What I mean by that is that the NRA and the rest of the gun lobby have such a firm hold on our political system that no one can bring up the notion, which we bring up with every other kind of tragedy, that maybe we can do better. Maybe there are laws we could pass that would prevent something like this.Maybe we can do better.... laws can't solve everything... but if that were the standard, then we wouldn't pass any laws at all... so... so, what? Since we do sometimes pass laws, we must think that laws can sometimes help when there's a problem. And there's a problem, so... so... what? Let's open this up. Let's talk about it. E.J. Dionne is afraid we'll just knee-jerk do nothing, instead of knee-jerk propose gun control... I mean think and think with thoughtful contemplation and talk about and around and through and through and arrive at the solution that immediately popped into E.J. Dionne's mind.
No one pretends that better laws would prevent all tragedies, but if that were the standard, then we wouldn't pass any laws at all. We have the most permissive gun laws pretty much in the industrialized world. And I hope, but I have no confidence, that we won't make the same mistake again.
I'd like to think that one time, we could say: Oh, let's open this up. Let's talk about the assault weapons ban. Let's talk about ways in which we might reduce the chances that someone with mental problems might get a gun. And I'm just worried that we're going to revert right back to our usual sort of giving and saying, well, the gun lobby controls Washington, so we can never do anything about things like this.
I'm fascinated by this notion that we do sometimes pass laws and therefore that means that we should pass laws. The resistance to passing laws is some nasty dysfunction caused by a nefarious interest group — here, the NRA — but good people want to do something. This do something orientation is characteristic of the modern liberal mind. I heard Dionne saying that on the radio yesterday evening, but it came back to me as I was reading about rabies and marveling at the crazy — desperate — ideas for a cure: "you burn a hair from the dog that bit you and insert the ashes into the wound... [a] maggot from a dead dog's body... a linen cloth soaked with menstrual blood of a female dog... [c]hicken excrement, 'if it is of a red color'... [a]shes from the tail of a shrew-mouse...."
When is it that reasoning goes haywire? After Dionne presented his patchwork of liberal logic, the host called upon David Brooks. (Don't say NPR doesn't balance liberals and conservatives!) He said...
Well, I'm no fan of the NRA, I'm not really an opponent of gun control or an assault weapon ban...That sounds like a necessary preface for the NPR listeners, but I'm going to give Brooks credit for subtly deactivating the bogeyman Dionne inserted into his call to action, because Brooks continues with:
... but, you know, public policy is based on evidence and data and whether it would work.Brooks is displaying the pin with which he is about to puncture the liberal's inflated self-image.
This is one of the most studied things in criminology. And the weight of the evidence is pretty clear that there's no relationship between gun control and violent crime. Areas with higher gun control do not have less violent crime. Over the last few years, the number of new guns entering the country has been about four million a year.So you've got to look at evidence, not your instinctive notions about what just might work. Put down that shrew mouse's tail now, E.J.
At the same time, violent crime has plummeted by about 41 percent a year.Brooks's "evidence and data" dump seemed really powerful until he got to that implausible percentage. What is it, 41% a decade, I don't know what to make of this point-counterpoint style radio presentation. There are no links to click on, so I'm just forced to be suspicious of Brooks's I've-got-the-facts posturing. [ADDED: Meade suggests that the percentage of decline has increased by 41% a year.]
So I'm not necessarily opposed to the policy, I don't really think it would matter in violent crime generally, and I really don't think it would matter too much in the case of lunatics or whatever who are committed to this sort of pre-planned massacre.So Brooks retreats to reassuring the NPR audience: He's not opposed to gun control, he just doesn't think it would work. He began with the assertion that "public policy is based on evidence and data and whether it would work," explained why he didn't think it would work, but nevertheless won't oppose the policy. Brooks isn't a conservative by my standard. I think to be conservative, you should have the instinctive orientation: do nothing. You have to convince us what you've got there is better than nothing. And what have you got there? A bucket of red chickenshit? A dog's tampon?!!
Now, how will the very very thoughtful E.J. Dionne deal with Brooks's argument from evidence! and data! He's got to demonstrate that he's one of the smart people, the non-haywire people, your betters who proposed open and thorough debate about solutions to problems (after the bogeymen are kicked out of the room):
DIONNE: If we had better background checks, yes we'll miss some lunatics, but with real background checks, we could reduce the number of lunatics who get guns. And there's also a spillover. If you have permissive laws in one state - as Mayor Bloomberg has shown, Mayor Bloomberg of New York, who has proposed a lot of very practical remedies, not sweeping remedies but practical remedies - he's shown how loose laws in one state can send guns into a state that may have stricter laws. So I don't think we should throw up our hands and say it's impossible...And there you have it, the liberal mind at work, in real time.
BROOKS: Yeah, one area of agreement, I do think people who have history of mental health issues, and this came up with the Loughner case, that...
SIEGEL: The shooting of Gabby Giffords...
BROOKS: That should show up when you're trying to buy a gun. And legally, that's supposed to happen, but it doesn't always happen.
SIEGEL: We don't know all that much about the suspect. So far no indication that any such record would have shown up. We just don't know yet.
DIONNE: Right, and my argument is not that you can prevent every one of these things, but when I heard this this morning, like everybody else, I was, you know, sick about it. And I just thought that every time this happens, people say, well, there are very particular factors in this case, so let's not talk about gun control, gun control wouldn't solve it. Well, maybe it would, or maybe it wouldn't in a particular case, but it would prevent some of these things in the future.