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Friday, December 14, 2012

Reflections on today and sound public policy

Ok, so obviously something horrible happened today.  I am, of course, referring to the school shooting in Connecticut.  After any such event, people naturally react by demanding that immediate action of one sort or another take place.  This is a huge mistake and (I think) almost morally abhorrent.

Before I go any further, I want to state that is is not a piece for or against gun control.  That is not a discussion that I am looking to have right now.  The discussion I want to have is about how we should react on a political/government/public policy level.  Almost any time the government reacts in a knee jerk manner, the result is tragic (PATRIOT Act anyone?).  The *ONLY* way to get sound public policy is to have a rational and reasoned debate about the issues which cannot happen in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy of any sort.

Part of the reason for this is that people look for the quickest and easiest suspect/scapegoat.  After 9/11, we turned on Muslims and anyone who looked like them (Sikhs anyone?).  After a shooting, we turn on guns and gun owners.  Understandable, but misguided; well, at least partially.  After all, what is the one thing (besides guns) that links these tragedies together?  Mental illness.  A lot of the people who go around shooting others like this are mentally ill.  We need to first look at how we can help them.  Now, will that stop all shootings?  Absolutely not, but it will help.

After we try and solve the horrific lack of mental help for people, we can then have a calm and reasoned discussion about guns.  Here is the problem with that:  People are so caught up in seeing the world in black and white, that they won't have a reasoned discussion.  So, I would like to set forth what I would consider some important prerequisites for any talks.

[1] There will be no blanket ban on all guns.  This is a pipe dream and guaranteed to be a non-starter.  People like to hunt and they need guns for that.  Also, guns are guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment, so unless that is going to change (which I so don't see happening), a blanket ban is a non-starter.  Part of the problem is that there are those who are seriously advocating for a blanket ban and that is putting many people who might otherwise agree to reasonable restrictions in a bad spot.

[2] There must be some limits on the ownership of guns and the type of guns that can be owned.  For example, there is really no legitimate reason for a private citizen to own an AK-47 or another assault rifle.  Like there are those who advocate a blanket ban, there are also those who say that any restriction is inherently bad.  Like the other side, they are wrong.  We need to have some sort of restrictions.  Do I know what these restrictions are?  No.  But I do think they are needed.

Getting back to my larger point, as a nation we need to embrace the rational side of public policy.  All too often, we react to a situation without thinking our way through it.  As almost anyone should be able to tell you, knee jerk reactions are not good reactions.  They are emotional and not thought out, which on a personal level is bad enough.  To make the same sort of decisions on a governmental level is horrible and (as I said above) morally abhorrent.

Say what you will about our Founding Fathers (and yes, they made plenty of mistakes), but they did do something brilliant in how they distributed power.  By taking power and diffusing it, they ensured that it would be hard (albeit not impossible) for one event to dramatically change the course of the government.  By placing the Senate beyond the reach of the public passions (a move unwisely changed), they made it a check on the people's passions as expressed in the House of Representatives.  This was a move that made sense then and still makes sense today.

People; whether as individuals or in groups; do not react well to tragedy or other sudden changes and we often need to be saved from ourselves.  And don't get me started on the whole bogus notion that your emotions are *ALWAYS* right.  Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren't.  They have a place in decision making, but it is unwise in the extreme to allow them a ruling place in any decision making process.  As a teacher, I understand that a gut feeling is important in some cases, but those cases tend to be in smaller decisions and are the result of the mind subconsciously reasoning out to a decision and not emotions overruling the intellect.

As human beings, there are two things that set us apart from animals: our soul and our intellect.  Can animals think or feel pain, love, joy, etc.?  Of course they can, but they do not (I believe, after all, it cannot be proven) have souls neither do they have the intellectual capacity of humans.  While we may share some of their more base instincts, we do have a duty to use our God-given intellect to rise above this instinctual level.

I know people are going to disagree with me and that is fine.  I am making assertions that they will disagree with.  As always, I simply ask that if you disagree, give me a reasoned basis for disagreeing and not some emotional reaction.  If we, as individuals, cannot rise above our knee-jerk reactions, how can we expect our government or other institutions to do so?