Some Wisdom About Gun Policy–and Everything Else

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“All healthy societies are ready to sacrifice the existential moment for their children’s future and for children after those. The sense of the future is behind all good policies. Unless we have it, we can give nothing either wise or decent to the world.” —quotation attributed to CP Snow

“I believe Snow says everything we need to guide us to make smart decisions about guns, climate, public health, education, democracy, human rights, and virtually every other issue we face.” —a commenter on Today’s Edition newsletter

Both the quotation above and the commenter’s amplification strike me as precisely the right guides for all our public policy. (I was unable to find in which of Snow’s writings that quote appears, but the commenter assured me she’d come across it years ago.)

But after all these years and all these senseless deaths, we feel justifiably skeptical that any progress can be made on this gun safety issue. (The terminology has changed: decades after “gun control” became the operative phrase, people are pointing out that “control” feeds the narrative of those who fear the government wants to take their guns. OK; if all it takes to allay the concerns of people who’d otherwise engage in discussions of responsible gun legislation is a change in verbiage, I’m sure everyone would be happy to swap “control” for “safety.”)

Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT), whose constituents include the Sandy Hook families devastated a decade ago, is one of the most dedicated advocates of gun safety legislation. He’s in talks with Republican Senators and has said he thinks it’s possible for some compromise—for “incremental change” that will save lives.

At first I felt as he does, that if we can get any change that “breaks the logjam” that’s held us back for thirty years, it will be worth pursuing. Red flag laws and expanded background checks are on the table; so are gun storage laws. All worthy efforts.

David Hogg, a Parkland shooting survivor who’s become a tireless gun safety advocate, also speaks of incremental change. These people are far closer to the battle than I am, so I take their positions very seriously.

But an assault weapons/large magazine ban is not even under consideration. (And hand guns, which kill far more people each year, aren’t ever mentioned.)

I just heard a discussion of the gun issue from the public health perspective—which is really where it should be, as we have data. All the data, not incidentally, support the safety advocates’ positions.

Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist, pointed out on a valuable podcast that in order to contain any epidemic, you first need to identify the vectors. We have two: social media platforms and assault weapons. Both factors in that lethal combination must be regulated, she asserted, if we are ever to reduce the epidemic.

Murphy has already conceded an assault weapons ban is moot. I admire his candor; it’s important to know that the giant issue will not be addressed. He’s also conceded that any compromise will include “hardening the schools,” which he acknowledges makes him “uncomfortable.” And well it should. Millions of dollars are going to go into making our schools armed fortresses—and that’s supposed to reduce the anxiety kids are going to feel?

Another Republican cry is for mental health funds. But apart from the fact that this is really only a distraction, Republicans always talk about this issue and never provide funds that are sorely needed more broadly for mental health care–especially post-pandemic. I am leery about how these funds would be targeted.

New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow just wrote that “the gun safety debate lacks candor.” Why? Because no single law or even legislative package will solve our problem. We’ll need new laws all the time. In the interim, the shootings will continue and the opponents of legislation will point to the efforts enacted as proof they were unsuccessful.

Blow wrote:

“I understand that Republicans are the opposition, that they have come to accept staggering levels of death as the price they must pay to advance their political agenda on everything from Covid to guns.
“Why can’t everyone just be upfront? We have too many guns. We need to begin to get some of them out of circulation. That may include gun buybacks, but it must include no longer selling weapons of war to civilians.

Blow explains that he grew up in a gun culture.

“Gun culture is a canard and a corruption.
“It makes people fearful and convinces them that guns provide security. More guns equate to even more security. But in fact, the escalation of gun ownership makes society less safe.
“In our gun culture, 99 percent of gun owners can be responsible and law abiding, but if even 1 percent of a society with more guns than people is not, it is enough to wreak absolute havoc. When guns are easy for good people to get, they are also easy for bad people to get.
“We have to stop all the lies. We have to stop the lie that fewer gun restrictions make us safer.
“And we have to stop the lie that gun safety can be accomplished by one law or a few of them rather than an evolving slate of them.”

What do you think? Chris Murphy is working as hard as he can to find even the slightest bits of compromise. He is pursuing what is often regarded as the wise strategy that we should not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

Is it even reasonable to believe that he will succeed in winning over ten Republican Senators? And if he does, is the enactment of funding legislation that makes him “uncomfortable” a warning sign to us?

But if Charles Blow is right about these incremental laws, do we grit our teeth, knowing the next fatal shooting is not far off?

People are angry about our leaders’ inaction. And tellingly, there were more protesters outside the NRA convention in Houston than there were inside, including when the former guy spoke.

So perhaps we have an opportunity beyond the watered-down legislation that’s the best we can hope for if anything passes through the Senate.

The House is preparing to vote on a package of gun safety bills that are likely to die in the Senate. If we do our damnedest, we can add to the House majority and elect several more Democratic Senators.

We must vote only for people who will assure us they believe that for far too long, we’ve allowed the corruption of the gun lobby to shape our politics—and they recognize it’s time to seize the initiative and act like Snow’s “healthy society… ready to sacrifice the existential moment for [our] children’s future and for children after those.”

And then there’s the Supreme Court, about to worsen this crisis exponentially. But that’s a discussion for another day.

Hint: This issue, too, is not beyond our political will.


37 thoughts on “Some Wisdom About Gun Policy–and Everything Else

  1. Rep. Chris Jacobs (R-NY) announced last weekend that he would support a bill banning “assault weapons.” This is a big change for him; he voted against H.R. 8 and H.R 1446 when they were considered by the House. Perhaps other Republicans will follow his lead.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m so glad you found it hopeful. These are such tough times. I’ve adopted the late, great Madeleine Albright’s self-description: “I’m an optimist who worries a lot.”


  2. I wish I could be optimistic about this issue. That’s difficult, however, when polls show that some 90 percent of Americans support background checks for gun buyers, but many of those polled vote for Republicans who—in exchange for campaign contributions from the NRA—put the kibosh on background checks and other means of keeping gins out of the hands of mentally ill, abusive, angry, and other potentially dangerous people. I fear that the only chance of congressional action regarding this issue is if a gunman (it’s always a man) breaks into the Capitol building and opens fire.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I understand your frustration, Gail. And though I admire Chris Murphy and David Hogg’s efforts, when they say “this isn’t a Democrat v Republican thing” in their valiant efforts to accomplish something, I feel they’re refusing to voice reality. As for the dreadful scenario you describe, it’s sort of already happened. We must hope the Jan 6 Committee’s hearings reach people and awaken them.


  3. Annie, well done from start to finish. We must ask our legislators to think like grandparents and parents. Until they do, we will never address our problems and our kids and grandkids will ask how could we let these problems fester, whether it is climate change inaction, dealing with our gun deaths, or something mundane like running out of money as a country. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Keith. And that sentiment would even pass the bumper sticker messaging test: “Legislators: Think Like Parents/Grandparents!” Or perhaps “Act Like…!”


      1. Annie, the president gave a good speech last night pleading for support for better gun governance. My post today is of a brief plea for action to my Republican Senators and Congressman which i posted on their websites as well as the Senate Minority leader’s. All the best, Keith

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I would be moving my family interstate to those states who deal with gun violence effectively. I actually worked in an American elementary school in the eighties. Never dreamed that an elementary school was ever going to become a dangerous place back then. My first duty would be to protect my family. If that meant moving interstate or even moving countries that is what I would be doing. I was reading the other day of migrants returning to Australia from America. I am a teacher. Few things are as important to me as education but I am blowed if I would be sending my children to school so that they could get shot at. I would be voting with my feet.
    I used to love living in America in the eighties.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve been appreciative of David Frum’s comments on the issue, look up his recent interview with Oprah and article on the Atlantic “Americas hands are full of blood “

    He is hopeful because even though it got worse after Sandy Hook, that means that the situation is not static. If it can get worse, it can get better.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Indeed that is progress, I just wish that the initiative for a long gun registry hadn’t failed 10 years ago. Young Justin isn’t quite so young anymore, he’s got some hard miles on him the last few years. My 19 year old daughter is working in Ottawa and got a selfie with JT last week!

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Hello Annie. I am reminded in your post and in the comments of the quote: It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it by Upton Sinclair. Sadly the ones in a position to affect the changes needed to lower gun violence also know they and their families won’t have to face the threat of that gun violence. They are wealthy, they are powerful, they work in guarded government facilities, they live in gated well patrolled or other very well protected communities. Some have security paid for by the taxpayer. Their kids go to very secure small private schools. They don’t face the specter of death and loss that the masses do so they don’t care. When will people understand the Republican elected leaders look down on the people / public. We are only worth anything if we can keep the economy going and do not use any government services that would cut into businesses profits. The minute we cannot provide a profit for companies then they want us to go away. We have no use for them. So getting them to cut into gun manufactures profits and gun seller’s profits just to stop deaths of kids who do not produce a profit yet or to protect teachers who in their minds are only glorified child sitters who take money from profits is not worth their time in their minds. They will only do what doesn’t cut into companies’ profits and if it costs then the government must pay by taking the money from the lower incomes only.

    Sorry to be so negative on a good post about the subject but I have been hearing the same platitudes for 30 years and seen how the game is played and how the movie ends. It ends the same way every time. Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Scottie. I appreciate your comment. It’s even worse than you say: think of Rep. Steve Scalise, after having been shot on a baseball field, refusing to contemplate sensible gun regulations. And think of the Republican Insurrectionists in Congress; I guess they assumed an angry mob would spare them, but who knows?

      I continue to believe if we can elect larger majorities of Democrats in the House and Senate–who state their positions clearly pre-election–we can break through the logjam.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. .01% control 13% of the world’s wealth. 33% of American gun owners own 90% of the guns. 3% of humans can purposefully kill another human and 1% of those are clinically insane. Only mosquitoes kill more humans than humans. Sadly game theory drives humanity and the numbers are not on our side. Pandora immedialy closed the lid, but only hope remained. I woke up screaming, covered in blood …


    1. Your comment unsettled me, not surprisingly. I’m not very well-versed in game theory, but my understanding is that it presupposes rational beings. Is your point that there are not enough rational beings on our side? I’m afraid I don’t follow the logic. The concentration of wealth is obscene, and the concentration of gun ownership deserves further study, IMO.

      Many have pointed out that the only thing that distinguishes the US from other countries in terms of the violence is the prevalence of guns. All the other factors the anti-gun safety people attribute to mass killings are present elsewhere.

      Humans know how to kill mosquitoes to diminish the threat. That parallel should be applied to treating gun violence as a public health issue.

      I don’t know you, but I hope you are personally OK in these tough, emotionally draining times.


      1. When good is done, when bad is done it is most always a tiny tiny part of humanity that is doing it. Long ago I was taught to kill without thought. I was not taught that a time to think would come and not depart.
        The Reverend says I worry to much. I just premeditate to prepare for disaster. I fear the time to kill is returning.


      2. I am currently afflicted with two attributes: old and slow. Game theory begins at the rational base but a gamer takes it from there. Garry Kasparov employed irrationality quite successfully until Deep Blue irrationally sacrifices a knight for no apparent gain completely devastating his plan and winning in 75 moves. No plan survives first contact intact. I don’t think you can design a universe without taking this into account.


  8. First I think gun ownership in the US as promoted by the NRA is both a sign of mental disease and a derangement in and of itself.
    I have owned guns where there be bears ( Alaska) and on small commercial fishing vessels. In civilation (Port /Winter) I would remove bolt and place in one place empty magazines and place ammunition and empty magazines in different place and store weapon in yet another place.
    One point that I have never seen seen on the gun issue is the issue of the caliber of the weapon.
    The caliber (5.56 MM) the M-16/AR 15 is designed to use was specifically engineered and designed to do maximium damage to flesh. It is desiggned to start “tumbleing” upon any resitance tearing flesh and muscle behind itself. Unlike the old 30.06 and most other calibers where one would get a through and through wound ( straight line between entry and exit wound where it does not strike bone) it was designed as a “military” round.
    In many cases it is banned as a “hunting” weapon since it destroys so much flesh as to render game unusable for eating.
    How about as a very modest and minor first step towards regaining the countries sanity by banning this caliber weapon and ammunicition?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this info. Unfortunately, what seems so reasonable to you, me, and millions of others is viewed not as a “very modest and minor first step,” but as a dangerous confiscation by govt according to their (wrong) interpretation of the Second Amendment.


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