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Posted at 12:01 PM ET, 01/12/2011

Remedies that go too far, Part II

By Ezra Klein

Will Wilkinson makes the case for doing nothing, at least for the moment:

The things we already fear and already desire more thoroughly to control are most vividly salient to us. We seize on those: guns, crazy people. Did Jared Lee Loughner shoot government officials with a gun? Ban guns within 1,000 feet of government officials! Was Jared Lee Loughner detectably crazy? Make involuntary commitment easier! Did Jared Lee Loughner buy a gun while detectably crazy? Tighten background-screening requirements! Did Jared Lee Loughner's gun sport an extended magazine? Ban extended magazines!

Some of these proposals may have merit, but no more now than on Friday. The issues they address have become no more urgent. Sadly, people are shot to death every day. The odd and the infirm roam our streets. Some of them buy guns and use them. With the incarceration of Jared Lee Loughner, the odds of crazy people shooting and killing officeholders (and untitled, less newsworthy human beings) has gone down, not up. There is no more reason now to deliberate publicly about mental-health and gun-control policy. Indeed, there is every reason to postpone deliberation and debate until we recover from the panicked burst of irrationality and high emotion predictably induced by a highly-visible but singular, largely ungrokkable enormity.

I don't want to go too far with this. There are certain tragedies or disasters that relate to a very specific policy failure. The levees around New Orleans, for instance, were not strong enough, and it was wise to channel the fury that developed as Katrina washed through the city into a consensus that we shouldn't make the same mistake again. But the conditions in which action makes sense -- when a policy failure is clear, and when fixing that policy will prevent recurrences of the tragedy in the future -- don't seem to me to be present here.

By Ezra Klein  | January 12, 2011; 12:01 PM ET
 
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Comments

I think the argument for doing nothing now is that in our panic we won't be level headed and will pass bad policies. That's fair enough, and we need only look to the Patriot Act for evidence that this is probably a good idea.

At the same time, I don't think it's prudent to "do nothing" up to and including not debating these issues while they're fresh in our minds. A tragedy like this can bring issues like whether we need extended magazines to be "free" into sharp focus, and we shouldn't have some self-imposed grace period on talking about these issue even if we agree that we should wait a little while to actually put the outcome of the debate into law.

This has been my position on the "heated political rhetoric" angle of the last week. There does not appear to be much support for the idea that heated political rhetoric caused this specific tragedy. Still, several aspects of the tragedy caused people to want to talk about the level of rhetoric we've gotten to in society and whethe that's a good thing. Whether there's a causal relationship to this specific event, that's a good debate to have, and though we should be careful to be honest about the presence or lack of a causal relationship between the issue we're debating and the event that started the debate up anew, sometimes these are debates that wouldn't have happened otherwise and it's good for us to have them.

How many people were talking about mental health treatment or gun control in this country (or more specifically in government and the media) before this happened? Maybe we should wait until things cool off to make sure that we pass good legislation, but it's good to talk about these things while people are thinking about them.

Posted by: MosBen | January 12, 2011 12:18 PM | Report abuse

The policy failure of allowing the assault weapons ban to expire (and of writing it as a sunsetting provision in the first place) is not clear to you?

Posted by: andrewlong | January 12, 2011 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Good comments so far. Politics = art of possible. When we have the opportunity to pass good policy (banning extended magazines), we should take it.

Posted by: AZProgressive | January 12, 2011 1:03 PM | Report abuse

How is banning extended magazines not a comparable response to strengthening levees?

Posted by: tmorgan2 | January 12, 2011 1:16 PM | Report abuse

That said: The recent events and the discussion that surrounds them provide several "teachable moments" that should be seized upon. I'm saying that I'd like to see the things I believed were good policy before this even happened, but were either not on the public agenda or did not enjoy popular support, put back on the front burner.

The first of these is gun control, of which I have long been a proponent. I'd like to see the assault weapons ban reinstated for starters. I have no objection to a federal law that bans carrying guns to political events; indeed, I'd like to see a federal law that bans them within 1000 feet of schools, bars, churches, rock concerts, and just about everywhere else in public. I frankly think it would be good if we had the ability to charge people who carry weapons to town halls or presidential appearances. There has been all too much of that the last several years.

Second, I do think we need to have a national dialogue on political demeanor and speech in general. No laws or policies to be involved, of course (people can say whatever they want, including offensive charges of "blood libel"). But many of us have been wanting to address this issue for quite some time. If it applied before the shootings, it applies now. What an excellent opportunity to get us all to think for a moment about the tenor of public debate. If not now, when?

Posted by: JJenkins2 | January 12, 2011 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I wish we had thought to "postpone deliberation and debate until we recover from the panicked burst of irrationality and high emotion" after 9/11. Patriot Act, I'm looking at you. Not to mention wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, warrantless wiretapping, Guantanamo, torture, etc., etc., etc.

Posted by: randrewm | January 12, 2011 1:47 PM | Report abuse

near term, banning Jared Lee Loughner works for me.

Posted by: gagkk | January 12, 2011 2:55 PM | Report abuse

First question: what good will Solution X do?

Second question: what are the unintended consequences?

None of the proposed solutions will do a *lot* of good, but apparently a big chunk of the shooter rampages over the past two decades or so have been aided by extended magazines. So if they hadn't been available, it would likely have saved lives beyond just Saturday's massacre.

And the unintended consequences of banning extended magazines would be...? I sure can't see any. It's hard to see any societal purpose that they serve in civilian life.

The only thing they're good for is to shoot a whole bunch of people really quickly, and if you're not in the military, it's a bad idea for you to be better at this than would otherwise be the case.

Posted by: rt42 | January 12, 2011 3:05 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to see a ban on the term "largely ungrokkable enormity."

Posted by: AuthorEditor | January 12, 2011 3:07 PM | Report abuse

I don't know the specifics of what the Brady law, passed after Reagan was shot, would have done in Loughner's case.

But a measured, reasonable restriction on semi-automatic weapons and high-count magazines doesn't seem like a rash or hasty response. Nor dos waiting periods, thorough background checks, and the end to the gun-show loophole.

I'm surprised that these are waived off by you, Ezra.

Posted by: RalfW | January 12, 2011 3:51 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the commenters above that ,at the very least, a smaller ammunition clip in this case would have saved lives. Our gun culture is insane , but there is no way to change it that I can see.

Posted by: sligowoman | January 12, 2011 4:45 PM | Report abuse

Sigh, nothing can be done. Sh** happens but so much more of it happens in the US than lots and lots of other rich countries. Sigh, but I guess nothing can be done.

Posted by: etfmaven | January 12, 2011 6:44 PM | Report abuse

FYI, here is the proposed language of the extended magazine ban: http://carolynmccarthy.house.gov/uploads/mccarthy-magazine_bill.pdf

I concur with the above comments that such a ban would not be an overreaction to this incident, but a proper reaction to the tragedy.

Posted by: t_seltzer | January 16, 2011 1:20 PM | Report abuse

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