them mandatory.  Imagine if we did not have drunk driving laws because some people are going to drink and drive anyway.  Imagine if we did not have any screening of bags at the airport because someone with bad intentions will eventually get something through anyway.  Imagine the same examples for texting and driving, lead paint, leaded fuel, athletic protective gear, and so on…. One of core goals we have as a society is the preservation of life and the advances in safety we have made have been towards that end.  We learn, we adapt, and we evolve.

When it comes to climate change mitigation discussions and gun violence prevention discussions; a quick argument that is frequently made against taking any action, is that it will not be 100% effective.  Why move away from fossil fuels if the sea level is going to rise anyway from all of the carbon already in the atmosphere?  Why impose any changes to gun purchasing because if a bad person wants to get a gun they will find a way?  Setting the bar to 100% is unreasonable and is an invalid position.  As humans we constantly reside in the gray and that is a perfectly acceptable place to be, things are rarely simplistic enough to be black and white. 

Imagine if transitioning to cleaner energy sources could minimize future environmental disasters or if modified gun legislation could prevent one mass school shooting, would it then be worth it?  How many lives does a change need to save to be worth it?  I do not think any reasonable person would say 100% but yet that is quickly the unreasonable standard that is set in these discussions.  I am encouraged with the 70 members (35R / 35D) of the Climate Solutions Caucus and the direction their dialog is going as their group continues to grow.  I am encouraged by some of the recent town hall style discussions taking place on how to better ensure the safety of our children at school; as I recently mentioned, having a dialogue is a critical part of the equation.  Now the next step is to determine what success looks like and agreeing that there is room for compromise in the answer.  The consequences of inaction are too great.

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The necessity of dialogue

Today the front page news is once again pictures of shocked and grief stricken family members trying to cope with the loss of loved ones due to a mass shooting. It seems unlikely that anything meaningful is going to change to improve these situations. Sure, we pass referendums and watch our local school entrances get fortified, we can constantly be aware of our surroundings like Jason Bourne, and we can buy Kevlar inserts for our backpacks; but none of that may help at all. It seemed after Las Vegas that there was going to be an appetite in DC for regulating bump stocks but that fell by the wayside. Having a reasonable conversation about the first four words (a well regulated militia) of the second amendment seems to be a non-starter, the focus is always on the last 14 words (the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed). What bothers me most about this issue is how no real dialogue takes place. Imagine any other scenario resulting in thousands of senseless deaths each year with not even a conversation about options to mitigate it.

On the one side politicians are quick to decry the need for gun control and on the other side politicians are quick to say stop politicizing this. In my opinion, there is the problem. Our political system has become so fractured that having a reasonable and open dialogue about something is taboo unless it is with someone from your own political party. Sure, there are some exceptions to this but it is uncommon and those joint ventures have not secured additional support outside of a small group regardless of whether it is immigration reform, health care, or gun violence. For a brief moment this morning I wondered if the solution was simple, I wondered if the news media started treating mass shootings like they do women’s athletics or climate change if that would improve things. Is part of the appeal of the shooter knowing they will be the lead story and have their name everywhere and be talked about until the next mass shooting? I do not know, but maybe more focus on the victims and mitigations for the problem wouldn’t hurt because the reality is at the moment I could care a less about the piece of shit shooter and his troubled life.

The gridlock, inaction, and self-serving legislation seems to be at the core of many issues facing Americans today. Over the years there have been many clever pictures and calls for politicians to be like NASCAR drivers and wear their sponsors so everyone knows who bought and paid for them. I genuinely think this would help. It might not solve the fractured relationships immediately but it would give clearer insight in to what is happening behind the scenes and make open dialogues more likely. Imagine a senator wearing a large Nestle logo on their chest trying to influence the Forest Service to allow Nestle to keep pumping millions of gallons out of the San Bernardino National Forest for free despite the fact that their permit to extract water from the park expired in 1988. Imagine a politician with a big General Motors logo on his hat trying to pass legislation to not allow Tesla to sell vehicles directly to consumers in Michigan. Not only might it change the dialogue, it might change the mindset of sponsors who currently act with a certain amount of or sometimes complete anonymity. Being able to have a dialogue is the key and today, when it comes to complex issues like gun violence, climate change, health care, equality, immigration and more; the number of politicians on either side of the aisle willing to have a real discussion and have a willingness to compromise is too small.

Smarter than ants (part 2)

 

In yesterday’s blog post I stated that I think before discussing possible solutions to tragedies like what happened in Las Vegas, that we should agree that investing time in thoughtfully discussing the opportunities for minimizing the loss of life was of value.  If you disagree and think we should do nothing more than shrug our shoulders, build a memorial, and use the phrase #<insertcitynamehere>Strong for while then please read no further.

 

Too often in discussions like this we assume others have extreme positions and we fail to have an honest and thoughtful dialog where we really listen, compromise, and leverage our common ground.  So for the purposes of any responses to this post, please resist your urge make assumptions, call names, and behave like an idiot.  I will moderate comments if needed.  My friend Mike made a Facebook comment on my blog from yesterday about how he thinks open air events like the one in Las Vegas should be eliminated due to the inability to protect attendees from a vertical threat and how those wishing to do harm and commit mass casualties are paying attention.  As opposed to knee jerking and assuming here is another guy who does not want to change anything with guns, lets recognize that Mike makes a very valid point.  The landscape has changed and we need to adapt our safety protocols and update our thought process because somewhere out there right now there is someone planning to set a new “record”.  Physical security is a lot like computer security, we do our best to patch and be secure from the beginning but when something is exploited we need to update our defenses and mitigate for future variants.  Our approach going forward needs to be more comprehensive than just dealing with a weapon problem.  As an example, look around at your neighborhood school at how they have adapted their entrances and security protocols, and how kids now have practice code red drills and so on.  Sure, it is a sad that these are needed, but in reality those types of things save lives.  Sadly now we need to think differently about open air event gatherings and vertical threats.  I guess my point is that if you are still reading this, you would like to minimize the loss of life like what recently happened in Las Vegas and that is common with anyone else who may comment or offer an opinion so please be respectful.

I am not a gun owner but I would say it is not out of the realm of possibility that I will be someday.  I am not an expert on the second amendment, I am not a lawyer, I am not an extremist who wants to take everyone’s guns away; I am a self-defined tree hugger and my only political agenda is to get a revenue neutral Fee and Dividend policy implemented so the true costs of emissions are recognized and our planet has an opportunity to improve its health.  As it relates to this issue, my core belief is that we can do better, that we can find common ground and both “sides” can realize they are less far apart than they think and compromise.  I choose to use the following as a baseline for my thoughts on this topic:

  • The focus of any legal changes as it relates to weapons should focus on the problem.  The problem is not the hunter or sportsman, the problem is not the gun collector who has hundreds of guns, the problem is not the enthusiast who likes to shoot a variety of high powered and unique weapons in an appropriate place, the problem is not the person at the grocery store who you never knew had a permit for his/her concealed handgun; the problem we are trying to solve is people who thoughtfully plan mass murders.

  • There is no solution that will prevent every scenario and the goal of any new policy should be to increase the potential for preventing and minimizing the loss of life.  This is incredibly important to not lose sight of.

  • States should be allowed to add their own additional laws if they desire but there should be an updated baseline federal law.  If we leave this to the states it will only lead to a scenario similar to fireworks where I can simply drive to Wisconsin and get “real fireworks” and numerous other issues.

Given that, here are my current thoughts on a path forward in order from least to most complicated:

  • Bump stocks should be made illegal.  I had never heard of them before this week but my generic understanding is that they crudely make a semi-automatic rifle behave more like an automatic rifle.  Given that they are an accessory and not a weapon themselves, an argument could be made that legal changes to their status is not really protected under the second amendment.  Regardless, it appears as though this notion already has momentum so getting more specific on a path forward is in order.  The end goal of any legal changes to bump stocks should have a focus on making them more difficult to obtain.  I see a few options:

    • Bump stocks are declared illegal to purchase or sell going forward.  The ones in circulation today are left to die on the vine so to speak and they will be coveted by collectors and enthusiasts and the price of purchasing one will continue to increase.  Over time, less and less of them will function and continue to exist much like civilian owned machine guns did after 1986.  They could need to be legally registered or similar.

    • Bump stocks are declared illegal for civilians to own.  This gets a little more complicated but some sort of buyback program might incite some owners to turn them in but certainly some would remain in circulation.

  • High capacity magazines are reviewed.  Again, I am not an expert in this area but I think minimizing the amount of ammunition a weapon can fire without needing to be reloaded would increase the probability of saving lives in situations like this.  I am uncertain what a reasonable amount of ammunition is to have in a single magazine but my opinion is that for the average gun enthusiast and owner, this is not a huge inconvenience as long as the capacity compromise is reasonable.  Like bump stocks, a decision could be made to make them illegal to purchase or sell going forward or make them illegal and introduce some sort of buyback or similar to encourage a reduction in the current circulation.

  • Criminal background checks should be required for all firearms sales and they should be tracked.  Today licensed firearms dealers require an ID and leverage NICS but this does not cover other scenarios.  Today, if I were to go buy Sudafed I would need to swipe my drivers license.  If I were to drive to a dozen pharmacies and buy one box at each, some sort of alarm would go off somewhere and I would need to get an exception or follow a more rigid process to purchase in bulk.  I think a similar program could exist with firearms so that if someone were purchasing dozens of high powered rifles in a short period of time, a few questions would be asked to vet the person, their intent, and legitimize the purchases as appropriate.  The goal of the program would NOT be to eliminate the right to make bulk or consistent purchases, it would simply be to ensure those who were making the purchases were vetted and determined not to be an imminent threat much like with Sudafed where the goal is to ensure I am not a meth dealer.  This one would require some real compromise to accomplish.

    • Is there a way to ensure concerned gun owners that this is not a path towards some sort of national gun registry that will later be used to confiscate their guns or similar?  Can that be written in to law or somehow or an amenable compromise be made?  Given that Equifax cannot even secure our most prized financial and personal information, how would this data be secured and who would have access to it?  What would the criteria be that “triggered” an alert on purchases? Etc.  Many questions would need to be answered to gets folks on board but working through those specifics would be a valuable investment of time in my opinion.

It is an easy argument to make that if a bad person wants to do harm, they will find a way.  That is absolutely true but if we go back to my baseline statement that the goal of any new policy should be to increase the potential for minimizing the loss of life then this holds weight.  If someone has to jump through a few extra hoops or do unconventional things, then they are more likely to be caught or have the amount of damage they do diminished.  In turn, if law abiding citizens need to step through an extra hoop for the greater good, then so be it, we do it every day in many other scenarios.  Another common argument is that implementing anything like this leads down a slippery slope and that it will be the start of numerous other actions against gun owners.  I wonder if there is a way we can write something in to law to mitigate that fear or perhaps through thoughtful dialog that focuses on the areas most people find common ground, we can move past it.

That is it, those are my thoughts today.  I welcome your respectful ones and am genuinely interested in protecting the rights of gun owners while trying to add some common sense ways to decrease unnecessary bloodshed.