Despite sober public policy implications, politics is often a game of intrigue, strategy and timing. The events of the last week, nationally and locally, emphasize the importance of both policy and politics.
The Florida high school massacre is another national tragedy involving high-powered weapons and a mentally unstable shooter. The horrific nature of this incident, along with young people demonstrating across the country, has boosted the prospects of gun control. Will we see changes in the purchase of guns? Will this affect campaigns in Utah?
Pignanelli: "With the right to bear arms comes a great responsibility to use caution and commonsense.” — Ronald Reagan
My teenage sons, in response to these horrific events, expressed fears and wondered how society can do more to protect their fellow high school students. (They are comfortable with guns as our family activities include skeet shooting and target practice). I explained the issue is a lesson in American democracy.
When queried on gun control, most politicians offer solutions in mental health treatment, better enforcement of current laws, etc. They understand many Americans resent implications their lawful gun ownership is a cause of violence. Second Amendment feelings run deep. Our nation secured independence because commoners were skilled with rifles. The country expanded and settled through armed pioneers. So our government responds to a cultural dynamic shared by a majority — who vote.
The emotions percolating from the recent tragedies may prompt modifications to background information and bump stock availability. The country admires the articulate Florida students, but their well-intentioned activism is unlikely to push major restrictions.
Webb: Congress isn’t going to ban so-called “assault” rifles, nor should it. But other measures should be enacted by federal, state and local governments and school districts.
Outlaw bump stocks; strengthen background check procedures, including penalties for not reporting required information needed for background checks; require background checks for gun shows and online sales; make guns part of mental health evaluations and prohibit mentally ill people from obtaining weapons; improve security at schools with more resource officers and better screening of visitors; and forbid gun ownership for domestic violence abusers.
Banning scary-looking “assault” guns while allowing conventional rifles that perform exactly the same way would be silly. With more than 300 million guns floating around the country, banning certain guns or high-capacity magazines would be impractical and pointless. We need to take steps that will make a difference, not make feel-good, symbolic gestures that might play well to liberal audiences, but that won’t solve the problem.
Long term, the broader society must confront the underlying causes of crime, poverty and clinical alienation: family dysfunction, fatherless children, violent movies, TV shows and video games, misogynistic rap music and so forth. We hear too much talk about banning assault rifles and not enough about strengthening families.
Mitt Romney’s U.S. Senate announcement was fairly quickly followed by a highly publicized tweet from President Trump supporting the new candidate. Will Trump and Romney get along? Can Romney make a dent in a dysfunctional federal government? Could Romney face an interparty opponent?
Pignanelli: A few Republicans want a brief spotlight challenging Romney in the convention, including State Treasurer John Dougall — a delegate favorite.
The predictable outcome will not reduce attention on the race. Because of Romney's gravitas, reporters from around the planet will follow him with the hope of a catchy response to Trump’s tweets. The summer sport for Utahns will be spotting neighbors and friends standing behind the famous candidate running this midterm cycle during multiple television and YouTube interviews.
Webb: Trump and Romney will have a wary and complicated relationship. Neither will overtly attempt to undermine the other, but neither will be unafraid to publicly disagree. Romney will have a big megaphone, and I hope he will fight the gridlock and dysfunction, fashioning compromises to solve the nation’s problems.
Some high-profile Utah legislators are seriously trying to abolish the death penalty. Will such a momentous change in policy occur this year?
Pignanelli: The legislation passed out of committee by a decent margin, with support from unexpected quarters. But many Utahns remain unpersuaded. So the bill receives additional debate and will likely be held for discussion in a future session.17 comments on this story
Webb: Lawmakers ought not to tie the hands of judges and juries. We tried that with minimum mandatory criminal sentences and it was a big mistake. Some crimes are so heinous that the death penalty should be imposed. One size does not fit all, even with the death penalty. Judges and juries need flexibility to fit the punishment to the crime. The death penalty in Utah is extremely rare — as it should be. Legislators will live to regret passing this legislation sometime in the future when a monster of pure evil can’t be dispatched to the eternities. Rep. Steve Handy’s bill providing further study of this issue should be passed, instead.
Republican LaVarr Webb is a political consultant and lobbyist. Previously he was policy deputy to Gov. Mike Leavitt and Deseret News managing editor. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Democrat Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser. Pignanelli served 10 years in the Utah House of Representatives, six years as minority leader. His spouse, D'Arcy Dixon Pignanelli, is the president/CEO of the Special Olympics of Utah. Email: email@example.com.