Rationalizing Gutlessness on Guns (UPDATED)

WASHINGTON — Talk about power: The gun lobby barely had to say a word before the media sent advocates of saner gun regulation shuffling off in defeat.

In a political version of Stockholm syndrome, even those who claim to disagree with the National Rifle Association’s absolutist permissiveness on firearms lulled themselves into accepting the status quo by reciting a script of gutless resignation dictated by the merchants of death.

It’s a script built on half-truths and myths. For example, polls showing declining support for gun control in the abstract were widely cited, while polls showing broad backing for carefully tailored laws were largely ignored.

Arguments that gun regulation won’t accomplish anything were justified with citations of academic studies that offer mixed or inconclusive verdicts. In the wake of last week’s killings in Colorado, these studies were deployed to hide the elephant in the room: that our country is the scene of more gun deaths than any other wealthy nation in the world. And it isn’t even close.

A study last year in the Journal of Trauma-Injury Infection & Critical Care analyzed gun death statistics for 2003 from the World Health Organization Mortality Database. It found that 80 percent of all firearms deaths in 23 industrialized countries occurred in the United States. For women, the figure rose to 86 percent; for children 14 and under, to 87 percent. Can anyone seriously claim that our comparatively lax gun laws had nothing to do with these blood-drenched data?

Some of the evasions are couched in compassion. We are told that the real answer to mass slaughter lies not in better gun statutes but in more attentiveness to those afflicted with psychological problems.

Yes, we need better treatment for the mentally distressed. But while we build a better system of care for mental illness — and, by the way, nobody talks concretely about how to create and pay for such a system — isn’t the more direct solution to ban automatic weapons and oversized magazines so that when someone does go off the rails, it won’t be possible for him to shoot off close to 100 rounds in 100 seconds? And why shouldn’t we make it harder for such a person to buy the instruments of slaughter online?

Regulations, it is said, just won’t work. Bad people will get guns somehow. But if that were true, why did the assault weapons ban work? If regulation is futile, why do we bother to regulate safety in so many other ways? We manage to prevent needless deaths through rules on refrigerators, automobiles and children’s toys, yet politics blocks us from keeping up to date on the regulation of firearms, whose very purpose is to kill.

We’re told that no laws will end all human tragedies. That’s true. And if the standard for a useful law is that it must put an end to all tragedies and solve all problems, there is no point in passing any laws at all.

Those of us who believe in sensible steps to regulate weapons are supposed to bow before this catalog of despair and shut up. Most liberal politicians are doing just that. It does not seem to occur to them that the general idea of gun control is bound to recede in the polls when so many advocates of popular regulations give up on making their case. Bad arguments prevail when they go unanswered. That, by the way, is why it’s not enough for advocates of a sensible course on guns to think their job is over if they write one impassioned column or make one strong statement after a mass killing — and then move on to the latest campaign flap.

The polls still show considerable support for practical measures to curb gun violence. For example: a 2011 New York Times/CBS News poll found that 63 percent of Americans favor a ban on high-capacity magazines; just as many supported an assault weapons ban. The same year, a Washington Post/ABC News poll found that 83 percent supported financing a system in which people treated for mental illness would be reported to a federal gun registry database to prevent them from buying guns; 71 percent favored this for those treated for drug abuse.

Such numbers should give heart to those who seek solutions to gun violence. Yet so many progressive donors have given up on financing the cause of gun safety. And although President Obama took an important step forward in a New Orleans speech Wednesday night, so many progressive politicians sit back and assume that the gun lobby will win again.

There is a word for this: surrender.

E.J. Dionne’s email address is [email protected] (c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group

Author: E.J. DIONNE, JR., WASHINGTON POST COLUMNIST

24 Comments

  1. And of course those who say that we need to have other systems in place to deal with the people who commit violent crimes with guns instead of gun regulation are the ones who scream loudest if someone proposes taxes to pay for those systems.

  2. Jim, or the level of personal intrusion it would require to effectively do such a screening. Remember these are the same folks who think a 3 -day waiting period is unacceptable…

  3. Arguments that gun regulation won’t accomplish anything were justified with citations of academic studies that offer mixed or inconclusive verdicts.

    No they are not. The studies are very conclusive and keep saying the same thing. Gun control has little to no connection to reducing crime.

    if that were true, why did the assault weapons ban work?

    It didn’t “work” if you take that to mean made an effective difference in the crime rate or violence in the US.

  4. @EE
    Please show independent studies that back your claims. A few links…

  5. Ellis, I think you are awash in NRA talking points.

    Anyway.. I mostly agree with the simple and sensible points EJD is making here. One quibble – it is getting tiresome seeing people who weigh in on this important subject still getting their terminology wrong. Case in point:

    isn’t the more direct solution to ban automatic weapons -EJD

    Guess what EJ, automatic weapons have always been banned. What you mean to say is semi-automatic weapons. If you want to be taken seriously on this subject get your terminology right.

  6. An interesting article about the NRA and the non-profit trade association for the shooting, hunting and firearms industry, the National Sports Shooting Foundation. Apparently all the data about gun sales rising are questionable because these organizations are not releasing current data, unlike all other trade associations. Plus there is a darker side of the gun industry, which may be why they are reluctant to produce that data.

    [The smoke and mirrors game the gun lobby plays with bogus "sales data" allows them to promote the infamous "More Guns, Less Crime" mantra of now-discredited "researcher" (and current Fox News commentator) John Lott while cloaking a far darker truth. Namely, that -- faced with a stagnant customer base that has declined precipitously over the past 35 years -- the gun industry has purposely and continuously manufactured firearms for one of its most important market segments: traffickers and prohibited purchasers (i.e., children, criminals, the dangerously mentally ill, domestic abusers, etc.). And all in the name of profit.]

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/.....56769.html

    Some people will do ANYTHING for money; but we already knew that.

  7. Guess what EJ, automatic weapons have always been banned. What you mean to say is semi-automatic weapons. If you want to be taken seriously on this subject get your terminology right.

    Automatic weapons are not banned, but they can only be owned by an idividual who holds a federal permit for them. The permit typically limits the number of automatic weapons that the individual is allowed to own. All this severely limits the market for automatic weapons. And they say regulation doesn’t work…

  8. To effect change, we need to make people aware of the problem. If the major media outlets (for example, network news) used just a few seconds of air time (or even none, if they simply posted it behind the news anchor) of how many people had been killed (and possibly how many injured) by guns and traffic accidents the country would demand that something be done.

  9. Addendum: I meant a running count (yearly).

  10. An American Patriots Lament: First they took away my right to drive through a cross walk with their friggin STOP sign, then I couldn’t drive without a contortion causing strap across my chest, then they said I couldn’t smoke in my office, then they won’t let me get a 32 ounce, 32 packet drink when I get thirsty.

    Now, the worst, they want to pry my $100 (on sale) 100-round magazine from my grip, so I have to risk nipping my finger with multiple pussy 30-rounders. How unfair, this country is going to hell.

  11. dd, LOL :)

  12. @dduck

    I don’t often respond to your comments, but on this one I must say “spot-on,” marvelous, LOL, etc., etc.

    Thanks, we all needed that.

  13. IN

    …”Blood Money: How the Gun Industry Bankrolls the NRA” says that since 2005 contributions from gun industry “corporate partners” to the NRA total between $14.7 million and $38.9 million.

    … One manufacturer, Beretta, donated one million dollars to the NRA for work to overturn gun control laws after the 2008 U.S. Supreme Court decision that recognized an individual right to possess a handgun in the home for self-defense.

    OUT

    Between 2001 and 2010, the NRA spent between $1.5 million and $2.7 million on federal-level lobbying efforts. During the 2010 election cycle, the NRA spent more than $7.2 million on independent expenditures at the federal level — messages that advocate for or against political candidates. These messages primarily supported Republican candidates or opposed Democratic candidates.

  14. Gee, I’d love to see similar figures for the health, insurance, energy, teacher unions, etc.
    Just sayin.

  15. One thing I’d like to comment on regarding Switzerland and the Swiss having a high rate of gun ownership…

    People who bring this up fail to mention that all Swiss males reaching the “age of majority” (usually 18) and fit for service are conscripted into their military. Women are also allowed to volunteer. See Conscription in Switzerland for more information.

    Is it any wonder that when about 2/3 of your population have spent at least some time in the military that there are a lot of guns?

    I’d be content if anyone who wanted to purchase a gun in this country had to undergo some mandatory military service prior to acquiring the gun (or civilian law enforcement). Not only would they have proper training on how to use it, they also tend to be less likely to be irresponsible with regard to their gun. Granted, there are rare instances of military or ex-military mass murderers (Ft. Hood and Timothy McVeigh immediately spring to mind) but generally those that seem to be the most “trigger-happy” irresponsible gun owners have never served a day in uniform.

  16. Clarification to add that I know McVeigh’s weapon was not a gun but a bomb, but my general point is that military personnel appear to have less of a “cowboy” attitude to weapons.

  17. People who bring this up fail to mention that all Swiss males reaching the “age of majority” (usually 18) and fit for service are conscripted into their military.

    Good point Anna, I have a Swiss friend that said during his years of conscription he was given a rifle that he had to take home and keep in his closet. It was brought out for training and drilling and was there (and in the closets all other conscriptee’s) in case they were called up for a national emergency.

  18. Rudi, are you serious? I is a widely known fact that crime has gone down since the ban expired. For all the supposedly questionable studies none was presented to bolster the article. Of course then he would have stated facts that could be refuted. Instead he just calls the studies “questionable” with out stating how or why. First tho I would say that it should be contingent upon the one advocating the removal of freedoms to show why. If you wait when I get access to my computer I can post more than enough to show my “backing”

  19. STinMN, you seem to have missed my point. EJD is talking about semi-auto weapons but referring to them as automatic weapons. This sort of problem has caused much confusion in gun debates and here it is being repeated again. Automatic weapons are in effect machine guns. They’ve been illegal to import or produce for nearly 30 years (except for military and police purposes) so the prices on existing guns are exorbitant. They aren’t really a problem for the purposes of this debate.

  20. Ellis, time for you to go back to the well for more NRA talking points. ;-)

    Dd, don’t forget headrests and adult proof caps on containers.

  21. Z, noted for Lament II.

  22. Ellis, time for you to go back to the well for more NRA talking point/

    They are reality. Do you challenge anything I’ve said? Or do you hide your inability to have an honest fact based debate behind condescension and derision? There may not be a direct link between the loosening of gun control and the fact that crime went down but it’s hard to argue that the loosening increased crime. The UK enacted some of the strictest gun control laws in the world in 1997 after a Irish school shooting (yes it does happen other places also) and guess what crime has gone up, violent crime has one up, and surprisingly enough even gun violence has gone up. I’m not saying there should be no gun restrictions at all just that advocates of gun control seem to have absolutely zero concern about what works. Like the goal isn’t to lower or prevent violence but just to ban guns. Like there is some moral wrong in merely possessing a firearm. They grudgingly allow that maybe you can have a rifle or shotgun for hunting but they will tell you what is allowable.

  23. … don’t forget headrests and adult proof caps on containers.

    Or the fact that you can get your meds without ‘child proof caps’ all you have to do is tell the pharmacy that there are no children in your home or, in a lot of cases, just turn the cap over and use the standard thread side.

  24. Ok, so we will substitute bike helmets instead.

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