This week the libertarian Cato Institute put out a very interesting and thought-provoking piece of commentary on gun control policy by their own Trevor Burrus. Excerpt:
It’s time for a collective freak-out on guns. It’s time to spend too long debating your wife’s cousin on Facebook, who seems to have been spoonfed his lines by the NRA/Everytown for Gun Safety. It’s time to unfriend those who keep posting obstinate things about the need for concealed carry/an assault weapons ban. It’s time to facepalm about those who just don’t get it.
I wish it were that simple, but, like most questions in public policy, it is not. Gun policy is hard, and getting it right—or even starting to get it right—requires calling out the bad arguments from both sides and understanding inevitable trade-offs and unavoidable facts.
Full disclosure: I’m a gun-rights supporter, insofar as the phrase has a discrete meaning. I’ve written many pieces arguing for the right to own and carry guns, and against ineffective or unconstitutional proposals to curtail gun rights. Yet, with each mass shooting, I grow increasingly despondent about whether any productive debate about guns is happening, much less possible. Consequently, I’m hesitant to write another piece about why mass shootings should not be the focus of gun policy, or about how banning or controlling “assault weapons” should not be the priority of gun-control advocates.
Yes, almost any issue as complex and as contentious as the 2nd Amendment is complicated. But I take issue with a couple of Mr. Burrus’ points:
Gun-rights supporters often argue every increase in gun regulation, no matter how tiny, is just one step on the path to the ultimate goal: prohibition. The NRA, in particular, has resisted nearly any gun-control proposal, partially because it warns against the boogey man of prohibition.
The NRA has also resisted nearly any gun-control proposal because 1) that’s what its members want, and b) because that’s how the game is played. You stake out your initial position at one end of the issue, and (hopefully) meet somewhere in the middle. In the case of gun control, the NRA does of course hold one piece of critical high ground: The 2nd Amendment.
And, yes, there are some who advocate outright prohibition; not many, but some.
Every year, suicide accounts for about two-thirds of gun deaths. While homicide and interpersonal gun violence are the most discussed aspect of gun violence in America, suicide is the most common.
The two issues require different policy approaches, of course. Suicides, like interpersonal gun violence, arise from a constellation of causes, including economic, spiritual, and familial. All of these should be discussed, certainly, as well as the prevalence of guns. Guns tend to turn suicide attempts into suicide successes, and many of those people, if they were here today, would regret choosing such an effective method. Gun-control might help this issue, and gun-rights advocates shouldn’t ignore the problem.
But the issue of whether laws might or might not affect suicide rates isn’t the issue; the issue is that gun control advocates dishonestly include suicides in their claimed statistics of “gun crimes.” The issues behind suicides committed with firearms and crimes committed with firearms are entirely different and entirely unrelated, and gun-control advocates are being openly dishonest in combining the numbers.
Mr. Burrus is right; it’s a complicated issue. Personally I will always advocate in favor of liberty over government control. It’s too bad that more of the folks in the Imperial City don’t agree.