Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Just a Quick Note About "Local Solutions" and Guns

Of course there's a "national conversation" taking place over guns; is there ever not in America, no matter what the most recent mass shooting atrocity, no matter how many were killed, no matter how those numbers compare with any other atrocities in American life? I've partaken in that conversation before, and I'm reluctant to do so again; the last time I wrote at length about my relationship with guns was nearly 10 years ago, and my thoughts have changed quite a bit since then. Maybe sometime I'll sit down and think through where I stand now on the appeal and the idolatry of guns in America today; for now, though, just a quick, local note.

Yesterday, Kansas's new governor, Jeff "Brownback" Colyer, spoke with an NPR reporter about the meeting of governors which President Trump called together for the purpose of talking about gun violence. You can read the transcript here. What really stands out is how frequently in this brief, 4-minute interview, Colyer refers to the need for "local" solutions. Not only does he explicitly refer to trusting in localism a half-dozen times, he very pointedly talks about how what's appropriate in "western Kansas," or in Garden City or Topeka or Kansas City, might not be appropriate elsewhere. And, as if people hadn't gotten the message, he baldly states that, in regards to guns, "I don't see a specific, statewide thing to do." In a follow-up to that interview, he went even further--insofar as Trump's idea that maybe teachers ought to be paid extra to arm themselves in preparation of the next school shooting, Colyer said he was intrigued, but that "local school districts should make that call."

Now, you might consider all this wise and responsible, or you might consider it foolish and dangerous. What you can't call it, though, is consistent--because it was Colyer's administration, while he was lieutenant governor, that forbade Kansas municipal governments and other local bodies, including our state universities, from interpreting state laws regarding the concealed carry and open carry of firearms in accordance with their own local needs and preferences. So, yes, the governor supports local decisions...but apparently, unless he's suddenly changing his tune (and he's not; when the NPR reporter asked explicitly about revisiting "statewide laws saying that cities and counties cannot pass gun restrictions that go beyond state law," Colyer gave an unambiguous "no"), then it appears the only local decisions that really count are those which the National Rifle Association supports.

This isn't surprising, of course. Kansas is a pretty conservative state, and Republican politicians around here likely see only positives coming their way when they curry the favor of the NRA. (Though it's worth noting that Carl Brewer, former mayor of Wichita, Kansas's largest city, and a Democratic candidate for governor, is specifically targeting in his campaign this unfunded mandate, in the form of millions of dollars in increased insurance costs, which Brownback and Colyer forced upon Kansas's cities by robbing them of their "local" judgments about guns.) More importantly, as with so many things, when many self-identified conservative Americans speak of "local solutions," what they frequently mean is "states' rights," and specifically the rights of states that tend to support conservative causes and elect Republicans. Of course, employing constitutional language in an incoherent and essentially partisan way is hardly unique to the Republican party--but when it comes to guns, at least here in Kansas, such confusion has a long history, and probably will long continue.

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