Political reform and gun control in the US

April 4, 2013

What is the most important problem facing Americans today? Gallup has been polling Americans on this question and their data, which is divided into two categories (economic and non-economic), can be found here. On the economic front, Americans are concerned about the economy in general (24%), unemployment (16%), federal debt (13%), lack of money (4%), and taxes (2%). In the non-economic category, the main concerns are  dissatisfaction with government (20%), healthcare (7%), illegal aliens (5%), education (4%), gun control (4%), and religious decline (4%). Interestingly, only 2% of Americans mention environmental concerns as the most serious problem facing the nation. And war, terrorism, Iraq, and Afghanistan each register less than 1%, despite the staggering human and economic costs of America’s pointless wars in the Middle East. 

In his most recent TED lecture, Lawrence Lessig make an impassioned case for the claim that the most important issue facing Americans is political reform. According to Lessig, before Americans can make progress on any of the other problems they face, they must find a way to get big money out of politics and make politicians more responsive to ordinary citizens. And there are, he notes, a number of interesting proposals for doing so, such as the Fair Elections Now Act,  the American Anti-Corruption Act, and John Sarbanes’ Grassroots Democracy Act. However, Lessig is no fool and he is aware of the major obstacles that stand in the way of actually eliminating the influence of money in politics. Every politician sooner or later retires, and they are all well aware of the fact that lucrative careers await those who spend their time in office serving the interests of those with deep pockets. Exactly how to lock down this revolving door in Washington remains a mystery.  

Somewhat surprisingly, Lessig offers little insight into solving that problem. Instead, he pleads with the audience to do anything they can to somehow get it done — to get big money out of politics once and for all. This is deeply unsatisfying. As noble and thoughtful as Lessig’s intentions are, Americans need more than pleads and good intentions to solve this — or any other problem — they face.

By way of analogy, imagine someone addressing a TED audience and pleading with them to get serious gun control legislation passed. “I know we face big obstacles,” the speaker might say, “but let’s just get it done for the sake of our children.” To this one wants to reply “Sure, wonderful, great cause, I fully support it, now just get down from that stage as quickly as you can, before someone shoots you.”

Here are a few reminders of the reality that confronts those who wish to ban guns or enact stricter gun-control legislation in the US: a) Congress has so far failed to pass any new gun-control measures since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School even though 20 children and 6 adults were brutally murdered in that event; b) a state representative in Missouri has introduced a bill that would charge any member of the General Assembly who introduced gun-control legislation with a felony; c) a voter referendum in Montana would grant police the authority to arrest FBI agents trying to enforce gun laws and charge them with kidnapping; d) a bill passed by a state Senate panel in South Carolina in February allows concealed weapons in bars, an offense currently punishable in that state for up to three years in prison; and e)  City Council members in Nelson, Georgia have just passed a law which requires a gun in every home. That’s right, rather than prohibiting people from purchasing guns, or restricting certain people from gun ownership, this new law REQUIRES every homeowner to have a gun. Such is the sorry state of affairs in the USA.

And for a vivid and sobering example of the enormous obstacles facing gun-control enthusiasts in the US, one need only take a look at the video below, which must be the most awkward, embarrassing, and comical interview ever conducted on Democracy Now!

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