Progressive Panic Over Guns

“Now, because of a recent Supreme Court ruling, many of these remaining regulations are in danger of being dismantled. As bad as Americas gun-violence problem is, it could be about to get much worse,” writes Ryan Busse, author of Gunfight: My Battle Against the Industry That Radicalized America, in his Atlantic piece “One Nation Under Guns.” (Busse serves as a senior policy adviser to the gun-safety advocacy group Giffords)

The argument raises two questions that need answering: (1) does gun regulation prevent gun violence? (2) Does gun deregulation cause gun violence?

The provocative image accompanying Busse’s Atlantic essay.

Taking (2) first, there is no intrinsic connection between deregulation and gun violence. A change in regulation cannot reasonably be supposed to produce in a person a desire to pick up a gun and shoot another person. Indeed, the construct “gun violence” is problematic for this reason. Gun violence is really people acting violently with guns. Its the same with knife violence or personal violence, i.e., personal weapons, e.g., fists and feet. Guns, knifes, and fists do not themselves cause violence. They are means to end. Yes, even those physically attached to persons (which cannot be reasonably regulated).

As to (1), what is the evidence that regulations of guns prevents (or reduces) violence? It is reasonable to suppose that restricting access to certain means with which to commit violence may reduce to some extent resort to those mean, and, even more, reduce death and injury from violence using these means. However, we need evidence to make a judgment about this. Even then, whether that should affect policy is not a given.

Modern gun control laws came about in my lifetime. As gun control spread city-to-city, state-to-state, over a period of several decades, violent crime rose alongside it, and would continue to rise until the mid-1990s, when states put more cops on the street and judges locked up more violent offenders. The reduction of violent crime, including so-called gun violence, continued until 2014, when it began rising again. This is when the rhetoric of “systemic racism” become widely socialized in American society and criticisms of policing began to change both criminal justice policy and the attitudes and behaviors of police officers (we call this the “Ferguson effect.”

In other words, the rise in violent crime, which will necessarily be accompanied by a rise in the use of guns to commit violent crimes whether guns are regulated or not, began well before the Supreme Court decision about which the author of this essay is concerned.

The focus on guns–like the focus on race–is a distraction in the debate about violence in America. Independent of means, violence in America is the consequence of multiple factors: structural inequality, idled populations, neighborhood conditions, and father-absence. Regulating guns as a solution to criminal violence in America, even if it resulted in some reduction in “gun violence,” cannot be a substitute for tackling the root causes of violence in America. To do this requires reducing inequality, providing jobs, fixing communities, and putting fathers back in the home–and an effective public safety strategy that allows the gains made in these areas to persist over time.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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