Last week I wrote in part about the inevitable calls for gun control that we’ll have to deal with in the wake of the awful Roanoke shooting tragedy; even Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe was demanding stricter gun control while at the same time admitting it would not have stopped the Roanoke shooting. Intelligent people have no use for McAuliffe’s slack-jawed tongue-flapping inanity, and it is best to just ignore him until his sequentially-term-limited time in office is over. But as bad as these calls for gun control are, out of a sense of respect it’s still worth listening to Alison Parker’s father, Andy:
Speaking outside the Roanoke television station where his daughter worked, Parker said he’s not against gun ownership in general, but stricter background checks are needed to keep guns away from mentally ill people. He wants to close loopholes for buying guns at gun shows.
He acknowledged obstacles, ranging from a lack of political will to a desensitized public.
“Each time you think there’s a tipping point, with Sandy Hook or Aurora, and nothing gets done,” he said.
One is willing to give Parker a great deal of latitude here—he has suffered an unimaginable loss and is desperate for a meaningful resolution of some kind. Our hearts are with him. But he is nonetheless misguided. “Stricter background checks” would not have stopped the Roanoke shooting, nor Aurora; both shooters passed background checks before purchasing their weapons. What is likely needed is a more thorough and judicious mental health system featuring a rigorous records-keeping framework which, when dovetailed with the already-adequate background check system, will flag crazy people as ineligible for purchasing firearms. (Background checks were totally immaterial in the case of Sandy Hook: the shooter killed his mother and stole her guns, which she herself purchased after passing background checks.) And while it is understandable that gun control folks are frustrated at the lack of a “tipping point” in the wake of these murders, they are ignoring the wider trends in favor of the political non-starter. Gun violence has plummeted over the last few decades, even as gun ownership has risen: there are more guns in private hands than ever before, and gun homicides are as low as they’ve been since the early nineties.
In other words, we have, by any reasonable estimation, already reached a tipping point, and passed it. The important thing is to figure out why the gun homicide rate has dropped, and see if we can perpetuate those circumstances. But one answer is obvious: the solution isn’t a reduction in the number of privately-held firearms.
Nonetheless, these factors notwithstanding, the gun control crowd is rather relentless in its seemingly-willful ignorance. As I said, we can offer Mr. Parker some sympathy, given the ineffable horror-show his life recently became. But the general tenor of the gun control effort is one of profound illiteracy when it comes to guns. A few weeks before the Roanoke shooting, a cutesy tweet on the subject made the rounds on Twitter:
Birth control? BAN IT! Abortion? BAN IT! Gay marriage? BAN IT! Guns? Look, banning things never works. People will find ways to get them.
— Nick Martucci (@BlunderingIdiom) August 4, 2015
It is hard to know how to even treat with such a fallacy-laden stew of gibberish. For one, no politician that I am aware of has proposed to “ban” birth control; rather, conservatives have just proposed that religious objectors should not be forced to pay for it (this is difficult for lots of people to understand, but not paying for something is not the same as banning it). As well, it isn’t quite proper to speak of the pro-life effort as one that looks to “ban” abortion; the point isn’t to “ban” abortion (how would you do such a thing anyway?) but rather to make it illegal and throw people in jail if they practice it. And for Pete’s sake, it wasn’t a matter of banning gay marriage but affirming traditional marriage: gay marriage was never banned so much as traditional marriage was upheld.
As for the “guns” remark, yes, it is true that “banning things never works,” at least insofar as there will always be people who break the law regardless of what the law says. But the efficacy of any law that bans a certain product or prohibits a certain behavior must be weighed against the scope of its concomitant casualties. For instance, if you make abortion illegal, then anyone who practices abortion would have to go to jail—but that’s acceptable, because abortion is infanticide, and we want people who commit infanticide to be in jail. Owning a gun, on the other hand, is not in and of itself a bad thing: good, moral people purchase guns for a great variety of reasons, and “banning” guns would have the effect of criminalizing the perfectly acceptable actions of a bunch of virtuous folks who just want to go to the shooting range or protect themselves and their families. We want to make bad things illegal, in other words—and gun ownership is not bad, and indeed may in fact be very good if a gun is used to its proper ends. “People will find ways to get [guns]” in the event of a gun ban—that’s very true. But thank goodness we have the Second Amendment and we don’t need to worry about any such thing.