Note: This blog draws in part on my experiences and observations interviewing political figures, writers, and analysts for "The Campbell Conversations" on WRVO. To hear past interviews I refer to in these posts, please go to the show's website. The views expressed here are solely my own, and do not represent Syracuse University, the Campbell Institute, or the WRVO Stations.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Governor Passes Sweeping Gun Law, Shoots Self in Foot?

This week the State Legislature passed and the governor signed into law a far-reaching set of prohibitions, restrictions, and tracking mechanisms regarding guns, which made New York the first state to change its policies in reaction to the Sandy Hook school shootings. In this edition of the Campbell Conversations, Onondaga County District Attorney Bill Fitzpatrick discusses how effective some of the provisions could be, some possible problems with their implementation, and which ones might be overturned through subsequent court challenge.

One aspect I pressed him on concerned the administrative and bureaucratic challenges in implementing the tracking and registration provisions for certain guns, clips, and all ammunition purchases. His phrase for what was likely to come was "bureaucratic nightmare," and I think he may not be exaggerating.

I read through the new law's provisions--all 72 single-spaced pages of them--and I kept wondering how all this was going to get off the ground and in place within a year. You can bet that one large bone of contention between the different layers and sectors of government will be who is going to pay for it.

The other thing that struck me was how far the new provisions extend, relative to the current situation. For example, one of the most popular rifles--perhaps the most popular rifle--is the Ruger 10/22, a semi-automatic rimfire rifle that most boys and girls who learned to shoot in recent years probably cut their teeth on. It is considered by no one to be an assault weapon, but by my reading of the law, anyone who owns one of them will now have to register with the state police, due to its 10-round clip.

My guess is that as everyday gun owners (i.e., those without a cache of AR-15s) become more aware of how far the provisions extend, and the "bureaucratic nightmare" that the DA predicted ensues, there will be some buyer's remorse on the part of many who originally went along with the change. And lawmakers are certainly going to get an earful.

I also wonder whether, over the course of the next couple years, this will end up doing more harm than good to Governor Cuomo's presidential prospects. It will have to be one of the main things he runs on, if he does run. The folks in Mississippi won't like it--we knew that already. But will folks in Iowa and New Hampshire, or Colorado and Pennsylvania take to it either? The ultimate political headline for this may be "Governor Passes Sweeping Gun Law, Shoots Self in Foot."

Author's correction:  I'm wrong above about the 10/22 clips needing to be registered; please see the comments section for an explanation.  But I stand by the observation that the law's new regulations and reporting requirements are relatively far-reaching, relative to the status quo ante.

Friday, January 11, 2013

On Guns and Booze and Smart Phones

This week my guest on the Campbell Conversations is Robert Spitzer. He's a political science professor at the State University of New York at Cortland, and a national expert on the politics of gun control.

In the wake of the Newtown killings, both the nation and New York State are reconsidering gun policy. Governor Cuomo recently made additional restrictions on guns a featured element in his State of the State address, and it appears as though a deal on new legislation may be crafted within a week.

Spitzer and I discuss what kinds of policy approaches are most likely to help address the problem of gun violence, and what proposed changes are most likely to actually get passed--in Albany and in Washington.

One thing our conversation has prompted me to think more about is how the different approaches toward reducing gun violence compare with other realms of life where violent injury and death occur. There are at least three over-arching ways to see the problem--focusing on what people do with guns; focusing on what kinds of people have access to guns; and focusing on the availability of different kinds of guns.

There are interesting connections--and disconnections--between how we might think of guns and the gun violence problem, and how we think about alcohol and the drunk-driving problem, smart phones and the texting-driving problem, or personal computers and the child pornography problem. There are both connections and disconnections in terms of prevention, and in how we deal with appropriate interventions after a person has been shown to engage in bad behavior. For example, convicted drunk drivers sometimes have their driver's licenses taken away, but they are never forbidden from purchasing more alcohol, or from drinking.  People who crash their cars while texting and cause injury or death to others are not prevented from owning smart phones.  Child pornographers can continue to purchase and own personal computers. 

It gets complicated, and Spitzer offers some interesting thoughts in parsing out this issue.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Conservative Departs the CNY Field, At Least for Now, And Proposes an Interesting Change to the System

Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle ended her term the way she first ran for the office—standing up for conservative principles.  Two days before leaving, she voted against the fiscal cliff compromise, on the grounds that it did not address the deficit and government over-spending.  But she was defeated last November by Dan Maffei, the man she unseated in 2010.  On this week's edition of the Campbell Conversations (airing at 6 p.m. on Sundays on WRVO), the now-former Congresswoman reflects back on that race and her career in Congress, and speculates about her possible political future.

Two things struck me about my conversations with her over the past three years.  First, whether or not one agrees with her positions, I’ve found her to be one of the most straightforward and plain-spoken candidates/public officials I’ve interviewed.  There is nothing stealthy about her conservative views.

Second, in this particular conversation, she proposed an idea to improve Congress that I found interesting, and that many political scientists have suggested over the past two decades—lengthening the term of office for the House.  The problem now is that Members of Congress are running for re-election, all the time.  And for those in competitive districts, like New York’s 24th, this task can take up an enormous amount of an incumbent's attention.  Furthermore, the hyper-focus on raising enough cash cannot be healthy for the democratic system, even if specific votes are not being purchased.  This is one point on which she and Dan Maffei can agree--chances are that as of this writing, he's had more fundraisers for 2014 than days in office. 

Several years back, Anthony King wrote an interesting book contrasting the experiences of individual national-level legislators running and serving in the U.S., Britain, and Germany—Running Scared:  Why America’s Politicians Campaign Too Much and Govern Too Little.  It’s still fresh today. 

The idea of longer terms is worth serious consideration.

Campbell Conversations Moves to New Day and Time

Beginning with this week's broadcast of my exit interview with former Congresswoman Ann Marie Buerkle, the Campbell Conversations is moving to Sundays at 6 p.m.  This was a decision taken by WRVO in light of several other changes to its schedule.  Part of the plan is to enhance the use of WRVO's website for downloading podcasts. 

Please now tune in at 6 p.m. on Sundays, or get all the broadcasts from the Campbell Conversations tab on WRVO's website, which you can find here.

Thanks, Grant