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Maybe we do need to worry about our fellow man trying to do us in…

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Today, on April 19, 2010, the anniversary of Waco and Tim McVeigh’s following wacko actions in Oklahoma, there was a group on the National Mall that are convinced that their fellow man is out to do them harm, and that they need to make political moves to ensure that they can protect themselves. Today’s group was the Second Amendment March, a fairly mellow group who gathered lawn chairs, signs and slogans and descended on the place with the most restrictions on guns in the US – Washington, DC.

When I look at my own field of public policy – the environment – I start to wonder if maybe these gun rights folks are onto something. No, I don’t think that more liberal gun carrying laws in DC are likely to be the way to move any policy forward which has at its core the betterment of public safety, but an awareness that there are those among us that would happily do us harm unless we protect ourselves…maybe that is a healthy, if depressing, thought that we need to keep in mind as we craft public policy.

Gun rights advocates at the 2nd Amendment March gather on the Mall in Washington, DC.

So if you feel an uneasy feeling that people in your community are trying to hurt you and your family, maybe you should run with that inclination, and rather than worrying about which specific types of firearms you can take with you to the mall and to dinner, you might start worrying about those in your community who put their interests in making money ahead of the interests of you and your family in being able to live a healthy, disease free life.

For after all, when citing the need to protect “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” it shouldn’t go without notice that life is the first in the list. If life is endangered, and you don’t have clean water, air you can breathe and food to eat that is safe for you and your children, liberty and the pursuit of happiness aren’t achievable anyway.

What does it mean to protect life when parts of a community have no qualms at all about harming other parts of the community if it benefits them? In the realm of environmental policy this translates into the need for a robust, well funded and effective regulatory structure to keep the bad guys at bay.  After all, it’s not like you are going to take a handgun down to your local coal burning power plant and demand at gunpoint that they clean up their emissions and stop business practices that endanger the health of your family. This is clearly the realm of the state and federal regulators – regulators that few people appreciate and who more often than not are decried as trying to put businesses out of work and hurting American communities with their interference. But reality is a far cry from that ill-informed public view.

PS: While I am often frustrated by environmental groups’ failure to coalesce around a central message, I felt a bit less

It is hard to keep any group on message. Carry and conceal? The financial bailout? Health care? Uh, what are we protesting for/against?

critical of my own community when I saw today how hard it is to keep any group of people on message. Whether it was the guy with the anti-bailout sign, or those spouting off about healthcare, there were more than a few of today’s second amendment march attendees who didn’t appear to exactly understand what the second amendment says. But if you prefer to have your glass seen as half-full, the right of freedom of speech was alive and well today. And if this week we combine a demand for our right to life, which to me means a right not to be killed by others’ pollution, with our right to free speech, this week in DC and around the nation we might end up with one heck of an Earth Day 40th anniversary celebration.

The author is a scientist by training and the owner of W.H. Nuckols Consulting, an environmental policy firm.


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