Gun Safety: Some Inconvenient Facts for American Liberals

Points made by Nicholas Kristof in his column in The New York Times on January 16:

We liberals are sometimes glib about equating guns and danger. In fact, it’s complicated: the number of guns in America has increased by more than 50 percent since 1993, and in that same period the gun homicide rate in the United States has dropped by half.

Then there are the policies that liberals fought for, starting with the assault weapons ban. A 113-page study found no clear indication that it reduced shooting deaths for the 10 years it was in effect. That’s because the ban was poorly drafted, and because even before the ban, assault weapons accounted for only 2 percent of guns used in crimes.

As to the open-carry and conceal-carry laws: with some 13 million Americans now licensed to pack a concealed gun, many liberals expected gun battles to be erupting all around us. In fact, the most rigorous analysis suggests that all these gun permits caused neither a drop in crime (as conservatives had predicted) nor a spike in killings (as liberals had expected).

One of the puzzles of American politics is that most voters want gun regulation, but Congress resists. One poll found that 74 percent even of N.R.A. members favor universal background checks to acquire a gun. Likewise, the latest New York Times poll found that 62 percent of Americans approved of President Obama’s executive actions on guns this month.

We spend billions of dollars tackling terrorism, which killed 229 Americans worldwide from 2005 through 2014, according to the State Department. In the same 10 years, including suicides, some 310,000 Americans died from guns.

So of course we should try to reduce this carnage. But we need a new strategy, a public health approach that treats guns as we do cars – taking evidence-based steps to make them safer. That seems to be what President Obama is trying to do.

Research suggests that the most important practical step would be to keep guns away from high-risk individuals, such as criminals, those who abuse alcohol, or those who beat up their domestic partners.

That means universal background checks before somebody acquires a gun.

Some public health approaches to reducing gun violence have nothing to do with guns. Researchers find that a nonprofit called Cure Violence, which works with gangs, curbs gun deaths. An initiative called Fast Track supports high-risk children and reduces delinquency and adult crime.

In short, let’s get smarter. Let’s make America’s gun battles less ideological and more driven by evidence of what works. If the left can drop the sanctimony, and the right can drop the obstructionism, if instead of wrestling with each other we can grapple with the evidence, we can save thousands of lives a year.


One response to “Gun Safety: Some Inconvenient Facts for American Liberals

  1. Making it a felony to sell guns to felons of any type — car-jackers, domestic violence felons, is a strategy rooted in reality-based assumptions. A Connecticut law prohibiting felons from purchasing handguns and mandating background checks and gun safety courses has been associated with a 40 percent decline in gun-related deaths. Surely, there is no reason why all of the United States cannot follow suit in saving the lives of its residents. One more bit of policy flying in the face of common sense: at present, people the US government has placed on the “no fly” list are permitted to buy weapons. Does this make sense? True, they have not yet been convicted, and so are not felons in the legal sense. So, wait until they have plotted to blow up a plane and then refuse them guns?