Sunday, May 31, 2009

Easy, Rider

What do guns and credit cards have in common?

Other than that credit cards are sometimes used in buying guns, not much. Not much, that is, unless a bill to legalize the carrying of loaded weapons in national parks is attached as a rider to the Credit Cardholder’s Bill of Rights legislation. Then they have a lot in common.

Bundling legislation is nothing new; it’s been a common practice—almost routine—for as long as I can remember. But just because it’s been around for awhile doesn’t make it right. Unfortunately, that’s one of the ways the people’s business (or business’ business) gets done on Capitol Hill, and until voters get angry and demand that it stop, it’s a practice that’s likely to continue.

Piggybacking legislation is popular among legislators because it allows for the passage of a marginal bill (the rider) that lacks popular support and otherwise wouldn’t have a snowflake’s chance in a toaster oven of making it into law on its own. Simply inserted into the text of the original bill late in the proceedings, a rider often goes unnoticed and, therefore, it faces no opposition.

Another way the piggyback ploy is used and abused is when an opposing party adds a rider that contains egregiously bad legislation—that no one wants to become law—to the primary legislation to thwart or delay its passage. Quite often, our esteemed legislators would rather see a good bill die than have it pass into law if it means that a rider bearing dire political consequences would also become law.

In the matter of legalizing the carrying of loaded guns in national parks, I think the gun lobby saw in the credit card bill the perfect opportunity to get long-desired gun legislation passed. They must have been onto something (rather than on something), because it worked. Of course, had the credit card bill not passed, the political fallout would have been overwhelming; no way could politicos afford to let it die.

So, what do relaxed gun laws mean for people who frequent national parks? Are the anti-gun crowd’s fears justified, or is theirs just a knee-jerk reaction to something they don’t fully understand? Will park visitors, park rangers and animals be in greater danger of being shot, or will the risks stay about the same? Does rampant paranoia undermine discussions of the issue? And finally, are people even asking the right questions about the issue?

The likeliest outcome of the new legislation permitting loaded weapons in national parks is that we’ll see a higher level of civility in the parks. When milquetoast Paul Reubens, wearing a monster .357 Magnum revolver—with a 14-inch barrel—on his hip, approaches blowhard redneck Randy Quaid with a polite request that the latter kindly lower the volume on his amped-to-the-max stereo, you can safely assume that Mr. Quaid will say, “Yes sir, Mr. Reubens, right away!”

Or, alternatively, Mr. Quaid will simply discharge a load of double-aught buckshot in the general direction of Mr. Reuben’s head, effectively causing the other half of Mr. Reuben’s brain to go missing. It’s a scenario that doesn’t end well for either party. If, indeed, it plays out this way, we can look upon it as a huge loss for both Mr. Reuben and Mr. Quaid, and (the way I see it) a huge gain for everyone else; neither one of these guys would be making another movie anytime soon.

Beyond that, I don’t think there’s much to worry about.

Lock and load!

Q >>>