Don't play the shooters' game by overreacting

Just as the wasp is more likely to do you in than the great white, the scary-looking guns that command the attention of the would-be gun-grabbers — the so-called assault rifles — are hardly ever used in crimes, in no small part because they are large (long guns — rifles and shotguns — are rarely used in murders at all, about 3 percent in a typical year) and because they are relatively expensive. A fully automatic weapon legally owned by a civilian has not been used in a murder in modern history. Those .50-caliber rifles that California was so obsessed about a few years back have, so far as the statistics show, never been used in a murder in that state, though one — one — was among the weapons used in a 1995 murder in Colorado. Ordinary criminals use ordinary guns.

Our ordinary crime is largely the result of ordinary failures: failed families, failed schools, failed communities, failed police departments, failed penal institutions, failed parole systems. Even our dramatic crimes are mostly rooted in ordinary failures: those failed families, again, failed mental-health practices, etc. A scary-looking rifle is visually arresting, a fact that tells us something about the weapon, and maybe something about us. It doesn’t tell us anything useful about the actual challenges facing the United States in 2015.

Thinking about Calvin Coolidge some years ago, I wrote a column, “The Case for a Boring Man.” On crime, mental health, education, the economy — there’s a case to be made for a boring agenda, too. I love great theater, but drama is no way to run a country.

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