Thursday, February 23, 2012

Give a handgun to a schizophrenic, but take the candy bars away

Not content with proposed legislation that would require drug tests for residents receiving food stamps and other government assistance, Republicans in the Iowa Legislature now are pushing for a law that would prohibit the poorest among us from using food stamps to buy junk food.

House Study Bill 645, a wide-ranging bill on “government efficiency,” doesn’t define junk food, but it requires the state to seek a waiver from the USDA in order to restrict the types of foods people can buy with their food stamp cards, otherwise known as electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards.

Proponents argue the measure will pro-mote healthier eating habits among the more than 350,000 Iowa residents who receive food assistance, but that argument is unconvincing coming from the same folks who regularly criticize first lady Michelle Obama for encouraging healthy foods in school.

Make no mistake, the food stamp bill is not about the government encouraging healthy choices among the state’s poor population – it’s about sticking it to food stamp recipients to take advantage of a growing sense of indignation over what conservatives perceive as government hand-outs to a lazy, shiftless population.

As that sentiment grows, indignant conservatives stand up and say, “How dare they use my tax dollars to buy candy bars!”

The candy police proposal also reveals the contradictory and hypocritical stance of Republican leaders who say from one side of their mouths they want to limit government interference in private lives and business activities, and from the other side support heavy-handed government interference when it suits their political interests.

After all, the legislators who want the government to tell food stamp recipients the kinds of food they can and can’t eat are part of the same crowd simultaneously trying to eliminate all forms of firearm regulation in Iowa.

House File 2114 would prevent local governments from banning firearms in public places, another would eliminate gun bans on college campuses and a proposed consti-tutional amendment, House Joint Resolution 2005, would prohibit any sort of licensing or registration requirements for gun owners.

A similar proposal last year was dubbed the “crazy give a handgun to a schizophrenic bill” when Rep. Jeff Kauffman (R-Wilton) was inadvertently caught on a live microphone using the description during a House debate.

So, Iowa Republicans think the state has no business telling citizens to register handguns or to keep them out of city hall, but it needs to crack down on those dangerous candy bars?

The positions are intellectually dishonest and just plain bad ideas.

Under the proposals, a mentally-ill resident who receives disability assistance and food stamps would be allowed to buy a Glock and carry it into government buildings, but he would be in trouble if he tried to pack a state-subsidized Snickers bar next to his pistol.

Not only have the legislators sunk so low they’re ready to punish the unemployed, poor and disabled by taking away their candy and making them eat celery and spinach, they’re hypocritical enough to claim the junk food law serves a legitimate public interest but gun laws are an unnecessary government intrusion.

Simply put Iowans who are eligible for food stamps are poor. Eligibility guidelines set a maximum gross annual household income of $14,160 for a single individual and $29,064 for a family of four.

Doubtless there are people who game the system. But as a general rule, Iowans on food stamps don’t have all that much to begin with, and Republicans want to take away one pleasure they still can enjoy.

As they say in that old Kit Kat commercial, give me a break.

But back to the guns.

One argument from those who want to prevent local governments from banning guns in public buildings such as courthouses, city offices and schools continues to rear its head, and that argument needs to be exposed for the intellectual rubbish it is.

The argument is this: A person with evil intentions will not be stopped by a sign on City Hall doors that says guns aren’t allowed.

Therefore, they argue, the prohibitions are pointless.

It’s true as far as it goes, but the problem with this argument is it flies in the face of every other public safety law in the state and the nation.

Speed limit signs don’t stop drivers from speeding; laws against burglary don’t stop hoodlums from breaking into houses; and murder laws don’t stop someone with evil intent from committing a murder.

By the logic of the gun lobby, those laws are equally ineffectual and pointless and also should be removed from the books.

No one is making that argument, however, presumably because they know they would look like fools, or perhaps because they recognize such laws, like firearms bans in public buildings, have the dual purpose of prevention and punishment.

Speed limits don’t stop people from speeding, but they allow police to stop the drivers and issue citations.

Gun bans in public buildings won’t be enough to prevent a tragedy should someone try to shoot up City Hall, but they es-tablish a reasonable standard to create a safe environment for government workers who can find themselves in adversarial positions with angry taxpayers.

Food stamp recipients who purchase an occasional pudding pop aren’t responsible for the state’s problems, and punishing this already disenfranchised class won’t solve any of them.

There have been no efforts to infringe on gun rights in Iowa, and in fact, those rights were dramatically expanded last year when Iowa became a “shall issue” state for concealed carry permits.

Iowa Republicans need to drop both of these issues and focus on our many real problems; like finally addressing the numerous problems in the state’s splintered mental health system.

But before they can get on with that much-needed work, they need to drop the intellectual dishonesty that comes when self-professed “small government types” propose increased government regulations purely for political gain.

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