The Rage Against the McArdle

Why does Megan McArdle’s writing draw so much vitriol?

There’s something about Megan McArdle that drives some of my fellow Blue-team pundits crazy. She’s way smarter, way saner, far more nuanced in her thinking, and a much better writer than most of her Red-team colleagues. She doesn’t fawn on the rich or despise the poor. Her ideas about how to deal with failure fit no ideological mold, and imply policy positions that won’t make her any friends at Cato. But the Rage Against the McArdle seems to run deep in Left Blogistan.

The latest instance is the reaction to her column on Sandy Hook, which reviews a bunch of ideas about preventing spree killings and decides that most of them wouldn’t be worth much. Continue reading “The Rage Against the McArdle”

What’s wrong with this picture?

About a third of the voters support closing the private sale loophole but also oppose stricter gun control.

1. Nineteen out of twenty poll respondents support “a background check on anyone attempting to purchase a gun in order to determine whether the prospective buyer has been convicted of a felony.” (CNN/ORC)

2. About a third of the guns sold in this country are sold in private transactions (i.e., the seller isn’t a licensed gun dealer) and therefore require no background checks. Closing that loophole would be a major tightening of gun control laws.

3. More than four in ten respondents oppose “stricter gun control laws.” (ABC/WaPo)

Good start

Obama wants to close the private-sale loophole and limit military-style weaponry.

Obama wants background checks for all gun buyers (closing the private-sale loophole) and limits on military-style weapons and high-capacity clips. Add enhanced crime-gun tracing, modernizing ATF data management, tougher penalties for gun trafficking, a waiting period for gun buyers (with an emergency override for those under active threat), and a monthly limit on any individual’s volume of guns purchased (with an emergency override for those under active threat), and you’d have a pretty good proposal that didn’t burden the right to keep and bear arms.

Update In response to comments, the override provision has been moved to where it should have been, qualifying the waiting period rather than the purchase limit.

What policymakers can do about gun violence

The deaths of so many children and their teachers and school officials at Sandy Hook Elementary, and of a mother at the hand of her killer son, have caused me to re-visit the subject of national firearms policy, which I thought about night and day for nearly seven years from the fall of 1994 to January 2000.

We must begin by recognizing that the rare problem of rampage or spree shooters who may be suicidal is different from the problem of youth gang violence in inner city neighborhoods that we were primarily focused on during the 1990’s when youth gun homicide rates went through the roof and the primary firearms policy goal was to keep guns out of the hands of teenagers.  In responding to one more shocking shooting of innocents by a deranged young man wielding a military caliber semi-automatic assault weapon, we must build on progress in firearms violence reduction that has continued since President Clinton left office, and pick up where politics halted the Clinton era initiatives. We also must think freshly and strike out in new directions.

Continue reading “What policymakers can do about gun violence”

Ezra Klein on gun policy after Sandy Hook

First-rate policy journalism.

Ezra Klein shows why he’s Ezra Klein in this rundown on gun policy after Sandy Hook. You’d never guess crime wasn’t his specialty: he tells a coherent story, getting the facts right, making the key distinctions, and offering the best line-up of practical policy ideas I’ve seen so far.

Ezra does his homework. The piece has quotes from an all-star line-up of gun policy experts: Phil Cook, Susan Ginsburg, Rick Rosenfeld.

And me. Well, three out of four ain’t bad.

Take-home lessons from Sandy Hook

Gun homicide is a huge problem. Sandy Hook was hugely atypical of that problem.

No, I have nothing especially useful to say about Sandy Hook.

Except this: Figuring out how to prevent the next gun massacre (or specifically the next gun massacre at a school) is a classic case of solving the wrong problem. (And the best solution to that wrong problem would be to minimize media coverage, in order to avoid posthumously rewarding this mass murderer with the attention he craved and thereby incentivizing the next mass murderer. But there’s no way to do that, as there might have been in the days of three TV networks, two wire services, two newsweeklies, and a handful of important daily papers.)

The right problem is gun homicide generally, or homicide generally.

Sandy Hook reminds us that we have about five times the murder rate of any other advanced country, and that most but not all of the difference is guns, and in particular concealable guns. That’s partly because a bullet wound is statistically more lethal than a knife wound (and more likely to inflict permanent serious injury even if the victim survives) and partly because a gun is the perfect wimp’s weapon, requiring no strength, skill, or physical courage and allowing both physical distance and psychological disconnect between killer and victim. (Some of the gangbangers now locked up for drive-bys turn out to be incapable of defending themselves in prison fistfights.)

But Sandy Hook is utterly atypical of our homicide problem. Massacre perpetrators don’t look much like ordinary murderers; for example, they’re virtually all white, with short (if any) criminal histories. Very few ordinary murderers get their weapons from their mothers’ gun collections.

Getting our rate of concealable-gun ownership down to European levels would prevent thousands of homicides per year. But I see no way to get there from here. Reducing our overall rate of concealable-gun ownership by 10% might or might have any measurable impact. The question is whether whether we can keep guns out of the hands of people who will use them to commit crimes. And most of those people don’t fit the profile of the Sandy Hook killer.

So asking how to prevent the next Sandy Hook doesn’t help answer the question how to reduce the rate of gunshot injury, which continues to rise even as improved medical care keeps the homicide rate moving down.

Hair of the dog

Let’s reflect on the two real lessons of the Battle of Newtown.

First, the Second Amendment is not about hunting animals and punching paper, it’s about winning a war against the government, and here we have a man who didn’t whine about tyranny, or run and hide: he took up arms like a Real American, went right at the most dangerous hotbed of government freedom-killing  subversion, a public school, and put a decisive end to the daily internationalist indoctrination of twenty Connecticut children. But Lanza was not able to kill even thirty people before the jackbooted thugs of blue-state Connecticut imposed their tyrannical will on him, another martyr to liberal sabotage of our Second Amendment God-given rights to insurrection. (Those rights are in the Bible, right where Jesus teaches his wussy disciples to go armed at all times, and practice quick reloading so as to really Render unto Caesar, not just mess with the odd drunk Roman soldier.)  The government won the Battle of Newtown in the end, because Lanza was disarmed by the regulations people like Mayor Bloomberg want more of. Government has stuff like tanks and helicopters now, so insurrection (freedom) needs serious hardware.   If Lanza (and his mother) had been allowed the belt-fed machine guns,  grenades, armor-piercing rockets, and ground-to-air artillery the constitution plainly allows but our surrender-monkey disarmers do not, he could have given the UN a real warning.  Patriots need stuff to take down an invisible black helicopter, not toys from an old western movie.

Some, however, may not see Lanza’s intervention exactly as a blow for freedom but in a slightly different light, perhaps as an insane explosion of savagery.  Never mind:  just turn the page to the other lesson, the one about the importance of arming everyone all the time to prevent mayhem. Everyone, even the principal, went to work without so much as a little .25 caliber automatic, never mind the Uzi, slung dashingly over the shoulder for easy use, that should be a part of every responsible teacher’s equipment.  (I myself have nothing but chalk on my sleeve to maintain order in the classroom, and that Uzi would be a real asset to my pedagogy.)

But what about the kids, Professor Volokh?  A safe society is one where everyone packs heat all the time: wouldn’t it build character for for citizens to learn their responsibility early on? There’s no problem finding a firearm for small hands: if every one of them had had a piece in his desk, and opened up on Lanza from all directions right away, only a few more would be dead now, maybe even fewer, and the survivors would have learned about pride and self-sufficiency instead of fear and surrender. We have fire drills; don’t we care enough about our kids to give them rapid-fire drills? And come to think of it, kindergarten is not too young to learn freedom through armed revolt (see lesson one above): what more oppressive, authoritarian institution is there than a school to its students?  K-12 students with suitable weapons could be learning to fight tyranny before the school crushes their spirit and turns them into slaves of big government.

The correct ideological exegesis of this event is above my pay grade; indeed both of the foregoing may be correct.  Either way the action implication is clear, as clear as those eternal and unvarying truths “Now this”, “Here we are”, and “Cut taxes on the rich”:  we need lots more, bigger firearms everywhere, and now more than ever. If freedom fighters like Lanza, and ordinary citizens like the innocent teachers and kindergartners at risk from murderous lunatics like Lanza, all get the serious weaponry they deserve, some good may come of this sad episode.

Sandy Hook

What should American progressives aim for on gun control?

I don´t have anything much useful to say about the ghastly Sandy Hook school massacre, and Mark may weigh in with something more considered. This post is basically an opportunity for commenters.

To give the discussion some structure, consider this paragraph in a comment by ¨John¨ at LGM:

One thing that’s worth noting is that the Democrats abandoned support for gun control around 2000 – immediately prior to a decade in which they basically lost all electoral foothold with the demographic groups whose love of guns made them give up on gun control in the first place.

What should American progressives aim for now?

Option A: business as usual; wipe away the tears, but don´t challenge the NRA or gun culture seriously. (In spite of Obama´s Appalachian winter, he handily won Michigan, Pennsylvania and Ohio, full of white hunters.) Perhaps tinker with legislation at the edges with a tougher assault weapon ban. Adam Lanza did apparently bring his mother´s legal .223 semi-automatic rifle to the school. But he reportedly left it in the car, and carried out the massacre with a a pair of her equally legal, and expensive, semi-automatic pistols.)

Option B: maximalism. Another LGM commenter, Chester Allman:

Full repeal of the 2nd Amendment and a strict Federal ban on all private gun ownership.

The full package is unatttainable; the idea is to shift the Overton window and deprive the NRA of the bloody flag, as a path to lesser, but still radical, gun control.

Option C: something in between. But what? Try to sell California´s standards in Nevada, and Maryland´s in Virginia?

This piece of American exceptionalism has gone on too long. Not just the frequency and lethality of killing sprees, but the Third World rate of less newsworthy deaths from guns.

Why Have Progressives Abandoned Gun Control? A Really Boring Answer

In the wake of the Colorado horrors, lots of people want to know why gun control is not on the national agenda, with the usual responses about feckless liberals.  While I certainly never hesitate to castigate the invertebracy of progressives, I think that there is a simpler answer:

Violent crime went down.

Crime rates are at lows not seen since the early 1960’s.  Even in the era of shrinking police budgets, violent crimes are sharply down from their heights in the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s.  It makes sense to try to solve the problems you have, not the problems that you used to have.  (I should quickly add that this in no way should be taken to undermine Mark’s crime control research agenda, which I think is superb and should be immediately and lavishly funded!)

I think that this really highlights the often-mentioned difference between American progressives and conservatives.  Progressives are basically pragmatists, trying to solve public policy problems.  Conservatives see everything as a matter of High Principle, even when the principle itself is obscure (e.g. foaming at the mouth about “liberty” in the health care context but not caring one whit about it when it comes to surveillance, state secrets, or other civil liberties).  Progressives began to support gun control because it seemed like a useful way to reduce violence.  Despite the fantasies swirling around the fever swamps on the Right, there was no conspiracy.  Many progressives might not understand or take to gun culture, but they — we — don’t have a problem with it as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.

Note how this turns one of traditional calumnies against liberalism on its head.  American progressives actually don’t have abstract utopian dreams of how to engineer society.  They — we — see a problem and say: okay, how can we fix it?  It is conservatives who actually revel in abstractions, whether it was the “activity/inactivity” distinction made famous in the health care cases, or the “free market” that exists nowhere but in the imagination of the Cato Institute, or the “policy of strength” that now animates right-wing foreign policy “thinkers” totally untethered from any actual facts about the world, or even strange fears of same-sex marriage undermining traditional marriage with no notion of how that would actually work.

Of course, sensible gun controls like limiting high-capacity magazines (which might have saved lives in Colorado) or closing gun show loopholes are clearly good policy.  But they aren’t as salient because of the reduction in violence.

I wish that conditions warranted caving on all issues.  If conservatives have an actual plan to cover the uninsured, and it could actually work, I’m sure progressives would join them.  The Right would then abandon their policy.  Oh, wait: that already happened.

A little more on guns

Many years ago, Mark Moore observed wryly that a good way out of the gun control morass would be for the congress to (i) require an individual license to possess any firearm, hand grenade, etc., and (ii) to charter (and fund, of course)  the National Rifle Association as the sole agency empowered to issue such licenses, to any citizen for any weapon it sees fit.  I think Mark was onto something.  The gun advocates have the letoff of disapproving gun possession post facto for crazies who commit mayhem, and protecting it for anyone who hasn’t yet blown away innocent citizens.

I can almost taste my desire to see the official any-weapon-for-anyone-anywhere lobbying bullies presented with applications by sketchy or scary characters, knowing that if something goes down, the NRA will be on record as having specifically approved of his getting hold of an AR15 with lots of big magazines. Full automatic, and a few thousand rounds of cop of cop-killer teflon cartridges, of course, because the real patriot has a duty to be better armed than anything he might come upon in the pursuit of his peace assuring.  Especially, better armed than the oppressive official thug anti-liberty enforcers on the SWAT team.

And if they refuse such an applicant, their awkwardness vis-a-vis their more verbrennte members will be equally enlightening for all.

If only. [lightly edited for clarity 23/VII/12]