April 24, 2005

The Nation Locks and Loads

Sasha Abramsky has an interesting article in The Nation asking whether the Democrats should give up their gun control stance in order to make gains in the West and Southwest. Well, yes, probably. Gun crime is a problem here in America, but not so big a problem that it's worth losing election after election over and failing to make any gains on, say, health care or declining wages or whatnot.

Looking at the FBI statistics, there were 1.4 million reported violent crimes in 2000—30 percent of which were robberies, 62 percent aggravated assaults, 7 percent rape, 1 percent willful killings. Assume this is probably underreported (the Uniform Crime Reports are usually awful), especially the rapes, but still. Of these, about one-quarter (27 percent) of all violent crimes involved a firearm used by the criminal. So whipping out the old calculator, it would appear that something like 99.8 percent of all Americans did not face a violent crime involving a gun that year. Further, it seems that gun crime has been declining as a percentage of total violent crime over the past decade.

Again, I don't want to downplay gun crime, and no doubt I'd be less glib if someone I knew or loved had been shot to death, but it's hard to say that this is a worse problem than long-term Republican dominance. It's also pretty easy to see why an excessive gun control stance is a net electoral loser for Democrats. Especially when you factor in, as Abramsky does, all those Westerners who would vote liberal were it not for the gun issue.

Also: my admittedly-not-very-good understand of all this is that gun regulation doesn't do a whole lot of good, but the smartest regulations—background checks at gun shows, safety locks on all new handguns, registration of firearms—are pretty widely backed by the public (i.e. 80 percent or more). But the only way Democrats are ever going to get away with proposing such a thing is if they can convince the public that these measures aren't just the first step on the way to total gun confiscation. This might involve picking the right presidential candidate—and John Kerry wasn't it; let's face it, for all his nifty hunting photo-ops, no one believed this was a man who would be terribly upset if the ATF came and took away everyone's rifle here in America—or maybe it involves something else. But yeah, it's a trust issue.
-- Brad Plumer 4:33 AM || ||