Heavy Barrel Regulations

In the Marine Corps, the term “heavy barrel,” when used as a verb, means to use a higher specification. It captures an analogy to a machine gun mounted on a vehicle having a thicker barrel than the same weapon when carried by light infantry. A thicker barrel allows the gunner to fire more rounds without melting the barrel. Footsoldiers are better off coordinating their rate of fire using a technique called “talking guns” than lugging another ten pounds.

Government, when not focused on the net benefits of a policy choice, may needlessly heavy barrel a mandate. I call this heavy barrel regulations.

Could this be what we are seeing in Multnomah County’s ambulance crisis? If you call 911 for medical assistance in Multnomah County, good luck. The County has been pointing the blame for the service shortfall at its contractor, AMR, but Willamette Week reports that the County mandates two EMTs per ambulance. We have a labor shortage across most sectors of our economy right now, but the shortage of EMTs appears relatively bad. Other counties only require one per ambulance and are providing better service than Multnomah County. Like a thicker barrel on a machine gun, having two EMTs is probably better, but is that a wise mandate when faced with an EMT shortage?

This is a frequent problem for policymakers. A narrative drives an earnest attempt to hold to a higher standard, but the benefits are not weighed carefully against the costs, resulting in a net harm to society.

Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.