The shooting of Rep. Giffords is, at least in part, a gun story, so allow me to weigh in. The New York Times, a paper I really like, had two dumb things to say about it. This, from today’s editorial:
(Arizona’s) gun laws are among the most lenient, allowing even a disturbed man like Mr. Loughner to buy a pistol and carry it concealed without a special permit. That was before the Tucson rampage. Now, having seen first hand the horror of political violence, Arizona should lead the nation in quieting the voices of intolerance, demanding an end to the temptations of bloodshed, and imposing sensible controls on its instruments.
It’s time to take a deep breath and ask what “sensible controls” one could devise that could have prevented this . . .
Loughner bought the pistol legally, having gone through the federal background check. (Arizona law was irrelevant when he bought it.) And if he hadn’t passed the background check in a gun store, he could have bought a gun from a private citizen out of the newspaper’s classifieds.
Yes, his carrying concealed to the Safeway was legal under Arizona’s new law, but if it hadn’t been, would he have been dissuaded? He headed off to commit murder; he was already far over the line where a concealed-carry law would have made any difference to him.
We could talk about banning private-party sales of guns, I suppose — not that it would have made a difference in this case. But in a country with 350 million privately owned guns, people who want guns are going to get them.
A helpful way to think of gun laws is as analogous to marijuana laws. They make us feel like we’re “doing something,” but they are equally ineffective at doing what they purport to do. In the case of gun laws, though, what we’re also doing is so alienating the 40 percent of Americans who own guns that progress on things like health care, women’s rights, immigration reform, workers’ rights, and climate change becomes nearly impossible. (I can’t tell you how many working-stiff gun guys I’ve met while researching my book — people whose wages haven’t risen since 1978 and should be with us — who won’t even listen to Democrats because they’re convinced Democrats want to take away their guns. Dumb? Maybe. But that’s democracy for you.)
Gail Collins, I columnist I generally respect, had this to say:
Loughner came to Giffords’s sweet gathering with a semiautomatic weapon that he was able to buy legally because the law restricting their sale expired in 2004 and Congress did not have the guts to face up to the National Rifle Association and extend it. If Loughner had gone to the Safeway carrying a regular pistol, the kind most Americans think of when they think of the right to bear arms, Giffords would probably still have been shot and we would still be having that conversation about whether it was a sane idea to put her Congressional district in the cross hairs of a rifle on the Internet.
The gun Loughner used was a regular pistol. There was no law restricting its sale in 2004. It is a semi-automatic pistol, but the law to which Collins refers was a law against assault rifles. Okay, okay, you say. I’m picking nits. But here’s the point: Presuming to forbid or control things you don’t understand is a pretty good definition of elitism, and if Democrats suffer from anything, it’s a public perception that they’re elitists trying to force their own solutions on the masses who don’t know any better.
To the extent Collins pushes Democrats to push harder for gun-control laws that will make them feel better, but not really save any lives, she makes it harder for the Democrats’ agenda — to which I am deeply committed — to gain traction. She also will shift attention from the real villain here, which is the toxic rhetoric (“Second Amendment solutions,” etc.) we’ve been hearing from the Right.
Much has been made during the past 48 hours about Arizona’s lax gun laws, particularly the one that lets any adult who can legally own a gun carry it concealed. It turns out, there was an armed citizen at the shooting. Geraldo Rivera interviewed a man named Joe Zamudio who was at the scene with a concealed handgun. He told Rivera on camera that he ran toward the sound of the shots but didn’t shoot because others already had the Loughner tackled and, “I wasn’t going to cause any more collateral damage or scare anybody any further than they needed to be scared.”
In other words, he ran toward the danger to help, but made a very fast, very sober, and very correct decision about what to do with his gun. He’s only 24, but unlike Loughner, not crazy. And neither are most of the people who legally carry guns. As many as six million Americans have gotten concealed-carry permits in the 24 years that they’ve been easy to get, and fewer than 300 have done bad things with their guns.
I’m not one for using statistics, because everybody can read into them what he wants to see. This one, though, seems pretty hard to get around: In the past twenty years, gun ownership has gone way up and gun laws have become far looser, yet violent crime as fallen by more than a third. (The gun people are convinced there’s a causal relationship; I think the crime drop has more to do with changing demographics and smarter policing. But certainly, more guns and looser gun laws didn’t cause crime to rise.)
The more statistics and studies I read, the more I think that if we did away with almost everything we think of as “gun control” — registration, assault-rifle bans, one-gun-a-month laws, etc. — the price of fish wouldn’t change by a farthing. People would still do bad things with guns, but to no greater extent. (And maybe less. There’s evidence for that, too.) Most of all, we’d have taken from the Right a gigantic cudgel with which they whip the masses into a frenzy and beat us senseless. The Times — and the Post, with its error-ridden swing at the Pulitzer a few weeks ago, “The Hidden Life of Guns” — should know better.
[Dan Baum is a respected author and TTAG commentator. Please visit his website www.ourgunthing.com so that we can convince him to cross-post here regularly.]