This tweet seems to be popular:
Now, imagine you're a kid. And it was a school. https://t.co/zS2nbHcqfX
— David Solimini (@CommsDirector) June 14, 2017
I’m sure its author is sincere and means well. Nevertheless, this line represents everything I hate about our debate over gun policy. It’s mawkish, it begs the question, and it smugly assumes that the disagreements over guns are the result of a lack of empathy or experience rather than of conflicting views on the best way to shape law.
The assumptions in Solimini’s tweet are these:
1) That Chuck Fleischmann wasn’t aware until now that shootings are traumatic;
2) That he is now, having been personally involved in one, and so will soon realize that other shootings were traumatic, too;
3) As a result, he will agree with David Solimini on gun control.
Do you see the problem? As many progressives do, Solimini is assuming that we all quietly agree on the best approach but that some of us are too selfish or stubborn or indifferent to act upon it. But we don’t. The two camps that emerged after Sandy Hook were not populated by People Who Were Upset and People Who Were Not Upset, but by People Who Thought More Government Action Was a Good Idea and People Who Did Not Think More Government Action Was a Good Idea. It is for this reason — not some pernicious social pathology — that the “think of the children” line had no effect on the dissenters. Why? Because they already were.
Advocates of more gun control are fond of saying “more guns, more crime, period,” and then walking away as if they have won the argument. But they really, really haven’t. It is fair to acknowledge that America has a lot of guns, and that it therefore has more gun crime than do nations with none. It is fair, too, to contend that where there are few guns in circulation in the first instance, there won’t be much gun crime. But it is not at all fair to assert that America, which already hosts hundreds of millions of guns, has been hurt by an increase in their number. Indeed, it’s factually wrong. Over the last two decades, gun crime has dropped massively, while the number of guns in circulation has doubled and the laws almost everywhere have been loosened. We can debate the causation — and should — but we should do so while understanding that had this decline in crime followed strict federal gun control, advocates of regulation would undoubtedly claim victory.
Ultimately, this not a debate over abstractions so much as a continuing brawl over specifics. Outside of Twitter, legislators are not asked to vote on A Bill to Solve All the Problems, but on specific legislation that’s sold with specific promises and that comes with specific downsides. Certainly, values play a part: A congressman who thinks that nobody “needs” a gun will perform a different balancing act than one who agrees with me. But that doesn’t, and can’t, tell us the whole story. The core reason I oppose an “assault weapons” ban is not that I love weaponry more than my son, but that I know it’s a ridiculous red herring. My support for constitutional carry is as much based in our experience as in my preference for Justinian. I oppose gun registries because they demonstrably don’t work — anywhere — and because the Supreme Court has all but gutted them on important Fifth Amendment grounds. And I’m generally skeptical of more restrictive laws because there’s no solid case in their favor. Thirty years ago we were told in the same smug tones that it was “obvious” that concealed carry would lead to more violence, to shoot-outs in the street, to the return of the Wild West. And what happened? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Indeed, the evidence we have suggests that concealed-carry permit-holders are more law-abiding than the police.
I don’t know Chuck Fleischmann and I probably never will, but I’ll tell you this for nothing: He’s thought about these questions at least as much as has David Solimni, and it’s unfair to him to suggest otherwise. I don’t begrudge Solimini his anger; he is, of course, entitled to his view. But it is the height of arrogance to assume that Republican lawmakers — and libertarian-leaning immigrants such as myself! — only hold their views on guns because we’d never considered that they are dangerous, or that mass shootings are an abomination, or that attacks on schools or baseball fields or malls yield a profound psychic shock. This isn’t a competition to see who can be most upset, and it isn’t an exercise in empathy building. It’s a public policy debate, with all that that entails. What comes of this shooting remains to be seen. But flippant assumption and viral-worthy question begging will get us precisely nowhere.