A Brief Quarrel With Briefs

Anthony Pignataro:

Those guys over at the California Senate Office of Research have it pretty good. It’s a non-partisan shop set up back in 1969. Their job, according to their ABOUT SOR webpage: “serving the research needs of the California State Senate and assisting Senate members and committees with the development of effective public policy.” They “work with state senators to help generate problem-solving ideas, gather data, prepare briefing papers, craft legislation, and organize informational hearings.”

That sounds like a lot, but remember that you can’t spell “briefing papers” without “brief.” Case in point is the Policy Brief that came out today: “The U.S. Supreme Court recently imposed limits on state and local firearm-control laws. What does this mean for California?”

Don’t let the long title fool you: the paper is barely two pages long (it purports to explain the recent Supreme Court case McDonald v. City of Chicago that said the Second Amendment applies to state and local laws), and includes a photo of the U.S. Supreme Court building. It’s also packed with qualifications and weasel words, so many in fact that the reader — be it a lowly citizen or a lowlier senator — will end up with more questions than answers.

“Nationwide, McDonald is expected to produce a considerable volume of Second Amendment-based challenges to the constitutionality of state and and local firearms laws,” the paper noted. “[I]t remains unclear what, if any, restrictions on firearms other than handguns will be declared constitutional violations.”

Is expected. Remains unclear. If that leaves you kind of fuzzy, about this, the paper’s last sentence: “Indeed, it may be many years before the impact of this ruling can be fully appreciated.”

In other words, the Office of Senate Research really doesn’t know what will happen, so all they’ve basically done is sum up the questions that surround the ruling and hope that few senators ask why there’s a Senate Office of Research in the first place.

OCT. 7, 2010

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