Has someone tampered with the water supply at the New York Times? In the past six days, its featured columnists have penned not one but two essays urging readers to reconsider the progressives’ march on gun control and the Obama administration’s big public-relations push as well. Neither one carry Ross Douthat or even David Brooks bylines, either. Yesterday, Nicholas Kristof explained a few “inconvenient gun facts” to fellow liberals, and underscored why voters consider their ranting to be nothing but demagoguery:
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.
Move on to 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). Liberals were closer to the truth, for the increase in carrying loaded guns does appear to have led to more aggravated assaults with guns, but the fears were overblown.
Kristof then goes to the question of Congressional resistance to gun-control regulation. Progressives blame the NRA for frightening politicians into ignoring polls showing broad support for universal background checks, but Kristof says they have no one to blame but themselves:
So why does nothing get done? One reason is that liberals often inadvertently antagonize gun owners and empower the National Rifle Association by coming across as supercilious, condescending and spectacularly uninformed about the guns they propose to regulate. A classic of gun ignorance: New York passed a law three years ago banning gun magazines holding more than seven bullets — without realizing that for most guns there is no such thing as a magazine for seven bullets or less.
And every time liberals speak blithely about banning guns, they boost the N.R.A. Let’s also banish the term “gun control”: the better expression is “gun safety.”
The problem isn’t the nomenclature — it’s the dishonesty in the attacks. Kristof does a pretty good job of explaining how progressives get the facts wrong, but he misses how they got the politics wrong. After the Newtown shooting, progressives demanded a renewed “assault weapons” ban as well as insane magazine restrictions, some of which passed in states like New York and Colorado. Then when those didn’t move in Congress, progressives then pretended that all they requested was expanded background checks, but they had alienated everyone that might have worked with them on that issue long before then.
The same thing happened recently, too. After two shootings in the final three months last year, Obama twice hailed Australia as a model of an industrialized country who successfully implemented gun control without once acknowledging that they had imposed a confiscation policy to do so. Obama then acted shocked, shocked when critics accused him of wanting to take away guns from law-abiding citizens. He promised significant gun-control regulation through executive action, but largely offered a minor adjustment to the definition of a firearms-sale business. Obama now pretends that he’s part of the mainstream on guns, but the fact that he didn’t touch the topic in his State of the Union speech shows that he’s belatedly realized how far on the fringe he has become.
As if Kristof’s scolding wasn’t curious enough, we also have Charles Blow making some sense on gun issues at the Gray Lady, too. Five days earlier, Blow wrote that the debate over guns had gotten derailed by efforts to impose broad new restrictions on people who don’t actually pose a threat. Why not, the progressive columnist asked, focused on keeping guns out of the hands of criminals?
Our current discussion about increasing gun regulations often centers on efforts that would mostly affect people who legally buy firearms. Many of them make sense, in theory, but the truth is that they would not be likely to have a huge impact on criminal gun violence, because many of those criminals obtain their weapons illegally.
So, when the gun lobby and gun owners make this case, we must admit that they have a point. …
In a 2003 book, “The Challenge of Crime,” published by Harvard University Press, authors quoted researchers who found the following:
“They learned that 32 percent of the felons had acquired their most recent weapon through their own theft; an additional 14 percent knew that their friend, family, or street source had stolen the weapon before conveying it; and an additional 24 percent thought that the weapon probably had been stolen by his source. At least 46 percent, then, and possibly as many as 70 percent of felons’ most recently owned firearms had been stolen either by the offender himself or by the source from whom he acquired the weapon. In addition, 47 percent of the respondents quizzed as to whether they had ever stolen a firearm during a crime admitted to so doing and 86 percent of the felons who admitted prior stealing of firearms reported multiple thefts.”
Rather than focusing on all guns, the vast, vast majority of which are owned by responsible people and are never used in the commission of a crime, we have to focus on keeping guns out of the hands of this relatively small number of criminals.
Tom Maguire wonders whether Blow has been kidnapped:
What?!? A NY Times columnist not named Douthat cracking the progressive monolith on “gun owners = bad”?
It’s a curious turnaround, although Tom also notes that Kristof has in the past debunked the registered-and-insured-cars analogy on which Blow relies to declare some gun owners “unreasonable.” Does this mean anything? Most columnists work independently, so we can put aside the conspiracy theories about coordination — and besides, this was the same newspaper that demanded gun control on its first front-page editorial in 80 years. If anything, the correlation of the two columns show that many on the Left are relearning the lesson from the 1990s about pushing gun control all over again, and perhaps especially on how ignorant their own side is on the finer points of policy and opinion outside the Acela-corridor bubble.
Update, 1/19: Yes, I know that both Kristof and Blow use their columns to take a couple of potshots at gun owners, and to flog for impractical and infringing regulation. That’s not the point. The bigger picture here is that even the liberal commentariat is recognizing that the Left’s gun-control arguments are irrational, uninformed, and irrelevant to the issue of gun violence. They both undermine the Left’s intellectual pretensions in the debate. That’s worth pointing out, and bookmarking.