As y’all know, I seldom write about gun control. That’s because I have long seen the problem as hopeless. We have another mass killing, and we talk about various legislative proposals — background checks, red flag laws, whatever — and the “remedies” seem like nothing compared to what they’re up against.
What they are up against is a number: 400 million. That’s how many guns we have in this country in private hands. We have 329.5 million people, and 400 million guns. As long as that is the case, anybody who is really set on getting his hands on a gun — including the monsters who have the urge to go shoot up a school — will be able to get one. It’s an economic problem: Too many lunatics chasing too many guns.
And of course, reducing the number of guns is just the most extreme, most politically impossible gun control measure of all. It’s the “horrible” thing that the most extreme defenders of the bloody status quo raise to argue against even discussing doing anything about the problem: They want to take our guns!
Of course, sensible people who want to do something always immediately say, Oh no! We don’t want to do that! as they trot out another idea for incremental change. Another idea that, in my view, will do nothing to prevent something like what happened in Uvalde, Texas.
But I’d love it if y’all could convince me I’m wrong, because God knows we’ve got to do something. And it seems the place to start would be at a point that lies somewhere in the vicinity of being politically possible.
Nicholas Kristof has tried to convince me a couple of times lately. Remember how I mentioned running across a column from him in another recent post? Well, that column was headlined “These Gun Reforms Could Save 15,000 Lives. We Can Achieve Them.” A headline like that sort of demands that a pessimist like me listen to what he has to say. Because while we might not save everybody, it would be profoundly worthwhile to save 15,000 lives. Which would be about a third of annual gun deaths.
After I saw that, I listened to a Kara Swisher podcast in which her guests were Kristof and another guy named Frank Smyth. I wasn’t familiar with Smyth — a gun enthusiast who isn’t afraid of gun control, and author of The N.R.A.: the Unauthorized History — but he seemed to be a pessimist along the same lines as me:
There’s no — I don’t see any hope for gun reform now despite this disgusting shooting and these series of shootings and the racist shootings and other shootings by incels and others by different motivations, but the common denominator is easy access to guns….
Kristof disagreed. He thinks taking what Smyth called “baby steps” is worthwhile:
I would say that when you’re already 400 million guns out there, then simply dealing with new guns has limited effect, but you were critiquing baby steps. And I just wanted to speak in favor of baby steps.
I think of a model for — whenever I write about gun policy, then people — I get hostile emails. People say, look, cars kill about as many Americans each year as guns do, and you don’t ban cars. No, but cars are a great example of the public health approach that we should be taking with firearms, and since 1921, we’ve managed to reduce the fatality rate per 100 million miles driven with motor vehicles by more than 90 percent. And it was no one thing. It was a whole series of baby steps. It was — [“seatbelts,” Kara Swisher interrupts to say, before Kristof resumes] — It was airbags. It was padded dashboards. It was divided highways, better lighting. It was roundabouts rather than left turns, and the graduated driver’s license, crackdowns on drunk driving. And I think in the same way that there are baby steps in the world of firearms that they’re not going to be transformative overnight, but I think they are politically feasible. And I think they would save lives and, perhaps, turn the trajectory around…
That makes a great deal of sense to me. Kristof almost always does. Which is why I hope he’ll soon be back at the NYT on a regular basis.
Kristof is very consistently what I strive and too often fail to be.
All my life, I’ve believed in reasoning with people, that’s it’s something that makes a difference. It’s a belief that our system is based upon here in this country. And too few people believe in it now, which is why the system is falling apart.
This belief is what undergirded my newspaper career, and it’s what this blog is about. It’s about having a place where people with different views can discuss issues in a civil and constructive manner. It’s been an uphill battle making that happen since I started blogging 17 years ago, and it’s gotten worse lately.
But I’m going to keep trying. Nicholas Kristof keeps trying, even after he was barred from running for office after he gave up a spectacularly successful career in order to do so. He’s a guy who says things like this:
This will be painful for many of my fellow liberals, but I suggest that we work harder to engage centrists, talk about “gun safety” rather than “gun control,” and jump into the weeds. Social scientists suggest “complexifying” an issue to reduce polarization, and, sure enough, I find that I can (sometimes) have productive conversations with gun enthusiasts if we focus on technocratic details….
A guy like that is worth listening to, worth engaging with. And thanks to him, I’m going to try to be more optimistic on gun control. Saving a third of the people who die unnecessarily due to guns in this country is a worthwhile objective. Saving just one of those children who were murdered the other day would absolutely have been worthwhile.
So I’m willing to try. How about you? As Kristof says in his column:
The truth is that we’re not going to ban guns in the United States any more than we ban alcohol, motorcycles, hunting knives, cigarettes or other products that can be deadly. Screaming, maximalist fights about “gun control” versus the “Second Amendment” have created a political stalemate as we continue to lose 45,000 lives a year to guns. That’s 123 lives lost a day.
This does not happen in other countries. Japan typically loses a single-digit number of people to gun murders in a year; we lost twice that in a single school on Tuesday…
So let’s do something…