Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Obama on guns and the virtue of American constitutionalism

He has 23 executive orders and a handful of legislative proposals.

What I find interesting is that I thought the list of executive actions were eminently sensible (and I think a lot of people would agree), while the legislative proposals were generally unwise, and for that matter potentially unconstitutional, ideas*.

In a way, this is reassuring. The potentially bad ideas are the things that the president cannot do unilaterally. The potentionally really good ideas are things that the president can do unilaterally. This sums up one of the big successes of American constitutionalism: smart division of powers and simply a good use of adversarial politics (executive orders are constrianed by the opposition portraying you as overreaching too, I'd imagine).

I wouldn't expect that any of these things - the executive orders or the legislative proposals - would prevent shootings. But that is not the only measure of a good idea.

* - With the exception of the background check for gun shows, which is probably a good idea. I can see why gun shows were excluded in the first place. This places quite a burden assuming a background check takes some time to conduct. But there are probably good ways around this. For example, you could get a certified statement from the local police office (say, within a month of the gun show) that you passed a background check that you could then give sellers at the gun show. If you know the gun show is coming you will have time to do that, and then it won't obstruct the sale. Obviously gun shops are easier because a gun shop is going to stay there so you can do a background check and come back at your convenience.


  1. It is an impossible to enforce idea frankly and would simply create a larger underground market in gun sales than already exists.

    The entirety of the Executive Orders are simply noise or filler or the sorts things that one should expect from a politician wanting to "do something" about which the politician can do nothing about. In other words, political theater. Ex. You can talk about "mental health" till the cows come home, that doesn't mean that the field of psychiatry is anyway equipped to deal with issues like gun violence or frankly even run of the mill depression for that matter (the fact that the psychiatric community felt it appropriate to strip from its definition of what is not depression people who are having a sucky time because their spouse died or they got a divorce is evidence enough of that by itself).

    1. Ya like I said - the impact of these policies is not going to be big. I'd still say most are good ideas, though. No, mental health professionals are not going to solve all our problems. Nobody claimed they would. They may create new problems even! I could see that. But ultimately I think a world that actually thought about mental health as a health issue is going to be a better world even if there are no silver bullets.

      So why not encourage that?

    2. "They may create new problems even!"

      I agree with that. Which leads me to ...

      "I think a world that actually thought about mental health as a health issue is going to be a better world even if there are no silver bullets."

      Well, yes. However, the current method of handling certain mental issue is to prescribe drugs, many of which seem to exacerbate some the the problems that we're trying to solve.

      Overall, I think that at root this is an issue of culture, and that this is what spawns these other problems, which often has a multiplicative effect.

  2. It seems to me we can explain this with a simple story. Since he knows his legislative proposals won't pass anyways, there is little point in making them good proposals. He's better off making them good-sounding and not worrying whether they would actually have any value if enacted.


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