Steve Chapman

Supporters of gun control often complain that permissive policies in some states undermine tough ones elsewhere. But the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence contends that states need to adopt strong gun laws because gun laws really do matter. Many of the states with the strongest gun laws also have the lowest gun death rates nationwide.

Most of the effects of a state's laws are felt by its residents. If they don t like those consequences, they have the power to bring about a change in the law. And if they can't get it changed, they have the option of moving to a state whose laws they like better.

On policies made in Washington, those same people have far less say -- and they can t escape. The combination can breed intense resentment. One reason abortion has been a live wire for so long is that the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade imposed the same basic rules on every state. More latitude would have defused much of the emotion.

Even in immigration policy, where the feds necessarily take the lead role, there is room for diversity. Some states grant in-state tuition at public universities to young people brought here illegally by their parents, and some states deny it. Some give driver s licenses to undocumented foreigners, and some don t. Those here illegally can make their choices accordingly.

Health insurance reform might have taken a similar route. Massachusetts, in fact, enacted a plan on which Obamacare was modeled. The fact that no other state adopted it should have been a clue it wasn't ready for Broadway.

Had several other states successfully implemented similar plans, they would have dispelled doubts and provided useful real-world data on how to make this option work. At some point, its performance might have overcome enough doubts to evoke broad bipartisan support for a national version.

The federalism model doesn't satisfy ambitious reformers who are certain there is only one good way to address an injustice. But that's not a bug. That's a feature.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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