07/11/2014 06:24 pm ET Updated Sep 10, 2014

The Hypocrisy of Extreme Partisanship

Guns and Welfare!

The Right loves to defend gun rights, and the Left loves to defend access to welfare.

However, any casual observer can observe that partisans on both sides make the same structural arguments, even though the content may be different.

Gun control and welfare reform are often advocated from voices on the far left and far right, respectively. Both voices use high profile examples to make their point. Both voices tend to use top down approaches to reform. Neither voice is worried about the impact that top down approaches will have on legitimate users.

For example, anytime their is a high profile shooting, reformers come swooping in and offer a sweeping top down reform so that the problem will never happen again. Invariably resistance comes from the other side of the aisle. The argument is made that the proposed sweeping change will hurt legitimate users of guns.

But then when there is a high profile case of welfare fraud, the same people who opposed sweeping top down reforms to gun control are proposing sweeping top down reforms to welfare reform. Meanwhile, defenders of welfare will make the same structural argument that said sweeping reforms will hurt legitimate users of welfare.

This is frustrating.

Bills proposed by legislators often have spectacular names such as "Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996" or the "Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994". Surely these massive sweeping changes to law will deliver the desired outcomes.

But sometimes they don't.

What the 1994 law actually accomplished is debatable. And that which the 1996 law accomplished is also debatable.

Sure, one can argue that access to guns is a Constitutional right protected by the Second Amendment. But one could also argue that access to welfare is a Constitutional right protected by extension of the Tenth Amendment and even Fourteenth Amendment.

The title of a bill or the intention of a bill is not enough. We have to look at the unintended consequences. We have to look to see if we are going to do more harm than good. We have to see if we are going to exclude people from getting benefits that they previously paid into when they were working, or that we provide people with disabilities precisely because are a compassionate society who takes care of those truly in need.

When tinkering with these important programs it is imperative to remember that a lot of harm can be done when using a broad approach. We need to use a scalpel not a broadsword.

As frustrating as high profile events are, it is important to remember that high profile events are high profile precisely because they are unusual and unlikely. Making policy based on high profile events is a surefire way to overreact and make inefficient and, worse, ineffective policy. A high profile event is good time find out where a shortcoming of a policy or a failure of a policy might reside, but a high profile event is not necessarily what policy should target. Doing so would result in the majority of cases being marginalized and a strategy designed around an unlikely event.

If there were a button to push that would eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in welfare without negatively affecting the legitimate users of welfare, or reduce gun crimes without negatively affecting the legitimate users of guns, every legislator, Democrat and Republican, would push that button.

Paul Heroux is a state representative from Massachusetts. Paul can be reached at