Op-ed taking aim at partisanship on guns makes good points

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Guns are often claimed to be a nonpartisan issue, but that’s in a perfect world. It shouldn’t be partisan at all. Everyone should support our constitutionally protected rights, including the right to keep and bear arms.

But in reality, it’s pretty partisan.

There aren’t many pro-gun Democrats left these days and that’s typically a staple of the Republican Party. When the parties take firm stances on the issue and those stances are in opposition to one another, you’re going to have partisanship.

Yet an interesting piece at City Journal argues that the partisan rhetoric surrounding guns isn’t really helpful, especially with regard to crime.

But as a policy matter, each side of the debate errs. Convinced that guns are the fundamental root of American violence and that gun control is the way to solve it, progressives too often ignore—or deride as “racist”—proven strategies rooted in good policing and incapacitation of the worst offenders. Conservatives, meantime, know the power of law enforcement to improve cities. But they risk taking an approach to the gun issue that voters may blanch at.

The Left’s focus on guns is understandable. The U.S. is far more violent than similarly well-developed countries (if not such an outlier globally); it has relatively lax gun laws; and most murders here are committed with guns. Nonetheless, there can be much debate over the precise role of legal gun access in our total level of violence, and especially about the potential for a gun-control-first approach to it.

Legal access to guns is part of the violence equation, but it is not the all-encompassing explanation for America’s murder problem. The U.S. is an outlier on non-gun homicide, too: even with all the guns lying around and all the death inflicted with them, Americans manage to kill each other without guns more often than people in most similarly rich countries kill each other in total.

Of course, this is a position I’ve taken repeatedly. If guns were the problem, then we wouldn’t see such high numbers of non-gun homicides; rates that outpace other developed nations on their own. Further, it’s idiotic to assume that if guns were removed from the equation, none of the firearm-related homicides would have happened. Many of them would have, which would make that non-gun homicide rate even higher.

We don’t know how much, but it seems pretty non-controversial to at least acknowledge that it would be.

Moving on…

Moreover, rates of violence vary widely across American subpopulations in ways that reflect culture and history far more than they reflect current levels of legal gun ownership. Homicide rates are particularly high among African-Americans and in the South, while non-Hispanic whites in some states, from New York to Wisconsin to Nebraska to Utah, face roughly Canadian-level homicide risk or lower. (That’s not as low as the risk in Western Europe or Japan, but it’s less than a third of the overall U.S. homicide rate—and this in a country with its own gun culture and even a problem with illegal gun smuggling from the U.S.)

This is an important point to recognize.

A lot of people don’t like it, but the truth is that gun crime may exist in every state, but it’s not quite the same across the board, either.

There are certain challenges in, say New York City that don’t exist in a small town in Utah. Yet New York City also has a lot more gun control than Utah has. If guns were the problem as gun control advocates claim, why isn’t the problem in Utah worse and reduced in the Big Apple?

At best, guns are only a marginal problem in this equation, but since we saw a long period of decline in violent crime rates while gun ownership rose, it’s unlikely that’s an issue.

However, the authors don’t just blast the left’s anti-gun rhetoric.

They also take issue with Bruen, noting that the text and history standard laid out there sounds great, but is having some serious issues in application. They argue that an “undue burden” standard would probably be better for Second Amendment issues.

There, I have to depart a bit.

Don’t get me wrong, we’re seeing the teething problems of the Bruen standard play out. It’ll take some time to shake out, but the issue I have with something like an undue burden standard is that I’ve seen how anti-gun judges will contort themselves to argue that banning, say, “assault weapons” wouldn’t be an undue burden on our rights.

The text and history standard, on the other hand, makes them at least find an analog and then we debate whether that analog is accurate or not.

Still, though, for the most part, the authors bring up some excellent points and it’s still an interesting piece even with its criticism of Bruen. Even there, I may disagree with them, but it’s clear that their issue isn’t that Bruen is a pro-gun decision, they just think the standard used is too cumbersome. That’s a legitimate point, after all.

Because this is an intelligently and well-written piece, expect most mainstream media accounts to completely ignore it going forward.