I was a massive nerd back in high school. Orchestra nerd, debate geek, advanced physics club…the whole nine yards. In the aftermath of the failed Manchin-Toomey universal background check amendment to Harry Reid’s gun control bill, I’m reminded of one of my favorite moments from high school debate club, and I think it perfectly explains the behavior of those who, according to recent polls, were disappointed or angry that the the whole thing crashed and burned so spectacularly . . .
There were two debate clubs in my high school: JSA and Model Congress. I belonged to both, but I always liked Model Congress better. There was something about the rules and procedures that struck my fancy, and they afforded the ability to hijack someone’s bill for my own twisted designs. Like when I tacked on an amendment to a universal healthcare bill to fund a NASA mission to place my cat in a geosynchronous orbit.
One of the things I learned was that people generally never read beyond the preamble and the first section of, well, just about anything. After that, they lose interest and just want to get on with the debate. So one week, as we were getting ready to start the debate, I slipped the following bill into the pile:
Preamble: To Feed the Homeless*
BE IT ENACTED [yada yada yada]
Section 1. All persons without a fixed place of residence, and who are found on the streets by police officers or who appear voluntarily, shall be brought to designated feeding locations where they shall be fed*.
Section 2. The schedule shall be performed as needed, as determined by those in charge of the process of feeding the homeless*.
Section 3. This bill shall go into effect immediately upon passage.
*To the lions.
Nobody actually read the whole thing. Which means that no one (except the small group of nerdy and similarly twisted friends of mine, one pictured with me above) realized what was going on.
One of the rules of debate was that a proposal’s sponsor and the primary opposition (the main guys in favor and opposed to a bill) could only speak about the preamble and nothing in the body of the bill. So I stood there for my five minutes talking about how great it would be to feed all the homeless, with my friend standing next to me and raising a postcard with an asterisk on it at the appropriate times. People thought it was strange, but no one actually realized what was going on. Even the primary opponent didn’t see it, instead prattling on about unfunded mandates and budget deficits.
Even through the first half of the debate, people were still tossing around the costs versus the benefits of feeding the homeless. Finally, one of my least favorite people got up to support the bill, and that’s when I let them have it.
“Point of inquiry.”
“What about the welfare of the lions? Certainly their health would take a dip from the constant diet of homeless people?”
You could see everyone looking at the paper, and slowly coming to the terrible realization of what was going on. Not a single one of them had actually read the whole piece of paper. They all stopped after the preamble. They liked the way the title sounded, and didn’t care enough to read all the provisions of the bill.
That’s exactly what’s going on in Washington today. The universal background check bill failed because it was a complete piece of trash, but gun control advocates didn’t care. They wanted it to pass because it sounded good. Because universal background checks are the “right thing to do.” And as someone who supports background checks, I disagree.
There’s a difference between a knee-jerk reaction and a well thought out piece of legislation. This bill wasn’t well conceived and I cheered when it finally died its ignominious death. My co-workers were actually quite alarmed, but I cheered nonetheless.
Good government means actually reading and understanding the laws that you are voting on. Not just passing them because of their feel-good titles. And that’s what the emotion-driven gun control advocates can’t understand. Shame on us? Shame on you.
Also, damn I looked good back in high school . . .