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On Gun Control, Americans Aren’t Callous, They’re Smart


In The Week, Tim Kreider engages in some pretty impressive question-begging:

Look, we’ve collectively decided, as a country, that the occasional massacre is okay with us. It’s the price we’re willing to pay for our precious Second Amendment freedoms. We’re content to forfeit the lives of a few dozen schoolkids a year as long as we get to keep our guns. The people have spoken, in a cheering civics-class example of democracy in action.

It’s hard to imagine what ghastly catastrophe could possibly change America’s minds about guns if the little bloody bookbags of Newtown did not. After that atrocity, it seemed as if we would finally enact some obvious, long-overdue half-measures. But perfectly reasonable, moderate legislation expanding background checks and banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines was summarily killed in the Senate for no reason other than that a sufficient number of United States senators are owned by the NRA. It made our official position as a nation nakedly explicit: we don’t care about any number of murdered children, no matter how many, or how young. We want our guns.

To write like this in good conscience, one has to believe two things: 1) That the gun-control measures mentioned would inevitably lower the gun-crime rate, and 2) That most people think this to be the case but don’t care. Is there any evidence for this?

Certainly, Americans do not want to tighten up the laws. Gallup shows us that most people are either satisfied with the status quo or want the rules loosened:

This instinct goes all the way from loose regulations, such as those governing sales:

To harsher regulations, such as those banning the handguns that were used in the California shooting:

The question, then, is this: Is this opposition callous, or is it rooted in a skepticism as to how effective gun-control laws can be? Annoying as it must be for the likes of Kreider, the truth seems to be that the public simply doesn’t believe that his coveted measures are going to do much at all. Take the Navy Yard shooting. Per a Rasmussen poll taken in the aftermath:

Just 33% of American Adults believe it’s at least somewhat likely that stricter gun control laws would have prevented the mass shooting in Washington, DC, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey. That includes 15% who say it is Very Likely stricter laws would have prevented the tragedy. Fifty-nine percent (59%) think it’s unlikely tougher gun laws would have prevented the shooting, including 26% who say it’s Not At All Likely.

This was in line with another Rasmussen poll conducted after the Giffords shooting in 2011:

A new Rasmussen Report recently found that only 29% of adults believe tougher gun control laws would help prevent shootings like the one in Arizona. The survey found 62% disagree and say tougher control would not make a difference.

Gun owners who were polled overwhelmingly believe tighter control would not prevent the shootings, 76% of those with guns in their home said stricter laws would not help prevent similar shootings. When asked about gun control overall, only 36% of those polled said the United States needed stricter laws, 56% do not share that same thought and oppose stronger anti-gun laws.

A Reason-Rupe poll from earlier this year, found the same thing:

When it comes to keeping guns out of the hands of criminals, 63 percent of Americans remain unconvinced that tighter restrictions on buying and owning guns will be effective, according to the latest Reason-Rupe poll. About a third (32 percent), said stricter regulations would be effective in preventing criminals from obtaining guns.

This is a country with hundreds of millions of guns and a constitutional right to keep and to bear them. It is not Britain. It is not Australia. It is not France or Japan. Total confiscation of all firearms — or a policy that moved toward it — would not only be practically and legally impossible in the United States, but would likely lead to mass disobedience from the citizenry and law enforcement, and possibly even to a civil war. As a result, we tend to debate small ball — background checks, bans on weapons that look a particular way (even the DOJ concedes this doesn’t work), and limits on the size of magazines.

Far from agreeing that these minor proposals would work but refusing to support them anyway, American voters appear to be smart enough to recognize that minor gestures are unlikely to do much except to irritate the law-abiding, and that the best way to continue to lower the crime rate is to ensure that good people are not prohibited from arming themselves if they so wish. Opponents of the right to bear arms can scream bloody murder if they want. But it would be nice if they would admit that they are speaking for themselves and their world views, and not for a public that, on this issue at least, is more sensible and calculating than it is given credit for.


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