It’s common now to brush off legislative proposals to address serious societal issues by saying government can’t solve all problems.
Gov. Matt Bevin just did it when asked about the disturbing increase of gun deaths in Louisville and Lexington.
“You have a cultural problem, you have a spiritual problem, you have an economic problem,” he said. “People who want to pretend it’s something that can be legislated, some more government rules are going to fix this, are delusional.”
Let’s leave aside the fact that Bevin is happy to use the government to intervene in other areas, the truth is he is just wrong about what government can do. Government can solve some problems and, more importantly, it can help individuals and communities as they try to solve problems.
Examples abound: automobile deaths were rampant before a range of government interventions steered us toward safer vehicles and more competent drivers. The long arm of the government, prodded by concerned citizens, enforced innovations such as seat belts, air bags, padded dashboards and shatterproof glass.
But, as the saying goes, cars alone don’t kill people, it takes a person driving a car to do that job. And, there too, government has imposed life-saving rules. Alcohol-influenced traffic deaths have shrunk since the legal limits for blood alcohol content were lowered and enforcement increased. Fewer young people die or kill others in car wrecks, thanks to licensing laws that require new drivers to graduate through several qualifying steps. We require periodic relicensing and take licenses away from people deemed unable to operate a vehicle safely.
All this and cars are only made to get us from one place to another.
Guns, on the other hand, are designed to kill or grievously injure people and animals.
It’s true, as Bevin suggests, that deep societal ills are tied to the uptick of gun violence in Lexington and Louisville. But the numbers suggest those ills aren’t found only in the urban centers. All of Kentucky has a problem with gun deaths. In 2014 the rate of gun deaths for the entire state was a third higher than in the nation as a whole: 13.8 per 100,000 population compared to 10.2 for the nation. Notably, that comparison grew worse from 2013, when it was 13.7 per 100,000 population in Kentucky compared to 10.4 nationally.
Bevin turned the problem back to the affected communities. “It’s going to take a community that does some serious soul-searching and asks itself the hard questions. It takes ownership and heals itself from within,” he said.
That’s just what Mayor Greg Fischer in Louisville and Sen. Reggie Thomas, D-Lexington are suggesting. Thomas has prefiled a bill that would allow Louisville and Lexington to enact gun control legislation for their own communities.
If Bevin is dead-set against the state taking action to reduce gun deaths in its cities then he should at least support local efforts to, as he says, heal “from within.”