NY Times op-ed: A lot of the left's gun control proposals don't make much sense

AP Photo/Andrew Selsky

As Ed noted earlier, Joe Biden announced plans for a big push on gun control today. Biden’s approach was full of holes and obvious whoppers. He also called for a revival of the assault weapon ban. But over at the NY Times, there’s an interesting op-ed by a former president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. What’s surprising about it is that author Dan Gross admits the usual left-wing rush toward things like the assault weapons ban after every high-profile mass shooting makes no sense if your real goal is to reduce the bulk of gun violence.

Of the nearly 40,000 deaths involving guns in 2019, well under 1 percent were caused by what the F.B.I. defines as “active shooter” incidents. In an average year, around 60 percent of deaths involving guns are suicides and upward of 30 percent are homicides that don’t meet the “active shooter” definition, like episodes of domestic and gang violence. Even unintentional shootings (about 1 percent of the total) outnumber mass shootings.

There are far more effective means to prevent these sadly routine tragedies than by focusing on assault weapons. And that means that it is both wrong and counterproductive for advocacy organizations and elected leaders to use the moments when the public is focused on gun control to push an assault weapons ban.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t disagree with the intent of an assault weapons ban. I led the organization that before my tenure as president helped to pass the 1994 federal ban on assault weapons that expired in 2004, and I believe there is no place in civilized society for guns that are made for the express purpose of killing people.

But the fact is that if one were to objectively list solutions based purely on how much they would lower the number of gun deaths in our country, an assault weapons ban would not be high on the list.

So Gross would support a ban if it were offered but he’s at least willing to admit it wouldn’t make much difference. His alternative proposals for reducing gun deaths include things like this:

Invest in a large-scale education and awareness campaign on the dangers of owning and carrying guns, and what can be done to mitigate those dangers. It is crucial that these efforts be led in partnership with gun rights groups and public health experts and that they remain free from any judgment about gun ownership or connection with political advocacy. There are many initiatives already, such as public education about the warning signs of mental illness and suicide, which have proven effective and could be models.

Of course the devil is in the details on something like this, but the idea of having an explicit partnership with gun rights organizations certainly sounds different than the kind of scorched earth rhetoric I often see coming from gun control advocates on Twitter. The piece got some unusual responses from commenters. Here’s the top response as voted by readers:

I am a Federal Firearms License holder (FFL), work as a security consultant, and generally oppose almost every so called “gun control” or “gun safety” measure put forward by the left. This is the first time I have ever found logical violence prevention measures that I support advocated by someone else- let alone a dreaded “gun grabber.” If Dan Gross wants to push these measures publicly then he has my support.

Another response from a reader in Seattle:

This is the most intelligent, constructive discussion I’ve read in an argument usually characterized by poorly informed people calling each other “gun nuts” and “gun grabbers.” Do we want to reduce overall gun deaths or do we want to react righteously to the tiny percentage of deaths caused by intensely publicized mass shootings? As the author points out, even the berserkers largely use handguns. A rational strategy will focus on the bulk of deaths, and some of the mass shootings will be stopped in the process.

I realize he (or she) is asking a rhetorical question but “react righteously” seems to be the top thing on the left’s agenda these days. Reducing gun deaths comes in a distant second at best.

I don’t know much about Dan Gross. Has he had a legitimate change of heart about people on the other side of this issue or just a change in strategy? I’m not vouching for him or his solutions. But I do think the tone of his approach and the willingness to admit that a lot of what the left says about gun control is really just counterproductive moral preening is a very good start toward having a real conversation.