An inconvenient gun fact for Nicholas Kristof

by John Q on January 17, 2016

Nicholas Kristof has a column in the NY Times, headlined Some Inconvenient Gun Facts for Liberals. The headline, though presumably not chosen by Kristof, is a pretty accurate summary of the article, which berates liberals for proposing various ineffectual gun control measures, and concludes:

Let’s make America’s gun battles less ideological and more driven by evidence of what works.

If Kristof wants to be taken seriously, he ought to acknowledge the actual evidence of what works, namely, measures that drastically reduce the number of guns and restrict their availability. I discussed the evidence a bit more in this post, with links.

Of course, such measures aren’t politically feasible in the US, and have to be disavowed by politicians seeking even limited progress. But if Kristof started by admitting this, he’d end up with a very different analysis than the one he’s putting forward. The primary criterion for any gun control policy in the US has to be to maximize the ratio of long-term harm reduction to political cost. I don’t have any particularly good ideas about political strategies. Still, it’s clear that Kristof’s operating assumption that sweet reason will be sufficient, or even helpful, is way off the mark.



js. 01.17.16 at 7:02 am

JQ — The actual headline is missing in the post, just a heads up.


Sandwichman 01.17.16 at 7:14 am

I never pay any attention to that windbag and I’m not about to start now. He’s a warm fuzzy Thomas Friedman, which is an oxymoron.


John Quiggin 01.17.16 at 7:18 am

js, Fixed thanks


kidneystones 01.17.16 at 9:13 am

Google hits for Nicolas Kristof: 2 million plus. Somebody else 168,000.

I’m trying to remember which country stopped Japan from sweeping right through Australia, I’m thinking, I’m thinking. I’m trying to remember which country shipped arms and factories to Soviet Russia to defeat fascist Germany, I’m thinking, I’m thinking. I’m trying to remember why people in Japan don’t speak Chinese or Russian. I’m thinking, I’m thinking. I’m trying to remember which country organized the Berlin airlift, I’m thinking, I’m thinking. I’m trying to remember which country got kicked out of the Philippines to cheers from lefties a while back, and just got invited back – to the same bases and others, and why. I’m trying to remember which South East Asia America got invaded by Australians and some other country and is now keen to have that country’s military become more active to balance their centuries-old enemies to the north and east.

One of the ugly truths I was forced to swallow after living in Asia, not Australia, for a decade or so, is the positive impact US military force has had upon the free world, to the extent this world is free.

Guns are a fact of life in most parts of America and gun deaths are actually down in the US without tampering with the Second Amendment. Crime is also down. The world is generally much safer than in was for most of the 20th century, including America.

Just about nobody is listening to the anti-gun lobby in the US, and that’s because the highest mortality rates in the US are in ‘gun-free’ US cities such as Chicago. And everybody knows that the only people liberals listen to are other liberals cause everybody is stoopid, That’s why liberals get to argue the pro and con positions of every argument.



Phil 01.17.16 at 9:55 am


why does nothing get done? One reason is that liberals often inadvertently antagonize gun owners and empower the National Rifle Association

This reminds me of some centre-leftish analysis of the breakup of Yugoslavia – “yes, a confederation of independent democratic republics sounds like a lovely idea, but face facts – the Serbs aren’t going to like it”. The reason why nothing gets done is that it matters if you antagonize gun owners and empower (in some vague but presumably rhetorical way) the NRA. The reason why nothing gets done is that the NRA is a power in the land – or perhaps we should say, a power in people’s heads (they don’t to my knowledge encourage the formation of liberated areas – which in any case have a tendency to get rolled over in the US, same as anywhere else).

The UK banned* guns. Australia banned* guns. It can be done.

*To all intents and purposes.


JPL 01.17.16 at 10:16 am

Phil @ 5:


‘[In the US] why does nothing get done?'”



Cheryl Rofer 01.17.16 at 11:21 am

The inconvenient fact for Kristof’s “evidence-based” argument is that the NRA, via Congress, has managed to ban research on gun violence. Obama has done some small things to change that via executive orders, but we won’t know how that’s working for a year or more. And when Congress will act…well…

So we can wait a few more years before we even begin to think about changing gun laws and customs in the United States. Seems reasonable.


Ronan(rf) 01.17.16 at 12:04 pm


serioualy 01.17.16 at 12:45 pm

You are missing the point. The second amendment is a foundational right, just like the first. It may not be gotten around merely by whipping up the electorate with left wing propaganda. To do “what works” beans to cast aside the constitution, which is really what this is about. If you want to abolish the 2nbd amendment, you should amend the constitution Thankfully, the electorate at large is not so supine as the Left’s Useful Idiots, so this legitimate approach will not “work’, thus your attempt to destroy the rulle of law and the traditions and practices of this Nation, laws, traditions and practices born of much greater wisdom than yours I might add.

All one need to is look at the history of the Fascists or the Communists in the last century to ee where it leads. In this sense in is always “ideological”. Beyond that, you are just try to place your “ideology”, that is “Oligarchical Collectivism” above the tried and true norms of the evolved “ideology”, if one can call it that, of Western, liberal democracy. You want to disarm the decent and honorable, and take away thier rights, and do so because of what criminals, terrorist and nut cases

There is no “gun crisis”; there is a crisis in our society and it stems from decades of internal (the Left) and external enemies actually trying to destroy it.

The arrogance of the Left if left unchecked will lead to civil war. The society that you want to move us towards is lawless and dicttorial. This dark vision is truly one that “will not work”


serioualy 01.17.16 at 12:57 pm

AN it is absurd to say that the NRA has the power to “ban” (and i think you mean “suppressed” here) “research into “gun violence”. Your very use of that spurious term belies that,assertion–there is in fact no such thing as “gun violence”; it is pure agitprop. Ms Rofer’s claim is absurd on the very face of it. It is some loony rational used to explain away the broad unpopularity with in the nation. of her tyrannical vision.

In fact the opposite is true. The left has managed to suppress actual research in academia that has shows just how bogus and dangerous to our nation the anti constitutional efforts of the Left are both as applied to gun grabbers and elsewhere. Even basic fact are actively suppressed by leftist ,, mainstream media and the Left wing controlled academy. As a case in point, according to the FBI the number of homicides using “hammers and clubs” far exceeds the amount of gun related homicides, yet we do not here cried to end “baseball bat violence”.

Stop masking your tyrannical impulses and you contempt for you fellow Americans, indeed for America itself, in superficially rational prattle about “what works.

Stop slandering organizations that uphold the rights of decent, rational and hard working Americans. People like Ms. Roper are the problem and not the the NRA.


P O'Neill 01.17.16 at 2:12 pm

The test that he did not apply at the end is when he makes specific proposals, check which the NRA would oppose.


medrawt 01.17.16 at 2:17 pm

Ronan –

Indeed, for a large American city, Chicago is only exceptionally violent for people who choose not to understand per capita statistics.

(Caveat 1: Which does not mean that violence in Chicago, as in other cities, is not a problem in desperate need of improvement.)
(Caveat 2: Compared to the two American cities which are bigger, NYC and LA, the murder rate in Chicago is substantially higher than in those metropolises.)

The degree to which Chicago is specially singled out as “gun free” is also a product of “mysteriously” targeted just-so storytelling. It used to be the case that possession of handguns was banned in Chicago and that Illinois did not allow concealed carry of firearms. The latter was changed in 2013, I think, and the former in 2010. It is true that Illinois continues to allow individual businesses to ban guns on their property (and many in Chicago have the associated signage, which anecdotally I believe has become more common in the past few years in response to the aforementioned changes) … as do a number of other states with a longer history of permissive gun laws.


Anarcissie 01.17.16 at 2:55 pm

Many among the people seem to like guns a lot. Attributing this affection to ‘racism’ seems a bit pat and is unlikely to win over gun-loving voters. There are some other curious aspects of the issue, such as the fact that gun control is generally unconnected in the public discourse around it to seemingly related issues like actual harm reduction, police and military violence, culture war, and class conflict. The only people who are supposed to be disarmed are rather far down the political food chain.


Quite Likely 01.17.16 at 3:34 pm

Yeah after seeing these graphs where the number of guns in a country correlates pretty perfectly with the number of people killed by guns (who knew?) I’m sold on the idea that the only really effective gun control is gun control that just hugely reduces the number of guns floating around. And I guess pro-gun people understand this on some level, what with their constant hysterical terror that someone is going to “come for their guns”.


bob 01.17.16 at 4:22 pm

Kidney stones – your sneer at Chicago as a supposedly ‘gun-free’ city ignores the fact that Chicago has guns coming in from our neighbors: “the most striking fact about gang guns is that most come from out of state.”
If Indiana, for example, had the sort of gun control legislation that Chicago has, our problems would be substantially reduced.


Ronan(rf) 01.17.16 at 4:36 pm

What do people from Chicago know about/think of the work done by Andrew Papchristos?

He’s (although afaik it’s not specific to him) working with law enforcement using network theory to interupt gang gun violence in the city before it escalates. Afaict it has been reasonably successful


Cranky Observer 01.17.16 at 5:24 pm

= = = Many among the people seem to like guns a lot. Attributing this affection to ‘racism’ seems a bit pat = = =

How much time do you spend personally talking to such people? Or in the workplace, being subjected to a non-stop barrage of their very thoughtful political analysis? Although I’m sure there are a few people out there who genuinely enjoy pure target shooting with their rapid fire high velocity military lookalikes with 100 round magazines, I’m with Duncan Black: 90% of such fetishists harbor a fantasy of killing a “thug” (or even just a “moocher” or “librul”) of the wrong skin color or religion in some sort of hero/revenge situation.


Chip Daniels 01.17.16 at 6:40 pm

This is one where the Onion had it right: “No way to prevent this, says the only nation where this regularly happens.”


Rakesh Bhandari 01.17.16 at 7:29 pm

If not for the emergency in Flint, I would have said that the NRA in its anti-regulatory fervor is responsible for lead bullets being the largest unregulated source of lead contamination in the US.
This is not even a matter of taking guns or bullets away. This specific NRA campaign against the generalization of the CA ban on lead bullets which only applies when taking wildlife says a lot about the ideological nature of the NRA.


PatinIowa 01.17.16 at 7:34 pm

Yup, a federal prohibiting gun research from being funded by the Federal Government, unless the NRA is likely to approve it, is exactly the same thing as a bunch of social scientists sitting around saying, “You know what, if you’re going to say that guns save lives, maybe you should come up with some reliable numbers.”

And, by the way, when I read the Federalist Papers and the other documents around the ratification of the Constitution, it sounds to this amateur like the “foundational right” the framers and ratifiers were concerned about was freedom from a standing army, because it’s obvious that an entrenched military leads to tyranny.

Which, come to think of it, may not be entirely crazy, eh?

But good luck convincing anyone that we should imagine that Responsible Gun Owners® can protect the country, unless your strategy is for the invading army to watch the Responsible Gun Owners® shoot themselves and each other, fall over itself laughing, and then be brained by middle schoolers with baseball bats.


Anarcissie 01.17.16 at 7:37 pm

Cranky Observer 01.17.16 at 5:24 pm @ 17 — I’m just going by what I read. I don’t know what all these anecdotal gun owners fantasize about. If you believe in democracy, then the way gun fans vote is a political fact regardless of the quality of their fantasies. That’s what you need to change, which to me implies a need to at least soft-pedal your desire to openly disparage them.


Snarki, child of Loki 01.17.16 at 8:12 pm

“…the way gun fans vote is a political fact regardless of the quality of their fantasies. That’s what you need to change, which to me implies a need to at least soft-pedal your desire to openly disparage them.”

If those “gun fans” were persuadable by rational argument, sure. But matters of faith and ideology don’t work that way, so one might as well get the satisfaction of mocking their idiocy.

I’m sure you can get Mary Rosh to come online and tell everyone how wrong they are also, too.


Matt 01.17.16 at 8:22 pm

Well, if “serioualy” gets to tell hysterical lies here, I suppose someone should confront them.

As a case in point, according to the FBI the number of homicides using “hammers and clubs” far exceeds the amount of gun related homicides, yet we do not here cried to end “baseball bat violence”.

FBI – Expanded Homicide Data Table 8

In every year, 2008 to 2012, guns were used to commit more than 10 times as many homicides as hammers and clubs. In 2012, for example, 8855 firearm homicides (69% of total) vs. 518 club/hammer homicides (4% of total).

Guns are clearly the most lethal hand-held objects that Americans can readily buy. Gun enthusiasts know this! It’s why they spend hundreds of dollars on a gun instead ten dollars on a hammer or kitchen knife. It’s why they want guns to protect against criminals, guns to hunt with, guns to start an insurgency against a tyrannical government.

But when it comes to embarrassing collateral damage from having the USA awash in guns, thousands of homicides that were a lot easier than beating someone to death, gun supporters tend to get terminally dumb about how guns are different from other household objects. Suddenly they’re hallucinating improbable FBI statistics about murder weapons and trying to take you along for the ride. It’s like someone defending the uses of fire thinking you’re dumb enough to believe that only bad people ever get burned. The really interesting question is: is that just a lie intended for persuasion, or is their thinking actually so sloppy and compartmentalized that they believe the lie themselves?


Vanya 01.17.16 at 8:36 pm

#9. The Nazis and the Bolsheviks both came to power with the help of armed civilian militias used to intimidate their political opponents. The inability of the Weimar government to control civilian access to firearms in a country awash in weaponry after WWI was a large part of its weakness. The Russian Revolution and subsequesnt Civil War is basically an example of the NRA wet dream of armed civilians deciding to fight for their “freedom” against an oppressive government. History demonstrates that armed populist uprisings are quickly coopted by demagogues and usually result in something worse than the authorities against which the rebellion started. I can’t think of a better argument for gun control than the history of Fascism and Communism in the 20th century.


Peter Dorman 01.17.16 at 9:10 pm

The place to start, in my opinion, is with the ideological matrix that guns are situated in here in the US. (I wouldn’t claim it’s the same anywhere else; I don’t know.)

Guns are viewed by “gun advocates” as a form of individual protection in a world in which individual rights and possessions are at risk from violent others. The state is not a sufficient protector either because of incompetence or because it is itself one of the violent others. Thus, in this Hobbesian world, each individual must assume the responsibility for self-defense independently. Guns are the means by which this is accomplished, the more powerful the better.

Implicit in this view is that the threat posed by the “others” cannot be significantly reduced (these are simply bad people who will always be bad) and that disarmament will disproportionately affect those whose rights are at risk. Gun control therefore reflects some combination of naivete and actual advocacy for the evil ones. (Socialists, of course, would be for gun control because they want to seize your property.)

Is this worldview intrinsically racist? Maybe, insofar as the category of incorrigibly violent others is racially constituted. What’s the position of the Black Panther Party in the hagiography of the NRA?


Rationale 01.17.16 at 9:18 pm

SANDWICH_MAN: Head in sand much


Anarcissie 01.17.16 at 11:39 pm

Snarki, child of Loki 01.17.16 at 8:12 pm @ 22:
‘If those “gun fans” were persuadable by rational argument, sure. But matters of faith and ideology don’t work that way, so one might as well get the satisfaction of mocking their idiocy. ‘

That’s the problem with democracy — to get anything done, you have to forego the pleasure of deriding your inferiors.


Witt 01.18.16 at 12:06 am

Cheryl nails it:

The inconvenient fact for Kristof’s “evidence-based” argument is that the NRA, via Congress, has managed to ban research on gun violence.

The NRA has worked very strenuously, for a very long time, spending a very large amount of money, to make sure that research on gun violence does not happen. In my view, this is reprehensible — reasonable people can differ about gun ownership, but there is no morally defensible reason for forbidding gun RESEARCH as far as I’m concerned.

And I say that as someone who has seen plenty of stupid, misguided, or actively bad research projects (on other topics) in my time. So I’m not claiming that research is perfect, just that it’s an important tool. And the NRA doesn’t want us to have it. N.b. Banning “federal funding for research” is effectively banning research itself, since federal funding comprises a dramatic percentage of available research funds.

In addition, the NRA has also worked to prevent other attempts at increasing gun safety. They managed to get a clause inserted into the Affordable Care Act that hampers doctors in talking to their patients about gun ownership and risks in the home. (The actual language has to do with doctors collecting data, but see the linked article for details.)

Since the research we DO have is pretty clear that:
– Suicides and accidents are a significant number of gun homicides
– People contemplating self-harm are more likely to complete their act if they have access to a gun
– Many impulses toward self-harm are very brief in duration, and the person does NOT just go on to find another method if a firearm is not available

hamstringing doctors in their ability to talk to patients about firearms-related risks seems beyond foolhardy to me.

Many among the people seem to like guns a lot. Attributing this affection to ‘racism’ seems a bit pat and is unlikely to win over gun-loving voters.

False dichotomy. There is pretty extensive research on the correlation between (white) gun ownership and racism. One study via a quick Google search.

I don’t think it’s going to be possible to get better policy on guns in this country without explicit acknowledgement — and active steps to combat — the racism that is embedded in American institutions and culture per se, and the racism that is particularly virulent among gun-owners (particularly gun-stockpilers).


Anarcissie 01.18.16 at 12:37 am

Witt 01.18.16 at 12:06 am @ 28:
… ‘I don’t think it’s going to be possible to get better policy on guns in this country without explicit acknowledgement — and active steps to combat — the racism that is embedded in American institutions and culture per se, and the racism that is particularly virulent among gun-owners (particularly gun-stockpilers).’

The article you cited states that during the period of the Civil Rights movement, racists or ‘conservatives’ favored — and won — stricter gun control, because they feared that Black people might have and use guns. I probably don’t need to spell out the implications of that fact for a successful gun control campaign today.


JimV 01.18.16 at 12:57 am

As I read the post, I thought, why is it that I get better information and analysis about USA policies from someone who lives in Australia than most US journalists? I really should thank this person for all his time and effort. Then I open the comments to do so and find people complaining about it. The universe is just not fair. Anyway, thanks.

When I started working as an Engineer at GE my first manager, like most of the engineering managers, had served in WWII, having gone in as a private and mustered out as a captain. Over the next ten years he hired as engineers two black men, four white women, a Taiwanese man, and a Taiwanese women. His personal attitude was “we’re all in this together”. The other WWII vets in the department shared this attitude. If he were still alive I don’t think he would like to hear Americans using his generation’s sacrifices as a way to insult others.


Witt 01.18.16 at 1:04 am

I’m not quite sure what point 29 is making, but my feeling is that if we get to “better” gun policy by demonizing black Americans it isn’t actually better policy. Not morally, not practically, and not legally. Period.

Also, I’m explicitly talking about gun policy writ large. To me that goes beyond the suite of policies generally described as “gun control.” Research on firearms injuries is gun policy, but it’s not gun control. Etc.


charles H. Pooter 01.18.16 at 1:40 am

It was probably wise for most to ignore Kidneystone’s answer above (#4), but as it is a version of an argument put forward by Tyler Cowen</a) recently, it perhaps merits some response. In essence, Cowen's's argument is that because the proportion of Americans owning guns is roughly the same as the proportion of global defense spending paid by the U.S., Americans should see the price paid here for gun violence as part of the price we nobly pay for world peace. (Go figure. It's his argument, not mine.) Kidneystone follows suit. Yet his quick list of U.S.-led triumphs in imposing order (and saving Australia, which remember was always at the end of that line of dominos set up and down the pacific) is not only questionable, but curiously dated. He doesn't seem to take into account any of those cases (from Southeast Asia to the Middle East, and in between) where world disorder might be best explained as resulting from U.S. military power, and world peace might gain more from less U.S. arms spending.

Further, the account doesn't acknowledge that many who hold trenchant pro-gun views oppose U.S. action overseas, feeling we should let those primitive heathens or old colonists get on with their own lives and not let their concerns interfere with ours. Perhaps there's a tradeoff here. If Rand Paul was to get us to withdraw from NATO and other collective interventions and to lower arms spending, would he then help us lower gun ownership at home?

But most of all, these stories of the sacrifice our great country makes for world peace have a tendency to portray the U.S. internally as terrifyingly psychopathic. If indeed arms do bring about peace and reduce crime, we have to contemplate the idea that with fewer arms, the U.S., whose rates of murder and assault outstrip most other countries' but apparently cannot be blamed on guns, would be even more violent, more murderous. It's only widespread gun ownership, by this account, that keeps us vaguely secure from one another.

Equally, the grand form of government that we seek to project around the world with our virtuous armed (and arms-sale) interventions, turns out to be horridly precarious. Were we not armed to the teeth, it seems, the government would impose its wicked will on us. Only the 2d amendment keeps us safe. As all those other peaceful countries of Europe (Switzerland aside), seem to manage a certain stability without amassing a gun per capita or more (and without incarcerating such a huge portion of their population), perhaps we should think twice about these grand foreign ventures to impose our ideas of polity elsewhere, and certainly on these terms, anyone would be justified in resisting what political peace we have on offer.


charles H. Pooter 01.18.16 at 2:03 am

Apologies for hitting “)” not “>” in #32. The long link works nonetheless.


Anarcissie 01.18.16 at 2:52 am

Witt 01.18.16 at 1:04 am @ 31 —
I am excited by ironies. Of course ironies abound, but I did particularly like people setting out to prove that gun-nuttery is associated with racism, and then contradicting themselves, I think, in noting that when racists saw gun control as in their interests (because They might be getting guns) they were for gun control. Like a lot of other things in American politics and culture, guns have racial valence, but it’s a valence which can easily flip its sign. I am glad that you see racism as the more important problem.

But there are tastier ironies. Even as we speak, candidate Clinton is attempting to portray candidate Sanders as a gun nut, flogging her gun control cred. This is a person who is certainly a war freak, and probably a war criminal by the standards of the Nuremberg War Crimes trials — someone who is possibly responsible, at least as an accomplice, for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocent people, and the maiming, torture, terrorizing, imprisonment, and impoverishment of hundreds of thousands more, through the use of guns, and some other equipment. I do not speak only of Iraq. Strangely, few seem to call attention to this paradox.

If that sort of thing is not to your taste, though, you can fall back on deriding Bubba.


Cranky Observer 01.18.16 at 3:21 am

= = = Anarcissie 01.17.16 at 7:37 pm

Cranky Observer 01.17.16 at 5:24 pm @ 17 — I’m just going by what I read. I don’t know what all these anecdotal gun owners fantasize about. = = =

Let’s check in with Marco Rubio, one of the three leading candidates for the Republican nomination for President of the United States:
“I’m a strong supporter of the second amendment. I have a right to protect my family if someone were to come after us,” Rubio said on Face the Nation. “In fact, if ISIS were to visit us, or our communities, at any moment, the last line of defense between ISIS and my family is the ability that I have to protect my family from them, or from a criminal, or anyone else who seeks to do us harm. Millions of Americans feel that way.”


Witt 01.18.16 at 4:15 am

I honestly do not understand how you could look at my comments and think I am ranking social injustices, or that caring about gun violence means I do not care about warmongering social policy. Neither my humanity nor my activism is zero-sum.


Omega Centauri 01.18.16 at 4:33 am

The gun culture is deeply ingrained in American culture. For conservatives it has become a tribal ID issue, which makes it nonnegotiable. We see it is deeply embedded in our media entertainment culture, heroes and heroines almost always wield guns, and the wielding of guns is portrayed as sexy. We like our fictional badguys/badgals to be thoughly evil, and we like the resolution of the guyguy/badguy struggle to end with the badguys violent death.

And we’ve seen how the expectation that anyone could be carrying a gun interacts with seriously insufficient training of law enforcement personnel (and racism), to result in a horrifying number of police shootings.

Anarcisse, I hesitate to attack Hillary, because there is a high probability that we will have to choose her as a lesser evil, and I don’t want to make the odds of the much greater evil prevailing any higher than they already are.

I see Hillary’s foreign policy as entirely conventional she knows what the foreign policy establish wants, and what out major allies (both international, and political) want, and tries to satisfy these forces. I would consider her level of complicity not very high (at least not for the disastrous decisions made in 2003). She pretty much bent with the strong political winds of the time. Many Americans, in fact a majority did likewise. So she is complicit, but in a minority sort of manner. It is the domain where she most upsets me. But, I’ll put a bag over my head and vote for her when the time comes.


Anarcissie 01.18.16 at 5:55 am

Cranky Observer 01.18.16 at 3:21 am @ 36 —
Rubio’s fantasy is not explicitly racial. I agree he could be whistling for the dog.

Witt 01.18.16 at 4:15 am @ 37 —
If the root of gun-nuttery is racism, as I think you and others said, and if a person’s time, energy, motivation, and other resources are limited, then the person’s political activity is finite and should reasonably be applied to the most serious problem (about which something can be done) first, which would be the racism. You did say, ‘‘I don’t think it’s going to be possible to get better policy on guns in this country without explicit acknowledgement — and active steps to combat — the racism that is embedded in American institutions and culture per se’. That’s a pretty big order, given that the US has been struggling with racism for generations now, so it’s not going to leave a lot of time, etc., to combat the gun-nuttery as a particular, separate problem.

I’m not at all sure racism is actually the root here, I’m just following the arguments that have been given to see where they go. As Omega Centauri says just above, we have a society that is soaked in violence, especially at the top, and maybe Bubba is just trying to keep up.


lurker 01.18.16 at 6:59 am

Militias are overrated.
Hitler learned the uselessness of a militia in a battle with the military in 1923. Hence the night of the long knives when Hitler had to choose between the generals and the brownshirts.
In the Russian civil war, actual military units, not armed rabble, were decisive. The Lettish rifles were just two brigades, but two brigades that take orders and don’t run away at the first sign of trouble were more than any other Russian party had.


Bruce Wilder 01.18.16 at 8:11 am

It seems to me that the political problem of guns in America comes down to marketing. Guns are being expertly marketed, by people leveraging fear and racism in much the same way as other marketing professionals leverage and amplify sex and personal insecurities to sell soap.


Cheryl Rofer 01.18.16 at 1:39 pm

Omega Centauri @ 38 –

We see it is deeply embedded in our media entertainment culture, heroes and heroines almost always wield guns, and the wielding of guns is portrayed as sexy.

So was smoking, once long ago. We could change attitudes toward guns, too, and we have, as noted in the application of gun control relating to owners of different skin colors.

With smoking, we did have the benefit of government research, even though the cigarette companies served up their own to muddle the situation. So we really do need to end that ban.

Unfortunately, all this will take a long time. Which is why so many of us are for more draconian solutions now.


TM 01.18.16 at 2:36 pm

lurker 40: This is wildly misleading. The SA was only downgraded after Hitler had come to power but did play a significant role in the years 1925-1934. From the web site of German Historical Museum (

“Bis Ende 1932 starben 94 “Braunhemden” bei blutigen Saal- und Straßenschlachten zwischen SA und ihren Hauptgegnern, dem kommunistischen Roten Frontkämpferbund (RFB) und dem republikanischen Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold. Die Begräbnisfeiern wurden zu einem Heldenkult ausgestaltet. Gleichzeitig trieb eine Terrorwelle der SA mit unzähligen Mord- und Bombenanschlägen die Republik an den Rand des Bürgerkriegs. Das Sprengen von Versammlungen politischer Gegner und die eingedrillte Kampftaktik der SA, der übergangslose Ausbruch aus einer disziplinierten Marschformation in hemmungslose Gewaltaktionen, gehörten Anfang der 1930er-Jahre beinah zum alltäglichen Erscheinungsbild. Etwa 300 Tote und über 1.100 Verletzte – so lautete die Bilanz des Wahlkampfs im Vorfeld der Reichstagswahl vom 31. Juli 1932. Den Höhepunkt der blutigen Aktionen bildete der “Altonaer Blutsonntag” am 17. Juli 1932, als sich aus einem Demonstrationsmarsch der SA durch die kommunistische Hochburg eine stundenlange Schießerei mit 18 Toten entwickelte.”

94 brownshirts died during battles with rival organizations until 1932, the SA initiated a terror wave with murders and bombings, 300 people died during the 1932 election campaign, on a single day, 18 people died during a shootout when the SA marched through a communist neighborhood. The SA didn’t (after 1923) attempt to directly conquer power but they surely were politically effective (terrorizing opponents, attracting the like-minded).


TM 01.18.16 at 2:38 pm

4: Just can’t resist. “I’m trying to remember why people in Japan don’t speak Chinese or Russian. I’m thinking, I’m thinking.” And? Solved the mystery?


Anarcissie 01.18.16 at 3:14 pm

As long as there’s even a nominal democracy, draconian solutions from on high are not likely to go anywhere.

As for changing the culture, in the case of smoking, you have the Puritanism of the ‘conservatives’ on your side. In the case of guns and violence in general, Puritanism runs the other way, plus we have the example of the government and the elites who, liberals included, fetishize — and use — violence as much as any hillbilly. I doubt if advocating cultural change is going to work if the advocates refuse to practice what they preach.


John Ennis 01.18.16 at 4:01 pm

Arendt might suggest that deterrence arguments and the assumptions that underlie them, fail to control for the unpredictable chance event. That is the variable legislation and limits would hopefully take into account. See the opening to her On Violence.


TM 01.18.16 at 4:29 pm

Totally bogus argument. Even the most popular gun control measures (background checks and the like, which Americans support overwhelmingly) have no chance politically because the NRA and GOP extremists oppose them. This has nothing whatsoever to do with democracy. And states and cities where the people favor stricter gun control are prevented from implementing such measures democratically. Will you please stop turing reality upside down. The NRA is not remotely representative.


Marshall Peace 01.18.16 at 4:30 pm

To my observation Peter Dorman @25 is quite right, it’s about felt helplessness in the face of urban-industrial capitalism. And so the solution as Anarcissie says is to take steps to help such folks feel secure in their persons, possessions, and generations. Which of course is a nice idea for so many reasons but it’s not the way things are going. Racism is also involved, but there aren’t that many Muslims/blacks /even Hispanics in Eastern Oregon … those are just more dang “others”.


Watson Ladd 01.18.16 at 6:31 pm

Yes, guns are marketed so you can do what happened in St. Louis in 1861, every night MLK slept in his bed, and when black families move into white neighborhoods: defend yourself and your rights when the state will not.

The end of private firearms ownership in Australia did not decrease the murder rate more then background trends. here. America is not more violent than other countries, but has two populations which do not know how to control themselves: blacks and Southerners, an effect which entirely explains the murder rate here

Gun control will decrease gun suicides. It will not decrease murders. It will encourage burglars to become robbers. It will enable mob violence, as the threat of getting shot by a storekeeper or homeowner will vanish. It will mean that when police departments decide not to protect some populations, they will have no recourse.


Mark Jamison 01.18.16 at 6:51 pm

Kidneystones – You seem to be unaware that prior to Heller vs DC in 2008 the jurisprudence on the second amendment explicitly denied an unadulterated right to individual gun ownership. Heller was the first case in over 200 years of constitutional jurisprudence that found for the right of individual gun ownership without condition.

Sorry, but most of your comment simply ignores or rewrites history.


PatinIowa 01.18.16 at 7:43 pm

Using Martin Luther King Jr. in this context is disgusting. He was shot by a paradigm of the political grouping that fetishizes guns (James Earl Ray was a Wallace conservative, i.e., a Reagan Democrat), he was denied a permit to carry when he applied for one by the power structure that continues in control of much of the South and runs on guns for all, his house really was firebombed with his children in it, by conservative Democrats (ISIS does not give a shit about Marco Rubio) and his non-violence intensified to the point where, when assaulted, he literally turned the other cheek:

You should be ashamed.


Watson Ladd 01.18.16 at 8:06 pm

And every night he slept was under armed protection. This is a well-documented historical fact. As your source notes during the bus boycott his home had armed guards in front of it. That he was denied a permit was made possible by the refusal to force every state to a must-issue stance. In California the Black Panthers prompted restrictions on gun ownership.

Black and working class self-defense against the state has a long and honorable history in the United States. It’s a shame that so many vote for those who want to end it.


Dr. Hilarius 01.18.16 at 8:16 pm

Omega Centauri @ 38 has it exactly right, guns in America are tribal fetishes. I’m old enough to recall when guns mostly were owned by hunters, people in law enforcement and a few collectors. A lot of people had a dusty .22 rifle in a closet but not much more than that. There was an urban-rural divide but it wasn’t sharply delineated as many urban dwellers had roots in farm life. Now, guns separate a variety of right wing subspecies from imagined liberal/racial/political/economic threats. People own guns they never shoot just to be part of the tribe.

I have argued for many years that gun control efforts are counter-productive. There is no meaningful chance of passing significant measures to reduce gun violence but efforts to do so, however futile, fuel the NRAs ability to fire up its constituency. Every mass shooting boosts gun sales and gun stocks. Many gun nuts are one-issue voters who would never come to the polls but for fear of losing their guns. When they do come to the polls they carry along a lot of other right-wing baggage.

American popular culture is saturated in gun violence. POV shooter video games are so widespread as to have become invisible, just part of the furniture. If parents can’t or won’t restrict their kids from a daily diet of mass murder I don’t see much hope for reversing popular notions that guns are solutions to personal and social ills.


MPAVictoria 01.18.16 at 8:29 pm

Watson your link on Australian gun violence doesn’t say what you think it says.


The Temporary Name 01.18.16 at 8:29 pm

Gun control will decrease gun suicides. It will not decrease murders. It will encourage burglars to become robbers. It will enable mob violence, as the threat of getting shot by a storekeeper or homeowner will vanish. It will mean that when police departments decide not to protect some populations, they will have no recourse.

And yet there are places in the world – and on the US border even! – that are very nice places to live, even without a second amendment.


js. 01.18.16 at 9:32 pm

Anarcissie’s argument here seems bizarre. Two points:

1. The situation we (in the US) face is not one where elite (for some value of “elite”) attempts to impose gun control are thwarted by the popular will. The situation we actually have is one where sensible regulations enacted by cities and states are overturned by the Supreme Court. This is a problem of democracy; just not the one you have in mind.

2. Yes, democracy requires consensus-building. But unless you actually believe that democracy requires some sort of Habermasian ideal to become actual fact, sometimes you simply need to build enough of a coalition to defeat your opponent. A clear-headed recognition that some sectors of society can’t be won over but instead must be democratically marginalized is in no way inconsistent with democracy. In fact, any system I can conceive of as a functioning democracy would seem to require it.


PatinIowa 01.18.16 at 9:32 pm

Another long and honorable tradition (since 1968) is conservatives flat out lying about what Martin Luther King Jr. said and believed.

“After the bombings, many of the officers of my church and other trusted friends urged me to hire a bodyguard and armed watchmen for my house. When my father came to town, he concurred with both of these suggestions. I tried to tell them that I had no fears now and consequently needed no weapons for protection. This they would not hear. They insisted that I protect the house and family, even if I didn’t want to protect myself. In order to satisfy the wishes of these close friends and associates, I decided to consider the question of an armed guard. I went down to the sheriff’s office and applied for a license to carry a gun in the car; but this was refused.

Meanwhile I reconsidered. How could I serve as one of the leaders of a nonviolent movement and at the same time use weapons of violence for my personal protection? Coretta and I talked the matter over for several days and finally agreed that arms were no solution. We decided then to get rid of the one weapon we owned. We tried to satisfy our friends by having floodlights mounted around the house, and hiring unarmed watchmen around the clock. I also promised that I would not travel around the city alone.

I was much more afraid in Montgomery when I had a gun in my house. When I decided that I couldn’t keep a gun, I came face-to-face with the question of death and I dealt with it. From that point on, I no longer needed a gun nor have I been afraid. Had we become distracted by the question of my safety we would have lost the moral offensive and sunk to the level of our oppressors.”

If you say Malcolm X, Fred Clark, Mark Hampton and the Panthers advocated that black people arm themselves to defend themselves, you’d be telling the truth. Then we can talk about the efficacy of arming oneself in this way. Except for Malcolm, white folks killed them anyway. In fact, it is the same people (sometimes literally so) who terrorized leftists and civil rights advocates back in the day who want continue being able to do so.

King? I repeat. You should be ashamed.


Watson Ladd 01.18.16 at 9:52 pm

The Temporary Name: Wyoming is heavily armed, has a murder rate comparable to Canada’s.

PatinIowa: Actually, many nonviolent protestors were protected by armed men at night, even if King would later not wish for such protection. See This Nonviolent Stuff Will Get You Killed or the history of the Deacons for Democracy And Freedom. Of course, when Ruby Bridges was attending school the US Marshals were not unarmed. Ultimately state power (armed men that is) dismantled Jim Crow. There is nothing nonviolent about the 101st Airborne.

MPAVictoria: Port Arthur massacre is 1996, gun buyback ends 1997. The graph of the murder rate doesn’t show a substantial difference at that point, only dropping much later. So what’s the mechanism at work here?


The Temporary Name 01.18.16 at 10:00 pm

The Temporary Name: Wyoming is heavily armed, has a murder rate comparable to Canada’s.

Canada’s population is largely urban. Wyoming’s biggest population centre has 60000 people.


protoplasm 01.18.16 at 10:22 pm

Watson Ladd at 49: “[America] has two populations which do not know how to control themselves: blacks and Southerners…”


Anarcissie at 46: “…draconian solutions from on high are not likely to go anywhere.”
Draconian solutions are far more likely to go anywhere than impotent debate with gun fetishists. There is no convincing them on this matter. Reason and argument are not working, and it is actually very important that we, as sensible anti-gun advocates, disabuse ourselves of these comfortable, useless strategies. Of course mocking “Bubba” would be counterproductive were we trying to convince him of anything, but we are not (or should not). “Bubba” is beyond the pale. It’s just fine to mock him, because we are not talking to him.

They say that we’ll have to take their guns from their cold dead hands and I don’t see what the problem is in obliging them. Let one thousand Wacos bloom, if need be. (It needn’t.) Our goal ought to be nothing less than a disarmed populace and a disarmed police force in a nation in which firearms manufacture is illegal.


Steve Williams 01.18.16 at 11:28 pm

The Temporary Name @55

‘And yet there are places in the world – and on the US border even! – that are very nice places to live, even without a second amendment.’

Yes yes yes, that’s all very well and good, but Watson doesn’t want to discuss how it works in practise, he wants to tell you how it works in theory.


Anarcissie 01.19.16 at 3:38 am

protoplasm 01.18.16 at 10:22 pm @ 61 —
TM doesn’t want me to mention democracy, so I won’t, but there is the problem of convincing the On High, whatever it is, to impose radical gun control by force. (In a democracy you would elect an On High that would be willing to pay the price, but I’m not going to mention that.) The present On High actually seems to find the issue useful for good old divide et impera; it does not surprise me to see it stirred up given the content of the current Democratic nomination contest.

But as I pointed out above, you don’t need a thousand Wacos. All you need to do is change the racial valence of gun control. The present On High could probably do that, too. (Pictures of the cops tearing through the projects in search of guns every other week on Fox News.) Then you’d get your gun control. Not nice, but cheaper than Wacos, probably.


Watson Ladd 01.19.16 at 3:40 am

protoplasm: Yes. The prevalence of violent crime in the South is well known, as is the relative inability of Southerners to ignore insults. Black culture is very similar. One need only look at the way in which violence in defense of honor is portrayed in country music and rap to see the approval of the use of force in response to insults. This inability to turn the other cheek is a failure of self-control caused by a culture that doesn’t demand it.

This explains much of the murder rate differential between the US and Europe.


Anderson 01.19.16 at 4:11 am

64: I would indeed like to see a study on how Southern white violence (code duello etc.) became a perverse model for post-Southern black culture. It’s like the dotted lines are visible & someone needs to draw them in.

The ability to avenge oneself is what sets the slave driver apart from the slave. Slave rebellion turns the tables: ressentiment. The Nietzschean term reminds us how puerile it is to demand that black culture “move beyond all that”; how successful has Christian culture been at doing so? Ask Trump’s base.


Bruce Wilder 01.19.16 at 7:21 am

Honor culture fills the breach, when a culture of moral conscience has failed under stress.


Ronan(rf) 01.19.16 at 8:23 am

65 well Thomas sowell write about it

Make of that what you will


bad Jim 01.19.16 at 9:20 am

I’ve inherited the home in which my family has lived for fifty years, on top of a hill overlooking the ocean in Southern California. I’ve also inherited an assortment of guns, the most useful of which was a late acquisition by my father.

He’s been dead for almost thirty years, and there are reasons to think that the a box of ammunition that old may not be particularly dependable. Isn’t it incumbent upon me to replace it with something I could rely on? If worst comes to worst, and after feeding those old shells into the beast and make the threatening sound of jacking one into the chamber, will it even fire?

Fifty years have gone by without forceful intrusion. Maybe the marauders were scared by our dogs. Lately my visitors are raccoons who scarf my carissa, pomegranates, and loquats, and rush up to me when I go out to visit them as though I had the secret to eternal life.


faustusnotes 01.19.16 at 12:19 pm

Since the second amendment is such a barrier to gun control, the US needs to find ways of reducing gun violence that don’t impinge on it. Here are some suggestions:

1. Require all guns to be hot pink with hello kitty stickers
2. Require all gun owners to hold liability insurance
3. Require this liability insurance be sold by the NRA
4. Establish a set of voluntary guidelines for media organizations that prohibit all reporting on mass shootings
5. Push for major non-government organizations to establish a serious stream of devoted funds for gun crime research: the Clinton Foundation and BMGF are the obvious starting points

I don’t think any of those rules will touch on the 2nd amendment and doubt that the insurance rules will now be judged unconstitutional. The US has experience with voluntary media guidelines for suicide reporting. US citizens concerned about gun violence need to deal with teh fact that the 2nd amendment is a barrier to sensible gun policies, and find creative alternatives.


lurker 01.19.16 at 1:35 pm

If the 2nd Amendment makes restrictions impossible, why aren’t machine guns legal? Or should we not give the NRA any ideas?


faustusnotes 01.19.16 at 1:45 pm

lurker, I think if you’re going to go for classic gun control a la Japan, Australia, UK, you need to ban almost all guns, put strict rules on storage and use of the remainder, and buy back or confiscate all guns in circulation. The 2nd amendment as currently interpreted seems to make that impossible. But changing the color …? Unlikely to be a constitutional problem …


Trader Joe 01.19.16 at 3:28 pm

While delivered somewhat tongue in cheek (I presume), I think measures such as these have a far better chance of succeeding than adding additional background checks. In my experience the main effect of increased background checks is to make the many honest gun owners jump through multiple hoops while having little real impact on availability or usage for crime.

I’ve owned a double barrelled breach-load hunting rifle for ages. The only thing its good for is killing geese, ducks, the occasional deer and once a rabbit (and even those with only marginal efficiency). Loaded with birdshot I’d be more likely to kill someone wielding it as a bat than as a firearm….all of which is to say limits upon magazine size, ammo calibre and painting them pink (or blaze orange) are far closer to the pin than “banning” which will always draw pushback and lead to tribal impulses.

What makes Americans ‘upset’ to the extent they ever get upset at guns is when someone shoots up a theatre, workplace or school. Lower magazine sizes and calibres wouldn’t eliminate that possiblity but it surely would reduce the carnage.

I’d add that I don’t belong to the NRA, have never considered and disagree with most of what they say. Likewise, my ownership of a gun has nothing to do with personal protection, fear or racism – I don’t even store the gun at my primary residence. I do enjoy a spot of hunting a couple times a year, learned it from my grandfather. I’d turn in the thing if ordered to do so, but would likewise assert that owning it is a right and one I’m quite certain I and most can handle despite the ample evidence that some can’t.


Brett Bellmore 01.19.16 at 6:47 pm

[aeiou] I have to say that, as a life member of the NRA, this comment thread cheers me no end. If this is the face of the gun control movement, I’ve got nothing to worry about, my guns are safe.


MPAVictoria 01.19.16 at 6:55 pm

Oh look it is Brett showing his huge respect for the sanctity of private property by commenting after he has been banned by the sites owners.

/Just can’t quit us huh Brett?


kidneystones 01.19.16 at 9:52 pm

@ 15 Yes. I’m grateful you’re not pretending as others are that huge numbers of children and others die in ‘gun-free’ Chicago. Guns do flood in from other neighborhoods and states where they can legally, and illegally, bought and sold. Many black and other minority home and business-owners, and just folks who live in Chicago are understandably unhappy with the status quo. Factor in the odd trigger-happy cop and that’s where we are. As others have noted, the second amendment guarantees this will continue, and thus renders removes the teeth from almost all regulatory solutions. So, what to do? For all the hot air expended I don’t see any ‘solution’ on the horizon, not from the left, or the right. My general point stands: liberals implicitly, or explicitly, ‘cling bitterly’ to the right to bear arms in whatever regulated form they deem best, but do so under protest – only because others who make the world so violent compel them to say – invade Iraq, support drone-strikes on people in other countries, and the current target-du-jour. For me, it’s culture. Some communities (Switzerland) seem to be able to have a large number of weapons circulating, including ‘assault weapons’). Others, not so much.

People forget, perhaps, that guns get shit done. Violent assaults, robberies, rapes, intimidation, and extortion, all go better with guns. Perhaps the solution involves doing more to create environments and cultures where shoving a weapon in somebody’s face and taking their shit doesn’t seem like a good thing to do. Until this occurs, a large number of people who share the same space with individuals who think these sorts of acts make sense, are going to want guns of their own in order to defend their homes and loved ones.

While this is not my own position, I can certainly understand their view, and understand why they would see any changes to the second amendment, and regulatory gun laws, as the removal of the right to self-defense, whilst providing unfair, insane, and illegal advantage to the criminal class. Hence – conservatives who hate government, and not just white conservatives.

Re: minority opinions on the right to bear arms, and the need to when the state in various forms is the state of the oppressor, do we have to ask? Really? Condi Rice was ‘making-up’ those stories of night-riders and the family shot-gun because she is a black conservative?’

The world remains a violent, dangerous place where communities form and gather to defend ‘their territories’ and seize that of others. Until that changes, just about everyone is going do demand the right to self=defense and the best weapons possible. The entire edifice of the modern world literally grew out of the much-maligned (perhaps rightly) US arm industry. US weapons secure whatever freedoms we collectively enjoy.


Anderson 01.19.16 at 10:39 pm

The liability-insurance angle is I think constitutionally sound and would be awesome … but it will never get by the GOP House, and barring some SCOTUS shakeup that overhauls districting, we will have a GOP House for the foreseeable future.

It’s a damning fact when the U.S. *Senate* is the *less* unrepresentative body.


John Quiggin 01.20.16 at 12:44 am

Kidneystones, nothing more on this thread please.


Enon Zey 01.20.16 at 1:43 am

Consider two countries similar in culture, gun ownership and gun laws.

Australia tightened their gun laws and used a buyback to take a fifth of firearms out of circulation. New Zealand did not. Australia hasn’t had mass shootings since. But neither has New Zealand.

From the available evidence we cannot conclude that what happened in Australia “worked”. Perhaps other factors have been at work, such as whatever has caused a general decline in violent crime in developed countries in the last generation (removal of lead from gasoline is a leading hypothesis). Perhaps it was just luck.

Vermont has had a RKBA (for defense of the state and for self-defense) since the days it was a republic, a dozen years before the Bill of Rights. Vermonters are well-armed but you’d be hard pressed to describe them as a bunch of Bubbas willing to pull out a weapon at a slight or insult. Their homicide rate is similar to jurisdictions with strong restrictions on gun ownership. So gun ownership and violence don’t have the perfect correlation some claim.

I see ideologues and tribalists from all points on the political spectrum as equally skilled in cherry picking their data instead of following the evidence wherever it leads. And equally likely to resort to argument by name-calling. “Hey, Bubba!” “Yeah, Libtard?” Meh.


Ronan(rf) 01.23.16 at 1:31 pm

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