Before we knew a single thing about the perpetrators of the abomination in San Bernardino, solutions were being thrown across the Internet with abandon. The answers to this latest problem were obvious: Americans just needed to “stand up to the NRA”; to agree to “common sense” firearms legislation; and to implement the trio of gun-control “reforms” that President Obama so dearly covets. Those who offered prayers in lieu of knee-jerk calls for authority were deemed to be callous or cynical or dumb. Never mind that none of the details were known. Never mind that we had no motive, no weapon, no suspects. Never mind that, California being what it is, it was eminently possible that all of the proposals under discussion were already in the law. This was a golden propaganda opportunity, not to be passed up. “Enough is enough,” said Martin O’Malley. “It’s time to stand up to the @NRA and enact meaningful gun safety laws.” We must “make Americans safer,” declared an almost-bored President Obama. “We must take action to stop gun violence,” intoned Hillary Clinton. And they all felt warm and fuzzy inside.
When, a few short hours later, it became clear that this one was a little different from the usual trenchcoat-and-schizophrenia disgrace, circumspection should have set in. Alas, it did not. As the events unfolded, we learned, among other things, that there was more than one shooter, which tends to suggest terrorism; that those involved were devout Muslims, one of whom had recently been on a pilgrimage to Mecca; that there was a suspected link to ISIS propaganda; that the onslaught involved home-made, remote-controlled explosives, potentially put together in a house described as an “IED factory”; that the guns used in the attack were purchased legally, with a background check; and that because California has strict rules governing firearms, both the buyer and seller were subject to the very restrictions the president claims to covet. Oddly, none of these details mattered one whit. The pseudo-prayers continued without pause – their invocation: “Do Something!” — as did the hostility toward anybody who counseled prudence.
This was typical, for implicit in every pro-gun-control argument is the assumption that all Americans secretly agree with the need for the president’s favored reforms but that a small majority is just too recalcitrant – or, perhaps, evil – to admit it. It is for this reason that so many debates on the merits of stricter regulation proceed from the premise that gun control obviously works, rather than from the presumption that we do not really know what we should do. This is a shame. Not only is there conflicting evidence about whether new laws do any good at all (my view: they don’t), but the hackneyed “more guns, more crime!” arguments that we hear repeated ad nauseam are pretty much absurd on their face. Over the past 25 years, Americans have bought more than 100 million new guns, and most of the 50 states have liberalized the laws that govern their purchase, possession, and use. And what has happened to the “gun-murder” rate? It’s been cut in half. (The crime rate has also dropped precipitously.) If we are to have an honest debate in this country, conservatives will need to accept that the vast number of firearms in circulation contribute to the America’s relatively higher rate of shootings, and progressives will need to accept that, beyond that obvious point, the relationship between the raw number of weapons, the laws under which they are regulated, and the incidence of crime is a lot more complex than is typically conceded…
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