McCardle: If conservatives want to keep their guns, they're going to have to find a way to stop mass shootings

McCardle: If conservatives want to keep their guns, they're going to have to find a way to stop mass shootings

August 8th, 2019 by Megan McCardle / The Washington Post Writers Group in Opinion Times Commentary

WASHINGTON — When it comes to gun control, conservatives have been fortunate in their enemies. Every time there is a mass shooting, the left renews its calls for gun control, but it spends a great deal of energy on futile and ahistorical arguments about the wording of the Second Amendment, or making hackle-raising, invidious comparisons with Europe. And when it comes time to actually suggest what should be done, Democrats generally suggest policies recycled from the 1994 crime bill, such as background checks and a ban on assault weapons. There's little evidence that these policies did anything to curb gun violence the first time they were tried, which undercuts the calls for redoubling those efforts.

Yes, conservatives have been fortunate in their opponents. But when it comes to gun control, the right has been equally unfortunate in its allies, and in the end, that may matter much more.

Forget the arguments about whether President Trump's rhetoric about immigrants did or didn't cause the alleged El Paso shooter to go on a murderous rampage. I'm talking about a much more treacherous conservative ally: the National Rifle Association.

Every time there's a mass shooting, the NRA rushes to suggest that the real problem is mental illness or violent video games or anything except guns. These claims have little evidence behind them, but of course that's beside the point — the NRA just wants to say something that sounds vaguely plausible and doesn't involve restricting guns. And that single-minded focus on simply avoiding gun restrictions has carried them to victory after victory.

But a closer look at that gun bill demonstrates why those victories may prove Pyrrhic.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has been taking a lot of grief from young progressives over that bill, which he helped author as a senator.

But as James Forman Jr., a former public defender, pointed out in his 2017 book "Locking Up Our Own," the policies advanced in the legislation had a great deal of support from African Americans, who were among the biggest victims of criminal predation. Which points us to the true driving force behind the 1994 crime bill, one that the young activists are missing, even though it's right there in the name: crime.

Between 1960 and 1991, the United States' violent crime rate nearly quadrupled, from less than 200 per 100,000 citizens to 758. Anyone who lived in a city during that era remembers what it felt like to never quite stop being afraid of victimization. As a teenager growing up in New York City, I was forbidden by my parents — not at all overprotective — to ride the subway system after dark. Though these sorts of strictures offered only modest protection; a classmate was brutally mugged on Park Avenue, in broad daylight.

The left took most of the blame for the crime increase, because for most of the 20th century it had been working to make the criminal-justice system more humane. Those reformers were right about a lot of things: Harsh punishment is morally problematic and often, perhaps usually, counterproductive. It's also incredibly costly — for taxpayers, prisoners and the communities those prisoners are drawn from.

Unfortunately, when crime rates began to rise, the timing made it look as if liberal policies were the culprit. That was probably unfair, but by the 1990s, the country was too frightened to listen to any more liberals murmuring about how hard criminals had it. Thus, the 1994 crime bill.

Many of the policies in that bill failed. The longer sentences didn't do much to deter criminals, and the gun-control measures didn't do much to reduce gun violence. But the American public wasn't going to give the left another 50 years to work on crime's "root causes."

The right should take note: Just as Americans were not going to let their cities turn into slaughterhouses, they are not going to let their Walmarts become war zones.

If tragedies like last weekend's shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, keep happening at the current rate, the American public is eventually going to demand that the government take guns out of private hands. None of the firewalls that have worked thus far will hold. Constitutions can be amended, or courts packed with judges who read them differently. Even seemingly impregnable political coalitions can be broken by the weight of enough dead bodies. So if the right is interested in keeping its guns, it needs to get even more interested in finding an alternative policy that will actually work for the country to keep men with guns from doing terrible things.

The Washington Post Writers Group

Getting Started/Comments Policy

Getting started

  1. 1. If you frequently comment on news websites then you may already have a Disqus account. If so, click the "Login" button at the top right of the comment widget and choose whether you'd rather log in with Facebook, Twitter, Google, or a Disqus account.
  2. 2. If you've forgotten your password, Disqus will email you a link that will allow you to create a new one. Easy!
  3. 3. If you're not a member yet, Disqus will go ahead and register you. It's seamless and takes about 10 seconds.
  4. 4. To register, either go through the login process or just click in the box that says "join the discussion," type your comment, and either choose a social media platform to log you in or create a Disqus account with your email address.
  5. 5. If you use Twitter, Facebook or Google to log in, you will need to stay logged into that platform in order to comment. If you create a Disqus account instead, you'll need to remember your Disqus password. Either way, you can change your display name if you'd rather not show off your real name.
  6. 6. Don't be a huge jerk or do anything illegal, and you'll be fine.

Chattanooga Times Free Press Comments Policy

The Chattanooga Times Free Press web sites include interactive areas in which users can express opinions and share ideas and information. We cannot and do not monitor all of the material submitted to the website. Additionally, we do not control, and are not responsible for, content submitted by users. By using the web sites, you may be exposed to content that you may find offensive, indecent, inaccurate, misleading, or otherwise objectionable. You agree that you must evaluate, and bear all risks associated with, the use of the Times Free Press web sites and any content on the Times Free Press web sites, including, but not limited to, whether you should rely on such content. Notwithstanding the foregoing, you acknowledge that we shall have the right (but not the obligation) to review any content that you have submitted to the Times Free Press, and to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content that we determine, in our sole discretion, (a) does not comply with the terms and conditions of this agreement; (b) might violate any law, infringe upon the rights of third parties, or subject us to liability for any reason; or (c) might adversely affect our public image, reputation or goodwill. Moreover, we reserve the right to reject, delete, disable, or remove any content at any time, for the reasons set forth above, for any other reason, or for no reason. If you believe that any content on any of the Times Free Press websites infringes upon any copyrights that you own, please contact us pursuant to the procedures outlined in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (Title 17 U.S.C. § 512) at the following address:

Copyright Agent
The Chattanooga Times Free Press
400 East 11th Street
Chattanooga, TN 37403
Phone: 423-757-6315