Any American attuned to the follies of our nation’s recent history snaps his head up at the sound of the word “comprehensive” coming out of Washington, D.C. The word has been bandied about quite frequently in our nation’s recent debate on gun control. It has been used to describe legislation which promises to address the very limited (though horrific) problem of public mass shootings by deranged gunmen, with an approach that threatens to primarily affect people who have never and likely will never be involved in a mass shooting as perpetrator or victim.
This approach typifies our generation of American politicians who, in the words of Franklin Roosevelt, believe that having tried “something” is more important than that policy’s results or harmful side effects. This moment is a vital one for American conservatives to stand up in opposition, against politicians who would use the victims of tragedies like the Newtown school shooting as means to this sort of self-congratulatory politics — a politics that cares more about the feelings behind a policy than how it actually affects flesh-and-blood human beings. While good intentions may be enough in the afterlife, on this earth they are not.
Each year, more than 10,000 Americans die as victims of gun crimes. In 2012, 150 were killed or injured as part of mass shootings. I would venture a wager that I am not the only Yalie who has found this discrepancy rather strange considering the tone of our debate. Why it is that with such an endemic problem of gun violence on America’s city streets — mass shootings being freak incidents by comparison — the gun-control discussion centers on the latter?
First, the majority of these homicides — single murders on the streets of cities like New Haven, are harder to pigeonhole. Most happen with small guns, often semi-automatic handguns, not the “scary” assault weapons mentioned in gun regulations. But they could be carried out with knives or even fists. These murders are sometimes motivated by drugs, another embarrassing testament to the ineffectiveness of government bans.
Gun-control legislation has proven remarkably ineffective in this sort of environment. Chicago, one of the most gun-controlled cities in the United States, still experienced 600 murders last year. These tragedies tend to fall out of sight in the public debate, because they do not carry a clear mandate for a centralized exertion of power.
In accordance with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s famous maxim, the “comprehensivists” are determined to let no crisis go to waste. And right on cue, from the Obama administration, members of Congress and states, has come a flurry of suggestions for things to ban or regulate (high-capacity rifle ammunition magazines, assault weapons, etc.). Many mass killings have occurred with weapons that would be unaffected by these bans. The scary-looking automatic assault weapons we hear discussed in the media are already heavily regulated.
The actual effect of such continued regulations is to make it so arduous to go through the process of obtaining or maintaining a firearm that more and more gun owners will decide that it’s just no longer worth it. And, from the Rahm Emanuel useful-crisis perspective, that is exactly the point.
More regulation will not prevent these attacks. As investigation continues into the motives and methods of recent mass shooters, it has become more and more apparent that the tragedies were extensively thought-out. As criminologist James Alan Fox at Northeastern writes, “Mass killers do not just snap and seize whatever weapons of destruction are handy. They are deliberate and determined; they will find the means despite the impediments placed in their path.”
But still, asks the sensitive liberal, how can these regulations possibly hurt? Why is this issue not, to the patriotic American, a “no-brainer”? Because it gets down to the deepest foundations of our American liberty, the quintessentially Enlightenment idea that a body of citizens, in order to be truly free, must always have the power to assert its rightful supremacy over its leaders — made law in the Second Amendment. It was an acknowledgment not only that a government founded on checks and balances can still become unchecked and imbalanced, but that its entire structure can together begin to threaten the very source of its legitimacy, its people. The right to bear arms is the guardian of our liberty, even in an era when government has planes, bombs and advanced weaponry. The Second Amendment is a symbol of where American power truly lies — it’s impossible, in the long run, to repress a country that knows in its heart that it is free.
John Masko is a junior in Saybrook College. He is a staff blogger for the News. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .