in a perfect world of yancies: Clearing the Air

19 December 2012

Clearing the Air

You know what I wish? I wish this was another lame post with cute pictures of my baby.

Okay, instead, I'm going to try putting this all together in one place, if only to make my thoughts feel organized.

So, first of all, the news is horrible, and the facts are clear. Thanks to the New Yorker's Adam Gopnik, for putting it nice and bluntly:
"The people who fight and lobby and legislate to make guns regularly available are complicit in the murder of those children."

And the solution is also quite clear: as various and repeated studies show, more guns means more killings.

Indeed, this academic study about Australia provides a detailed and concrete example:
Australia’s 1996 gun law reforms were followed by more than a decade free of fatal mass shootings, and accelerated declines in firearm deaths, particularly suicides. Total homicide rates followed the same pattern.
Oh, and in case you're worried that the homicides and suicides by other methods would increase, they didn't: "No substitution effects occurred for suicides or homicides."

But, someone might object, Australia doesn't have a Second Amendment guaranteeing individuals the right to own guns! Neither do we!

At best our current understanding of the Second Amendment dates to Reconstruction, as discussed in the Washington Post. Rather than a statement of a right for individuals to have guns, "Originally, the Second Amendment is very much about local militias keeping check on a federal military establishment."

Again, according to Jeffry Toobin on the New Yorker website, for over 100 years, "according to the Supreme Court, and the lower courts as well, the amendment conferred on state militias a right to bear arms—but did not give individuals a right to own or carry a weapon."

The current reading, on the other hand, is a product of political—and therefore reversible—decisions in the 1970's and 80's:
it is clear that the scope of the Second Amendment will be determined as much by politics as by the law. The courts will respond to public pressure—as they did by moving to the right on gun control in the last thirty years

On the vexed question of just how to begin, I've seen a compelling case on Slate for following Michael Bloomberg's lead and treating this as a public health issue, just like smoking and such. After all, if we can pass other laws for our own protection, why would we settle for absurdity and leave guns out?

Patrick Radden Keefe presents just such a consideration on the New Yorker site:
Ponder, for a second, the fact that I cannot walk into a C.V.S. today and purchase half-a-dozen packages of Sudafed, but I can walk into a gun dealership and purchase a .50 caliber rifle of the sort that U.S. snipers use in Afghanistan. In fact, I can buy six or ten—there is no limit imposed by law.

And lest this talk of health distract us into a conversation about mental illness, let me just say, as clearly as I can, that mental health reform, though important, is secondary and on its own grossly insufficient, as just this one bit from a recent New York Times article makes clear:

Even though we know from large-scale epidemiologic studies like the E.C.A. study that a young psychotic male who is intoxicated with alcohol and has a history of involuntary commitment is at a high risk of violence, most individuals who fit this profile are harmless.

In any case, public health isn't the only or necessarily even the best way to frame the terrible situation we face. Firmin DeBrabander, for example, argues, in a New York Times blog post, that the proliferation of guns in the US threatens the core of our civil society. Rather than focus on the second, his concern is for the First Amendment: "Guns do communicate, after all, but in a way that is contrary to free speech aspirations: for, guns chasten speech."

Finally, however, I am inclined to agree with Adam Gopnik most of all. He argues, in the piece I mentioned at the start, that what we face is a moral choice. A clear moral choice.

Meanwhile, it's Wednesday, so the flags are no longer at half-mast for those children. So, speaking of mourning, thanks Magen for pointing me to this excellent piece in the Economist. Before I go give Franklin yet another hug, I'll quote the last section for you:

So unless the American people are willing to actually do something to stop the next massacre of toddlers from happening, we should shut up and quit blubbering. It's our fault, and until we evince some remorse for our actions or intention to reform ourselves, the idea that we consider ourselves entitled to "mourn" the victims of our own barbaric policies is frankly disgusting.


  1. Thanks.

    Nice column again today from Adam Gopnik. "Gun control will eliminate gun massacres in America as surely as antibiotics eliminate bacterial infections."

  2. I appreciate your academic approach to a sensitive topic. It will be interesting to see how modern society responds to a new interpretation of the second amendment.

  3. Thanks Rilian. (Good to hear from you!)

    As I understand it (no time to link to a source, but I'll try to edit later), we could go ahead and ban assault weapons and extended magazines now and save the 2nd Amendment debate for later. And I would be totally cool with that. (For now.)