Gun Control

In his rehabilitation as a columnist, Elliot Spitzer has been contributing interesting pieces about improving various public policies.  His latest on gun control makes a lot of sense and may actually be politically feasible since it does not require Congressional action.  The details:

Political reality makes even a modest gun law a difficult legislative
sell. But if the Obama administration really cares about limiting gun
violence, it could pursue a different strategy, one that doesn't
involve Congress and isn't likely to provoke a storm of opposition…

Modern government is not only a lawmaker. Indeed, the most effective
executive powers may not derive from statutes at all. The government
that President Obama oversees is also a gigantic, well-funded
procurement agent. And it can—and should—use that power to change
American gun policies. Specifically, the government buys lots of guns,
for sheriffs, patrol officers, and detectives; for FBI agents, DEA
agents, IRS agents, Postal Inspectors, immigration agents, and park
rangers; and for soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and spies. The
government buys guns by the crate.

What is striking is that the government buys guns from manufacturers
who also sell them to criminals—either knowingly or by willfully
overlooking the behavior of the retail outlets that the gun companies
use as their distribution system…

If we can use a capital infusion to a bank as an opportunity to
control executive compensation and to limit use of private planes, why
can't the government use its weight as the largest purchaser of guns
from major manufacturers to reward companies that work to keep their
products out of criminals' hands? Put another way, if it is too
difficult to outlaw bad conduct through statutes, why not pay for good
conduct? Why not require vendors to change their behavior if they want
our tax dollars?

Just as we now "purchase" good corporate behavior in the financial industry, let it be so with guns…

More fundamentally, companies could be told to stop selling certain
types of weapons to the general public. If a manufacturer did not
comply with any of the limitations, then it would be excluded from the
list of companies with which the government would do business…

If President Obama wants to devise a creative way to limit gun
violence, he will use his power as the world's largest consumer to
require the cooperation of gun manufacturers. If government cannot
legislate the conduct it wants, then it can use market power to buy it.
For the money we are spending, we should buy not only guns but some
peace from gun violence.

Sounds like a great plan to me.  Not that that means much for its chances of becoming policy.


About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

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