Posted by Curt on 4 April, 2018 at 7:38 pm. 5 comments already!


Yesterday, the New York Times’ Nick Kristof posted a column that purported to tell his largely progressive readership “how to win an argument about guns.” I’m interested to read good arguments from the other side, so I clicked eager to find how Kristof would best an informed gun-rights advocate in debate.

The short answer, it turns out, is that he wouldn’t.

The column’s pattern is simple: Kristof posits a primitive caricature of a gun-rights argument, delivers a thoroughly inadequate response designed to settle the issue, and then repeats the cycle. In other words, he erects one straw man after another and fails to best any of them.

Kristof first purports to answer the “argument” (it would be helpful, by the way, if he included a link to serious people making the arguments he’s purportedly rebutting) that cars are more likely to kill a person than guns, but we don’t try to ban cars. Here’s the core of Kristof’s response:

We don’t ban cars, but we do work hard to take a dangerous product and regulate it to limit the damage.

We do that through seatbelts and airbags, through speed limits and highway barriers, through driver’s licenses and insurance requirements, through crackdowns on drunken driving and texting while driving. I once calculated that since 1921, we had reduced the auto fatality rate per 100 million miles driven by 95 percent.

Notice the glaring omissions here?

First, Kristof fails to note that we do, in fact, already work to keep guns out of dangerous hands. We have a background-check system that regulates the vast majority of gun sales and a labyrinth of criminal and civil laws designed to prohibit violent and unstable Americans from ownin guns.

Second, he fails to mention that American gun violence is down 49 percent since its peak. The victimization rate for other firearm crimes dropped by a whopping 75 percent between 1993 and 2011. In other words, our national effort to reduce gun violence has been an extraordinary success. There’s work left to be done — just as there is work left to be done on automobile fatalities — but in any other context improvements like this would be cause for celebration.

Why not even mention the dramatic decline? Perhaps because it coincided with a generation-long easing of restrictions on gun ownership. Not only are there more guns in American circulation and less crime, there are more law-abiding people carrying guns and less crime. These are facts worth mentioning. They’re facts worth wrestling with. Kristof does neither.

He does, however, take aim at another classic straw-man argument about the Second Amendment, saying that the amendment “does not prevent sensible regulation.”

No serious gun-rights advocate argues that the Second Amendment protects unregulated gun ownership, of course. The devil is in the details. For example, universal background-check requirements are almost certainly constitutional. But the argument against these laws isn’t that they’re unconstitutional; it’s that they’re unenforceable and ineffective. A recent Rand study looked at studies of the effects of universal background checks on violent crime and found the evidence “uncertain” and “inconclusive.” Last October, Duke professor Philip Cook analyzed studiesexamining how criminals obtained their guns and noted that the guns typically have been “diverted from legal commerce.” In other words, criminals break the law not just when they use their gun but also when they obtain it. A universal background-check requirement isn’t relevant to already-illegal transactions.

An assault-weapons ban, by contrast, is unenforceable, ineffective, and likely unconstitutional. According to the Heller standard, the Second Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms in “common use” for “lawful purposes.” An assault-weapons ban would violate this test (the AR-15 is the most popular rifle in America; millions of Americans use it for self-defense, hunting, and target shooting), and it wouldn’t make a meaningful dent in gun crime, suicides, or mass shootings.

Having lost to two straw men, Kristof proceeds to make a puzzling argument about suicides. He addresses the claim that suicides “are not about guns” like this:

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