Is the Gun Control Debate All About Confiscation?

At the Daily Beast, James Kirchick offers a candid take on the seemingly endless and unprofitable debate about guns: “Yes, They Want to Take Your Guns Away.” Barack Obama says, “We know there are ways to prevent it”–gun violence–but he won’t say, out loud, what those ways are. Instead, politicians like Obama talk in code:

“When Australia had a mass killing—I think it was in Tasmania—about 25 years ago, it was just so shocking, the entire country said, ‘Well, we’re going to completely change our gun laws,’ and they did,” Obama said after a June shooting in a Charleston church killed nine people. Curiously, the president omitted just what “change” the people of Australia decided to implement. …

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton told an audience in New Hampshire last month that “Australia is a good example” of gun-control laws, so much so that it “would be worth considering” the Antipodean solution here in the United States. She, too, neglected to mention the obligatory nature of the gun buyback scheme.

In effect, it was confiscation of all privately-owned firearms. That is what liberals want, and politicians like Obama and Clinton–and most Democrats–dog-whistle their supporters with talk about Australia and other countries that make private ownership difficult or impossible. At the same time, with a broad wink to their base, liberals ridicule those who “think we are coming to take their guns away”–“black helicopter” stuff, according to Hillary.

The reality is, of course, that confiscation is impossible in the U.S.:

Second Amendment enthusiasts are fond of arguing that gun rights are enshrined in the Constitution not only for the sake of hunters…

The Second Amendment has nothing to do with hunting.

…or people who want to protect their homes and businesses from criminals, but also to allow the population to resist an overreaching government. If federal agents came to round up firearms, many gun owners would be prepared to shoot back. Clinton can joke all she likes about Americans fearing “black helicopters” taking their guns away, but it is no exaggeration to suggest that civil war could erupt on American soil were the U.S. government to attempt anything remotely resembling what was done in Australia.

Liberals yearn for confiscation, but they aren’t serious about it. They know that in any remotely foreseeable time frame, it won’t happen. They also know that the proposals they offer to deal with gun violence–the tired litany of “universal background checks,” small magazine requirements, banning of scary-looking rifles, and so on–will do nothing about the problem they say they want to solve.

Kirchick concludes:

And so Americans are condemned to engage endlessly in futile argument—futile thanks to the legal enshrinement of private gun ownership in our founding document, as well as to a refusal to state clearly our mutually exclusive convictions: that the intrinsic cost of this right is tens of thousands of unwanted deaths and that the only way to stop these deaths is outright gun confiscation.

I disagree in this respect: the Second Amendment doesn’t cause “tens of thousands of unwanted deaths.” Sixty percent of the deaths by firearms are suicides, and private ownership of guns deters an unknown, but likely substantial, number of homicides and other violent crimes. Moreover, as I have written several times, the U.S. has reduced its homicide rate more successfully than Australia or other anti-gun countries like the U.K. Currently, the violent crime rate is higher in the U.K. than in the U.S. Reducing “gun violence” is not a desirable goal to the extent that one merely forces murderers to use other weapons.

And, of course, any attempted confiscation here in the U.S. would fail. Worst case, it would lead to something approaching civil war; best case, law-abiding civilians would be defenseless and criminals would possess tens of millions of firearms.

It also strikes me that the unprofitable faux-debate over gun control is not so different from much of our political discourse. Liberals and conservatives alike stake out positions on firearms not because they seriously expect any impact in the realm of public policy, but rather because they want to signal to their cohort of voters: I am one of you. But isn’t that often the case?

Left and right spar over abortion, but no one seriously thinks the law is going to change. It can’t, given rogue Supreme Court rulings. Defunding Planned Parenthood would seem to be an easily achievable goal, but even that appears unattainable. Conservative politicians vow to cut federal spending, when they know perfectly well that federal spending isn’t going to decline no matter who commands the majority in Washington. Liberal politicians vow to protect the poor and the helpless, when they know that their policies mostly hurt the poor and, in any event, there is only one direction in which government benefits will move, until the crash comes: up.

All of this, and much more, is mostly signaling: telling voters that I, the politician, am the same sort of person as you, the voter. Few people seriously expect major policy differences to result from an election. Rather, they hope that an election will show that “we” are on top, and “you” are on the outs. That in itself is cause for celebration; it has little to do with any impact in the real world of public policy. The sterile debate over gun rights is maybe an extreme case, but in my opinion, it is not very different from much of what passes for political discourse in our debased era.