Gun owners and conservatives have been saying this all along, of course, but it’s rare these days to hear someone on the Left admit that gun control isn’t such a great idea politically speaking. Kudos to Matt Yglesias for stepping up to the plate. The pundit, who recently left Vox because even his progressive views were ticking off the young socialist staffers and he wanted the freedom to speak his mind without them pitching a fit over his columns, headed off to Substack, where he’s writing for a paid audience and enjoying complete editorial freedom.
In his latest piece, Yglesias admits he’s stirring the pot with his lefty audience by arguing that Democrats would be better off dropping gun control as a political issue, but this isn’t just an attempt to troll his audience. As Yglesias puts it, the “juice here just isn’t worth the squeeze.”
The entire piece by Yglesias is well worth a read and far too long to quote extensively here, but his basic point is simple: Americans may say they support a few individual gun control agenda items like universal background checks or red flag laws, but there’s no stomach or yearning for the kind of firearm-free society that gun control advocates embrace.
Yglesias is a lefty, and he’s not making an argument trying to convince his audience of the importance of the Second Amendment as an individual right. His point is that it’s not an issue that Democrats should run on.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a politician who’s asked about it saying he wants to close the gun show loophole. But when push comes to shove, there is no political upside for progressives in having a high-profile national debate about whether it’s important to protect gun rights or whether the time has come to say “enough.”
The fact that thoughtful progressives actually have serious doubts on civil liberties grounds about the no-fly list idea (which has due process problems) and the mental illness idea (which is very stigmatizing and seems overly broad if you think about what’s a large share of the population has some kind of mental health issues) only makes this worse.
Last but by no means least, there’s reason to believe this background checks stuff is less popular than it seems. In Maine, for example, they held a referendum on closing the gun show loophole and it lost 52-48 even as Clinton won the state by three points. There’s wisdom in looking at ballot initiatives, and the evidence seems to be that gun regulation runs behind the Democratic Party even in one of the few rural states where Democrats are competitive.
Interestingly enough, Yglesias doesn’t mention what I consider to be another big reason for Democrats to drop their demands for gun control; their calls for criminal justice reform, including prison abolition. Democrats can bury their head in the sand all they want, but the fact remains that gun control laws get enforced by law enforcement officers, and in the course of that enforcement plenty of people get put in prison for non-violent, possessory firearm offenses. Replacing a War on Drugs with a War on Guns is going to lead to the same endless war waged against American citizens, only this time the battle will be over a fundamental right enshrined in our Constitution, not a seemingly endless supply of narcotics with sources both foreign and domestic.
Yglesias’ piece has been met with mostly positive comments from his audience, and several say that they’ve been persuaded by his argument, which is fantastic. Look, as much as I’d love to convert every one of these folks to Second Amendment stalwarts, I know that’s not going to happen. I tend to subscribe to Milton Friedman’s view of politics:
The important thing is to make it politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing. If it is not politically profitable for the wrong people to do the right thing, the right people will not do the right thing either.
I’ll accept the wrong people doing the right thing for purely political reasons if it leads to our Second Amendment rights becoming more secure. That doesn’t mean we don’t need to continue to evangelize on the issue of the importance of our Constitutional rights, but we also need to think about ways to make our case in language the Left can understand, and Yglesias’ argument is a good exercise in how to do so.