In the effort to reduce gun violence, or gun massacres, should we go big or go small? Should we concentrate on steps that have a consensus behind them, at the risk of not making much difference? Or should we seek to transform American law and culture, even if success looks pitifully unlikely?

The movement to regulate gun ownership has pursued both strategies at once, fighting for incremental progress toward the goal of much tighter restrictions. But the tensions between these strategies are inescapable.

The people who advocate a ban on handguns are a useful foil for the people who don’t want any restrictions at all. Yet centering the debate on small changes can demoralize advocates who want to end a bloody status quo.

New York Times columnist Bret Stephens has been arguing that we should be ambitious, and set our sights on the Second Amendment. Working within the constraints of the amendment leads to policies such as banning assault weapons and instituting background checks for private gun sales. These regulations will, he thinks, have “negligible” effects on homicide rates. He urges us to “do something more than tinker at the margins of a legal regime that most of the developed world rightly considers nuts.”