Bret Stephens—the notorious climate change denier on the New York Times editorial page—wrote an op-ed that sent conservative Twitter into a fury today, titled “Repeal the Second Amendment.” He made a good point in this tweet promoting the piece.
Stephens also opened the column with an unimpeachable truth:
From a law-and-order standpoint, more guns means more murder. “States with higher rates of gun ownership had disproportionately large numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides,” noted one exhaustive 2013 study in the American Journal of Public Health.
The statistics paint a very clear picture of destruction following the path taken by guns, and given America's ever-expanding pool of blood, it's reasonable to wonder why we even need guns in the first place given that 78% of us don't own one. The problem is that this discussion is purely theoretical, as there are so many guns out there that it's impossible to recapture every single one at this point.
Picture what it would look like, to repeal the second amendment and force people to give up a large part of their arsenal. Sure, you could try a buyback program like Australia (historically, those haven't worked here), but what about those who don't put a dollar value on their guns? Three percent of the adult population owns 50% of all guns, and a large segment of those do so because they're worried that the government will come to take their guns one day. Trudging down this path would prove some of the most unhinged people in this country right, and would undoubtedly create a ripple effect similar to the election of Donald Trump.
Plus, if we were left with no other option than to go into people's homes and confiscate their weapons, that would surely result in more death and destruction. The second amendment contains a provision stating that our “Militia” be “well regulated,” so the central problem now is a lack of judicial enforcement of that maxim. We can make progress to reduce gun violence in this country, but a big reason why liberals can't advance sensible gun regulations is because most arguments demonstrate little knowledge of how guns work. Take this tweet for example.
There’s no such thing as automatic rounds; there are automatic weapons, and they can fire a variety of rounds. This isn’t rocket science. I’ve fired guns twice in my life and I know the basic A, B, C’s of how these modular weapons are constructed and classified thanks to a cursory study of war while I was in college (and #realtalk: playing a lot of first person shooters). We can take steps to reduce gun violence in this country, but confiscating weapons on a mass scale would not solve our problem of needless bloodshed. Our efforts must start with banning inaccurate terms like “assault weapon,” as I wrote in my primer on the worst arguments you’ll hear against gun control.
side note: the term “assault weapon” is one that sounds specific, but really isn’t. If we’re talking about automatic weapons, those are virtually impossible to obtain—although there are attachments that enable semiautomatics to function like automatics, which is what might have happened in Las Vegas. Saying that we should ban all assault weapons isn’t very specific, as all it takes is a modification or two for a gun to slip in and out of that amorphous definition. Proponents of gun control must learn more about guns if we are to argue for regulation effectively.
If you can’t define something, you can’t regulate it. And besides, if you look closely at the 33,000 gun slayings every year, the regulations that we regularly discuss would have done little to prevent any of them. Per a former researcher for FiveThirtyEight in The Washington Post:
As my co-workers and I kept looking at the data, it seemed less and less clear that one broad gun-control restriction could make a big difference. Two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States every year are suicides. Almost no proposed restriction would make it meaningfully harder for people with guns on hand to use them. I couldn’t even answer my most desperate question: If I had a friend who had guns in his home and a history of suicide attempts, was there anything I could do that would help?
However, the next-largest set of gun deaths — 1 in 5 — were young men aged 15 to 34, killed in homicides. These men were most likely to die at the hands of other young men, often related to gang loyalties or other street violence. And the last notable group of similar deaths was the 1,700 women murdered per year, usually as the result of domestic violence. Far more people were killed in these ways than in mass-shooting incidents, but few of the popularly floated policies were tailored to serve them.
Repealing the second amendment or banning all guns is an overly simplistic solution to a wildly complex problem. It assumes that all we need to do is (try to) remove a weapon that anyone can use from the public sphere, and the violence will stop. But it’s not that simple. On a statistical scale, mass shootings are an anomaly in our gun crisis, yet most of the regulation that we speak of is reverse engineered to stop those tragedies. Banning semi-automatic weapons won’t do a damn thing to save the lives of thousands of women terrorized by abusive men.
If we are to seriously address the scourge of gun violence in this country, we must tailor policies geared towards particular problems, as the scale of the issue is so large that it has subdivisions. We must create outreach programs to those considering suicide. Banning guns will do nothing to improve the poverty and desperation that is at the root of all “street violence,” so more robust economic policies are needed there. We must devote more police resources to protecting women abused by men, and ensure that those men are unable to obtain firearms. This would go a long way towards solving the mass shooting crisis too, as many of these infamous disgruntled men have abused women prior to their rampages.
What we are beginning to learn is that most of the core solutions to ending gun violence have little or nothing to do with guns, and the regulations that dominate anti-gun discussion would reduce the number killed in mass shootings, but wouldn’t do much more. I understand the impulse to make sweeping changes when it seems like all other avenues are blocked by an intransigent lobbying arm of the gun manufacturers, but if there is one thing that we have learned from guns, it’s that silver bullets can do far more harm than good.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.