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Gun Control, Burma and Corporate Rule


Robert NaimanRemember

the "New Federalism"? State and local governments were supposed to be

"laboratories of democracy," where new ideas could be tried out to

address social problems, where government would be more responsive to citizen

input at the local level. This was one of the justifications given for shrinking

the role of the federal government in social spending (but not military

spending) during the Reagan era.

In

recent years, as reform initiatives have been blocked at the federal level by

budget cuts and the strong corporate lobby in Washington, attention has turned

to the states on a number of issues, including health care reform, education

reform, and campaign finance reform.

But

the New Federalism took a body blow last week. The Supreme Court, whose

"conservative" justices supposedly like "states’ rights" and

dislike "judicial activism," struck down 9-0 a Massachusetts ordinance

which granted a preference in bidding for state contracts to companies which

were not doing business with the military dictatorship in Burma, whose

repression of democracy and use of forced labor have made it a pariah to human

rights activists.

Strikingly,

the Court rejected Massachusetts’ argument that its sanctions against companies

doing business in Burma were identical to sanctions it had in the 1980’s against

companies doing business in South Africa, stating that the Court had never ruled

on the constitutionality of the anti-apartheid sanctions. In other words, the

Court implied that if it had been given the opportunity to find the anti-

apartheid sanctions unconstitutional, it would have done so.

The

court noted that the Massachusetts Burma law had run afoul of the rules of the

World Trade Organization, and cited this as evidence that Massachusetts was

interfering in U.S. foreign policy. The Court said that Congress pre-empted the

state sanctions when it passed federal sanctions, even though Congress never

said this was its intent. It seems that while many were focused on whether

nominees to the Supreme Court were pro- or anti- abortion, we wound up with nine

justices who are pro-Wall Street.

What

does this mean for gun control? On gun control, progress in Washington has also

been blocked.

You

might not think of gun control as a corporate power issue. After all, judging

from most press coverage, it’s the National Rifle Association that stands in the

way of reasonable regulations of guns.

But

the National Rifle Association is increasingly a front group for the gun

manufacturers and the national Republican party.

The

corporate lobby at large doesn’t care that much about access to abortion, gun

control, or prayer in schools. But they do care about Republican control. With

Republican control of the Congress and perhaps even the White House,

corporations can expect a very sympathetic ear for their demands for lower taxes

on corporations, lax regulation and enforcement, and no anti-trust scrutiny.

These positions are good for getting campaign contributions, but they’re not so

good for public consumption. "Vote for me so corporations can pay less

taxes, dump pollution and employ sweatshop labor" doesn’t play in Peoria.

That’s why it’s useful to Republicans, as the more blatantly pro-corporate

party, to mobilize their troops on issues like guns, abortion and school prayer.

This

strongly suggests that initiatives outside of Washington are necessary to force

change. More than 30 local governments around the country – joined this week by

New York City – are suing the gun industry for deceptive marketing practices and

for medical and law enforcement costs of gun violence.

The

threat of lawsuits induced Smith & Wesson to strike a deal with Philadelphia

to install safety locks on its guns. Philadelphia agreed to give Smith &

Wesson a preference in city contracts, as a reward for being more responsible

than other gun manufacturers.

This

bid preference could also run afoul of WTO rules. A foreign gun manufacturer

could argue before the WTO that Philadelphia, by granting a preference in

granting city contracts to companies that install safety locks, discriminates

against foreign gun manufacturers. For now the latest Supreme Court ruling on

the Burma laws would not apply, since there has been no Congressional action.

This

indicates the wide scope of the issues at stake. Democracy and the corporations

are in a race. Right now, the corporations control international economic policy

and have preponderant influence in Washington. At the local level, democracy

still has good odds on some issues. Corporations are doing their best to squeeze

those opportunities out of the system, and tighten their control. Local

governments should be pressed to assert their authority more strongly than they

have in the past.

Robert

Naiman Senior Policy Analyst Center for Economic and Policy Research 1015 18th

Street, NW, Suite 200 Washington, DC 20036 202-293-5380 x212 Fax: (202)

822-1199 naiman@cepr.net www.cepr.net