Via Mediaite, I like this clip because it captures the essence of the Do Something gun-control impulse, even though Todd’s not talking about guns. The “Halo” games have sold 50 million copies worldwide. Microsoft estimates that people collectively have spent five billion hours playing them. Violent crime has been declining for 40 years and mass shootings are no more common now than they used to be. I’d bet that, if anything, video games reduce violent crime by providing an innocuous outlet for thrill-seeking. But who cares? The point of Do Something isn’t to craft a policy response carefully tailored to why Lanza and other rampage killers did what they did and how they did it. It’s to throw whatever you can think of at the problem and see what sticks culturally and legislatively, no matter how many innocent people might be snared by your “solution.” Lanza evidently loved violent video games. So do millions of kids who, unlike him, don’t have severe mental problems. But isn’t hassling your perfectly normal 12-year-old over “Call of Duty” a small price to pay for maybe possibly kinda sorta reducing the odds of a school shooting by an infinitesimally marginal amount? If you care about Sandy Hook, then the answer can only be yes. You do care, don’t you?
Before that, you’ll find WaPo’s Chris Cillizza wondering why the two sides of this issue seem to want the public to choose between total prohibition and “doing nothing.” Can’t we just have a “reasonable debate”? But we did have a debate. The left lost. And they lost for good reasons. Partly they lost because they couldn’t answer questions like these satisfactorily, and partly because, when push comes to shove, people know there just isn’t much that can be done:
You can, to be sure, name one or two things that might make a marginal difference: ban extended-capacity magazines, and require background checks for private sales. As a proponent of reasonable gun control that in some ways goes farther than current rules (I’d like to require that people pass a shooting and gun safety test before they can own a gun), these rules don’t strike me as crazy.
But we are back to generic solutions. These “reasonable controls” would not, in fact, have done much to stop the horror at Newtown; Lanza’s problem was not that he didn’t know the four rules of gun safety, or that his aim was bad. And Lanza didn’t buy the guns, so a background check would not have stopped him…
Reducing the magazine sizes seems modesly more promising, but only modestly. It takes a few minutes of practicing to learn how to change a magzine in a few seconds. Even if you banned magazines, forcing people to load the gun itself, people could just carry more guns; spree shooters seem to show up, as Lanza did, with more guns and ammunition than they actually need. In this specific case, it might well not have helped at all. Would Lanza really have been gang-rushed by fast-thinking primary school students if he stopped to reload?
Reducing the body counts a bit is obviously a very worthy project; I am okay with outlawing magazines that contain more than ten bullets. But this will in no way prevent people from going on murderous rampages. We are not talking about an end to spree killing, only about a (perhaps) very slight reduction in its deadliness. And if you ask how I can possibly know this, the answer is that we did ban these magazines for ten years, between 1995 and 2005, as part of the “Assault Weapons Ban” that some would now like to bring back. During which time there were a number of tragic massacres, including those committed by Kip Kinkel, Michael Carneal, and the Columbine killers. Overall gun deaths fell, but they’d been falling before. When the AWB expired in 2004, they stayed steady.
That’s Megan McArdle, who notes that Lanza “had all that you could wish for in terms of resources” for his mental-health problems and who ended up on a rampage anyway. What kind of law can you pass to deter a guy like that? How can you know the disturbed mind well enough, as a legislator, to have a sense of how it’ll respond to incentives? I had a terrible thought earlier while reading this Robert Wright piece about how we should ban semiautomatics and limit Americans’ gun choices to six-shooters, if only to prevent mass murderers from firing off 10, 20, 30 bullets without having to stop and reload. If we did that, would future spree killers become less deadly on average or more deadly as they decided that their only option was to use more lethal weapons or to choose softer targets? Mass shootings might have lower body counts, but maybe there’d be an uptick in arsons or bombings. Maybe, instead of going to the mall or the post office, a mass murderer with a revolver would calculate that he had to target victims who couldn’t stop him while he paused to reload, which means more little kids in the crosshairs. I honestly don’t know. The calculus is wretched and hallucinatory. And yet this is the sort of question you get into when you try to read to the mind of a murderous loon.
But look. With this issue even more so than with other issues, a huge part of the stubbornness and vitriol comes from cultural divisions and suspicions about the other side’s motives, not from policy disagreements. I understand the left’s point about high-capacity magazines; banning them might very well drop the death toll at some of these horrors. It’s not crazy to think so. The best counterargument is the slippery-slope argument and I’ve never thought much of slippery-slope arguments outside the free-speech context. The truth, though, is that I don’t trust them and find the media groupthink on this subject endlessly irritating. It takes a lot to get a New Yorker to stick up for rural America, but their disdain for “gun culture” is often transparently a function of their disdain for rural culture. The One’s condescending bitter-clinger remarks were a classic expression of it. Much of the mindless “gun control” table-pounding without specifics feels like an ostentatious way for the table-pounder to simply show how much he/she cares, especially vis-a-vis the heartless conservative. And the flailing panicky vacuousness of the Do Something response, however understandable in the aftermath of Sandy Hook shellshock, grates especially coming from the self-styled Party of Science. As Tim Carney noted earlier, some of Our Moral Superiors who are pounding the table for “gun control” can’t even tell you what a semiautomatic or an “assault rifle” is. They’ve shown no compunction about demagoging other mass shootings for their political ends, no matter how thin the evidence was to support their conclusions. We were presented on Friday with a very unusual, very specific fact pattern from a mass killing committed by someone with a very unusual, very specific set of mental problems, and yet the big “scientific” recommendation tonight on MSNBC was to keep an eye on your kid in case he’s shooting too many aliens on the Xbox. You’re duty bound to lay aside your personal dislike for the other side and not let that stop you from supporting a policy they champion if you believe it’s correct (which is how I manage to maintain my support for gay marriage despite lots of irritation with the left there too), but these are the sorts of cultural hurdles you have to clear to get to that. Exit question: If we’re going to start arbitrarily hassling people who happen to share an interest with Adam Lanza on the off-chance that it contributed even a tiny bit to his rampage, how about instead of hassling gamers, we hassle vegans instead? Nutritional deficiencies can weaken the mind, y’know. Do something!