When we first heard Friday that the N.C. legislature was considering letting people carry handguns without permits, we thought: That must be another dead-end bill from the fringe of the Republican caucus.
We were right – turns out the lead sponsor is Rep. Larry Pittman, a Cabarrus County Republican known for, among other things, backing public hangings for abortion doctors and wanting to make Christianity the official religion of North Carolina.
So maybe Pittman’s idea to allow concealed carry with no permit and no training will go the way of so many of his other bills.
But maybe not: It fits snugly into a pattern we’ve seen lately in which policymakers address an issue by lurching wildly in one direction, swinging the pendulum much too far, rather than fixing what needs to be fixed. In the process, they cloud the fact that there may actually be a problem that needs attention – and instead make things worse.
In Pittman’s case, actually, it’s not at all clear what underlying problem he’s trying to remedy. His proposal would simply remove all safety training and let people carry guns with no permitting of any kind. His bill would not swing the pendulum back but would grab it from the middle and swing it far right.
In other cases, there’s a seed of a problem but the solutions are overkill.
Take the recent U.S. House vote to make it easier for people with mental illness to get guns. The Social Security Administration has a list of about 75,000 people who receive disability and supplemental insurance benefits through a representative because they are too mentally impaired to manage their own finances. The Obama administration crafted a rule that required the SSA to send those names to the federal firearms background check system.
Gun-rights supporters argued that the Social Security Administration’s labels of mental impairment were imperfect and the prohibition on giving those people guns was overly broad. It painted everyone with any kind of mental disorder with the same brush, they argued, and could take away gun rights from people who are not a danger.
Both sides have a point. But at least some of those 75,000 have severe mental disorders and could not pass a background check. Instead of refining the rule, though, the House voted to throw it out altogether.
We are seeing the same thing with Dodd-Frank. That law was passed after the 2008 financial crisis and imposed regulations designed to prevent a repeat. Dodd-Frank’s equity requirements have put the country’s financial sector on firmer footing. The legislation also created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which has protected consumers in myriad ways.
At the same time, the act spawned a huge number of regulations and compliance costs, especially burdensome for smaller lenders. There are ways to simplify those while maintaining important protections. President Trump and many in Congress, however, want to scrap Dodd Frank entirely rather than improve it.
Babies are threatened with being thrown out with the bathwater all over, on these matters, on the Department of Labor’s fiduciary rule, on dumping coal waste into streams, on encouraging school choice at the Department of Education and, of course, on Obamacare.
Policymakers should learn to improve flawed programs rather than killing them and making things worse.