The Never-Ending, Totally Unwinnable Debate About Guns
10:55 AM CDT, July 24, 2012
I write this column basically every two years.
The only difference is that this time, I had perhaps my silliest RedEye column ever (that’s saying something) slated for the issue where the cover memorialized the twelve peopled killed (not to mention 71 shot) in a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado.
Incongruous topics aside, I really have nothing new to say or contribute to a stale debate in a country that has basically lost its mind when it comes to the possession and regulation of firearms. The last time I wrote with anything approaching ferocity on this topic, I received comments and e-mails that, while not death threats per se, certainly made me glad I was in Germany at the time where they have sane restrictions on who gets to have assault rifles (basically no one).
A few points, and then I’ll put this topic away until the next John Holmes/ Jared Lee Loughner/ Seung-Hui Cho/ Eric Harris/ ad infinitum. I’ll give that till about June of 2014.
I don’t blame the Democrats for running away from the issue of gun control. Certainly some 100,000 people wounded or killed with a gun each year is a terrible thing, but delivering health care for 30-35 million was nothing to sneeze at either. While many prognosticators note how cowardly the left has become in its attempts to bring sanity to gun regulation, the fact is that everything decent the Democrats have managed since 2006—from winding down the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, to financial regulation, to improved emission standards for cars and trucks—has been accomplished with the votes of pro-gunsanity congressmen.
Americans have like a mental disease about guns. Barack Obama has been the worst president on gun control since George W. Bush, and still the right uses the specter of Obama’s secret second-term plan to confiscate guns as one of its primary boogeymen. This makes it virtually impossible to have even the most moderate positions that in the abstract most gun-owners would probably agree with: you should have to register a weapon, get a license, take a safety course. Assault rifles should be illegal. You shouldn’t be able to buy as many weapons as you want in a single day or via the Internet. And if you buy 6,000 rounds of ammunition at once, your name should pop up on a list somewhere with a big red flag (although, gun advocates call 6,000 rounds "running low").
The National Rifle Association has created this world. If you read Jill Lepore’s fantastic New Yorker article on the history of the NRA, you’ll be bowled over by the implications. The advent of the Second Amendment as meaning “the right of everyone everywhere to be armed to the teeth” basically only dates back to the early 1970s. As with most things Ronald Reagan (himself a victim of gun violence) came along and made things demonstrably worse. What struck me, however, was correlating the country’s worst mass shootings with that timeline. Sure, you had Charles Whitman, the Austin bell tower shooter in 1966, but basically all the other mass murders we think of as just part of our pop culture now—from Fullerton, California, in 1976 to Binghamton, New York, in 2009—occurred during the rise of the NRA’s political invincibility and mass gun deregulation on the federal and state levels. Many will make the point that messed up people are gonna do messed up stuff regardless of whether it’s a gun or a homemade pipe bomb, and there are certainly a lot of people who wished Timothy McVeigh had used an assault rifle instead of fertilizer. Nevertheless, the last forty years has let a certain genie out of a bottle—a dark romanticism for disturbed people to walk into crowded places and indiscriminately open fire. Our society has given them the tools to do this, and month by month, year by year, we’re making their access even easier.
Because the greatest problem is not people walking into suburban movie theaters, but where the guns bought in suburban retailers end up, which is the south and west sides of Chicago, the killing streets of D.C., and pouring across the Mexican border to arm drug cartels. I’ve written previously about how the Fast and Furious “scandal” is really a scandal about how little power the ATF has to interdict straw purchasers—people who can walk into a gun store in Phoenix, buy as many weapons and as much ammunition as they please, and then legally walk outside and sell it to someone else for a dollar.
Which brings me to my final point: the predictable argument of “If only someone in the audience had a gun.” There’s always this Schwarzenegger fantasy offered up that somehow if more people were armed, we’d all be safer. Putting aside, like, basic logic—like if four people in a crowded theater had been armed and started shooting at a guy with an assault rifle, that would somehow have made it a better situation, like if everyone is carrying around a .22 that won’t lead to a personal arms race where you’d feel much safer carrying around a TEC-9—all you have to do is look at the most basic evidence to conclude that this makes no sense. The obvious international argument has been made so many times, it’s pointless to bring up here, but Richard Florida has this telling map and statistical correlation for gun violence at the Atlantic. It has some obvious things to say, like where there are high rates of poverty, there’s more gun violence. Also, states with tougher gun regulation, have less gun violence. States that voted for John McCain have more gun violence.
The fantasy that more people with guns will lead to less killing, means you’re essentially advocating that we become a more wealthy version of Somalia, which, last time I checked, is a gun advocate’s paradise.