This is a police story and a Helena Brown story, because everything is better when it’s a Helena Brown story.
Houston City Council on Wednesday passed new rules on precious metals dealers despite a lengthy attempt to water down the ordinance by Councilwoman Helena Brown, who called it “safety theater” that would burden businesses and invade jewelry sellers’ privacy.
Officers in the Houston Police Department’s precious metals unit said reputable dealers already implement many of the new rules but said the ordinance – which requires a photograph and thumbprint of each seller and mandates dealers enter transactions into an online database – will help them catch crooks and recover stolen goods.
Brown sought to remove criminal penalties for violating the ordinance, to allow dealers more flexibility in when and how to report transactions and to scrap the rule requiring sellers to have a photo and thumbprint taken. Each amendment was easily defeated.
“Why even ask the legal, law-abiding people to submit to this? It’s not going to prevent crime and it’s not going to solve any crimes,” Brown said. “It’s ludicrous. We’ve gone way beyond what our Founding Fathers envisioned for this nation.”
She paraphrased a quotation, which she attributed to Thomas Jefferson, saying those who would give up liberty for safety deserve neither.
It’s always easy to make fun of Helena Brown, and Lord knows I indulge in it. Even when she may have a valid point, her long history of fruity paranoia and millimeter-deep understanding of things like history, government, and jurisprudence make her impossible to take seriously. (As Mayor Parker noted later in the story, her quote about liberty and security originated with Benjamin Franklin.) Having said that, it is reasonable to ask if these measures are likely to be effective, or if they’ll be more intrusive bother than anything else. HPD obviously thinks this is a good idea, and they said they did extensive outreach with the community and with precious metal dealers, but the story doesn’t have reactions from anyone who would be on the hook for these new procedures, so you can’t really judge from it. Fortunately, there was an earlier story on the subject, and in it a few dealers did offer their opinions.
Brad Schweiss, owner of Houston Gold Exchange since 1979, said he supports the reasons behind the proposals but said the rules amount to burdensome “overkill” and are coming well after the industry’s fever pitch during the national recession.
“Some of the things they’re implementing right now would have been really great about four or five years ago. They’re cleaning up the mess after the cattle are already out of the barn,” Schweiss said. “It may do a little bit of a good, but I think the net effect is next to zero.”
Schweiss added that reputable dealers have implemented many of the proposed restrictions voluntarily for years.
Aaron Davis, general manager of We Buy Gold Center, which has been in Houston for four years, said the proposed rules would exceed regulations on pawn shops, giving his competitors an advantage.
“The only thing we’re against is taking their mug shot and their fingerprints. Our customers have the right to their privacy,” he said. “They might be able to catch a few more people, but it’s too much.”
Schweiss and Davis said that if the new rules are approved, prolific thieves likely will sell stolen goods outside of Houston or will sell to an unscrupulous, unlicensed dealer.
So there was some pushback, and though it was framed in less apocalyptic rhetoric, these words are similar to CM Brown’s. I wouldn’t make too much of it – there’s only two people quoted, and their rhetoric is pretty standard issue business-speak for whenever a new regulation of some kind is proposed. If there was any actual, organized opposition to this, it sure did a good job of staying beneath the radar. In other words, it sounds like no big deal, and had it not been for another performance by CM Brown, it might not have even been a story. And if it had been someone other than CM Brown bringing these items up, it might have had an effect.