Politics & Policy

A Shallow Argument for Gun Control

(Mario Tama/Getty)

Even for surly conservative antagonists, the descent of the New York Times, from newspaper of record to craven servant of the liberal consensus to its current mode of operation — desperate pleas for relevance — has been no fun at all to watch. Its “Pay Attention to Me!” gambit over the weekend — a front-page editorial endorsing mass confiscation of firearms, its first front-page editorial over the course of many eventful decades (Franklin Roosevelt’s putting American citizens into prison camps, John Kennedy’s murder by a Communist, Germans’ fulfilling President Reagan’s command to “tear down this wall,” etc.) — is the whimper substituting for a bang.

The substance of the editorial is hardly worth addressing, so shallow and banal is the thinking behind it, but duty demands that we must.

Standing in Paris, where Islamic State terrorists had just murdered 130 people, President Obama insisted that mass shootings are something that happen only in the United States. Senator Barbara Boxer of California one-upped him by remarking in the wake of the Islamist bloodbath in San Bernardino that California has shown how well “sensible” gun-control laws work. The Times, by contrast, outright admits that France’s strict, cumbrous gun laws did precisely squat to inhibit the slaughter in Paris — but it still insists, in what we must imagine is the voice of a second-grader: “At least they are trying.”

Trying to do what, exactly?

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For all the panicky talk about them, so-called assault weapons — the sole, but unnamed, focus of the Times editorial — are used in a vanishingly small share of U.S. murders; rifles as a category are used in about 3 percent of murders, and the federal government does not even bother to keep track of murders committed with the subset of “assault rifles.” If one were to compare the prevalence of so-called assault weapons with that of, say, shooters who grew up in single-mother homes, you’d find some things that would make the sort of people who write for the New York Times uncomfortable, and thus the “at least they’re trying!” line of argument. Anything, no matter how irrelevant or fanciful, is preferable to facing the fact that the American Left, through its welfare-statist policies and its liberationist social ethic, has abetted the failed families, failed institutions, and failed communities that give rise to both mass shootings and ordinary crime.

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We have, in essence, three murder problems in the United States: crazy people shooting up schools, statistically negligible but highly dramatic; terrorists and terrorists manqués like Nidal Hassan (of “workplace violence” infamy) and the San Bernardino killers, also a small set of murders but less negligible once one accounts for more successful terrorist spectaculars such as 9/11; and quotidian murder, found with great disproportion in poor and black neighborhoods in Democrat-dominated failed cities such as Detroit and Chicago. There are many possible policy responses to this — making it easier to treat people with severe mental illnesses; crushing ISIS and tightening our immigration policies; tough, effective policing — but reviving an assault-weapons ban that manifestly failed to have any effect between its passage in 1994 and its lapse ten years later is manifestly not one of them.

#share#The American people are in fact fairly sensible about this: When asked what to do about mass shootings, only one in four told Gallup that the best response would be the enactment of new gun laws.

The Times called for the confiscation of the presumably millions of legal firearms it deems unacceptable. But: by whom?

It should be noted — and more than noted, really — that the Times in its recent front-page publicity stunt did not call only for the tighter regulation of gun sales. Instead, it called for the confiscation of the presumably millions of legal firearms it deems unacceptable. That brings up some interesting questions, such as: By whom? It won’t do to ask nicely — a California mandate that residents turn in noncompliant ammunition magazines, for instance, produced a grand total of zero relinquishments. One wonders which federal personnel would be tasked, should it come to that, with going house to house, confiscating guns. There are not enough FBI agents or U.S. marshals to do the job. Park rangers?

“But at least they are trying!”

#related#Contra President Obama, we see mass shootings in Germany, Norway, France, etc. Gun control, as the New York Times itself admits, does not prevent this. What is at work here is, in part, Kulturkampf: The sort of people who are found in gun shops are found in Walmarts, in unreconstructed churches, and in Houston voting booths opposing transexual toilet-rights ordinances. The sort of people who believe that the New York Times should be the last word in public affairs loathe and detest those people.

If you want to do something about terrorism, go after the terrorists. If you want to do something about crime, go after the criminals. Going after the law-abiding types who like to shoot quail, carry concealed firearms to protect themselves from criminals, or keep a scary black gun in the basement — just in case — demonstrates a rather different set of motives, one that has nothing to do with ordinary crime, mass shootings, or terrorism.

The Times has embarrassed itself. It has frankly embarrassed all of us who care about intelligent argument and who love newspapers, or at least what newspapers used to be. Pity the Times, but for God’s sake don’t take it seriously.

The Editors comprise the senior editorial staff of the National Review magazine and website.

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