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Happy New Year, Happy New Gun-Control Nonsense

If we are to believe the timestamp — which, amusingly enough, reads “12:01” — we must reasonably conclude that the gun control movement managed to get just one minute into 2015 before it substantially embarrassed itself. Take a bow, New Yorker staff writer Adam Gopnik:

In the essay depicted above, Gopnik considers what he pretentiously terms “The Moral Work of Gun Control.” The result is one part The-Science-is-Settled desperation, one part smug social-positioning, and one part literary catharsis — all washed down with a healthy dose of basic ignorance. Take, by way of example, the very first paragraph

The news that the parents of the children massacred two years ago in Sandy Hook, near Newtown, Connecticut, by a young man with a Bushmaster semi-automatic rifle, were undertaking a lawsuit against the gun manufacturer was at once encouraging and terribly discouraging. The encouraging part is that those parents, suffering from a grief that those of us who are only witnesses to it can barely begin to comprehend, haven’t, despite the failure to reinstate assault-weapons bans and stop the next massacre, given way to despair. Like Richard Martinez, after his son was murdered by a weapon that should never have been in the hands of a lunatic, or anyone else, for that matter, they’re allowing themselves to be angry, and then turning their anger into action: they’re naming the business that helped kill their children and asking a court to hold that business responsible.

This is most impressive. In the space of just 144 words, Gopnik has managed to: 1) conflate the supposed problem of “assault weapons” with the actions of the man who murdered Richard Martinez’s son (when, in fact, that killer did not use a rifle, but instead used a trio of bog-standard handguns that were legal even in California); 2) propose that those handguns “should never have been in the hands of a lunatic” (when, in fact, that “lunatic” passed the federal and state background checks that Gopnik’s ilk routinely sell as a panacea for our problems); and 3) pretend that there is any evidence whatsoever that to “reinstate assault-weapons bans” would likely “stop the next massacre” — which, as even the Obama administration’s DOJ concedes, there is not.

Incredibly, it gets even worse. Getting into his stride, Gopnik contends that:

one of the ironies of the whole story is that there already is a long-standing ban on truly automatic weapons—machine guns—whose legality not even the N.R.A. or their allies dispute. If anything, they tend to make a sniffy point of discriminating actual machine guns from mere semi-automatic ones, among them the Bushmaster. (Back in the twenties, the availability of the tommy gun to gangsters meant that the police were often brutally out-gunned.)

This is false. There is no “ban” on “truly automatic weapons.” They are legal under federal law and are available for purchase and for ownership in almost every state. There are some restrictions, yes. Buyers must select their weapon from a cache of pre-1986 firearms that cannot be updated by either manufacturers or importers; they must go through a stricter background=check process than is usual; they must pay a $200 transfer tax, per firearm; and they must register their ownership with the ATF. But they can not be said to be “banned” in any possible sense of that word. Last time I checked, there were around 250,000 in circulation. What can he mean? 

As for why those in the know tend to differentiate ”actual machine guns from mere semi-automatic ones”? That would be because they are completely different — not just legally, but functionally too. Really, one would have presumed that a man who felt comfortable enough to claim in public that “no honest or scrupulous person can any longer reject the evidence that gun control controls gun violence” would have known some basic facts about how the damn things work.

One would also have presumed that such a man would have refrained from presenting the following nonsense as a “neatly logical” or “indisputable argument”:

the gun manufacturer is guilty of having sold a weapon whose only purpose was killing a lot of people in a very short time. Despite the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives having previously declared that such weapons “serve a function in crime and combat, but serve no sporting purpose,” Bushmaster sold it anyway—and precisely on the grounds that it could kill many people, quickly. “Forces of opposition bow down. You are single handedly outnumbered,” the advertising copy read.

The lawsuit is discouraging because the death-by-gun lobby has successfully advocated for legislative prophylactics that prevent gunmakers, almost uniquely among American manufacturers, from ever being held responsible for the deaths that their products cause. If a carmaker made a car that was known to be wildly unsafe, and then advertised it as unsafe, liabilities would result. The gun lobby is, or believes itself to be, immune.

First off the bat, a reminder: There is absolutely no requirement whatsoever that legal firearms in the United States serve a “sporting purpose.” As should be clear to anybody who is even remotely familiar with the topic, the “right of the people to keep and bear arms” has precisely nothing to do with either hunting or with sport, and it has absolutely everything to do with the Lockean conception of self-defense, with the ideal balance of power between the citizen and the state, and with the classically liberal understanding of what “popular sovereignty” means in practice. Hunting, as John Cleese says in the Parrot Sketch, “don’t enter into it.”

Worse, his “carmaker” analogy simply doesn’t work, implying as it does that Congress has elected to carve out an egregious exception for gun manufacturers that no other industry would be afforded. The reason that one can’t advertise “wildly unsafe” cars in the United States without inviting civil lawsuits and governmental punishment is that cars are designed to convey passengers safely from one place to another and not to kill them. In consequence, there is no benefit whatsoever to there being “wildly unsafe” models on the market. Firearms, by contrast, are deliberately lethal — not only in practice, but by explicit design. Indeed, they are lethal when they work properly. Of course the two industries will be regulated differently. Of course the rules that govern civil lawsuits will be different. Of course the state will weight its options in a different manner. After all, it wouldn’t make much sense for the federal government simultaneously to a) protect the right of the people to keep and bear arms; b) decline to pass laws that render those arms illegal, and c) permit the civil punishment of those who legally sell those arms in such cases as they are used as designed. Does Adam Gopnik not understand this?

I could go on and on here, I suppose. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll let you feast your eyes on these two extracts, and then invite you to tell me whether it is Gopnik’s opponents who are guilty of indulging what he priggishly terms “semi-theological dogma,” or whether it is Gopnik himself:

In public life, there are subjects about which the mental work is done, but the moral work still needs doing. Or to put it with another neatly alliterative pair, where the intellectual work is not yet complete even as the inspirational work takes flight. The argument over gay marriage was only the most recent one to show that, with the mental work done, the moral work could begin, and the right result would follow: the unthinkable, fifty years ago, first got thought through, and then got done. On the other extreme, it’s obvious that our thinking through of capitalism and its inequalities and how to mend them anew has hardly begun; the Occupy movement collapsed for that reason. The same is true about the vexing problem of sexual violence at universities—the mental labor of sorting through the obvious right of women to be safe from casual sexual assault, and that of the accused to be free from unsupported accusations—is only now underway. You know that your intellectual labor isn’t finished when you bleed natural allies—people who are inclined to agree with you, but are alarmed by the unconsidered consequences of your position. . . .

Piece by piece, legislation by litigation, the curse will be lifted. Time and temperament and patience will win out. This is the belief that the Victorians called “progressivism” and it is still much mocked. But the neat thing is that it happens to be true. There are many issues—the overwhelming majority—on which we need an ongoing public “conversation.” On a few, we don’t.

“There is nothing so irresistible as an idea that happens to be true,” Gopnik concludes in his ultimate paragraph, before launching into a final fit of preening. On this at least, he is correct. There is not. And yet if you want to reap the benefits, you have first to be telling the truth. 


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