Time to Enlist State Powers to Curb Deadliest Guns

Jay Owen SRI/ESG News
 27 December 2012
Welcome to! We ring out 2012 with a duo of columns from two Citistates Group founders, Curtis Johnson and Neal Peirce. In the aftermath of the Newtown tragedy, Neal offers a strategy for enacting sensible gun restrictions, despite paralysis at the federal level: state action. And from Detroit, Curtis offers hope that the Motor City may, at long last, begin to build a fully regional transit system.  – Mary Newsom

Time to Enlist State Powers to Curb Deadliest Guns

By Neal Peirce

Michigan’s Minor Miracle

By Curtis Johnson

For Release Sunday, December 30, 2012
(c) 2012 Washington Post Writers Group

WASHINGTON – Now, in the wake of the Newtown massacre, is the time to blow the whistle on the gun industry.

We have a proven formula. It’s the approach that curbed the tobacco industry and its life-imperiling products.

And action needn’t wait on the federal government. Any state, right now, can start the ball rolling, through public interest lawsuits filed by state attorneys general. Plus – or alternatively – it can impose high taxes on ultra-dangerous automatic weapons and the ammunition to fire them.

It’s worth remembering the salvo of state lawsuits filed against the tobacco industry, reaching a culmination in the 1990s. The end result was the “Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement” in which Philip Morris and its ilk agreed to curtail their tobacco marketing and pay annual payments to compensate states, at least in part, for the medical costs of caring for people with smoking-related illnesses.

Who can argue that guns are less of a public menace than cigarettes? About 25 Americans are murdered by guns every 24 hours. Many more are wounded: Hospital emergency rooms see more than 200 gunshot wound victims daily. The numbers of mass shootings, like Newtown, are on the rise. More than half the 10 deadliest mass shootings have occurred in the last five years – not just in schools but at nightclubs, hospitals, funeral homes, malls, movie theaters, even places of worship.

Combining the direct medical costs of treating gun injuries with the economic damage of lost lives, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the total exceeded $40 billion for 2005 (the most recent year available). That’s far more than the $31.8 billion a year the National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates the economic value (manufacturing, retailing, etc.) of the entire U.S. firearms industry. The United States leads affluent countries – by far – in gun-related civilian deaths and injuries.


For Release Thursday, December 27, 2012

Question: What recent political event in Michigan, affecting the Detroit region, holds the potential for the most lasting impact?

No, it’s not the state’s controversial new right-to-work law, as full of implications as that may be. It’s not the latest maneuvers over Detroit’s finances, which may lead to a bankruptcy episode in the coming year.

The answer lies in what might appear to be a minor structural change in how one piece of government is organized. On Dec. 19, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law the new Regional Transit Authority (RTA). Over a whole generation of attempts – 24 in all – various coalitions had tried to put together something regional for transit – a system taken for granted in virtually all other major metros of America. Such a measure even passed once, in 2002, but Republican Gov. John Engler vetoed it, almost literally on his way out of office.

The RTA goes live in March and gets full financial authority in October 2013. It effectively merges the Detroit Department of Transportation and the Suburban Mobility Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART), which has long run a bus system serving Macomb County and the outer portions of Wayne and Oakland counties.

Serious transit in Motown? Like a wind farm on a coal mine? In reality, Detroit’s transit history dates to 1863, when the city had a horse-drawn streetcar system. By 1900 the streetcar railway, electrified by then, had expanded to offer inter-urban service to Ann Arbor, Toledo, Port Huron, Flint and Jackson – only to die a slow death in the 1920s.

Detroit’s downtown monorail circulator, dutifully running a 2.9-mile loop since 1987, was an early urban experiment. Though never a model of efficiency and often the butt of derisive humor, it soldiers on. Today, with downtown filling up again – spurred by investments by Quicken Loans’ Dan Gilbert and other entrepreneurs – the People Mover may not be lonely much longer.


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Our mission… to reflect a new narrative for 21st century cities and regions. Leaving behind the 20th century pattern of cheap energy, endless automobility, burgeoning suburbs, threatened inner cities. To a challenge-packed 21st century: energy prices headed north, perilous carbon emissions, deepening have-have not divisions. The weekly release includes Neal Peirce’s column for the Washington Post Writers Group, as well as a guest column by one of the seasoned urban professionals in the Citistates Group.