Saturday, May 3, 2014

New Arguments or More of the Same?

There's an opinion piece in the Washington Post this evening which advocates reframing the case for gun control. The author, Danny Franklin, is a political strategist advising the White House and at least he seems earnest in his recommendations. Is his advice really new?

Here's a money quote for ya:
"But as a Democratic strategist who looks at the relationship between public opinion and political reality, I fear that this answer [that gun control fails simply because of NRA lobbying] has become a crutch: a comforting story progressives tell ourselves to avoid facing the fact that the country trusts the NRA more than us on this issue."
I agree. When you have Democrats repeatedly demonstrating their technical ignorance on the subject they're trying to regulate, it doesn't give the public confidence in the wisdom of their prescriptions. Using the phrase "common-sense gun laws" to refer to ineffective gun control laws, the author detracts from his own case in much the same way. The public trusts the gun-rights argument because it appeals to common sense conclusions - gun control laws proposed thus far haven't been effective in reducing crime. The data is the data.

After all, if the Navy Yard Shooting taught us one thing, it's that a spree-killer only needs a Biden-Friendly Firearm and a conspicuous security guard to upgrade his weapons on-site. It's like will-call, and suspiciously like learned behavior in first-person shooters. Funny, that. 

Anyway, let's get back to his prescription for a new approach. They look something like this:
  • Avoid laws that "compel behavior" and focus on persuading folks of the safety risks inherent in gun ownership
  • Focus on the trend of declining gun crime rates to make people feel gun control is working
  • Incentivize the purchase of smart guns
  • Measure success by lives saved vs. lives lost
Avoiding laws that compel behavior and persuading folks that guns introduce risk sounds like something we can all get behind. What does this look like? Gun safety education? If the real goal is to produce fear-mongering propaganda and shameless appeals to emotion to secure the passage of more prohibition, then it certainly isn't a new tactic but more of the same. Encouraging gun safety education is a real path to reducing segments of gun violence. 

In talking about declining violence, the author pegs a start date of 1993 for this trend of decline. In context, this sounds like he's trying to claim the Assault Weapons Ban of the mid-nineties is responsible. Homicide is at its lowest point since the sixties. The government itself has published reports that the AWB had no discernible effect on gun crime, in particular noting that so-called "assault weapons" aren't even used in many crimes to begin with. Further, gun ownership keeps on increasing, and violent crime keeps decreasing. I don't know if it's a causal relationship, but we certainly know empirically that more guns doesn't equal more crime and the oft-cited comparison to English gun control is a farce.

Incentivizing people to buy smart guns rather than forcing them uses the market to adopt new technology organically and gives individuals the power of self-determination - always a plus. That's good, even though we're way out from that tech being reliable enough to call itself a better mousetrap. Guns need to work all the time, not just some of the time. That said, I doubt creating a government-funded rebate for smart-gun purchases would ever fly with this White House. Creating an expensive tax on "dumb" guns is more their style, and this shouldn't be construed as even remotely equivalent. But in concept, true incentives rather than disincentives or prohibition would be a great middle ground for discussion. 

Finally, we get to the measurement of success by lives saved. If Danny promotes this metric of efficacy for regulation, then I'm all ears. Otherwise, if the metric is simply invoked as a rhetorical device for appeals to emotion (e.g. "if it saves just one life") then it's still more of the same irrational gibberish we've heard before.

Basing regulation on efficacy requires a broader conversation than simple material prohibition. 

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