Why American elites want a "build-a-wall" solution to gun violence

I don’t have a car, and that sometimes makes me feel as if I’m not a real American. I don’t have a gun, and that often makes me feel as if I’m looking across a great divide in American society.

This week’s most prominent example of gun violence (there’s always a fierce competition for that title) was the on-air killing of two television journalists in Virginia by a former colleague who later shot himself after being pursued by police. After it happened, my Facebook and Twitter feeds were once again overwhelmed by people expressing frustration that the U.S. doesn’t do anything serious to limit access to guns, followed by other people defending Second Amendment rights and arguing that prohibition won’t stop criminals and madmen from getting guns if they want them badly enough.

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The second group is definitely winning in the political arena. According to the Pew Research Center, a small majority of Americans now say that “protecting gun rights is more important than controlling gun ownership,” and a growing number believe that having a gun in the house makes a family safer. (See “Gun Ownership Is Becoming the Default Position for Americans.”) The clout of the National Rifle Association, one of the biggest issue-oriented contributors to political campaigns, ensures that Congress and most of the state legislatures will do little to fight the proliferation of guns in America.

Gun control is one of the rare issues that make many “elite” voters—well-educated, financially secure inhabitants of the Northeast Corridor and the West Coast—feel utterly impotent. Carrying a gun for protection seems insane to many people in this group. Who would want to ride a subway train filled with passengers packing heat? (Outside of New York and a handful of other cities, of course, people don’t ride subways at all and are more fearful of carjackings than of arguments on public transit that could escalate into violence.)

The New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik writes that he has recently learned to drive and is enjoying “the sense of autonomy” behind the wheel. This has made him realize that many Americans value guns as “another powerful symbol of autonomy and independence.” But, he writes, “Guns, however, have an almost entirely symbolic function. No lives are saved, and no intruders are repelled; the dense and hysterical mythology of gun love has been refuted again and again…. The few useful social functions that guns do have—in hunting or in killing varmints, as a rural man such as my father has to do—can be preserved even with tight regulations, as in Canada.”

Gopnik’s piece isn’t going to change anyone’s mind. It’s telling that he feels compelled to deal in absolutes (surely, few intruders are repelled by guns, as opposed to none), as if there’s no point in subtlety in dealing with a subject so deeply divisive.

I can understand that. I’m one of those people who would never consider owning a gun—a group still considerably larger than those who would never own a car. Washington’s refusal to do anything meaningful about gun violence makes me despair and makes me complain about our dysfunctional political system. Gun massacres, like the one earlier this year in Charleston, South Carolina, stir up emotion and a desire for a leader to come along and do something.

Like build a wall? Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has dominated the news this summer by tapping into frustrations of Americans who feel like they are under attack, but by nameless economic forces rather than lone gunmen. Building a giant wall along the Mexican border is, any respectable economist would say, rather beside the point. Scapegoating immigrants is more of a cynical deflection than a serious attempt to address income inequality and the shrinking of the American middle class. But when I hear about another mass shooting, I can certainly understand the desire to do something. Do something quick, and do something simple.

This summer has also seen a debate over Planned Parenthood, and its role in facilitating both abortions and the sale of fetal tissue resulting from abortions. Many abortion opponents have likened Planned Parenthood to the National Rifle Association—it “is the N.R.A. of the progressive movement,” writes John Carr here at America, “demanding support or silence no matter what it says or does.” They despair that revelations about the group have not changed the minds of those on the other side of another deep schism in American politics.

Gun control, immigration, abortion… you can add gay rights, the death penalty, and maybe marijuana legalization in the near future to the list of “hot button” issues that inevitably leave deep ruts in a nation that’s growing bigger and more diverse. The number of Americans who feel “political alienation,” as David Brooks has called it, is only going to grow. It remains to be seen whether Donald Trump is going to go farther than other candidates who have tried to exploit this frustration, or whether we’ll get more candidates like him. But gun control is not like the other polarizing topics. Unlike the others on the list, it makes a lot of people in the ruling class go crazy with frustration. (What other issue has someone as buttoned-up as Michael Bloomberg as chief rabble-rouser?) And maybe it causes voters who usually find government responsive to their demands to understand the constant frustrations of just about everyone else.

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Chuck Kotlarz
2 years 2 months ago
Washington’s perceived “dysfunction” on virtually everything including gun control is “business as usual” for libertarian government. For examples of libertarian government, see the Libertarian party platform from David Koch’s 1980 run for vice-president. For some, guns represent business where the second amendment unfortunately can give political cover for unfettered profit. Donald Trump described a recent shooting as a mental health, not a gun problem. That perhaps would explain why hunters in three states alone (Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan) nearly comprising the largest army in the world went without a single hunting fatality in 2010. Gun control solutions, however, will not likely occur in a quest for unfettered profit or small government. CDC shows 2012 firearm fatality rates in conservative dominated states ran twice that of liberal dominated states. Would voters aware that liberal dominated states have a 50% lower firearm fatality rate vote accordingly?
Robert Martino
2 years 2 months ago
Who would applauded this article, the likes of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren or Bill de Blasio (pictured)? No doubt they would; therefore, there is certainly something seriously wrong with this article. In the wake of the on-air killing of two television journalists in Virginia by a former colleague, Mr. Sullivan related the frustration of some people that “…the U.S. doesn’t do anything serious to limit access to guns, followed by other people defending Second Amendment rights and arguing that prohibition won’t stop criminals and madmen from getting guns if they want them badly enough.” Liberals in high places are doing a lot to limit access to guns—access to guns by law-abiding citizens, but not much to limit the access of guns from criminals and madmen. As far as frustration with gun control goes—law-abiding citizens are frustrated—unlawful citizens and non-citizens criminals are not. Regarding the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms. The forming of the United States Constitution was a very difficult task for the founders. There was much debate over what would be in it and what would not. There were two subjects where there was no disagreement or debate: religious freedom and the right to bear arms. An excellent book on the subject, (including the refutation of the notion that the second amendment applies only to the Militia) is The founders Second Amendment Origins of the Right to Bear Arms, by Stephen P. Halbrook. Mr. Sullivan said that “Carrying a gun for protection seems insane to many people …. Who would want to ride a subway train filled with passengers packing heat?” If you were on a subway, with me, you would be with a passenger who would be packing heat—a passenger who would without a doubt, if prudent, use his “heater” to save your life from a criminal, madman, violent Muslim, disgruntled formal subway employee or any other unjust aggressor. If it was up to the Liberal politicians and their supporters the only ones on the train packing heat would be criminals—and that is insane. Mr. Sullivan quoted Adam Gopnik of The New Yorker who said: “Guns, however, have an almost entirely symbolic function. No lives are saved, and no intruders are repelled; the dense and hysterical mythology of gun love has been refuted again and again….” Then Mr. Sullivan added “[S]urely, few intruders are repelled by guns, as opposed to none [.]Totally incorrect—not based on fact—unequivocally and verifiably wrong. Lives are saved, and intruders repelled by law-abiding persons—male and female, who own legal guns. Just pointing a gun at an unjust aggressor stops him in his tracks 85 percent of the time. Don’t like guns? Then carry a toy gun, and you’ll increase your chances of surviving quite a bit just by pointing it at a thug, that’s because most of them are cowards and don’t want to get shot back at (That’s why random shooters like to pick spots where a sign is posted prohibiting guns, they feel safe). You will never hear or read about these occurrences where guns save lives from the liberal media; there is a blackout on such news. You want to learn some reality on this subject? Go to bearingarms.com and click on Guns Saving Lives. This website is affiliated with Town Hall magazine. Mr. Sullivan also said: “Gun massacres, like the one earlier this year in Charleston, South Carolina, stir up emotion and a desire for a leader to come along and do something.” The greatest leader of all has come along, and He has done something—He has taught us about sin, a word not uttered much anymore among many self-described Catholics. He taught us that all people are corrupted by the effects of original sin, and what we must do about it. It’s up to Catholics to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and not act like the Catholic Church is merely a social-services and advocacy group , and they should stop worrying so much about saving the earth from people, and instead being concerned with cooperating with God in saving people from hell; then, more people will do what is right, and less will do what is wrong.
Chuck Kotlarz
2 years 2 months ago
How do liberals cause firearm fatality rates in conservative dominated states to run 50% higher than in liberal dominated states?

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