I have been reacting to segments of President Barack Obama’s inaugural speech and I conclude with my take on his words about climate change and gun control.
V. Climate Change
Progressives are thrilled by the fact that President Obama made several references to climate change in his inaugural speech but they should be prepared for disappointment, since Obama, in his first term, didn’t take international leadership nor did he push either of the two major lagislative proposals to deal with it: cap and trade, and a carbon tax. On the international front, the United States largely took a pass on the Doha climate change talks.
The Obama administration was not entirely inactive on the climate change front, as the EPA took some good actions to address it: 1) emission reductions from coal-fired plants; 2) limitations on mountaintop removal mining; and lowering the permissible limit on exposure to mercury. When EPA scientists, however, proposed tighter restrictions on smog, Obama killed the new rules in deference to industry concerns about costs.
Obama’s most significant action to reduce atmospheric contamination was probably to reach agreement with the automotive industry on higher vehicular miles-per-gallon standards to be achieved well into the future; however, even on this issue, Peter Bergel, executive director of Oregon Peaceworks, has made a strong case that given technological breakthroughs, Obama could have held out for even higher standards.
VI. Gun Control
During his first term, President Obama took no action to control firearms and even expanded the right to transport firearms by signing a bill to allow firearms in national parks. When the tragic shooting of Rep. Gabby Giffords occurred, Obama promised action on gun control but no action was forthcoming. It was only after the slaughter of young schoolchildren at Sandy Hook Elementary School that Obama proposed some “common sense” gun controls: an assault weapons ban, restrictions on the size of ammunition clips, background checks of every firearms sales transaction — a good idea but very hard to enforce — and a study of firearms violence. These are worthwhile ideas but they virtually ignore the prime instrument of firearms violence: the handgun.
Year-after-year, FBI reports show that handguns are used in about half of homicides — long guns account for about seven percent — and the handgun is used in about two-thirds of suicides. Hnadguns cause far more injuries than they do deaths, leading to higher medical costs. The two most extensive studies of home defense guns — consisting mostly of handguns — are the Cleveland and Detroit studies. They show that four to six family members or visitors to the family are shot by a home defense firearm to every intruder shot with one.
Although I think that the Obama proposals will limit the carnage of mass shootings and thus merit support, his proposals don’t address the major firearms problem: the availability and proliferation of handguns. I propose a ban on the sale and inportation of handguns and handgun parts, along with a buy-back program of five to ten years duration. A sliding scale of payment would start with a 10 to 20 percent premium over the retail purchase price and then slide down every year thereafter. After the end of the buy-back program, a stiff fine — say $2,000 to $3,000 — would be levied on every person found in possession of a handgun. It is notable that one of the five national comnmissions which have been set up to study the problem of violence in the United States recommended a ban on the sale or inportation of handguns and handgun parts. The four other national commissions identified the handgun as an important instrument of the violence.
I realize that getting Obama’s more modest legislative proposals through Congress will be a formidable task, yet Obama could start educating the public about the fiearms problem, with a particular focus on handguns.