Constraints on the Prudential Regulation of Weapons in America
December 17, 2012
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Matthew Shugart makes an important observation that we all need to ponder: “…I will note that roughly parallel stories can be told about gun law reforms in Canada and Australia, I believe. What do these countries have in common? Parliamentary democracies, hierarchically organized parties, and nothing remotely like our filibuster (or like our Senate, for that matter). Yes, political institutions matter.”
This keen insight on institutional constraints is important to digest because pundits are hammering President Obama for his lack of political leadership and will do so again, when in the end, not much will happen. Their clarion calls for political leadership and reform are too visceral and unrealistic. Realistically, it’s not hard to conclude that the social/cultural fabric of America cannot at this time be sufficiently transformed to root out and regulate weapons prudentially. Put a different way, no amount of political leadership will solve the problem. (By solve, I mean to significantly reduce the likelihood of these events happening again). There are too many guns out in civil society and fully one-third of the country – Alabama included — believes that Obama and Democrats are out to take them way. Add to this the organized vested economic and political interests that oppose reforms.
There is not enough political capital in heaven and earth for Obama to implement change we can believe in on this issue. If he pursues this insoluble challenge vigorously it will sop up all or most of his political capital. As I have said before, he will need most of his energy to wind down the war in Afghanistan, deal with mercurial North Korea, managed the ongoing European financial crisis, pursue nuclear nonproliferation, pass immigration reform, implement health care and bank reforms, work with Mexico on drug violence, reform entitlements, and much more.
A President has only so much time and energy to tackle big problems and the prudential regulation of weapons is an important one for America. My estimate, though, that the road to weapons reform is littered with too many traps that would trigger a cultural war that radical republicans would welcome.