I’ve got a plan to make things better in America and it’s a good plan, a healing plan. Please don’t think of it as some sort of modest proposal, because I’m not feeling modest about it at all. There are lots of smart people in Chicago but nobody else came up with this one. Just me.

It came to me late one night last week when we stopped at a joint up on Broadway where the drinkers could drink and commanded one of the outside tables. I settled for a potpie; my mind couldn’t have been clearer.

A fellow we’d seen weaving up the sidewalk stopped at our table and asked for money. Sometimes I’m good for a buck or two, but this wasn’t one of those times. No one else was reaching for his wallet, and that’s the biggest reason I didn’t either. Well, said our new friend, then what about some water? All we had of that was the water in our glasses—which we were even less likely to share with him than our money.

He stood there a few uneasy moments more, looming over us. Then he went on. I hadn’t helped him out at all, but I’d come so close to it that once he left I actually felt a little guilty. I decided to blame him. What could he have done that he didn’t, I wondered, that would persuaded me to fork something over?

To ask the question was to answer it. Simply by coming up on us in the dark he’d made me squirm a little. Certainly I’d have viewed his approach with even less indifference if I’d seen that he was packing. As my friends chattered away about the Steppenwolf play we’d just come from, I worked out a way to heal a divided nation. The government could save billions of dollars and delight conservatives by abolishing its antipoverty programs. To lift millions of indigent Americans out of poverty and delight progressives, all it had to do was issue guns to everyone—ideally, semiautomatic weapons—and pass universal open-carry laws.

The insight behind this proposal is simple and elegant: millions of Americans feel safer when they’re armed, and yet these same Americans—and millions more—don’t feel safer when everyone else is armed too.

And so conservatives and progressives alike would be delighted to throw a few bucks the way of an annoying panhandler if a credible possibility existed that if they didn’t they’d be shot dead. 

Of course, this would be our imaginations playing tricks with us. The NRA has already worked it out scientifically that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, so no one would actually be in greater danger from homeless drifters just because they were now carrying around assault rifles. Yet I predict that a certain rampant queasiness would be the force that finally lifts the nation’s underclass into middle-class prosperity.

The left could hardly object to an end to poverty. And because the NRA urges every American to exercise his or her Second Amendment rights, there could be no quarrel from that front. Conservatives might object to simply giving guns to the poor—a handout is a handout—but the plan could easily be modified to require indigents to repay the government out of their future earnings.