A Call for Full Disclosure in the Gun Control Debate

It used to be that a person who managed a mutual fund, hedge fund, endowment, or personal account could go onto CNBC and recommend that viewers buy or sell a certain stock, and the person being interviewed would give his reasons.  Then, at some point in the late 1990s or early 2000s, CNBC began insisting that their on-air guests actually disclose their own position in the stocks they discuss.

In other words, an investor who advocated buying Intel, for example, would have to admit that he had just sold off his shares of Intel and did not own any Intel stock.  So why does he feel that the rest of us should buy Intel?

Or, if the CNBC guest touts a stock that he already owns, the viewer can figure that that makes sense.  The person touting the stock also owns the stock and feels that it would be a good stock for everyone else to own.  The disclosure of the personal holding would be another factor, besides the other reasons given, for the viewer to consider before deciding whether to buy that stock.

The "full disclosure" of holdings rule was a way to cut through the "abstract" recommendation and get down to the rubber-meets-the-road element of the person being interviewed.  We know how you think our viewers should treat this stock for their portfolios, but how have you personally treated this stock in your own portfolio? the disclosure rule seemed to say.  The rule is fair and illuminating.

Now that we have another tragic school mass murder that involves guns, it is a time for politicians far and wide to advocate gun control, as if more rules against law-abiding people getting guns will keep guns out of the hands of criminals who want to commit mass murder.  It is almost an American tradition: gun violence begets calls for gun control.  What is missing in every gun-control discussion is a "full disclosure" of which politician has a concealed weapons permit, has any guns in his own home, or is protected by armed security guards.  Just like the CNBC disclosure regarding touting stocks and the personal holdings of the person touting the stock, we need a "full disclosure" rule regarding armed protection of the politicians who advocate gun control.

Here is how it would work: New York Senator Charles Schumer recently complained to CBS's Face The Nation that "mass shootings are becoming 'a new normal.'"  Schumer proposed new gun control legislation, saying that the recent school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut may be the "tipping point," inspiring legislators to finally do something about gun control.  So, shortly before the end of a hypothetical interview, the interviewer should say, "And as a matter of full disclosure, Senator Schumer, you have your own concealed carry weapon permit and you have armed security guards.  Is that correct?"  "Yes, I do," Schumer will respond, if he is honest.

That clarifies things.  It says that Senator Schumer is touting a position for the rest of us that he personally does not follow.  It would indicate that Senator Schumer feels that his personal safety requires that he have a concealed weapon on him and that he have armed guards to use for protection if the need arises, even though he feels that the rest of us should not be similarly protected.

Granted, it is possible that a politician who has a concealed weapon permit advocating no weapons for the rest of us could make some good points.  But it would be more information for the rest of us to use in making our decisions in this debate.

Likewise, if President Obama enters the debate on gun control with specific gun control proposals, he should also be obligated to disclose his armed protection.

In this discussion, it would actually be possible for a politician to advocate strict gun control laws and actually not have a concealed weapon permit, have any guns at home, or be protected by armed guards.  If such a politician emerges in this debate, he will have more credibility, and a lot of us would probably pay more attention to him.  In this particular situation, a "full disclosure" rule would help the gun control side more than it would the anti-gun control side.

In the coming days, we will all have some important gun control decisions to make, aided by the politicians who will make arguments pro and con.  Just like the investment decisions we all make as we watch investment advisers on CNBC tout certain stocks just before disclosing their holdings in that stock, the decisions we citizens have to make on gun control should be made using the advice of politicians who fully disclose their own personal involvement with guns.  The public has a right to know before following their advice on gun control.

Tom Thurlow is an attorney who practices law in the San Francisco Bay Area and manages the blog napawhinecountry.com.  He lives in Napa County with his wife Martina and daughter Rachel.