There have been many words dropped over the innocent blood spilt at Shady Hook Elementary School last week. Predictably, the conversation has turned to reflexive concerns about mental health, violent media, and gun control. Everyone has their factoids and stories, some more honest, others more tendentious. I even had my own take about the difficult realities we face.
But even beyond our specific responses to this particular incident, we all have our own axes to grind. Many vocal proponents of greater gun control have minimal involvement with guns in the first place and would happily see them all gone. Too many don’t seem to realize, for example, that most handguns are and should be semiautomatic—which simply means you don’t need to reload after every shot—as are many hunting rifles. Many ardent supporters of the Second Amendment are ultimately left pushing such unsavory options as arming schools and public places to stop these incidents of what is essentially unilateral terrorism.
Over at The Daily Beast, Megan McArdle gives her take on the hard truths to confront and unbridgeable chasms to acknowledge:
“But now is not a good time to have a cost-benefit discussion, and there may never be a good time. The two sides are too far apart: gun control is mostly advocated by people who do not own guns, or want to own guns, and for them it is therefore a zero cost policy. Maybe a negative cost policy, because–apart from the violence–they have a fairly intense cultural antipathy for people who spend a lot of time playing with guns. Randall Collins notes that “US surveys indicate the favorite TV shows of liberal Democrats are comedians satirizing conservatives; conservatives’ favorites are college football.” However right they may be, those people are not in a good position to persuade gun owners that they shouldn’t want to own guns, or that having them taken away is a negligible cost in the bigger picture. Nor have gun owners had any better luck explaining to the other side why they might want to own guns even though some people abuse them.
So I’ll merely point out what Jeffrey Goldberg has already said, better and at greater length, in The Atlantic: the discussion is moot. You can’t ban guns. That ship has sailed… There is just, as Mark Kleiman notes, “no way to get there from here”. And the more you push for a ban, the more pushback you get on lesser gun control measures–the reason the NRA has so vociferously opposed gun registration is that they (correctly) suspect that VPC and its fellows would like to ban guns, and use those lists to confiscate the ones currently in circulation. For the same reason that pro-choicers resist “leaving the issue to the states” or “reasonable restrictions”, opponents of gun control feel they need to hold the line as far back as possible. They are not wrong to worry about a slippery slope; that is what the other side is hoping for.”
The cultural angle is key, as it goes to the root of so many ills. Too many Americans are far too distrustful—reasonably or otherwise—of their countrymen for productive conversations on so many issues. Even as our nation homogenizes, this age-old problem persists. But back to the question of guns, there is no evidently compelling hope that feasibly tighter restrictions will prevent mass killing or any other kind of violence:
“Reducing the magazine sizes seems modestly more promising, but only modestly. It takes a few minutes of practicing to learn how to change a magazine in a few seconds. Even if you banned magazines, forcing people to load the gun itself, people could just carry more guns; spree shooters seem to show up, as [the shooter] did, with more guns and ammunition than they actually need. In this specific case, it might well not have helped at all. Would [the shooter] really have been gang-rushed by fast-thinking primary school students if he stopped to reload?”
[Note: The Columbine shooters reloaded at least four times.]
It is conceivable that we’ll somehow resurrect the lapsed “assault weapons ban”. As lawmakers and pundits tinker on the margins, freely acknowledge that many of us will feel better after however much time and resources have been expended on the particular placebo that emerges. How we’ll feel after the next tragedy—and the new culture battle it ignites—is another matter.
As McArdle reminds us, “False security is more dangerous than none.”