Saturday, July 21, 2012

Gun Control and the Limited Liberal Imagination

The awful shooting in Aurora, Colorado has generated a predictable conversation regarding gun control. News articles, blog pages, and social media are buzzing about the perils of the US gun culture and the need for more gun control laws. As a Dissenting Justice, I like to examine critical issues that others push to the margins. Accordingly, I have attempted to shake up the liberal response to gun violence which focuses almost exclusively and mechanically on gun control. For several reasons, I find this conversation extremely limited and insufficient. 

First, there is a poverty of good research that documents the effectiveness of gun control. Many studies are inconclusive. Some show that such measures work, while others show failure. Many of these studies use poor methodologies. Despite the limited availability of strong research on this issue, gun control has been the singular response by many US liberals to gun violence. It is possible to question the effectiveness of gun control without conceding to the political agenda of rightwing organizations such as the NRA. Progressives should rest their arguments on sound data, just as they demand conservatives to do.

Second, it is abundantly clear that homicides -- whether they involve guns or not -- tend to involve these factors: mental illness, drug abuse, and emotional conflict. Indeed, in 2004 the CDC conducted a comprehensive study of gun deaths and reached this very conclusion. Despite the abundance of research that links violence with mental illness, drugs, and emotional conflict, the liberal dialogue that has emerged since yesterday's tragedy (and following similar events in the past) does not address mental illness and drug addiction. Instead, the dialogue has focused primarily on regulating gun purchases.  This response echoes the conservative approach to crime generally. It calls upon the criminal law alone to solve a complex social problem. Even if gun control works, only a multidimensional and comprehensive approach can reduce violence.

Third, I am very suspicious of heated policy discussions that follow extraordinary events because they are inevitably faddish. Although the Aurora shooting was extremely tragic and bloody, gun violence occurs daily in the US. In Chicago, for example, there have been 253 homicides this year alone, but this has not captured the national attention like the Aurora shootings. As in most large cities, most of the Chicago homicide victims are male and black. Indeed, homicide is the leading cause of death among young black men. The issues leading to this acute social problem include poverty, racial isolation, insufficient resources to address mental health, and lack of opportunity. In other words, gun control will not fix this problem.

Fourth, the typical assailant knows the victim which enhances the opportunities for violence, with or without guns. Often, homicides occur among intimate partners. Given the relationship between many victims and killers, it is unclear whether regulating guns would do much to curb routine violence and homicides, even if it could reduce random shootings and mass killings.

Final Thoughts

I do not oppose sensible gun control. I do oppose, however, robotic and predictable policy positions.  Even The Onion has satirized with its usual accuracy the national dialogue that has followed the Aurora massacre. Supporting gun control should not preclude advocacy of other responses to violence. Being a liberal does not require rote adherence to traditional liberal policies. It is fine to rethink longstanding agendas. And even if gun control is part of the solution to violence, it is not the only feasible and efficacious response.


Anonymous said...

their are over 22,000+ gun cotrol laws on the books right now . if they ever bothered to truely enforce the ones we have a lot of this would not be happening . but when doctors refuse to release psychaitric records on all of these people and lawyers and judges and politicians continue to have separate agendas concerning misgovernance of tax funds , it will remain the same . decent law abiding citizens have a 2nd amendment right to protect temselves against the criminals that usually steal their guns . or do recieve a throuigh background check under the current system as should be fully enforced by the law . and when the supreme court has ruled that the plioce are not obliged to protect a court ruling...then peole are going to defend themselves as they should have a right to . if not insane , morally defunct or moronic misfits . a lot of this starts and ends at home...parents should teach their children that guns are not nentendos or x boxes . they are tools made for three things only. killing game ,home protection , and sport shooting . politicians own guns and hunt and fish....our 2nd amendment says we can too . not just the wealthy political affluent . as for liberals , i`m not a fan of em .

Below the Beltway said...

It's certainly proper to take a step back and ask what the policy goal is. The next step is to seek out the ways to achieve that goal, and determine their costs and benefits.

One way to determine these costs and benefits is to seek analogous situations. Though there are differences, Canada and the UK spring to mind as examples of fairly similar nations with much lower murder rates. There are roughly 1.62 murders per hundred thousand per year in Canada, 1.23 in the UK, and 4.8 in the US. Of course, causation is difficult to establish. In addition to having much stricter gun control laws than the US, both those nations also have functioning mental health care systems. The US simply does not. It's reasonable to conclude that a combination of these two factors is likely to decrease a country's murder rate. That's a thumbnail sketch of the benefits.

A major reason we on the left focus primarily on gun control instead of a functioning mental health system has to do with the costs. I think we can all agree that healthcare is expensive. Reagan didn't release huge numbers of mental patients into the streets for no reason, but to save money. I've run out of time to continue, but you get the drift.

Let me also say hello to the member of our well-regulated militia who posted before me and add that his post is a more eloquent argument for gun control than any I could make.

Joyce L. Arnold said...

By now, I have little hope that anything will change, so that the next time something like this occurs — and there’s absolutely no reason to think it won’t keep happening — the same conversations will be repeated. The personal causes / contributing factors that influence persons to do such things are surely multiple and complex, as are the social causes / contributing factors. But in general, each time it happens, as a society we once again mourn, express shock (or not) / concern / fear / anger, ask “how can this happen?” … and then it all basically dies down, until the next shooting, and we do it all again.

I don’t pretend to have answers, but what we’re doing isn’t working.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Below the Beltway: It is too hard to say that these numbers result from gun control. We have vast pockets of racial poverty in the US. A lot of gun violence occurs in these areas. In countries with more egalitarian opportunities for advancement and social services for all persons, you are going to have less of a breakdown in social infrastructure. I think that is the narrative that liberals should advance. Focusing on gun control is simplistic and predictable.

Darren Lenard Hutchinson said...

Joyce Arnold: Very accurate (and scary) account of the public discourse.

Patrick S. O'Donnell said...

I did not focus on gun control in my blog post at Ratio Juris (cross-posted at ReligiousLeftLaw), indeed, I raised the mental illness question, at both the individual and collective level! Please see here:

Best wishes,

Anonymous said...

Domestic violence and attacker-knowing-the-victim aside, most mass shooting occur in places with no guns. The shooters KNOW where the target-rich unarmed zones are.

The UK has more violence than ever and an unarmed population. They have outlawed citizens from carrying anything that could be used in self-defense. And, if someone successfully defends his or herself, he or she is prosecuted to determine if excessive force was used in the defense. Heaven forbid, that a criminal be unduly repelled! They are actively encouraging crime, as the crooks know that virtually all of the population on the street and in their homes are unarmed. UK citizens are advised to retreat! That's where I want to live—NOT!

Police are not here to protect us. They show up later to write reports. They are armed to generally protect themselves from criminals who resist.

A citizen's first line of defense is his or herself and a gun is a great equalizer so that even the small and weak citizen can defend a home or themselves. There is no municipal help in place, except in gated communities, but then the guards are armed. I wonder why?

A disarmed population is the first requirement for oppressing a nation. Hitler knew that and disarmed everybody but his Nazi Party members.

Name one gun control law that ever decreased crime. All they do is disarm the honest law-abiding citizens. Criminals are criminals because they do not follow the law. This is something the liberals do not want to admit. But, then again liberals are not against condoning and even fostering crime as long as it happens to others and suits their goals.

Just consider the wonderful conditions in gun control heaven Chicago, where crime is so bad, with guns even, that they have the Brotherhood of Islam patrolling the streets, imposing their own form of control, highly sharia-flavored no doubt.

SUre, we need to be more sensitive as citizens to those who become unbalanced, extremely disturbed or depressed, but that means we have to work better as a community and get to know our neighbors so that we can offer help and sometimes interventions before they or others are hurt. This has nothing to do with guns but with our being a functioning human society.

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