The Price of Gun Control

Another oldie but goodie that I recently stumbled across.

From Harper’s Magazine:  https://harpers.org/blog/2012/07/the-price-of-gun-control/

By
July 20, 2012

When you write about guns, as I do, and a shooting like the one in the Aurora movie theater happens an hour from your house, people call. I’ve already done an interview today with a Spanish newspaper and with Canadian radio. Americans and their guns: what a bunch of lunatics.

Among the many ways America differs from other countries when it comes to guns is that when a mass shooting happens in the United States, it’s a gun story. How an obviously sick man could buy a gun; how terrible it is that guns are abundant; how we must ban particular types of guns that are especially dangerous. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence responded to the news with a gun-control petition. Andrew Rosenthal of the New York Times has weighed in with an online column saying that “Politicians are far too cowardly to address gun violence . . . which keeps us from taking practical measures to avoid senseless shootings.”

Compare that to the coverage and conversation after Anders Behring Breivik murdered sixty-nine people on the island of Utøya in Norway, a year ago next Sunday. Nobody focused on the gun. I had a hard time learning from the news reports what type of gun he used. Nobody asked, “How did he get a gun?” That seemed strange, because it’s much harder to get a gun in Europe than it is here. But everybody, even the American media, seemed to understand that the heart of the Utøya massacre story was a tragically deranged man, not the rifle he fired. Instead of wringing their hands over the gun Breivik used, Norwegians saw the tragedy as the opening to a conversation about the rise of right-wing extremism in their country.

Rosenthal is wrong, by the way, that politicians haven’t addressed gun violence. They have done so brilliantly, in a million different ways, which helps explain why the rate of violent crime is about half what it was twenty years ago. They simply haven’t used gun control to do it. Gun laws are far looser than they were twenty years ago, even while crime is plunging—a galling juxtaposition for those who place their faith in tougher gun laws. The drop in violence is one of our few unalloyed public-policy success stories, though perhaps not for those who bemoan an “epidemic of gun violence” that doesn’t exist anymore in order to make a political point.

It’s true that America’s rate of violent crime remains higher than that in most European countries. But to focus on guns is to dodge a painful truth. America is more violent than other countries because Americans are more violent than other people. Our abundant guns surely make assaults more deadly. But by obsessing over inanimate pieces of metal, we avoid looking at what brings us more often than others to commit violent acts. Many liberal critics understand this when it comes to drug policy. The modern, sophisticated position is that demonizing chemicals is a reductive and ineffective way to address complicated social pathologies. When it comes to gun violence, though, the conversation often stops at the tool, because it is more comfortable to blame it than to examine ourselves.

The temptation at times like these is to “do something” about guns. Australia and Britain passed tougher gun laws after mass shootings, and haven’t suffered another since. I would respectfully submit that Australia and Britain are full of Australians and Britons, not Americans. Moreover, neither country is home to an estimated 180 million privately owned guns, as ours is. Guns last forever. The one with which I hunt was made in 1900 and functions as well today as it did then. If tomorrow President Obama signed the ultimate gun-control law—a total ban on the sale, manufacture, and import of guns—we would still be awash in firearms for generations to come. Madmen like the murderer in Aurora would find a way to kill. Witness Timothy McVeigh.

In 2003, the Centers for Disease Control—no friend of the gun lobby—evaluated fifty-one studies on everything from the effectiveness of gun bans to laws requiring gun locks, and found no discernible effect on public safety by any of the measures we commonly think of as “gun control.” Two years later, the American Journal of Preventive Medicine did a similar survey and came to much the same conclusion.

Continue reading at:  https://harpers.org/blog/2012/07/the-price-of-gun-control/

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