Let’s Talk About Gun Control

Or as The New York Times would prefer we call it, gun confiscation. At least we’re getting clearer about our terms here. For a long, long time, the progressives have said, “We don’t want to take your guns; we just want sensible gun reforms.” And conservatives have always feared that the real aim was gun confiscation and were derided for it. I, too, sometimes derided them for this as an irrational fear, i.e., that Obama was never aiming to take your guns away.

However, for the first time in 95 years, the Times ran an editorial piece on their front page pushing for gun confiscation. And it’s not unambiguous nor me reading too much into something that’s not there. It’s clear:


That’s unambiguously advocating for gun confiscation. There are roughly 110 million rifles in the United States, according to a 2012 Congressional Research Service report.

So, the Times is saying we ought to round up 100 million rifles in the United States and that it’s basically as simple as “Americans who own those kinds of weapons to give them up for the good of their fellow citizens.”

But that’s silly for a variety reasons. First among them is as Cato pointed out in response:

The piece was clearly animated by the recent spate of disturbing mass shootings. First of all, because it apparently needs to be said again and again, focusing on mass shootings when discussing firearms policy is deeply problematic. Not only do victims of mass shootings constitute one percent or fewer of gun deaths (depending on how “mass shooting” is defined), but the perpetrators of mass shootings are the hardest to affect with public policy changes.

It’s not the pretty answer, but in a country of 320 million people and 300 million guns, casting a wide gun control policy net to ensnare those at the margins, i.e., mass shooters, is just quite literally not practical nor would it be desirable. Now, certainly, if we wanted to turn the United States into a complete totalitarian state, there’s a chance we may be able to effectively end mass shootings, but that’s also not desirable.

Nor would, doing as the Times suggest, confiscating 100 million rifles work to end mass shootings since handguns and other types of guns can be just as lethal and effective for the would-be, determined mass shooter. Not to mention, again, the implications and impracticality of rounding up 100 million guns. (Yes, you may be able to get a good number through a voluntary buyback program, much like Australia did. However, just like Australia, they only managed to get a 1/3 or 1/5 of all private guns, which a 1/3 or 1/5 here would be peanuts.)

And finally, there’s the point that the focus on rifles itself is silly. From the a Times op-ed last year on the assault weapons myth:

The continuing focus on assault weapons stems from the media’s obsessive focus on mass shootings, which disproportionately involve weapons like the AR-15, a civilian version of the military M16 rifle. This, in turn, obscures some grim truths about who is really dying from gunshots.

Most deaths from guns are from handguns.

There are three facts that aren’t talked about enough, if progressives reading this want to shift the discussion from, “Okay, yeah, maybe there’s too much focus on mass shootings, so let’s talk about gun crime generally.” Okay, let’s do that:

Gun homicides have been cut in nearly half from their peak in 1993 to 2013. Gun shootings have gone down by 75 percent. And in that time frame, we’ve added more guns to circulation and some would argue, have liberalized gun laws, not made them stronger. And the population in 1993 was almost 260 million. In 2013 it was almost 317 million.

The victimization rate for other violent crimes with a firearm—assaults, robberies and sex crimes—was 75% lower in 2011 than in 1993. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall (with or without a firearm) also is down markedly (72%) over two decades.

The third fact: Most Americans have absolutely zero awareness of those two aforementioned facts. From Pew:

Despite national attention to the issue of firearm violence, most Americans are unaware that gun crime is lower today than it was two decades ago. According to a new Pew Research Center survey, today 56% of Americans believe gun crime is higher than 20 years ago and only 12% think it is lower.

That’s an extraordinary fact to me. A.) We should be celebratory about how less violent we are, but B.) Most think things are getting worse.

I mean, we’re really bastardizing the notion of an epidemic when you consider those above facts that gun violence is getting better, not worse.

Finally, there’s the point that I’ve argued considerably as a way of getting at progressives: increasing the criminal justice system’s mandate and giving the police more power — which is what a confiscation policy undoubtedly would do — is going to really fuck over poor minority communities. Check out my column here for more. Aeon J. Skoble adds to this more succinctly:

If you give the police more reasons to treat everyone as a suspect and more power to search and arrest, you’ll surely see that have a disproportionate impact on African-Americans. You’ll get more Eric Garners, and zero reduction in San Bernadinos. That’s your idea of a progressive policy?

Also, check out Thaddeus Russell discussing how linked civil rights, specifically black liberation is to gun rights. That is to say, much gun control in this country historically and in the present (stop-and-frisk) has been aimed at armed black people:

Additionally, it’s worth considering that, yes, it seems, depending on what methodology you’re looking at, there has been an uptick in these type of public mass shootings at theaters, schools and the like. Well, I believe there’s something to the media saturation copycat theory. Here:

Some suggest that incidents of violence “plant a seed” in the minds of those already predisposed to averse behavior, thereby tipping motivated actors into committed ones.

Others blame media coverage. Brigitte Nacos has argued that contemporary information technology makes the contagion of violence easier, expanding the potential geographic distribution of copycat violence.

One other angle of this that has become abundantly disturbing is the Dems advocating for the abandonment of due process via the no-fly list. That is to say, the secret list where Americans are arbitrarily put on there without explanation for being a suspected terrorist and they are unable to fly, hence “no-fly list.” But they are able to buy a gun. Enter Dems. And then enter the Repubs to defend the gun rights of these Americans, who previously they were okay with banning from flying.

In other words, due process clearly doesn’t matter to either side.

Now, here comes the part where people say to me, “So your solution is to do nothing?” Not necessarily. I’d love if we abandoned the ridiculously unconstitutional no-fly list. But yes, when it comes to mass shootings specifically, I’m not sure what we can do.

However, with respect to gun violence generally? There’s plenty we can do, mainly, we can end the drug war, which, like alcohol prohibition, fuels gun violence. That doesn’t mean ending the drug war would become a panacea for ending violence, but it would certainly help. Secondly, we can address poverty in the inner cities by improving education and employment opportunities, among other endeavors and the way to do that gets too into the weeds, but suffice it to say, I’d implement free market reforms of our over-regulated, highly-interventionist economy.

Also, we know for a fact that most gun violence is concentrated in a small circle of people and repeat offenders. If we can focus on the root problem there (along with the aforementioned root problems) rather than the fact of a gun’s existence, I think we’d also curb gun violence.

You know, even more than it’s already been curbed the last 20 years.

The main two things I’m arguing here are: A.) Let’s be honest about what we are suggesting and in this case, the Times has done better at that by putting gun confiscation on its front page and B.) Let’s address the policy implications of gun control and in particular, what it means for marginalized groups.

Look, I ain’t a gun guy in the slightest. I have no affinity for them or gun culture, but that doesn’t mean I want to outlaw them or some of them or tighten access to them. I also think conservatives are largely terrible in how they argue against more gun control with a few exceptions, like Charles C.W. Cooke. Moreover, Ross Douthat has a good continuation of this idea regarding the liberal approach here:

Absent a total cultural revolution in America, a massive gun collection effort would face significant resistance even once legislative and judicial battles had been won. The best analogue is Prohibition, which did have major public health benefits … but which came at a steep cost in terms of police powers, black markets and trampled liberties.

2 thoughts

  1. Weird – I have looked at dozens of graphs of gun ownership versus gun deaths in the US – they are all over the place. Some, like you’ve presented, say that gun ownership has gone up and gun deaths decreased, while lots show a correlation between ownership and gun deaths (by state, by country etc…).

    That leaves me not knowing 1) what to think and 2) what the graphs are suppose to be showing.

    I’ve seen several pro-gun resources show that gun ownership has gone down since 1973, not up. Also, it’s only recently started to climb again.

    A few possible factors: maybe overall guns has increased, but percentages have dropped? The graphs you give are hopelessly confused, since they present in weird units, especially the one on the left – i.e. “percentage of change” – ridiculous. The one on the right is “number of guns per person”, but neglects to say if this is among the general population or in gun owners, or something else.

    What we really need is real numbers, clearly outlined.

    Clearly, lots of people have a stake in this and what the numbers say. If they don’t quite agree with their point of view, they seem more than happy to skip to a different unit that agrees with them, or squeezes the graph vertically or horizontally so it is, essentially unreadable.


    1. Gun ownership has indeed gone down, but the number of guns have gone up, which just means there are more guns in fewer hands.

      But I agree with you. Crime is complex, obviously, and it’s especially difficult to parse everything to just look at guns vs. crime, especially taking into account different geographical regions, the populations and the varying gun laws.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s