Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why we need to politicize guns and gun control after the Aurora shooting, and how to do it right.

Immediately after a mass shooting, half of the politicians and media personalities start pounding the drums for gun control.  Then the other half says now is not the time to address this; the “too soon” argument.  Then the first half says now is exactly the time, while it’s fresh in our memories.  Then the second half accuses them of exploiting a tragedy to push a political agenda.  They’re both kinda right.  They’re both kinda dumb.

Now is exactly the right time to wonder why things like this happen and how to prevent them.  It’s also the time to wonder why other murders happen (frequently for relatively mundane reasons, like an argument over money), and how to prevent those. But we should not dive automatically into gun control. 

There were approximately 15,000 homicides in 2009 in the United States.  This is according to the UNODC (UN Office on Drugs and Crime), in their 2011 report which is available here.  But I know that millions (if not billions) of bullets were fired in the U.S. that year.  That means most people are responsible with their guns.  I’m not inclined to limit everyone’s rights when a relatively small number of people abuse their rights.  Think of it like Substantive Due Process in the Constitution; there must be a compelling, overriding reason to limit someone’s rights.

Homicide is a compelling reason, but not an overriding one.  This is because gun control is not the only way to reduce homicide.  I’m not even convinced that it would be effective at reducing homicide.  Gun control proponents like to point out the relatively low crime rates in Australia and Canada and many Western European countries, where guns are strictly controlled if not outlawed.  True, but how do they explain Russia?

In 2009, there were 16,000 homicides in Russia, according to the same UN study.  Their population is slightly less than half the size of the U.S. population.  This makes their murder rate slightly more than twice ours.  And their gun control laws are very strict.  Handguns and automatic weapons are outlawed.  Shotguns and rifles are heavily restricted, requiring citizens to go through a strict and extensive licensing process.  All of these rules don’t appear to do a damn thing.  Nice work, tovariches.

There are other examples I’ve heard in the news that make me wonder why we fixate on gun control.  Gun bans have been removed in D.C. and Chicago.  Murder is up (way up) in Chicago, but down in D.C.  Violence has been on a consistent decline in the U.S. and gun ownership is on the rise.  Presence or lack of guns and gun control laws doesn’t appear to have anything to do with anything.  We have a murder problem, not a gun problem.  So why the hell do people want to kill each other?  If we figure that out, we’ll actually make some progress. 

Sadly, every time we try, we stray into a minefield of political correctness.  Murderers tend to come from poor neighborhoods.  Murderers tend to come from single parent homes.  Mentioning facts like these tends to manufacture more outrage than results.  There are plenty of other possible causes, some controversial, some not.  But they all have to be explored if we ever expect to make a real change, even if we risk hurting someone’s feelings.  Hurt feelings are preferable to more dead people.

So the left wing is right for saying we need to talk about this now, but dumb for knee-jerking its way into gun control.  The right wing is right to dispute this, but dumb when they accuse the left of exploiting a tragedy.   Exploiting a tragedy to prevent future tragedies is an entirely worthwhile exercise.  Just exploit it in a way that gets actual results.

The political agenda that needs pushing is that we need murder control, not gun control.  Focusing on gun control is just taking our eyes off of the ball.  It’s times like this that I’m happily and thankfully non-partisan.  I hope they eventually get it together.  Before anyone dies or anything.

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