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Gridlock and Gun Control

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
When speaking with swing voters (yes, there really are some truly moderate people left), I often encounter a fierce animus against the gridlock in Washington. They typically blame both political parties for the inability of our leaders to resolve the issues of the day. I reply by informing them that we have entered a period of little compromise. Among the reasons for this environment is Wayne LaPierre and the NRA, and what they’ve caused is not necessarily a bad thing.

To put this in context, I don’t own a gun and I’m not a member of the NRA (although I did own a rifle for a brief period of time when I was 17 years old). Like any normal human being, I was deeply disturbed by what happened in Aurora, Colorado, and I am genuinely distressed that someone who quickly went over the edge was able to obtain advanced arms that allowed him to massacre a group of innocent movie-goers. I would really like to stop people from obtaining those weapons and I am very frustrated that I cannot.

The reason is that Mr. LaPierre has adopted an absolutist policy towards governmental controls on the acquisition of guns and ammunition. On the face of it, this appears to be a highly unreasonable policy, but it is a position that has been adopted because of the reality of our government and its laws and regulations over the past century.

Our history has seen several scenarios in which the general public was seduced to accept a questionable policy that its proponents assured us would remain small, and affects only a tiny minority. Income taxes approved by the 16th Amendment started at 7% of income above $500,000 (that’s $10 million in today’s dollars). Tax rates for Social Security started at 2% up to $3,000 (which is about $50,000 today). When Medicare was implemented in 1965, it was estimated that its cost in the year 1990 would be $9 billion. The actual number was $67 billion.

All of this took place in an era where Republicans were heavily outnumbered in Congress and basically were limited to being backbenchers. From 1933 until now, Republicans have controlled the Senate 18 years and the House 16 years most of which occurred in the last 20 years. More often than not, Democrats enjoyed staggering majorities that totally marginalized Republicans, who, in effect, could only sit and watch.

Republican presidents even contributed to the acceleration of governmental growth. For example, Richard Nixon proposed and signed into law the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While few people would dispute that the EPA provides some benefits to the environment, it has become a regulatory behemoth that operates outside control of the president, the Congress, and the citizenry. George H.W. Bush signed the Americans with Disabilities Act, which mandates common-sense accommodations for Americans with physical challenges. No American who ever traveled Europe would ever argue against the benefits of the Act for physically challenged Americans. The problem is that it has become a regulatory nightmare and a lawyer’s dream, as its interpretation has grown to be a bureaucratic and legalistic maze for business owners.

These laws, along with the burden we now suffer from their outsized growth, were all enacted when Republicans went along. Republicans wanted to be liked, and to show that they were compassionate and forward-thinking. The problem stems from their inability to predict the long-term effects, which are principally driven by special interests and all-knowing government elitists who desire ever more centralization of power in Washington. These worshippers of big government are patient, nibbling away and expanding control incrementally with never a thought of cutting or eliminating any program even if it is obsolete or ineffective. A prime example is the telephone tax, approved in 1898 to pay for the Spanish American War, and that took 108 years to get repealed. Another is the antiquated Postal Service continues to propose office closures with the latest list being 3,653 offices, yet Congress continues to deny significant cuts despite billions in losses.

In view of this monolithic trend towards governmental expansion and commensurate limitation of individual rights, Mr. LaPierre has adopted a strict constructionist viewpoint. He may agree that it isn’t a good idea for people like James Holmes to get his hands on assault weapons, but he knows that whatever restriction is accepted will be just the beginning. And he is not alone in that thought; most Americans are concerned about losing their Second Amendment rights, and they clearly understand that governments that are really good at controlling guns tend to be totalitarian in nature. This concept was succinctly expressed by Ice-T who said “Yeah, it’s legal in the United States. It’s part of our Constitution. You know, the right to bear arms is because that’s the last form of defense against tyranny.” Either you think he’s nuts or you think he’s right on. I fall into the latter category.

Other people have witnessed this historical tendency, and have accordingly adopted an unflinching attitude on other key issues. Grover Norquist, who has become the primary bogeyman of the Left because of his “no tax increase” position, is one of these. He asks a very simple question: When has the federal government ever contracted? Sure, tax rates have been reduced at times, but revenues continue to soar while government grows at all levels.

We have compromised for the past 80 years and the ball keeps moving to the left after each concession. More government, more regulation, and more taxes – always offset by a restriction of the individualism and freedom that this country was built on, and without which it will die. Compromise has resulted in a government utterly out of control, with fiscal disaster lurking around every corner.

It’s time to start moving the ball the other way. We need less regulation, less government, and less money collected from hard-working Americans. There may be times for compromise, but the compromise has to move the ball the other way. Otherwise, we will have gridlock for a long, long time.

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