April 3, 2018
Tragically, predictably, infuriatingly, we’re again mourning a shooting —this time at YouTube’s headquarters — even as the drive for gun safety legislation has stalled in Washington. Polls show that nine out of 10 Americans favor basic steps like universal background checks before gun purchases, but the exceptions are the president and a majority in Congress.
Usually, pundits toss out their own best arguments while ignoring the other side’s, but today I’m going to try something new and engage directly with the arguments made by gun advocates:
You liberals are in a panic over guns, but look at the numbers. Any one gun is less likely to kill a person than any one vehicle. But we’re not traumatized by cars, and we don’t try to ban them.
It’s true that any particular car is more likely to be involved in a fatality than any particular gun. But cars are actually a perfect example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. We don’t ban cars, but we do work hard to take a dangerous product and regulate it to limit the damage.
We do that through seatbelts and airbags, through speed limits and highway barriers, through driver’s licenses and insurance requirements, through crackdowns on drunken driving and texting while driving. I once calculated that since 1921, we had reduced the auto fatality rate per 100 million miles driven by 95 percent.
Sure, we could have just said “cars don’t kill people, people kill people.” Or we could have said that it’s pointless to regulate cars because then bicyclists will just run each other down. Instead, we relied on evidence and data to reduce the carnage from cars. Why isn’t that a model for guns?
Because of the Second Amendment. The Constitution doesn’t protect vehicles, but it does protect my right to a gun.
Yes, but courts have found that the Second Amendment does not prevent sensible regulation (just as the First Amendment does not preclude laws on defamation). There is no constitutional objection to, say, universal background checks to obtain a gun. It’s crazy that 22 percent of guns are obtained without a check.
We all agree that there should be limits. No one argues that there is an individual right to own an antiaircraft gun. So the question isn’t whether firearms should all be sacrosanct but simply where we draw the line. When more Americans have died from guns just since 1970 (1.4 million) than in all the wars in American history (1.3 million), maybe it’s worth rethinking where that line should be.
Whoa! You’re inflating the gun violence numbers by including suicides. Almost two-thirds of those gun deaths are suicides, and the blunt reality is that if someone wants to kill himself, he’ll find a way. It’s not about guns.
Actually, that’s not true. Scholars have found that suicide barriers on bridges, for example, prevent jumpers and don’t lead to a significant increase in suicides elsewhere. Likewise, almost half of suicides in Britain used to be by asphyxiating oneself with gas from the oven, but when Britain switched to a less lethal oven gas the suicides by oven plummeted and there was little substitution by other methods. So it is about guns.
No, it’s more about our violent culture. The Swiss and Israelis have large numbers of firearms, and they don’t have our levels of gun violence.
Yes, there’s something to that. America has underlying social problems, and we need to address them with smarter economic and social policies. But we magnify the toll when we make it easy for troubled people to explode with AR-15s rather than with pocketknives.
You liberals freak out about guns. If you have a swimming pool or a bathtub, that’s more dangerous to neighborhood kids than a gun is. Kids under age 14 are much more likely to die from drowning than from firearms. So why this crusade against guns, but not against bathtubs and pools?
Your numbers are basically right, but only because young children routinely swim and take baths but don’t regularly encounter firearms. But look at the picture for the population as a whole: Overall, 3,600 Americans drown each year, while 36,000 die from guns (yes, including suicides). That’s one reason to be talking more about gun safety than about pool safety.
Note also that a backyard pool isn’t going to be used to mug a neighbor, or to invade a nearby school. Schools don’t have drills for an “active pool situation.” And while some 200,000 guns are stolen each year, it’s more difficult to steal a pool and use it for a violent purpose.
Moreover, we do try to make pools safer. Many jurisdictions require a permit for a pool, as well as a childproof fence around it with self-locking gates. If we have permits and safe storage requirements for pools, why not for guns? What’s wrong with trying to save lives?