McFeatters: Gun laws, plastic bags and bank fees

The New York City Council is considering imposing

The New York City Council is considering imposing a 10-cent fee on plastic bags used to carry out items bought at stores. Photo Credit: Getty Images/Kevork Djansezian

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Let's contemplate good government/bad government.

Aside from the seriously big issues of the day, the ones making President Obama wish he had stayed a community organizer in Chicago, sometimes it's important to ponder the everyday decisions governments make.

For example, the District of Columbia, home of the nation's capital, is trying to figure out how to write a law that will permit presumably law-abiding citizens to carry guns on the street without turning the city into the Wild, Wild West.

So many questions. Must weapons be concealed or hurled about openly? Could a resident carry a gun into City Hall, the White House or the Capitol? Will, heaven forbid, Virginians or Marylanders be able to come into the District with their guns? The city used to ban carrying guns in public but that law was overturned in the courts, and nobody expects a flat prohibition on carrying weapons to be reinstated. Second Amendment rights, you know, even though the mayor says it is unnerving to think of feisty city council members packing heat.

Lots of states have lots of positions on carrying guns and most are being challenged all the time by one side or the other. In Maryland, for example, someone who wants to run around with a gun has to give the state police a good and substantial reason. Gun rights people think that's outrageous.

Out in California, the issue is more benign but no less controversial. There, legislators want to ban all plastic bags, the kind you get in groceries, drug stores, convenience stores, Chinese takeout places and liquor stores. And, in truth, we don't want more plastic cluttering up the landscape for hundreds of years.

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East Coast women already are getting used to stuffing the back seats of their cars with reusable sacks or carrying about cute shopping bags that fold up into little origami animals as Europeans have done for years. Men, however, are not so keen on this, although that may change if male purses, such as the leather sacks they have in Europe, make it here. Big If.

But, still, how do you carry your lunch back from the corner deli to your desk without a little throwaway plastic bag? Paper leaks.

Nonetheless, the California legislature is firm. Merchants may use paper bags and charge ten cents each or consumers may buy reusable bags. (Alas, a recent news broadcast claimed they fill up quickly with germs.) Makers of plastic bags are furious, fearing a nationwide ban is inevitable and would be a job killer. But some innovative manufacturers make reusable bags out of stuff that used to be trash, thus creating jobs.

Everybody complains about regulation from Washington. But here's something you might not know. The federal government has actually implemented new rules to keep bank fees down - those nasty, shocking $35 fees banks imposed with astonishing regularity for infractions no mortal could understand.

According to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., bank fees dropped more than 20 percent to $32.5 billion in 2013 compared with 2009. This is the first decline since the government started monitoring fees in 1942.

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Naturally, banks are fighting back. Some dropped free checking. Some require huge balances or they charge high fees. And more banks are trying to sell customers stocks and pricy investment packages to make more profit. But at least they have to get your permission to charge overdraft fees. Also, people are checking their account balances more often because of smartphones to make certain they don't go over their limit.

Not surprisingly, some want the regulations overturned, arguing that millions live paycheck to paycheck and may be willing to pay an overdraft fee to get a little money until the next payday.

These are times that try our souls. But we may take comfort that there are bureaucrats trying to figure things out. Think about it when you carry your gun in a plastic bag on the way to the bank to discuss overdraft protection.

Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for McClatchy-Tribune.

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