Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Tired Old Lines

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, December 8, 2015 --  

America's gun control movement is a failure. It's time to try something different.

Almost before the smoke had cleared from a mass shooting near San Bernardino, California, America's partisans had started preparing for a fight of their own: a battle over guns.

Depending on which of two utterly polarized sides you are on, the shooting in San Bernardino means one of two different things.  Coastal elites are outraged that Republican obsession with gun rights keep putting firearms into the hands of the violent and mentally unstable.  San Bernardino is proof yet again that gun sales must be highly restricted, if not outlawed entirely.

Middle America had a completely different take.  To them, the shooting shows that law abiding citizens must be armed and vigilant against both terrorists and the big government types that would take their guns away. 

These completely incompatible narratives have defined America's reaction to high profile shootings for years, and after each incident, the players recite their tired old lines with all the subtleties of a 1960s Bugs Bunny cartoon. With each cycle, the rhetoric gets more practiced and stiff. True believers on each side, fueled by today's politically segregated news sources, listen to only their own arguments.

True to form, the liberal elite's standard bearer, New York Times, put an editorial on the front page for the first time in nearly a century to argue for gun control.1 Undoubtedly, the east coast paper's readership wholeheartedly agreed with these arguments. They may have been excited and inspired to see the exact same opinions they already agree with taking up a third of the page above the fold. Yet the editorial is unlikely to have changed many minds. In fact, it probably elicited the opposite behavior than intended.

Indeed, Americans further from the coast are busy buying more guns. A record 185,345 people filed for background checks on Black Friday, five percent higher than the year before.2 Gun store owners across the country are reporting a surge in sales. Liberal elitists scratching their heads at these statistics were given a primer on the motivation by Liberty University president Jerry Falwell. He publicly urged students to carry concealed weapons to be able to respond to an attack like in San Bernardino.3

To each side, the antics of the opposing camp sound completely nuts. Will arming all college kids (about a half a percentage of which, statistically speaking, will develop schizophrenia by the time they reach 30) really help reduce gun violence? Will more front page editorials demanding an imposition of elitist values on Americans who oppose them really do any good?

The simple truth is that a large percentage of Americans love their guns like no other people in the world. It is a unique and historical attraction that is unlike any other nation on earth. Anti-gun folks like to point to Australia as a case where a mass shooting caused a once frontier-oriented country to change what had been liberal laws on firearm ownership. But Australia never had the same historical attachment to guns as America — they were never written into its constitution or in into the its people's hearts.

Just as true is that gun culture in America has gotten out of control. The surprisingly common desire of ordinary law-abiding folks to keep private arsenals masks the behavior of people like the shooters in San Bernardino. Just because people like guns and support gun rights doesn't change the fact that there is no good reason for most folks to be armed to the teeth. It's dysfunctional behavior that needs to stop.

But getting this dysfunctional behavior to stop won't happen so long as the anti-gun crowd keeps scaring the bejeezus out of law-abiding gun owners and inspiring them to buy more guns. Significant gun control just isn't going to happen in today's political climate. And more front page editorials will do nothing to change this climate. If anti-gun folks truly want to reduce gun violence, they'd be wise to stop talking about gun control entirely, and focus on reigning in America's out of control gun culture by other means.

Related Web Columns:

Bullets and Big Gulps, January 15, 2013

Unimaginable Consequences, August 10, 1999


1. Salon, New York Times Runs First Front-Page Editorial Since 1920 to Demand Gun Control, December 5, 2015

2. Time, Gun Sales Spike Across the U.S., December 6, 2015

3. Christian Science Monitor, Liberty University Students Urged to Carry Guns. Do other schools agree? December 6, 2015