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Government strikes again, part 1

I have a part 2 below, as a related addendum to this point.

Before I begin the story that prompted this post, I have to relate my first encounter with the inner workings of government.

My beautiful Bride and I had been married for just a few months. Before marrying me, she was an advocate and lobbyist roaming the halls of the Hawai’i State Legislature. We had planned to go out and have a nice dinner-date one Friday night, when she got notice that a sub-committee that was considering a bill that she was lobbying for was open for public comment that night. We grabbed “dinner” (a couple of hot dogs) at a 7-Eleven and headed for the State Capitol. There were 3 State Senators, my bride and I, and about a half-dozen others. My Bride and several other people all spoke to the sub-committee and advocated in favor of the bill, urging the Senators to pass the bill as-is to the full Senate for a vote. No one spoke against the bill. After hearing everyone, the Senators looked at each other, and agreed to table the bill.

In Robert’s Rules of Order parlance, the act of “tabling” a discussion before the group means an indefinite suspension on the issue. While it is normally used in conjunction with a set date or declared "the next meeting" to put a discussion on hold until more information can be gathered and reported back to the group to help make a decision and resolve the issue, In politics, tableing a bill means that it will sit in that committee and never be brought to an "up-or-down" committee vote to send the bill to the floor of the legislature for a vote or not. All bills in committee or unpassed on the floor of the legislative body then “dies” at the end of that legislative session. This tactic is beneficial to the politician, since there is no record of a vote for or against that their opponents can screech about in the next election.

I have had several other interactions with state and local government “behind the curtain” since then, and they all shared the same path, the citizens are not listened to very little, if at all.

Which brings us to today. Back in June 2022, I got a notice that my County Government was forming a “gun safety council” and members of the public were invited to apply to sit on the council and solve this scourge of our community. It was formed to tackle children getting shot accidentally, gun crime and suicides. I applied, listing off my years of experience of being a gun owner and my research into the subject, and I was selected.

Going into this, I was holding out zero hope that any meaningful change would happen, however I was determined to give it my best shot. I have been wrong before.

I became kind of excited about bringing facts and ideas into a discussion like this. I sent the lady who was the lead liaison for the county government a nine-page, 1,923 word “stream of consciousness” (as it came out of my brain, it went into the document with minimal editing) document. While I won’t repeat it here, I presented several problems and solutions.

My take was to satisfy the curiosity of the child about firearms, so they know what it is and why they shouldn’t touch it without Mom or Dad right there with them. You can tell a child not to touch a hot stove a dozen times, but the lesson isn’t really learned until they do. Hopefully the parent is there to prevent a tragedy from happening. My objective was to teach these children, in a controlled environment and at an age-appropriate level so they know why to not handle a firearm without Mom or Dad.

Here were my major points:

  1. Locks are a time machine. The only thing a lock does is slow the access to the weapon. The teenager has to bide their time to find out where the keys are or what the safe combination is before they can gain access to the weapon. If it’s during a home invasion or a smash-and-grab on a car, the amount of time the criminal has is very short. Generally, more than they have unless they brought the necessary tools with them.
  2. Defang the serpent. Children are naturally curious. It’s their job at 4+ years old to touch everything and explore the world. When the parents hide something away, the child becomes even more curious about it and seeks it out, which leads to tragedy.
  3. I also advocated for Eddie Eagle, and have it repeated over and over again, not just once.
  4. Teenagers need to be taught conflict resolution so they can use words and maybe fists before guns. I suggested a “duel day” where one student could call out another and they resolve it in a physical, non-fatal manner under supervision. Paintball/laser tag, boxing, math problems, I’m not picky.

Then I went with the solution that I have repeatedly talked about here. The nuclear two-parent home needs to be brought back. Absent this, an organized in-school or extracurricular “Gentleman’s Club” where children receive attention from a positive role model. Because the gangs that perpetuate most of this violence also provide a role model for the child/teenager to emulate, it’s just not a positive model.

I also pointed out the societal mores that allow, if not encourage the behavior of teens in gangs, performing a never-ending stream of drive-bys and other gang-related activities that lead to bodies on the street. I said, “Solve these and you won’t have the gun problem.”

I’m first to admit, I don’t have all of the answers, or even most of the questions. What I do know is how to observe a program in action, then analyze the results to determine if minor changes to the program are needed, or this program will not accomplish its’ goals, regardless of time and funding. I am never interested in “conventional” solutions. Simply because if they do pass the criteria of “success,” it is a modest success at best. I was throwing ideas into the ring, with the intent to see what would work and what wouldn’t. I have no idea, which is why they would have to be tried.

My initial assessment and past experience turned out to be prescient. The Liasons almost immediately started talking about gun locks. A couple of the community organizers also spoke about raising awareness. When gun locks were brought up, every gun owner shot the concept down categorically. We all described that every new firearm is already sold with a gun lock, and detailed the numerous negatives and zero positives when using these that I won’t go into.

And after my time working in the healthcare industry, I already know “raising awareness” runs out about 15 seconds before the person throws the literature away, usually within an hour of having it handed to them. The only exception to this is when the person has been personally impacted and searches for more information.

A couple days after the second meeting, I received an email from one of the other government liaisons, asking to privately connect to “share some ideas and feedback.” Once we had a phone call, his feedback was for me to get behind gun locks, because the committee had a short action period of time and budget. I of course said, “No way!”

A couple days after that conversation, I received this email from the main liaison:

I want to start by thanking you for being one of a very few Memphians who stepped up to volunteer for the Shelby County Gun Safety Council. Your enthusiasm for the topic and knowledge of the issues is very evident in our brief time together. I appreciate that you have many ideas on how to make an impact in this area in our community, and I hope you pursue them. However, in order to move forward with the specific projects in the short time we have remaining and with adequate feedback from all council members, we no longer require your participation on the council. Best of luck in your future endeavors.  Please let me know if I can be of assistance. Thank you again.

Unexpected, yes. Surprised, not at all.

So, I spent over an hour crafting this response. To give context, the bit about “a felon with a gun running around Memphis carjacking people and shooting at them randomly” refers to an incident in Memphis in September 2022, where a 19-year-old felon fresh out of prison got hold of a gun, carjacked several people to keep the police off his tail while he drove around town, randomly shooting people. He killed 4 and wounded 3 more. The city was in lockdown until he was captured:

The definition of insanity is, "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." So, your goals are to cut gun deaths, and you're going to attempt that by "raising awareness" and "advocating the use of gun locks." I could get behind such a proposal, if you could show me where it worked in the past. Just once.

What you are trying to do is place a Band-Aid on a severed artery and expecting the patient to survive. I can promise you repeating a program that has been tried hundreds of times and failed every time will fail yet again. Which is why I suggested the things I did. I have no idea how well they would work, if they worked at all, but I do know they have a better chance of success than the zero percent chance of trying what's already proven to fail. If you also notice, my proposals address the root causes. If you solve those, you won't have what we just had, a felon with a gun running around Memphis carjacking people and shooting at them randomly. If government had addressed the root causes, he wouldn't have been a felon at all, because he would have had the structure, knowledge and skills so he would have never gone down that path in the first place.

Solving problems like this can't be done in six weeks. It can't be fixed in six years, but you would start to see the trend develop by then. It will be expensive, time consuming, frustrating and ultimately rewarding if you do it properly.

I want you to know you totally met my expectations I had when I applied to this council. My prior experience with government aligns perfectly with your current path, that government deems "looking like they are trying to solve the problem" is way more important than actually trying to solve the problem. In fact, NOT solving the problem is in the interests of politicians and bureaucrats because solving the problem means politicians don't get to continue to hold press conferences to say "we are working on the problem" and to use "I am working on the problem" as part of their re-election campaign. Actually solving problems also works bureaucrats out of jobs, since the problem is now solved. The downside is you are reassigned or laid off, like us people in the private sector have to go through periodically.

I am kind of like a police officer, without the "being shot at" part. When I arrive at a site to fix critical broken equipment, the people I greet are having a very bad day. They look to me to solve their problem. I achieve results because when I repair things, I look at what's wrong, what's been done to fix it before me, what the results were and based on that try something else, then evaluate again, repeating that loop until the problem is solved. When I depart a site after I solved their problem, I say, "Don't take this the wrong way, but I hope it's a long time before you see me again." My faith in government would be partially restored if the elected officials and bureaucrats like you had that kind of a mindset.

I run a political commentary website. I am currently going through an upgrade, however once I am done with that I promise I will be relating everything that I heard and saw for this council, especially your email below and this response. It will be accurate, truthful, complete, and it will be polite. It will not be kind. Keep an eye out for it.

I have now fulfilled that promise. I have been polite, truthful, complete and contextually accurate as possible while valuing you, the reader's time. I respect the county mayor and his administration for wanting to tackle this problem. I am disappointed that while much effort will be expended, nothing significant will come of it. This post is not kind, because I have finally accepted that the needs and goals of the Citizens will always be at odds with the needs and goals of government.

It is the first priority of a politician, once they are in office, to stay in office. The only way to do that is to piss off as few people as possible. Most of the time that entails looking like they are solving the problem, even if they are perpetuating it.

It is the incentive of the bureaucrat to not work themselves out of a job by actually solving the problem. Look at our own diplomats with Israel as a prime example. Since the first day Israel was declared a country, Israel has been repeatedly attacked by their neighbors. When Israel decides to return the favor, we stop them by arranging a “cease fire” so the attackers can rebuild and reload. This "solve the immediate problem without adressing the real problem" has kept our State Department in-business and well-funded for eighty years, until Trump brokered deals between Israel and UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. None of which would have happened without a clandestine nod of assent from Saudi Arabia. Notice the Middle East has been quiet since, and not just because of the turmoil in Ukraine.

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