"It doesn't matter if gun violence is down"

Katie flags this quote from CNN anchor Don Lemon, who won’t allow facts to complicate his righteous public emoting about US gun laws (expanded transcript via Breitbart):

Listen, for the past three days, I have been on the verge of tears every second, and most of the people here have been crying 24 hours straight. Yes, we need to address mental health, but mental health in this particular issue — let’s not get it twisted — is a secondary issue. If someone who has a mental issue did not  have access to guns that should only be available in war zones, we would not be dealing with this. Who needs a bullet piercing, armor piercing bullet to go hunting? Who needs an assault rifle to go hunting? You can’t even use the prey that you kill with an assault rifle if you indeed do it. no one needs an assault rifle to go out and shoot a deer. … That’s the issue that we need to deal with. So to say that gun violence is down does not make sense. To me, it’s insulting to everyone who lost a loved one here and who was dealing with that. It doesn’t matter if gun violence is down. 20 children are dead here and 6 adults are dead, and the mother of a person who was not mentally — who is mentally challenged in some way is dead. so to say that gun violence is down — we need to talk about mental health, yes. mental health is a secondary issue. We need to get guns and bullets and automatic weapons off the streets. They should only be available to police officers and to hunt al Qaeda and the Taliban and not hunt children.

Let’s set aside Lemon’s purported role as a newsman, and ignore the callow and manipulative implication that anguish alone somehow bolsters the legitimacy of an argument.  Truth be told, I am among those Americans who are conflicted over guns and gun policy.  In the immediate wake of Friday’s nightmarish slaughter, I tweeted some of the complex thoughts I’ve harbored on the subject for some time, drawing heated responses from both sides.  On one hand, it seems indisputable that firearms — high-powered, high-capacity ones in particular — make these sorts of horrors significantly easier to perpetrate.  Yes, other weapons have been used in acts of mass violence, but guns are an especially efficient tool to wreak human carnage.  The body counts in Tucson, Aurora, and Newtown would almost certainly have been substantially lower if those deranged individuals were wielding knives, to pick one example (click the previous link and look for the death toll).  On the other hand, there’s considerable evidence that higher gun ownership actually diminishes violent crime in the aggregate.  I’ve also internalized the truth that malevolent actors will often find a way to get their hands on firearms one way or another, so disarming the overwhelmingly law-abiding public would amount to a unilateral disarmament — rendering innocents virtually defenseless in the face of in-progress gun violence.  Waiting for the police to arrive mid-rampage isn’t much of a solution for imminent targets.  It’s also a fact that strict gun laws do not magically solve the problem of gun violence.  See, for instance, the horrific Chicago bloodletting.  Indeed, the Newtown shooter reportedly used weapons that were purchased legally and dutifully registered by someone else (his mother), who lived in a state with restrictive laws.  Should Congress pass the ‘Don’t-Let-Your-Psychotic-Son-Steal-Your-Guns-To-Kill-You-And-Others’ Act of 2012?  What would that accomplish, exactly?  And beyond these legitimate practical concerns, there’s also that pesky detail called the United States Constitution, and the individual liberties it enshrines.

Unlike many conservatives, I don’t reflexively bristle at the term “common-sense gun control.”  The mere notion of placing some limits on the types of guns average people can purchase does not offend.  Calls for legislative action to keep certain weapons out of the hands of mentally unstable people strike me as reasonable.  I also recognize that myriad regulations along these lines already exist, and I’m skeptical that proposing more grief-fueled laws is a meaningful solution.  And even if one could accurately project that passing Gun Law X would save Y number of lives, where do Constitutional rights come into play, and who gets to weigh those factors?  If curtailing the First Amendment could also be scientifically proven to save some quantifiable number of lives, would we tolerate additional government limits on those core, specifically-enumerated freedoms?  These are extraordinarily difficult questions.  In fact, even the mental health discussions that crop up after these tragedies can lead down some worrisome paths regarding civil liberties and the public good.  I’m heartbroken over Newtown, I’ve been grappling with these quandaries for days, and I admittedly have no clean answers.  But as one of those citizens who does not hold especially dogmatic views on guns, I’m repulsed by Lemon’s emotionally-charged diatribe, which explicitly rejects empirical evidence.  It’s dishonest and exploitive.  It is troubling that many of the voices clamoring loudest for a “national conversation” about gun policy already seem to have their minds made up about what sorts of guns should be available, and to whom.  If that’s how one feels, one should at least be intellectually honest and make open calls for sweeping bans and “confiscation.”   Let’s see how that “conversation” goes.