Panelists discuss the President-elect’s Potential Policies

On Nov. 30, 2016, the Howard H. Baker Jr Center for Public Policy hosted a panel of individuals to share their outlooks on President-elect Donald Trump’s potential policies for the next four years.

Baker Center director, Matt Murray, opened the panel by explaining the potential economic policies under Trump.

“From a starting point, there are going to be constraints on what President Trump can in fact do in office,” Murray emphasized in the beginning. “Despite the fact there’s a Republican held Senate and House, there will be opposition from some quarters regarding virtually every element of the tax plans that [President Trump] has put forward.”

Murray explained that much of what Trump would be doing would relate to setting tones and regulations of economics, primarily through trade policies and executive order. According to Murray, those areas would face the most influence from the President-elect.

“President Trump has proposed some substantial changes to the taxation of businesses in the U.S.,” Murray said.

According to Murray, Trump’s tax plan entails a reduction in taxes for major corporations from 35 percent to 15 percent which is estimated to cause a revenue loss for the federal government between $5 trillion and $10 trillion within the next decade. In regards to personal income taxes, Trump has proposed collapsing the number of brackets to three, lowering the top personal income tax from 39 percent to 33 percent while raising the lowest tax rate from 10 percent to 12 percent.

Murray said that the distributional consequences of the tax plans for individual households would lead to savings of over a million dollars for those at the top tenth of one percent of our economy and a tax increase for 20 percent of family households, as well as a large majority of single parent households.

“There are significant distributional affects associated with his proposed tax plans,” Murray said.

Murray gave a brief explanation of the president-elect’s tariff proposals. These tariff proposals suggest 45 percent tariffs on imports from China and 35 percent tariffs on imports from Mexico. According to Murray, independent analysts have evaluated Trump’s tariff plans and concluded that they would lead to a global recession.

However, Murray summarized his outlook with an emphasis on the unknown.

“What Trump proposed over the course of the campaign was rhetoric,” said Murray in regards to Trump’s plans. “From here on out, we don’t really know what the reality will be.”

Murray turned the panel over to Dr. Richard Pacelle, the head of the UTK’s Political Science department. Pacelle spoke on the significant matter of judicial appointment.

“The Supreme Court is the most important part of this election,” said Pacelle.

Pacelle explained that over the lifetime of the Supreme Court, about 20 percent of judicial candidates get rejected, but that those rejections typically occur when the president and the Senate are of different parties. This election, however, there is no such imbalance, making the appointment of a Republican justice probable.

“[The Democrats] don’t have the votes to win outright,” said Pacelle. “But they have the votes to keep filibusters going.”

According to Pacelle, the Democrats will be at an advantage with a four-to-four court for as long as the Senate can filibuster the appointment of judicial candidates. This advantage would be owed to the number of democratic lower courts the Obama presidency will have left behind.

Pacelle also praised the ideas of Republican majority leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, for his decision to postpone hearings after the death of Justice Scalia. Pacelle attributed reluctant Republican Trump voters eventually coming to the Trump’s side out of a desire to protect the Supreme Court.

Dr. David Greene, a Baker Fellow and retired Oakridge National Laboratory specialist, focused on relating transportation to the environment and climate.

Greene began by citing a quote by the President-elect regarding the removal of the Environmental Protection Agency, leaving only tidbits of it remaining.

“That comment is kind of hard to take seriously,” Greene said. “A car that’s emissions are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency emits less than 1 percent of the emissions of an unregulated vehicle.”

According to Greene, one of the key issues in question were greenhouse gas emission standards in relation to vehicles and large corporations. In the absence of the EPA, Greene made it clear that only one state has any laws in place to regulate emissions.

“California is the only state in the United States that has the authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own emission standards,” Greene explained. “Other states may adopt California’s standards.”

Greene elaborated further on the matter regarding the potential removal of greenhouse gas regulations under the Trump Administration. With only one state having its own law regulating emissions, and only 15 having become Section 177 states per the federal Clean Air Act of 1970, the removal of a federal law would open doors for massive amounts of greenhouse emissions with little to no restrictions.

Dr. Charles Sims, another Baker Fellow and economist, also spoke on the environmental effects and regulations we can anticipate under a Trump presidency.

Sims primarily observed whether or not it was even possible for the president-elect to do some of the things he said he would do throughout his campaign. Many of the laws, Sims said, would be difficult—if not impossible—to remove. Similarly, laws that Trump might want to put into place would be a difficult goal to achieve, as well. Sims explained another, more efficient approach that the president-elect would likely take.

“He doesn’t have to repeal [rules],” Sims said. “He just has to put people into place that won’t enforce them.”

Sims also spoke about recent federal regulations made regarding methane emissions. According to Sims, these regulations, along with numerous other new regulations being pushed by the Obama Administration, are recent enough to still be under congressional review when Trump takes office.

Dr. Krista Wiegand, a Baker Faculty Fellow and political scientist who specializes in global security, namely acts relating to terrorism.

Wiegand spoke out immediately regarding Trump’s choice of Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina as his Ambassador to the United Nations.

“Though Governor Haley doesn’t have any international experience herself,” said Wiegand, “she was chosen mainly because she’s the daughter of immigrants from India. She’s an international face.”

According to Wiegand, the position of U.N. Ambassador was as powerful as it was symbolic, as the ambassador is an international representation of the United States.

Wiegand also spoke about Trump’s desire to build up the United States’ military, improving technology and the overall size. She observed that this seemed to contradict with his desire to withdraw from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“He doesn’t want to use the military,” said Wiegand. “He just wants to build it up.”

The panel was then opened up for a brief Q&A session involving the audience.

Emma Wiley, a freshman at UT, said, “I don’t think Trump can do as much as we thought he could; but, I also don’t think his choices are the most objective for the country.”

Featured Image by Bethany Daniel

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo

After the Election: where do we go from here?

In a deep red state and in Trump’s America, minorities fear speaking their mind, and even feel unwelcome to speak their minds on the university.

With the nation in a state of shock from the results of Tuesday’s election, the Office of Multicultural Student Life invited all students to gather in solidarity regarding the outcome.

The open discussion acted as a peaceful space to discuss opinions without backlash for those who were attempting to come to terms with the concept of Donald J. Trump’s America. Over 50 students gathered in the evening discussion on Wednesday, Nov. 9, during the second meeting of the day. The discussion echoed one question: How do they move forward?

“Here in our own community Vols are supposed to help Vols, but here in our own community, we hate each other,” journalism major Nicholas Stokes said.

Stokes cited a common theme in the meeting; those who oppose Trump cannot speak their minds because they are disproportionately outnumbered on campus.

Students cited their issues painting “We gon’ be alright. –Kendrik Lamar” and “Love not hate” on The Rock yesterday. They said passers-by responded with angry retorts.

In an effort to come to grips with the recent news, a somber atmosphere lingered over dialogue. Students expressed frustration, fear, sadness, discouragement and even hope. Many in the meeting said they felt they had no place and were unwelcome in Trump’s America.

Though students voiced varied feelings throughout the two hour meeting, the overall tone was warm, welcoming and respectful. The peaceful nature of the meeting acted as a conductor of candid opinions and genuine concerns.

“In order for us to achieve what we need – and that’s love and good spirit – to really establish a real sense of community in America, we have to come together and be on the same page,” Stokes added. “In order for us to do that, somebody has to take initiative. Who that person may be, I don’t know. If it has to be me, okay,”

Stokes’s whose self-proclaimed goal is to observe the world, synthesize facts and share the necessary issues with the public. He is spearheading the return of the Society of Black Journalists on campus. Recently, Stokes started an online magazine, AllStokes.com, that features current issues, sports, famous figures, style and even radio.

Andrew Farlett, a mechanical engineering major, was one of the few white males in the audience. He attended hoping to hear more discussion about the emotional effects of the election.

“I just wanted to listen to what’s going on,” Farlett said. “I’ve been surprised by this and I want to listen and sympathize better. I’m trying to take these things more at an emotional level than a rational one. I’m trying to understand how people are feeling.”

Joshua Oliver, a UT advertising major had a message to those who do not feel directly affected by the Trump presidency.

“I think the answer to those not emotionally invested is to understand the true definition of bravery,” Oliver said. “What happens many times is when you aren’t in the fight by being invested in your identity, it’s hard. You don’t want to step on people’s toes…. Take a leap of faith. Be uncomfortable because that’s what’s going to help propel us.”

According to Justin Crawford, another  journalism major, the answer to overcoming the negativity to “stay true to who you are and hold on to your values”.

“Hold on to your ethics, your morals and being excellent,” Crawford said. “Stay around people who are ambitious, people who are driven and you’re not going to question their friendship because of their vote.”

“We can’t do this on our own. We need people to help us in this fight,” Oliver said.

Edited by Ben Webb

Featured image by DonkeyHotey on Flickr, obtained using creativecommons.org

Donald Trump wins presidency

The American people have elected Donald Trump as President of the United States.

Though most polls predicted Hillary to have a comfortable lead, Trump managed to edge out a victory over his opponent.

Two years of political speculation, party aggression and rigorous campaigning have culminated in the business magnate being elected to serve as the head of state and the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the United States.

He arrived on Manhattan’s Upper East Side just before 11 a.m. to vote with his wife, Melania Trump. Cheers and boos filled streets as he interacted with pedestrians before entering the polling location to cast his vote.

“We’re going to win a lot of states,” Trump said in a Fox News interview before expressing a rare moment of uncertainty, “Who knows what happens ultimately?” The uncertainty proved to be unfounded as Trump solidified his spot as president in the early hours of Nov. 9, 2016.

Trump will be inaugurated on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017 at the U.S. Capitol. His term of office will begin at 12 p.m., just after the swearing-in ceremony. The Vice Presidential ceremony of Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, Trump’s running mate, will directly precede the inauguration.

According to his campaign platform, Trump will “upgrade” America’s military by working with congress to repeal the defense sequester and increase the budget to rebuild the “depleted military.” To strengthen our national defense, Trump is calling for an audit of the Pentagon to cut wasteful spending, more focus on cyber-security and a “serious” missile defense system. His objections with the current missile defense system are unclear.

Trump also supports withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal he claims is responsible for taking American jobs. His platform is to negotiate fair trade deals, increase wages and reduce America’s trade deficit.

Immigration policy has been a primary area Trump has made waves. His plan to build a physical wall on the U.S. and Mexico border is still clearly outlined on his website. There is also a “10 Point Plan to Put America First,” that calls for more vetting of immigrants and priority of Americans in job placement.

Trump’s tax policy focuses on making a business tax rate “more competitive to keep jobs,” in order for it to “revitalize” the economy. Sweeping tax cuts across-the-board, especially for working and middle-class American’s, is also on his agenda.

Finally, his “peace through strength” plan to defeat ISIS revolves around ending the current strategy of nation-building and regime change. Trump aims to work with Arab allies in the Middle East to form a coalition against ISIS. Defeating radical Islamic ideology is a central point to his solution to defeat ISIS.

For more information on Trump’s policies visit his website.

Edited by Ben Webb

Featured image by Gage Skidmore on Flickr, obtained using creativecommons.org

Clinton vs. Trump: Health Insurance and The Affordable Care Act

Written by Samantha Lindsay

The following report is the fourth in a five-part series presenting a comparative analysis of select legislative proposals presented by the two major candidates in the 2016 presidential election; Democrat (D) Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican (R), Donald J. Trump. The third article in this series presents a synopsis of the candidates’ platforms on the issue of gun control, including their similarities and differences. In this report, I will address the candidates’ positions on the issue of health insurance; specifically, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), commonly referred to as “Obamacare.” I will also outline the major objections to their individual proposals. This series is not an endorsement of either candidate.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), explains, “The Affordable Care Act was passed by Congress and then signed into law by the President on March 23, 2010.” The law contains provisions that are to take effect over a period of twelve years, from the signing of the law in 2010 through the year 2022.

One of the more controversial provisions of ACA has been the individual mandate, which requires nearly everyone to have health care coverage under penalty of law enforced by the IRS. According to one poll conducted by Survey Sampling International and commissioned by The Morning Consult, 82% of Republicans, 43% of Democrats and 63% of Independents opposed the individual mandate. An ACA fact sheet published by FindLaw explains the provision and how it has been phased in over time saying, “If you refuse to get coverage, you will be charged a penalty…This fee increases each year (totaling 2.5 percent of your annual income or $695 in 2016, whichever is higher).”

While the individual mandate has been an unpopular provision of the law, it has created a public incentive for more Americans to purchase health insurance. Additionally, ACA has placed restrictions on the private sector industry and broadened public sector programs such as Medicaid and Medicare. These measures have made it easier for people seeking health insurance to qualify for coverage. This approach has led to a huge increase in the number of Americans now covered, and according to data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, approximately 90% of Americans under the age of 65 now have some form of health insurance.

In the ACA program, private sector insurance providers participate in state-by-state marketplace exchanges found on healthcare.gov. They are rated bronze, silver, gold or platinum based on the cost of monthly premiums (how much you pay every month for coverage) and health care deductibles (how much you pay out of pocket for health care). Insurance providers who participate in the exchanges are prohibited from denying coverage or charging higher premiums for people with pre-existing conditions. Therefore, if a provider chooses to charge higher premiums to cover the cost of pre-existing conditions, they must charge the same premium to all consumers in the same exchange category.

Higher premiums make their products less attractive to healthier potential customers which has created an imbalanced risk-pool in the ACA program costing some providers, such as Aetna, hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, as explained by CNN’s Tami Luhby. According to Zachary Tracer of Bloomberg Businessweek, this dilemma created by ACA has cost the insurance industry as a whole “almost $2 billion in losses this year.”

The cost of remaining in the public exchanges has led numerous insurance providers, such as “UnitedHealthcare, the biggest health insurer in the United States,” to exit the program, as reported by Paul R. La Monica, also of CNN. Due to insurance providers leaving the exchanges, many uninsured consumers will have fewer options in the coming year. Trevor Hunnicutt reporting for Reuters states that “Nearly a third of U.S. counties likely will be served by only one insurer that participates in an Affordable Care Act (ACA) Marketplace in 2017.”

At the same time, 2017 projections reported by HHS on October 24, indicate that mid-level or “benchmark” premiums are expected to go up by an average of 25% nationwide. HHS estimates further suggest that the increase will be much higher in several states. For example, the “average second-lowest cost Silver premium for a 27-Year-Old” will increase by 116% in Arizona, 69% in Oklahoma and 63% in Tennessee.

According to a November 2nd Rasmussen poll, “Only 27% of all voters rate the health care law as a success. Thirty-nine percent (39%) still see it as a failure, while 32% rank it as somewhere in between the two.” While the Rasmussen poll found that only 4% of voters “want to leave the law as it is,” public opinion is divided primarily along partisan lines on how best to address these issues going forward. Rasmussen also found that “Seventy percent (70%) of voters say the health care law is important to their vote in the presidential election.”

 

(R) Donald J. Trump

Trump’s platform includes a list of legislative proposals that would potentially give a broader range of choices to all Americans and alleviate the financial burdens of the individual mandate and rising monthly premiums on health insurance. The platform begins with a promise that, “On day one of the Trump Administration, we will ask Congress to immediately deliver a full repeal of Obamacare.” A full repeal of ACA would eliminate the individual mandate that is currently enforced by the IRS; thereby, making the purchase of health insurance a choice, rather than a legal requirement.

Trump further suggests that our elected representatives “Modify existing law that inhibits the sale of health insurance across state lines.” The rationale for the proposal to open national competition to insurance providers is that it would provide Americans with greater flexibility and more choices while potentially resulting in lower monthly premiums for the consumer. According to the Rasmussen poll cited above, “Sixty-six percent (66%) of voters favor Trump’s proposal to allow employers and individuals to buy health insurance across state lines.”

Objections

While the majority of voters may support a repeal of the individual mandate, there are many provisions of ACA that have gained broad public support. According to a March 2014 Kaiser Health Tracking Poll, 70% of the public, including, “74% of Democrats, 70% of Independents and 69% of Republicans,” support the guaranteed issue provision that prohibits insurers from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. A full repeal of ACA might leave many people with pre-existing conditions uninsured while forcing others to pay higher monthly premiums.

Additionally, allowing insurance companies to compete across state lines carries a risk that major insurance providers would begin to consolidate by buying out smaller insurance companies, following a pattern established by other national industries. Such a move would minimize consumer choice at the national level and possibly create an insurance monopoly. If that happened on the heels of a full repeal of ACA, there is a possibility that it would enable insurance companies to indiscriminately charge higher premiums while barring access to the most disadvantaged consumers.

 

(D) Hillary Rodham Clinton

Clinton’s platform includes proposals intended to address the issues of availability and cost within the framework of existing provisions of the ACA.

To make health insurance more broadly available, Clinton pledges to “work with governors to expand Medicaid in every state.” Additionally, the proposed legislation would allow “families to buy health insurance on the Health Exchanges regardless of their immigration status.” Together with the law that prohibits insurance providers from denying access to people with pre-existing conditions, these two proposals have the potential of making access to health insurance available to everyone living in the United States.

According to the Rasmussen poll cited above, 51% of voters including Republicans, Democrats and Independents, “still think Congress should go through the law piece-by-piece and improve it.” Clinton’s platform reflects the will of the majority of voters and promises to address the issues, “by strengthening, improving and building on the Affordable Care Act to cover more Americans.”

Addressing the cost of monthly premiums, Clinton proposes to give the HHS oversight authority to regulate premium rate increases. The legislation would also place a cap on the consumer’s out-of-pocket expenses for prescription drug costs, and further reduce the cost of deductibles by expanding the health care services that are covered by the health insurance industry.

Objections

While the majority of voters may prefer the type of piece-by-piece approach to improving the law that is taken by Clinton, there is nothing in the candidate’s platform that addresses the most contentious issue of the law; specifically, the individual mandate. One criticism of the ACA is that it has been a legislative experiment from the start. While it is true that it has made health insurance more widely available and affordable for many Americans, mandatory participation in what many people perceive to be a failed experiment remains widely unpopular even as the cost of the program is about to increase nationwide.

An expansion of Medicaid, which is a taxpayer-funded program, would necessitate an increase in taxpayer funding. Therefore, unless the cost of the program could be offset by cutting other government expenditures, it would necessitate an increase in taxation. Furthermore, while many Americans might be willing to fund an expansion of Medicaid and services provided by ACA, the issue of illegal immigration is a divisive issue that only becomes more polarizing when we consider providing taxpayer-funded services to illegal immigrants.

On the heels of a particularly contentious election cycle fraught with scandal, the new president may find such a proposal to be less than appealing to the majority of the American people. Additionally, while it is true that the privately owned insurance companies that participate in the exchanges sell their services directly to individual consumers, providers that participate in the exchanges are also subsidized by the taxpayer. Nevertheless, in spite of government subsidies intended to offset industry losses, the ACA has already proven to be too costly for many insurance providers. This cost burden may only increase for both the insurance industry and the American taxpayer after adding millions of currently undocumented workers to the risk-pool.

Finally, while it may be a good idea within the framework of ACA to give a government agency oversight authority to regulate premium rate increases to keep the cost of monthly premiums down, it may also result in greater financial losses for the insurance industry. Regulating the cost of monthly premiums and out-of-pocket deductibles would potentially place a greater burden on the private sector health insurance industry to finance the cost of healthcare while decreasing their profit incentive to do so. As is currently the case with many providers, if the insurance industry continues to lose money, they will become increasingly unwilling to participate in the public exchanges. As insurance providers leave the public exchanges Americans, who are required by law to have health insurance, are left with fewer choices regarding where they may obtain it.

Edited by Ben Webb

Featured image by DonkeyHotey on Flickr, obtained using creativecommons.org

Knoxville Democrat encourages millennial votes, city unity

Co-written by Nathan Odom

For Brandi Price, 28, running for a Tennessee House of Representatives seat in District 18 boiled down to one simple statement.

“Enough is enough,” Price said.

After Knoxville’s Democratic Party asked her to run, Price said she saw the opportunity as a chance to give back to her community beyond her work as a juvenile court attorney. Price, who grew up in Indiana and moved to Knoxville six years ago, comes from a lower-middle class family.

“(My parents) lived check-to-check like a lot of people,” Price said. “My dad and step-dad didn’t graduate high school. . . I was the first to go to college.”

Price was a part of Duncan School of Law’s first class at Lincoln Memorial University in 2013 before becoming more interested in local politics. Her desire to run was based in opposition to the current political landscape of East Tennessee.

“We are very partisan right now. We’re almost at ‘if this side is introducing it, this side has to oppose it,’” Price said.It doesn’t matter if it’s going to be beneficial or not.”

Price said she believes current voter frustration is tied to the distractions this election cycle has presented. Her own opponent, Republican incumbent Martin Daniel, is facing a misdemeanor assault charge for shoving an opponent in the primary race during an on-air radio interview. Jeremy Durham, a former representative in the Tennessee Legislature, made national headlines when he was expelled from the house in September for allegedly having sexual interactions with 22 women.

“I think (the people) want the government and the representatives to listen to them and to actually be doing something in office that is going to help them,” Price said. “I think good economic and education policy resonate with most people.”

Affordable healthcare, a strong education system and a healthy economy are the central tiers to Price’s platform.

“If we have affordable healthcare, people can address substance abuse issues and mental health issues. They can be healthy and stable,” Price said.

“The means they can work more and keep their jobs because they’re not missing work. It means more productivity and lower turnover for businesses,” she said while citing her strong support for Governor Bill Haslam’s Insure TN policy.

Insure TN is designed to aid those caught in the “coverage gap” that cannot qualify for TennCare and do not make enough money to receive healthcare under Obamacare. The policy is being delayed in the Republican-controlled house.

Price is a strong supporter for open dialogue regarding public education, hoping to directly involve teachers in education policy.

“If we would properly fund our schools and give teachers and students the tools they need in the classroom, I think our public schools would rival the private schools — if not outperform them,” Price said.

Privatization of the University of Tennessee is another major concern. According to Price, privatization makes everything about the “bottom line.” She believes it leads to a loss of jobs, a loss of benefits and a loss of quantity and quality of services.

Despite conservative-based criticism that an elevated minimum wage will place a burden on small businesses, Price insists she supports them. Her plan is to institute a gradual increase from a minimum wage of $10 per hour to an eventual $15 per hour. If implemented correctly, Price maintains it will protect business owners from burden while providing a “livable wage” for the average worker.

As far as the election goes, Price encourages the younger demographic to step up to the plate.

“It’s your guys’ futures,” Price said. “You guys are going to graduate into whatever economic market we have in a year, two years, four years.”

Price says that “students are adults” and their opinions matter as much as any other Knoxville residents. She notes that Daniel dismissed UT student opinions by helping defund the Office for Diversity and Inclusion and supporting the concealed carry on campus bill.

“I don’t think he listens to anybody but those who have voted for him,” Price said.

Price added that Daniel refused to debate her after she found a moderator and coordinated a location, citing a conversation in which Daniel told her he would consider the debate under those circumstances.

“He didn’t really consider it,” Price said. “I think my opponent feels secure. . . I think it’s better for him to keep his mouth shut given the amount of time he’s said something that has backfired.”

Daniel’s refusal to debate her is unfortunate, said Price, because it denies an opportunity for citizens to ask questions. Despite party lines, she said that her talks with the public have shown her that Knoxville residents all want the same thing from the government.

“At the end of the day, we’re supposed to represent everybody if we’re elected — Democrats, Republicans, voters and nonvoters.”

Election Day is Nov. 8, and polls are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. ET. Check your voter registration card to find your voting location.

Featured image courtesy of Price’s Facebook page

Edited by Kaitlin Flippo

Clinton vs. Trump: Gun Control and the Second Amendment

Written by Samantha Lindsay

The following report is the third in a five-part series presenting a comparative analysis of select legislative proposals presented by the two major candidates in the 2016 presidential election; Democrat (D) Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican (R), Donald J. Trump. The second article in this series offers a brief introduction to the candidates’ platforms on the issue of the American economy. In this report, I will address the candidates’ positions on the issue of gun control, and the major objections to their proposals. This series is not an endorsement of either candidate.

According to Christopher Ingraham of the Washington Post, there were 355 mass shootings in the United States during the year 2015. For reference, a mass shooting is described as “four or more people, including the gunman, were killed or injured by gunfire.” Gun Violence Archive (A national database of police and news reports) has documented approximately 311 mass shootings in the United States as of Oct. 25 of this year.

Information recently released by the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicates that violent crime, including murder, rape, robbery and aggravated assault is on the rise; particularly in our major cities. A breakdown of the FBI’s violent crime statistics reveals that, “In 2015, an estimated 1,197,704 violent crimes occurred nationwide, an increase of 3.9 percent from the 2014 estimate…  firearms were used in 71.5 percent of the nation’s murders, 40.8 percent of robberies, and 24.2 percent of aggravated assaults.”

Extensive media coverage of recent riots and violent crimes, as well as information sharing campaigns on social media, has made these statistics broadly available to the general public creating a heightened level of public awareness. The threat to domestic security that these statistics represent has led to increased public anxiety, which is manifest in a recent Gallup Poll, which concluded that “Americans’ level of concern about crime and violence is at its highest point in 15 years.”

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reports that the manufacturing and sale of firearms have nearly doubled over the past five years as public concern has prompted a sharp spike in the gun market due to more Americans purchasing guns for self-defense. According to Gun Violence Archives, there have been 1,461 cases of self-defense involving the use of a gun this year.

Nevertheless, support for regulatory reform has also risen and according to a survey conducted by PewResearchCenter, “… large majorities of both Democrats (90%) and Republicans (75%) have favored making private gun sales and sales at gun shows subject to background checks.” Similarly, a majority of voters from both parties support barring gun sales to people with mental illness and people on “no-fly” or terror watch lists.

In response to public concerns about violent crime, both Clinton and Trump have presented similar proposals that reflect general bipartisan support among the electorate. Both candidates recommend a federal background check intended to close the gun show and internet sales loopholes, thereby making it more difficult for people with criminal intent to purchase weapons and ammunition. While Clinton specifically mentions barring domestic abusers from purchasing guns and Trump focuses on violent gang members and drug dealers, the platforms of both candidates include stronger enforcement of existing law prohibiting people who suffer severe mental illness and those convicted of a violent crime from purchasing firearms. Nevertheless, there are clear distinctions in their platforms that raise strong objections from their individual opponents.

 

(D) Hillary Rodham Clinton

Clinton’s  platform includes a proposal to repeal the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA).” According to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, the PLCAA is “… a federal statute which provides broad immunity to gun manufacturers and dealers in federal and state court.” A repeal of this law would make it easier for victims of violent crime to file negligence charges against the manufacturers of firearms under tort law and receive compensation for their injury or loss.

Objections

When cases are brought to court against manufacturers of any product under tort law, the plaintiff is required to demonstrate that the maker of the product had a legal obligation, that they failed to meet that legal obligation and the plaintiff suffered injury or loss as a direct result.

For example, auto companies have legal obligations to meet safety standards, which include quality brakes. If a company sells a car with defective brakes, and the buyer is injured in an accident because their brakes were defective, the auto company can be held liable for the injury. However, if an auto company meets all legal obligations in the manufacturing and sale of a vehicle, but the buyer then uses the car in the commission of a crime, the auto company cannot be held liable.

PLCAA specifically defines the limitations of tort law regarding gun manufacturers. As with tort law covering other industries, it does not provide immunity if a manufacturer sells a defective weapon, or if they violate sales regulations. It is legal for gun manufacturers to make and sell certain types of firearms within specified limitations to qualifying individuals in the United States. Under PLCAA, as long as gun manufacturers meet all legal obligations, they cannot be held liable for the actions of the buyer.

The primary objection to Clinton’s proposal is that a repeal of PLCAA would potentially lead to a multitude of tort litigation that would ultimately make the manufacturing of firearms too expensive to maintain, thereby perhaps leading to a de facto ban on the sale of firearms in the United States. It is argued that this would be an indirect violation of the Second Amendment of the Bill of Rights, which (according to this Gallup Poll) 73% of the public believes guarantees American citizens the right to own guns.

 

(R) Donald J. Trump

Trump’s platform includes a proposal to enact a “national right to carry” law that would permit anyone with a concealed or open carry license to legally carry a firearm in all 50 states. The rationale for this proposal is that the vast majority of licensed gun owners are armed for the purpose of self-defense and the “right of self-defense” does not have natural borders. Therefore, it is argued, the right to carry for self-defense should not have legal borders within the United States.

Objections

Unless a federal “right to carry” permit required everyone seeking a permit to receive high-quality standardized training in all 50 states before being issued a license, the level of training required would vary from state to state, which might put the public at risk of an increase in accidental shootings.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence argues that “Allowing untrained, or under-trained, persons to carry loaded, hidden handguns in public puts people at risk of being killed or injured, intentionally and unintentionally.” In addition, the campaign argues that “It also makes it harder for law enforcement to identify the real perpetrators during a shooting… Almost every major law enforcement organization…thinks law enforcement should have discretion over the carrying of concealed handguns in public.”

The needs of law enforcement vary from town to town, city to city, and state to state. While “right to carry” permits may be acceptable, perhaps even preferable, in small cities and rural areas of our country, there may be an unacceptable risk involved in allowing such permits in densely populated cities; particularly in areas with an already existing high crime rate.

Edited by Ben Webb

Featured image by DonkeyHotey on Flickr, obtained using creativecommons.org