Wednesday, March 17, 2010

On Guns for Butter

In a perversity of economic theory, perhaps poised to capitalize on the anticipated favorable ruling in McDonald v. Chicago, less than three years after the massacre at Virginia Tech claimed 33 lives, the Commonwealth appears to be turning to GUNS FOR BUTTER, as a long term solution for its economic woes. Suddenly, after 17 years, once a month is not enough. But while Richmond may selfishly think its bottom line will be augmented by paving the way for increased weapons sales with this short sighted legislation, if Governor McDonnell signs this currently House passed - and half cocked - bill into law, it could actually be detrimental to the overall economy of the state, and the region as a whole, a consideration that should be explored before it, and other related changes, are enacted.
First and foremost, a greater police presence will be required to deal with the inevitable criminal element that such a policy will attract, and because this change is being established in conjunction with a measure parroting Montana and Tennessee that makes firearms made and retained in the state beyond the federal authority of the Interstate Commerce Clause, and an increase in the speed limit to 70 MPH on many of Virginia's roads. Cops cost. Just when traffic deaths in the Commonwealth hit 750 in 2009, a 43 year low, courtesy of this triangulation, there will be a rebound in activity for law enforcement to contend with, spearheaded by those zipping in and out to purchase guns with a less than noble constitutional intent, that will more than offset the decrease in speeders to chase.
The enactment of this legislation, coupled with the 2008 ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller and the more recent allowance of guns in national parks and on Amtrak, could affect tourism in the region, of which Virginia is an integral part, the separatist and secessionist sentiment that has surfaced in relation to the health care debate notwithstanding. 29 National Parks are within its borders, spanning roughly 416,508 acres, ranging from the smallest, Arlington House, perhaps aptly located within a cemetery, to the 199,017 acre Shenandoah, and including Wolf Trap and the venerable 75 year old Blue Ridge Parkway among the others in between. Two years ago, the Commonwealth took in 19.2 billion in revenue from tourist dollars; ultimately, Virginia's "breakaway republic" attitude and grab for money by aiming to be the East Coast's top gun running hub may set the stage for it to be a spectatorless Sesquicentennial Civil and Criminal War Battlefield. The state's own website, captioned "Tourism - Instant Revenue for Virginia," touts the 1.28 billion in state and local taxes that tourism generates, as well as the 210,620 industry dependent jobs, claiming the intake is enough to pay the salaries for 11,500 new State Troopers, the education of 78,000 students, and the building of 1400 miles of roads. It goes on to assert that without these monies, the average Virginia household would have to pay $438 in additional taxes yearly. Projected firearm sales will not compensate for a decrease in visitor spending. "Virginia is for GUN lovers" is oxymoronic and segregationist sloganeering that does not extend the welcome mat. And then there is the human cost, apparently unconsidered to date.
In 1992, the New England Journal of Medicine (Kellerman, et. al., "Suicide in the Home in Relation to Gun Ownership," Volume 327, August 13, 467-72) reported that a study of the association between firearms in the home in two US counties between 1987 and 1990 revealed that the availability of one or more guns in the home created a risk of domestic suicide more than fivefold. A 1999 study reported in the same publication (Wintemute, G.J, and C.A. Parham, J.J. Beaumont, M. Wright, and C. Drake, "Mortality Among Recent Purchasers of Handguns," Volume 341, No. 21, November 18, 1583-89) followed gun purchasers from 1991 through 1996 and found that new gun buyers were more likely to commit suicide, and during the first week after purchase, had a suicide rate 57 times higher than the adjusted suicide rate for the general population. Handgun buyers were found to be at an increased risk for suicide by firearm for the entire 6 year study, with women who purchased them remaining at an elevated risk for both firearm suicide and firearm homicide for the entire duration. Having a weapon at the ready makes those more tempted to kill themselves more successful at it. Yet despite several recent high profile celebrity son suicides plastered all over the media, somehow in Virginia this topic of concern has failed to surface.
There will also be the more obvious and foreseeable elevation in human cost to law enforcement and the victims of homicide, intentional or not, apparantly equally discounted but infusing new meaning into the term "red state." Note to lawmakers: human life counts. To speak the only language Richmond seems to understand, without intending to be insensitive, coffins are unproductive for coffers. With the exception of the wealthy, the dead don't pay taxes, a not inconsiderable fiscal consideration. Add to that the potential for erosion of the business tax base because of the open presence of guns in bars or restaurants, GUNS WITH (BREAD AND) BUTTER, and there could be an even further subtraction from the Commonwealth's revenues via its misguide attempt to get and stay in the black. Fueled by alcohol, bar fights in the company of firearms will be more lethal and repellent. In attempting to "normalize" carrying them, like a wallet or purse, the General Assembly failed to convincingly articulate just what citizens need self protection from in these settings - could it be to fend off the "Bold Brew" at Starbucks? - and showed a striking lack of elementary savvy.
Finally, a policy welcoming of an explosion of gun purchases could spark a population exodus, particularly from Northern Virginia, a "mixing bowl" of out of staters and immigrants, reversing recent, more moderating, mainstream trends in the state, and undermining the wealthiest source of its tax base. Forbes just named Loudoun County the richest county in the nation, followed by Fairfax, with Arlington, Prince William and the cities of Fairfax and Alexandria among the Top 25. The result could be a "departed" of a different sort, but just as "dear" a "loss of life."
The Commonwealth needs to ensure that visitors will continue to come to "Meet Virginia" and citizens and tourists alike can continue to "LIVE Passionately" within its borders. Pull the trigger on BUTTERING UP GUNS because it doesn't make good cents.


Karen Ann DeLuca