Ben Boychuk

What gets banned tells you a lot about California

Gov. Jerry Brown signs landmark climate change legislation on Oct. 7. Ben Boychuk says you can tell a lot about a state’s priorities which bans are passed into law, and which aren’t.
Gov. Jerry Brown signs landmark climate change legislation on Oct. 7. Ben Boychuk says you can tell a lot about a state’s priorities which bans are passed into law, and which aren’t. The Associated Press

You can tell a lot about a state’s government by what it outlaws, what it wants to outlaw and what it sanctions. With the legislative session over and Gov. Jerry Brown’s signings and vetoes all done, what can we say about California?

I don’t know about you, but I have a Google news alert set up for “California bans.” The stories never stop coming, but my inbox really blows up this time of year.

“California to ban ‘Redskins’ for school sports.” This is one of many triumphs for right-thinking progressivism this year – so many it’s hard to keep track. We’re the first in the nation to ban a name, or this particular name anyway.

Thanks to this law, four high schools will need to find new mascots by 2017. I think the Legislature should pass a follow-up bill mandating all schools adopt noncontroversial names – and then watch as they spend the next decade fighting over what “noncontroversial” means.

Oddly, we did not ban cities from naming streets, boulevards, avenues, parks, schools or sanitation facilities after Confederate generals and political leaders. “Local governments are laboratories of democracy which, under most circumstances, are quite capable of deciding for themselves which of their buildings and parks should be named, and after whom,” Brown wrote in his veto message.

“Under most circumstances” was a nice touch. It feels good knowing the governor believes local governments can make decisions for themselves – until they can’t.

Last year we banned plastic grocery bags. This year, we banned plastic microbeads in cosmetics. Next year, lawmakers should ban plastic manufacturing of any kind. Because plastics are petroleum-based, and petroleum is worse than the Confederacy – and the Confederacy was really bad.

“California bans tobacco in stadiums under new law.” Spitting is disgusting, though not as disgusting as the Confederacy or petroleum products. Smokeless tobacco can also cause mouth cancer, which is arguably worse than both. So legislators and the governor can feel good knowing they helped make Major League Baseball wholesome again.

“California bans concealed handguns on college, school campuses.” This is great news – for unhinged young men intent on mass murder. (Sorry ladies, it’s almost always an unhinged young man.) They need not fear resistance from law-abiding citizens with concealed-weapons permits.

Evidently, the Legislature believes (and Brown agrees) that college campuses are simply too volatile for people who have spent thousands of dollars and submitted to an extensive background check and testing. The casual observer may have noticed that spree shooters tend to ignore gun-free zones. California, in its wisdom, banned openly carrying unloaded pistols, rifles and shotguns just a few years ago because it’s easier to fuel hysteria than to educate the public.

Brown also vetoed legislation that would have lifted a categorical ban on doctors and patients from gaining access to new therapies that are far along in clinical trials but not yet approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It’s called “right to try.” The governor explained that the feds already have a “compassionate use” program in place, so before the state starts meddling, maybe “we should give this federal expedited process a chance to work.”

Funny, he never said that about California’s environmental-quality rules.

Lest anyone think California is totally ban-happy, Brown did give the state’s blessing to physician-assisted suicide. You may not have a right to try and live – which can be pricey, after all – but at least you have a right to die quickly and cheaply. Doesn’t it feel good knowing you won’t be a burden on Medi-Cal and your poor, put-upon insurer?

Yes, you really can tell a lot about a state by what its laws condemn and what they condone. How does it feel?

Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. Contact him at