—It’s unfortunate that so many people now dismiss the idea that there should be a window of mourning, during which political discussions ought to be tabled, after a national tragedy like Friday’s shooting. I understand why that is: Calls to postpone talk of politics are so often themselves politically motivated, a way to put off a conversation one side never intends to have, that they seem cynical. But it should be obvious that the time for policy discussions is not when people are angry, sad, depressed, scared, emotional, and irrational. This is what leads to laws like the Patriot Act. It’s not that policy discussions should never flow from a national tragedy, and obviously knowing how long to wait is tricky, but I suspect the answer is at least a few hours, maybe even a day or two.
—Why do so many of the same people who (rightfully) laugh at the idea that drug prohibition decreases drug use, endorse the idea that gun control will solve the problem of gun violence? Gun control does not mean that bad or crazy people won’t get guns; it means the government will get to decide who gets to have guns. This is the same government, of course, that kills foreign Muslims almost indiscriminately, that imprisons blacks at six times the rate it imprisons whites, that systematically harasses young men based on their ethnic background. But for some reason people think new gun laws would be enforced fairly and equitably.
—It’s worth pausing to think about how gun laws would be enforced, and I think drug laws are one helpful comparison. Laws that criminalized certain types of gun possession, or that added more steps to the process of obtaining guns legally, would undoubtedly be used in the same way drug laws are: They would function as pretenses for searches and stops against otherwise law-abiding citizens. Parole violations for being around guns would go up, and police and prosecutors would have new tools with which to harass the same segments of the population they currently prey on. Terrorism, too, would be an issue. It’s not hard to imagine attempts to purchase a gun being used as “evidence” that some young Muslim who has landed on the FBI’s radar is bent on attacking America. It fits perfectly with how the FBI has operated over the last decade.
—The demographics of this issue are important. I can’t help but notice that the most vocal advocates of gun control tend to be middle-class and affluent whites—the kinds of people for whom the government is a helpful, protective force. It is understandable but unfortunate that these people would have a hard time imagining that there are entire swaths of the population who, for good reason, fear and suspect the government’s intentions.
It reminds me of the push for “Caylee’s Law” (another law enacted in the heated aftermath of a tragedy), which made it a felony for a parent not to report a missing child to the police. To most people the logic is obvious: Why wouldn’t a parent report a missing child, unless he or she was guilty of something? Well, of course, there have historically always been groups—blacks, immigrants, members of fringe political parties, etc.—that would rightfully fear involving the police in something like this. On the issue of gun control, I imagine there are people who are wary of giving the police one more thing to arrest them for.
—And, of course, it’s not entirely clear that gun control laws are effective in reducing gun violence. The evidence is mixed. Many people, in the aftermath of Newtown, are bringing up the assault weapons ban, but most of the damage done in the nation’s deadliest mass shootings has come from handguns. People have suggested that we limit who can purchase guns, possibly screening for mental illness, but Adam Lanza, Friday’s shooter, was using guns purchased legally by his mother. Are we going to limit gun ownership based on the mental health of someone’s entire family?
—We ought to be very wary of the argument that says, “Why do people need these guns?” As Gail Collins wrote, “I’m tired of hearing fellow citizens argue that you need that kind of firepower because it’s a pain to reload when you’re shooting clay pigeons. Or that the founding fathers specifically wanted to make sure Americans retained their right to carry rifles capable of mowing down dozens of people in a couple of minutes.”
This logic is tempting, but it’s slippery. It sounds an awful lot like, “Why do you need to get on an airplane without getting a full-body scan?” or “The founders never meant the First Amendment to apply to something like the Internet” or “If you don’t have anything to hide, you shouldn’t worry about the government reading your emails.” Just because you personally can’t imagine a use for a specific liberty doesn’t mean you should surrender it so quickly.
—And as to the idea that citizens don’t need military-grade weaponry, remember that there may be as many as 30,000 surveillance drones flying over your head in a few years. Is it so crazy to fear a government monopoly on firepower?
–I’m not trying to bait or antagonize proponents of gun control. I, too, think there needs to be a real discussion about how to limit gun violence. As I said after Aurora, it is utterly sickening that this keeps happening. But we ought to be wary of the wishful thinking that says, “If we’d only had the right laws, this all could have been prevented.” It would be nice that if that were true, but that doesn’t make it so. It would be nice if a woman’s body really could “shut that whole thing down,” and if global warming really were just a cyclical change, and if confiscating toothpaste really did make airplanes safer, and if candy were good for you. But when we actually think about those things, we know they aren’t true. So let’s take a second to think first…