Debating the US gun madness with a true believer

It’s remarkable: in a TV debate with me and former Obama official Tim Fullerton, Jobob Taeleifi of the Daily Caller seemed to genuinely believe that the problems in the United States are too few weapons and insufficient knowledge about guns.

But during this blood-soaked January, the latest shooters seemed to know plenty about guns, I wrote on Ask Questions Later. They carried out 39 mass shootings already – a significant increase from last year at this time. At least 11 people were killed this week at Monterey Park, CA.

How can this go on and on? Every poll shows a majority of Americans want tighter gun laws, In the latest Pew survey only 6% said the gun situation was “not a problem.” But very few of them treat this as the determining issue in deciding how to vote – whereas for die-hard gun lovers it absolutely is.

So each time there is an upsurge in massacres, howls arise for someone to do something, anything. But the noise invariably fades in the face of obstinate reality.

And the reality is that almost every Republican in Congress opposes gun control, goaded into this position by the well-funded National Rifle Association. When they control one of the chambers, as they do the House of Representatives today, change is hopeless. But even when the Democrats have a majority, as they do now in the Senate, a handful of them from rural states join the Republicans in keeping sanity at bay.

That leaves the states, which can enact their own laws – and so some Blue states like California indeed have tighter checks in place. The comfort from this is about as cold as the steel casing of a gun: you can easily carry weapons across state lines.

Gun activists like Jobob will use tortured logic and the most convoluted arguments to convince Americans that there is no connection between having by far the highest level of gun ownership in the developed world (a third of Americans own a gun, and there are more weapons in the country than people) and having by far the highest rate of firearm deaths in the world. They will talk your ears off with their messaging: overcomplication is the last refuge of the obstructionist.

But the fight is not futile. Like everything else in politics, it is a matter of mobilizing public opinion. So everyone should simply know the facts.

  • The World Population Review found that the US suffers 11 firearm-related deaths per hundred thousand. In Britain, where guns are massively illegal, it’s 0.24 – more than forty times less. In Japan it’s over 100 times less. Australia, which had a similar problem, saw its numbers go down to European levels pretty much immediately.
  • The U.S., with less than 5% of the world’s population, accounts for about a third of its mass shootings.
  • About 80% of US homicides are firearm deaths.
  • When the decade-old assault weapons ban was allowed to expire in 2004, gun deaths almost immediately went up by some 20%. President Biden proposed renewing it two years ago but that went nowhere, and even a minor effort to require licenses for assault weapons languishes in subcommittee.

The gun lobby has convinced the public that the Second Amendment means limited gun rights is unconstitutional. The passage in question, written in the era of muskets, does mention a right to “keep and bear arms” — but also makes clear the context is “a well regulated militia.” Not every wound-up white supremacist.

In the debate, on the I24 channel, Jobob wanted to know why we focus on the prevalence of guns and not on “the other factors.” This is the standard implication that the real issue is mental health. But the US is by no means not an outlier on mental health. As one example, the  World Health Organization finds the percentage of Americans with depression is 5.9%, compared to 4.7% in Canada, 5.9% in Australia and 4.5% in the UK. Similar results emerge found with every mental disorder.

Jobob also tried to argue that the US is special in another way: that its vastness encompasses many different types of areas – he mentioned New York on the one hand, and Tulsa on the other. Americans do tend to believe that they are exceptional, but Australia has town and country differences as well.

I asked Jobob whether he really believed only Americans, among all the nations of the world, cannot figure this matter out. Fullerton begged to differ: only Republicans and the National Rifle Association cannot figure it out.

How complicated can it be? Jobob argued that there’s no way to enforce gun laws. Here’s a way: restrict gun licenses to those who can prove a need (say, living in the sticks surrounded by bears) as well as sanity, and throw anyone caught with an illegal weapon into the slammer for 20 years. See if that really doesn’t move the needle, the way it does in every other country where people can count to 20.

Jobob tried one last gambit: he argued that the problem is that that Americans don’t know enough about weapons. “We have a huge misunderstanding about how firearms are used, how they work,” he hypothesized, adding that the most egregious ignorance is found in Congress, where “you have a populace that is entirely unaware of how guns work” yet dares to legislate on the issue.

I was about to say that Congress doesn’t do very much at all, and mild-mannered Fullerton looked like his head just might explode. But just then, host Ellie Hochenberg mercifully put an end to the proceedings.

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