Girl, Interrupting

January 12, 2011

Gun Laws and banker’s bonuses

Filed under: bankers bonuses,gun control — sylviamclain @ 6:05 pm
Tags: ,

Two issues which have dominated this week’s news; both are damn near impossible to legislate, no matter what the public desire.

First the guns:
In case for some amazing reason you missed it – Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford has been shot along with six others who have been killed – one of which was a nine-year old girl. Which has understandably brought forth (again) the debate about US and gun laws.

Many in the UK think this lack of gun control in the US is crazy – or in the words of @cromercrox ‘I’m really quite perplexed by the US of A’. Cromercrox brings up in his blog ‘Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Picturesque Seaside Town of Cromer’ dealing the perplexity of US gun laws – where even the ‘quite normal Americans’ engage in what he calls gunsplaining – eg annunciations of the reasons why guns are here to stay – unlike rock and roll which is apparently dying.

Cromercrox suggests banning guns altogether, or in his words ‘get rid of the guns’ – which is never going to work in the US.
So at the risk of being termed a gunsplainer, or seeming not quite normal – here is my view on the perplexity.

Many Americans know that gun control issues are near as damn it dead issues in the US of A – despite the recent shootings. However lots of people also explain this by evoking the 2nd amendment or the constitutional right argument. The right of the people to ‘keep and bear arms’ as written in the Bill of Rights is really a pretty crap, weak argument.

Constitutional amendments have been added and overturned since the US government was born. The Constitution states that slaves are allowed to be owned and only represent 5/8ths of a human (for census purposes) which was repealed by the 13th amendment abolishing slavery. The constitution also had a prohibition amendment (the 18th) passed in 1919 which was repealed by the 21st amendment in 1933 (when people really needed a drink).

And prohibition is good example of why a gun control amendment (or even a mere federal law) would never work. Did people stop drinking because alcohol was illegal? No. Think speakeasys and moonshine liquor. So by the US imposing some kind of gun law, would this work, would people suddenly give up their guns? No. How exactly would you round up all of those guns? US gun ownership is estimated to be around 300 million with around 45% of US Citizens owning some type of gun. And these are just the registered ones. Do you think people will just turn them in? A large number of people own guns for hunting (just like you can in Britain) as well, do you deny them their guns?

So say you regulated guns down to British levels, with no automatic weapons – where only permit holders and criminals and the police had them, this would reduce the number of gun deaths but they would still happen and I think the effect would be marginal. Because this is assuming that by some kind of legislation you could ban guns and collect them, guns are already there, good luck trying to get ’em out. People that are not very likely to mow down the general public with their automatic weapon (or hand gun for that matter) would be the only ones turning them in- which wouldn’t reduce gun crime significantly I would think.

As an aside, contrary to popular belief many UK police officers do have guns: just take a stroll around London where many police at high security locations are posted with machine guns (something you don’t see so often in the US – police with machine guns, they usually have hand guns). Gun deaths do happen in Britain.

Now the banks:

Do you really think regulating banker’s bonuses will make them stop making money or feel remorse. Watching footage of the treasury select committee interviewing Bob Diamond – he was asked questions like ‘Are you grateful to the British Tax payer?’ and ‘Are you going to resign your job?’. These are just sort of non-questions which might make the MP questioning him look like he is being ‘tough on bankers’ but are useless in reality. Of course the man isn’t going to resign his job, Barclay’s emerged relatively unscathed from the banking crisis (Bob is one of the big banking dudes that wasn’t fired) and who cares if he is eternally, externally grateful, even if he said it.

So say you did cut banker’s bonuses, would they really not find some loop hole to still make money? Instead of cash bonuses maybe they would get stock options, or a new car, or a new Persian rug? Financial guys can easily find their way around regulations – If you read the book ‘The Road from Ruin’ by Michael Green and Matthew Bishop, two British authors (launched in the USA but available in the UK after February) – they cover this topic quite nicely.

Regulation, in both of these cases, isn’t going to be effective, and is moreover not cost effective to any government. And in these financial times, the later is a pretty persuasive argument.

In both cases – ‘ban all guns’ and ‘stop banker’s bonuses’ you are treating the symptom rather than the underlying problem, and it provides no real solution. How to regulate the financial sector is a lot more complex than the relatively small example of bankers bonuses – which seem like a lot to us mere mortals but represents tiny amounts of money on a large scale (there are some good suggestions for real effective financial regulation in the Road from Ruin).

Ban all guns or even some won’t decrease violence in the US and won’t really ever be effective, as the gun ban would yield marginal returns. How to stop violent crime in any country is a difficulty and one I have no idea how to solve (along with scads of politicians world wide)

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