Strange but true: With all these outbursts of gun violence, the NRA may not have to bother with recruiting drives
Anyone who says that there is anything unsettled or unknown or unclear about the relation between gun control and gun violence is either lying or ignorant, or both. Many things in our social life are complicated and multivalent; this one is not. Guns do not protect people, or families. Any anecdote that can be mined to claim that they do -- and many of those stories evaporate on probing -- is overwhelmed hundreds of times over by the number of well-documented accidents, suicides, and domestic disputes turned into murderous occasions produced by the presence of a gun at homes. A gun turns a drunken dispute into a bloody death. . . .
The aim, after all, is not perfection; it is simply to make it very hard, rather than very easy, for crazy people bent on homicide to get their hands on weapons that make mass killing trivial for them. Making violence hard makes it rare. . . .
-- Adam Gopnik, in a New Yorker blogpost,
"Obama's Bully Pulpit"
Yesterday I noticed a New York Times headline, "Massacre at School Sways Public in Way Earlier Shootings Didn't," and spared myself the expenditure of a precious NYT free click, figuring I had a pretty good idea what the story had to say. In part I didn't read further because the apparently hopeful message is undercut for me by stories I've read recently to the effect each time we have one of our ever-popular public gun massacres, one immediate result is a surge in National Rifle Association (NRA) membership. (See Nick Wing's HuffPost post "NRA Membership Surges By 100,000 In Wake Of Sandy Hook Shooting.")
This is, I suppose, a vindication of the strategy of Wayne "Call Me Crazy" LaPierre, with his doggedly incomprehensible insistence that everything we know about gun violence is all in our heads. "Crazy Wayne" is apparently confident that among people with the sound of his voice, there is no shortage people who "think" the way he does, that the solution to gun violence is more guns, and who don't care that in the real world this qualifies them as sociopaths or worse.
The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik has a terrific blogpost on this subject, "Obama's Bully Pulpit," praising the president's speech Wednesday.
The words he used in introducing his plan for some sanity on guns were wise and non-inflammatory on an inflamed subject. They were also forthright and free in ways that suggests that his admirable dream that reason might yet prevail even among the manifestly unreasonable has been replaced by at least a little realism about the need to act first and hope that others listen later. As much as Obama can aggravate the Paul Krugmans of the world with his desire to ascribe to his opponents a good will that they do not always seem to posses -- and as much as he can, with his constant, unrelenting search for common ground with those who seem to see in common ground only an unending battlefield, seem willfully naïve -- still, his desire to bend over backwards, to be fair and "inclusive," remains admirable, and democratic-minded. Even when he accepted, as a constitutional truth, an individual right to own guns that, historically, has only very recently been discovered, he was doing the right thing: allowing the other side the benefit of every doubt they have coming to them.It blew my mind a little to think that each of these outbursts of gun mayhem serves as the functional equivalent of an NRA recruiting drive. I'm not saying that the NRA is happy about these incidents, or stages them. Just that the organization must be used to thinking of these increasingly terrifying incidents as "good for business."
And so those of us (like that radical, Michael Bloomberg) who are further along on this than the President is, and wish to see America make minimal gestures toward doing about guns what every other civilized country has already done with no diminishment to their liberty -- may finally feel some hope. The emergence of Bloomberg as the leader on this issue is in itself stirring: where laissez-faire billionaires with solid records on civic safety go, how many moderates can stay behind?
Sure, such incidents bring talk of doing something about gun control, but the glass-half-full view of what Adam Gopnik calls "the death lobby" that even talk of tougher gun laws can lead to binge sales of guns and ammo. (See "Gun control debate may be driving higher sales.") Even the Washington Post found itself asking, "Is the NRA winning?." Meanwhile the Post head Fact-Checker, Glenn Kessler, awarded "4 Pinocchios for a slashing NRA ad on security at Sidwell Friends School."
But lying isn't something that causes Crazy Wayne and his confederates to lose sleep. Adam Gopnik notes: "Anyone who says that there is anything unsettled or unknown or unclear about the relation between gun control and gun violence is either lying or ignorant, or both."
Many things in our social life are complicated and multivalent; this one is not. Guns do not protect people, or families. Any anecdote that can be mined to claim that they do -- and many of those stories evaporate on probing -- is overwhelmed hundreds of times over by the number of well-documented accidents, suicides, and domestic disputes turned into murderous occasions produced by the presence of a gun at homes. A gun turns a drunken dispute into a bloody death. As Arthur Kellermann writes in the New England Journal of MedicineThe NRA gets all sorts of mileage out of the nonsensical point that none of the solutions proposed by advocates of gun control will "end" incidents like the Sandy Hook shootings. But remember that professional liars are likely to make high-quality obfuscators.
Given the number of victims allegedly being saved with guns, it would seem natural to conclude that owning a gun substantially reduces your chances of being murdered. Yet a careful, case-control study of homicide in the home found that a gun in the home was associated with an increased rather than a reduced risk of homicide.
Here's Adam Gopnik again:
[W]e know now that even the smallest barriers can have big results. Every act we attempt that lames and hobbles the easy availability of guns helps. The aim, after all, is not perfection; it is simply to make it very hard, rather than very easy, for crazy people bent on homicide to get their hands on weapons that make mass killing trivial for them. Making violence hard makes it rare. . . .
Good and great causes don’t advance without resistance. First the thing is impossible, then improbable, then unsatisfactorily achieved, then quietly improved, until one day it is actual and uncontroversial. So it was with putting military weapons into the hands of openly homosexual soldiers, and so it shall be with taking military weapons out of the hands of crazy people. It starts off impossible and it ends up done. The arc of the universe may be long, but the advance of common sense actually can take place very quickly. And if it bends toward justice, or simple sanity, it is because people bend it. What we are seeing may be the first signs of a nation deciding, at last, to bend back.