Guns are Just Tools

Yesterday, a gunman using an AR-15 style rifle killed 10 people in a Boulder, CO, grocery store. It was the 7th mass shooting in the U.S. in the last 7 days.

Over the years, I’ve written a lot about guns. It started with some high profile attacks on college campuses, when editors turned to me as a professor. I came up with a few basic propositions including:

  • There is no amount of horror that will shame or move Republicans into action. This is the lesson of Sandy Hook, but also every school shooting, and also the mass carnage at a country music festival in Vegas (a group that skews Republican). Republicans will never be moved to act because of the degree of violence, the innocence of the victims, or anything else. What they do, as I wrote in this piece on the second amendment, is this:

The survivors cry out for justice. The many politicians who still cater to the National Rifle Association, to their lobbying money, and to the gun manufacturers who provide that money, will pause in promoting gun sales to offer their dutiful thoughts and prayers. Next, sober-sounding politicians on both sides offer incremental consensus approaches to gun regulation. Such incremental solutions spark brief hope that somehow this time we might do something, anything. And then the second media attention fades even a little, the NRA and its lackeys find a reason to abandon even the most modest change. Inertia wins. The next massacre arrives.

  • Treat guns as tools. I do think we can treat guns “like all other tools: assessed, regulated, studied, insured, and subject to legal remedy when we need to hold both owners and manufacturers responsible for their use.” I wrote a bit more about that when commenting on the first year in which guns killed more people than cars.

As of 2017, though, the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reveals that, for the first time, guns are killing more Americans than motor vehicles. Perhaps more important than the raw numbers, though, are the reasons behind them: Thanks to significant public and private sector research into automobile safety, coupled with widespread concern in the industry about vulnerability to class-action lawsuits, cars are getting safer and safer. Guns, meanwhile, get more and more dangerous.

We cannot arm our way towards a safer society. We cannot count on shame or empathy to make Republicans join us in broadly supported common sense incremental gun control. It’s important, even liberating, to realize that Republicans cannot be persuaded to help, because then we don’t have to try. We’re just going to have to push Democrats to do the right things.

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