The kinds of gun control measures that poll well are not the kind of thing that would significantly move the needle in terms of US gun deaths

Friday, December 4th, 2020

Democrats were wise, Matthew Yglesias notes, to have abandoned gun control as an issue between John Kerry’s defeat and Barack Obama’s re-election:

Back a bit over a decade ago when I worked at the Center for American Progress there were certain issues CAP didn’t really work on. Some of that was just a lack of funding or staff interest but there was no rule against trying to go get the funding if you were interested. The two big exceptions to that were trade, which was seen as too divisive in the Democratic Party, and guns, where the feeling was that post-2004 Democrats had decided that this was not an issue worth losing votes over.

That analysis had a few parts to it:

  1. Even gun regulation measures that poll well did not seem to really motivate voters while opposition to gun regulations was clearly motivating.
  2. The kinds of gun control measures that poll well are not the kind of thing that would significantly move the needle in terms of US gun deaths — the high-profile mass shootings that spark these conversations are statistically rare and generally don’t involve shooters who would’ve flunked universal background checks.
  3. The pro-gun forces are advantaged by the geography of the US Senate, so the outlook for federal action on even popular-but-ineffective measures is bad.

Related to (1), most progressives themselves did not think this was a particularly important issue compared to universal health care, climate change, immigration reform, and abortion rights. Nor did they consider it as urgent as fiscal stimulus and financial regulation.

In summary, it did not make sense to risk losing votes over measures that were unlikely to be adopted and unlikely to make a huge difference even if they were adopted.


Then came Sandy Hook, which was horrifying and happened to arrive at the very peak of liberal hubris about cultural issues right in the wake of Obama’s win. Progressives re-engaged with the issue, and Pat Toomey (a conservative Republican from a state Obama won) and Joe Manchin (one of the vocal pro-gun Democrats) wrote a bill that while not particularly consequential would, if it passed, have signaled a breaking of the pro-gun consensus in Washington.

It was a calculated risk and it didn’t pay off. The Manchin-Toomey bill failed, and all four of the elements of the circa 2008 consensus turned out to still be true.

Given that reality, it makes sense for people who care passionately about other issues to try to swim back to that old approach.


Here’s the deal: There are about 40,000 firearms deaths per year in the United States and if you could make them go away that would be great.

But a majority of those deaths are suicides. And the homicides are mostly committed by normal, inexpensive easily concealed handguns, not by scary assault weapons. Where do the guns come from? In a 2016 report for the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Mariel Alper and Lauren Glaze look at a survey of prison inmates and found that 21 percent of all federal and state prisoners said they had a firearm when they committed the offense for which they were serving time in prison. Of those incarcerated gun owners, just “seven percent had purchased it under their own name from a licensed firearm dealer.”

The largest share (43 percent) said they bought the gun on the black market. Another 25 percent say they got it from family or friends.

None of this is to deny that gun control laws could drastically reduce the incidence of firearms death. You might think that potential suicides would just substitute some other means of killing themselves, but research does not bare that out. If fewer guns were around, then fewer people would kill themselves. By the same token, you definitely could drain the swamp of illegally circulating firearms. But the way you would accomplish these things would be by drastically reducing the number of legally owned guns around. Stricter background checks for new purchases just aren’t going to significantly change the situation.

The United Kingdom has drastically fewer gun assaults than we do and that has a lot of benefits. Not only are innocent lives saved, but it allows their police to operate largely unarmed which would greatly ameliorate a tangled nexus of American social problems around racism and police use of force. But the UK didn’t get there with really rigorous background checks, it got there by making civilian ownership of guns mostly illegal.

What’s more: Gun enthusiasts are aware of this. So when progressives talk about the tragedy of gun deaths in America, it doesn’t matter if their actual proposal is a very mild tweak to background checks. When you define “the problem” as gun deaths, you are pushing toward a drastic solution that gun hobbyists don’t want, and they are highly motivated to vote against you.


  1. Bob Sykes says:

    The US does not have a gun problem. It has a young black male problem. Over 50% of all homicides are committed by young black males (fortunately targeting other young black males), and they always use a pistol, most often a 9 mm auto pistol bought on the streets.

    Rifles are used in only about 1% of homicides, right down there with swords.

    However, it would take heavy handed policing of black ghettos to reduce the homicide rate, and no one will do that. Instead a few rural geezers will die as the police forcibly seize whatever weapons they have.

  2. Kirk says:

    Black criminality is a Trojan Horse, used to acquire and maintain power by the establishment political parties. The whole issue of “gun control” is a kabuki dance, wherein one side says they want “safety”, while protecting the criminal class from consequence, and the other says they only want “reasonable” controls, while going along with most of the program that the other side has going.

    End state? Disarmed populace which they’ll find congenial and convenient, when it comes time to herd it into the camps, and total security for the oligarchy. That’s what they want, both the Democrats and the Republicans. An armed electorate is positively dangerous to the professional politician, because that leaves practical recourse for that electorate to be able to “do something”.

    End of the day, there isn’t a whisker’s worth of difference between the Republicans and the Democrats on these issues. They want a disarmed, fearful electorate that they can control, and which isn’t going to give them any trouble as they rape the public fisc. Gun control gives them that, and the issue of “black criminality” would evaporate in a day, once they get what they want.

    The rest of us, of course, will get it good and hard.

    Longer I live, the less I like the professional politician class. I’m not a big believer in race theory, or much of anything else along those lines, but I do believe that certain personality traits are associated with certain career choices, and if you’ve the ambition to be a professional politician, the smartest thing the rest of us could possibly do would be to find you a nice, quiet place in the woods, and ensconce your mortal remains in a shallow grave. Killing someone who wants to be a politician ought to be considered an act of social hygiene, pre-emptive self-defense.

    Think I’m an extremist? Take a long, hard look at how many of these assholes wind up as multi-millionaires, on government salaries. Wonder how that happened…?

  3. Altitude Zero says:

    The volumes of BS in this are awe-inspiring. Almost every country in the world that has higher suicide rates than the US (we’re 36, nowhere near the top) have stricter gun control laws than the US, including Russia, Japan, and South Korea. Australia, the poster child for American gun controllers, has almost exactly the same suicide rate as we do. (13.7/100,000 in US, 11.7, and rising, in Australia) Britain’s murder rate is actually higher today than it was 120 years ago, before they had any gun control laws (.96/100,000 in 1900, 1.22 /100,000 in 2018). The idea that the black market for illegal guns would disappear if legal firearm ownership was made illegal is ludicrous in a country that can’t keep tons of drugs out of it’s porous borders. I’ve always thought that Yglesias was an idiot, and this confirms it. Of course, we all know that crime or suicide have nothing to do with why the Left wants us disarmed.

  4. Altitude Zero says:

    By the way, I found those figures cited above by cruising around on the internet for about ten minutes. The truth isn’t hard to fine – if you’re interested in it…

  5. TWS says:

    If you want to live like a child do so. I’m an adult and can be trusted with adult tools like a firearm.

    That other people cannot be trusted with tools or use them to commit crimes doesn’t matter.

  6. Borepatch says:

    +5 to Attitude Zero.

    I would just add that the gun crime rate in the UK has increased since the UK essentially banned private gun ownership. Gosh, it seems that smuggling firearms is no big deal to people who smuggle cocaine in ton loads.

  7. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Kirk: “Longer I live, the less I like the professional politician class.”

    Absolutely! No-one should be able to make a living as a professional politician.

    The first line of defense in a democracy against overbearing politicians is “We the People”, who should be careful for whom we vote. Unfortunately, we have done a very bad job of that, and too often effectively give politicians life tenure.

    The second line of defense would theoretically be the elected politicians themselves, who would recognize the problems of “politician for life” and pass laws to make this impossible. However, Fat Chance of a politician voting for something which would make her life more difficult!

    Third line of defense would be a free media, willing to speak truth to power. Instead, we see craven reporters asking Beijing Biden softball questions about his socks.

    That leaves the last line of defense — an armed populace which could resist an overbearing government. The men who wrote the 2nd Amendment had fought against English tyranny; they wanted to be sure they could fight against home-grown tyranny too. Although the 2nd Amendment talks about militias, it was clearly focused on having an armed population.

    The issue we face today is that the people may have guns, but the Political Class has tanks & bombers. Maybe we need to think about ways to reduce the Political Class’s advantage in firepower?

  8. Wang Wei Lin says:

    I have always believed an informed electorate was the best solution. Now I think that’s a naive perspective. An informed and armed electorate is the only solution.

    If .gov ever decides to confiscate my guns I will fully cooperate. First I will give them my bullets. Then when the bullets are gone they are welcome to take the guns.

  9. RLVC says:

    They want to disarm you because they want to enslave you.

    It is the month of December in the two-thousand-and-twentieth year. To have failed to comprehend this fact at this late date is to be an irredeemable witless peasant.

    Jean-Claude Juncker is in contact with aliens.

  10. Lu An Li says:

    “No-one should be able to make a living as a professional politician.”

    No one should, but they do and quite well. And even with performance not even average [whatever that is for a politician] they seemingly get re-elected as much as they want to.

  11. Harry Jones says:

    A ruthless man who was highly effective at acquiring power once said that political power flows from the barrel of a gun. Not from having the gun. From the barrel.

    There are people who wield the threat of force, people who yield to the threat of force, people who meet force with superior force, people who defeat force with superior cleverness and people too stupid to do any of these. This last group of people have a date with Darwin.

    But here’s the catch: some people think they’re more clever than they actually are. They’re headed for a blind date with Darwin.

    The stupid always lose in the end, but they do not go gently into that good night. There will be collateral damage. When the other side insists on losing ugly, the only way you can win is to win ugly.

  12. Kirk says:

    Possession of the gun or its barrel is meaningless; what Mao really meant was that political power flows from the willingness to use force, not the possession of it.

    Think about all the successful revolutions in history: When do they cross that bridge between “annoyance to the regime” and “successful revolution”?

    Usually, it’s when the regime loses the confidence to actually use its force. The revolution never comes while the state has the confidence of its convictions, but when it starts to take the boot off the necks of its opponents. Once weakness is sensed, it is all over, and that has nothing to do with possessing the gun or its barrel. Once the men wielding them are no longer willing to actually use them, then it becomes a simple exercise in walking up and taking them away from them.

    Iran? The Shah could have crushed the Islamic Revolution at almost any time he so desired. What he lacked was the willingness to do so, not only because he was dying, but because the American President, one worthless POS Jimmy Carter, told him and his generals that they would not be supported by America or its arms. Thus, the last fifty years of issues with Iran.

    Possession of force is meaningless in the micro-sense, as well–If you’ve got a gun in your hand, but your assailant detects an unwillingness to use it, guess what? You’re about to have that gun taken away from you, and probably shoved up your rectal orifice.

    Most of Mao’s writing is specious bullshit, TBH. The bit about “barrel of a gun” is typical–He knows damn well what the realities are, but he’s unwilling to be honest about it all, because that would let the cat out of the bag for his opponents.

  13. Lucklucky says:

    “Possession of the gun or its barrel is meaningless; what Mao really meant was that political power flows from the willingness to use force, not the possession of it.”

    Precisely. The Marxist Left got a lot of power in the US and elsewhere in the Western world through low-level violence that most of the time did not include a firearm. The reason several corporations are going with the Left is precisely because of fear of outside low-level violence bad for PR or by company departments already taken over that would perform sabotage and low-level violence inside the company.

  14. Le Micromegas says:

    “Possession of the gun or its barrel is meaningless”

    I live in a largely rural area, in a state with a sizeable land-mass, but with a small population.

    It takes the Sheriff’s Deputies a minimum of :45 minutes to respond to calls at my rural home.
    I have had three attempted break-ins at my place, in just two years.

    After the first two, fearing imminent danger, as the cops were generally useless with that long response time, and having one of those would-be intruders continue to harass, even threaten me, I bought some guns, for emergency protection.

    On the third attempted-break-in, as I warned that intruder that I was calling the cops, and he refused to leave, stating he knew how long the response time would be by those cops, I grabbed my gun, and fired a warning shot into the ground nearby.

    That intruder quickly fled.

    I also have livestock and animals, that have been subjected to attacks from wolves, coyotes, and such.
    Thus I use those guns to scare those predators away, by firing warning shots.

    I honestly don’t think I could ever use my guns against either an animal or human (even with those wolves & coyotes I intentionally fired just to make noise to scare them, rather than looking to harm or kill them).

    But I also refuse to allow someone to physically threaten me, or my family, on my own private property.
    I’m a damn-good enough shot to target in a way to simply graze an object, causing hurtful enough damage, without causing real harm or death.

    Very few gun owners harm or kill people.

    The fallacy of hasty-generalization too often applies to the anti-gun advocate.
    You can’t condemn everyone for the actions of a few (the percentage of harm by those with guns is a very small fraction of total gun owners).

    Plus, though I’m a lifelong vegetarian, I have far more respect for people that use hunted animals for meat than I do large-scale animal farms, which most often prohibit freedom of movement, proper welfare, & acceptable space for those animals.

    Judge thyselves first, people.

    The philosophy of Universalization – what would happen if everyone acted in the same manner?
    Those you look to criticize, for whatever they do, can, in-turn, do the exact same to you, criticizing you for whatever activity of yours they don’t happen to like.

    It becomes an endless fight of people looking to dominate & control other people……rather than worrying & concentrating on their own damn lives & activities.

  15. Harry Jones says:

    It’s easy to say that the opponent was weak all along after he’s been defeated. The trick is to recognize weakness so you know when and where to attack.

    Those in power rarely appear weak. The rot is hidden. So keep probing and pushing until one day the rotten structure falls. Then you can say “it was finally weak enough.” (Or, if you’re less honest, spout some verbiage about the Mandate of Heaven or the just world hypothesis.)

    If they show fear and panic, the time is near.

  16. Kirk says:

    Le Micromegas,

    There’s a considerable amount of cognitive dissonance in your post that would lead me to advise you to stop and think carefully about what you really believe. Your writing suggests that you’re using your guns as “magic talismans” to drive off evil, failing to recognize that what is really going on is that you and your willingness to defend that which is yours is what is driving away the bad guys. So far, you’ve encountered only those who are similarly half-committed to their actions; try shooting at the feet of someone who is fully committed to committing rapine, pillage, and looting against you, and the results are likely to be very different.

    Truly feral humans can sense hesitation and a lack of commitment in their victims. They’ll walk right up to you and take that gun away, and then use it on you. Dealing with such a creature, you have to be fully committed to action, and then follow through with it.

    Then, there’s the other problem here: It sounds to me as though your subconscious recognizes this set of facts, and will likely “do the necessary” when the time comes. Not having thought through all that, and come to terms with it ahead of time, the aftermath of actually having to kill someone will likely be devastating in deeply psychological terms, simply because you’re going to have to reconcile your actions with your stated belief system–Which isn’t going to be easy, at all.

    Were I a friend of yours, and you were seeking advice? I’d advise that you don’t take up the gun until you’ve worked through this set of issues, and determined whether or not you’re really willing to kill in your own defense. The moment you introduce a firearm into one of these encounters with even casually evil creatures like a housebreaker, you’re introducing the very real possibility that you’re going to kill one of them either by accident, or because they force you to do it. Trust me on this–I’ve seen the aftermath of someone decent who put themselves into similar straits, and it wasn’t pretty. Do not, I implore you, put yourself into that situation–The person I’m thinking of later made the comment that she wished she’d just let the rape happen, instead of killing her assailant. I’m not sure she ever really came to terms with her actions, and I remain convinced that played a role in her later death which the authorities determined was an “accident”, not suicide. I’m not so sure, TBH.

    Taking up the gun is a serious thing; you are taking up a little of God’s power over life and death when you do that, and never, ever forget that. If you think that you’re just going to use it as a threat display, and that people will magically comply with your desire to be left alone, your thinking is seriously delusional. The sort of people who are going to come troubling you are going to come from a widely variable population, some of whom see violence as a normal, everyday thing. Those are the ones who will sense your decency and hesitation, and take advantage of it. Better to have never introduced the gun into such a situation in the first place.

    Decent civilized people really are not the sort of people who should take up the gun in the first place, which is basically shorthand for “willingness to kill”. The gun is a tool, an enabler–The key thing is what is in your head. If you are sociopathic enough to put your life ahead of others, then the gun might be for you. If you’re unwilling to take that final step, and take a life from one of God’s creatures, well… You’ve got no business getting into a confrontation involving a gun in the first place. Even if you survive, having had to use one will likely destroy a lot of fundamental things about your life and beliefs.

    Work out ahead of time if you’re willing to kill, or not. If not, then get rid of the guns. It’s that simple. The reality is that the purpose of the gun is not to frighten or drive away evil; the guns sole purpose is to kill. You introduce it into a situation, you’d best be aware of that fact, and be willing to face the consequences of it. You may not mean to do it, when you pull that trigger, but that bullet effectively has a mind of its own once it is on its way. You can’t call it back, you can’t undo what it does to whatever it hits, and I’m here to remind you, the human body is terribly fragile in a lot of ways. You may aim for a leg, hit the femoral artery, and watch the person you had no intent of actually killing bleed out in moments, piteously begging you to save their lives. Which you ain’t doing, even with a fully-equipped trauma hospital only miles away.

  17. Harry Jones says:

    You can get a lot further with the will to fight and a gun than with the will to fight alone.

    Or add brains, and you can maybe improvise a weapon on the spot.

    Without the will to fight, you’re finished.

  18. Alistair says:

    What Kirk Said. Pay attention, Micromegas.

  19. Lucklucky says:

    I disagree with Kirk’s apparently univocal result of rightful killing if the person is not prepared. The person he knew had remorse, but others might not have.

    In Micromegas‘s case, he made the right choice, but he also had time and space, and it was one on one

  20. VXXC says:


    He did and is doing the right thing, get out of his way. It’s his life, property.

    He can consider all that if he has to do it, he just needs to get through it. He listens to you, he’s dead, robbed, his family raped because he second guessed himself.

    Belief systems, *psshaw*. He was alive when he typed the above entry. That is believable.

    Micromegas, you did the right thing. Just keep doing it.

    P.S. Next time, don’t talk, shoot. Talking and shooting at the same time are nearly impossible. Trained people know this, and will try to get you talking. So will psychopaths and criminals, instinctively.

    Don’t talk, shoot.
    Don’t think. either.

    There are lawyers and priests and doctors for afterwards. And fully adjustable belief systems, brought to you by your very own Homo sapiens frontal-lobe lawyer. Do, then rationalize later.

    And call the lawyer before you talk to the cops.

    Happy Holidays!

  21. Kirk says:

    Book 13, Chapter 30 of the Analects of Confucius sums it up nicely:

    “The Master said, “To lead an uninstructed people to war, is to throw them away.”"

    This applies to any aspect of human conflict, from childhood bullying to modern warfare. If you do not mentally prepare yourself for the things you’re going to have to do in order to survive, you are in effect preparing yourself to fail in the moment when you have to act.

    Take up the gun, or any other weapon, and you’re making a choice to take on a tiny bit of that power which is God’s alone: The power of life over death. This is never something to be treated casually, or with any form of self-delusion. Introduce a gun into an interpersonal encounter, and you’re basically raising the ante to life and death, even if you lie to yourself and say “I’ll only shoot to wound…”. There is no halfway setting on the bullet, and if you’re in any doubt as to whether or not you’re willing to kill someone over whatever it is you are taking that gun along for, you’ve no business carrying it and should leave it locked up at home.

    I’ve witnessed the aftermath of several self-defense incidents where the victim survived physically, and yet did not survive mentally. There are very few human beings who are properly acculturated to our society that can also act against a lifetime of conditioning without suffering profound ill effect.

    Most PTSD that I’ve seen and had to deal with stemmed from two sources: Profound trauma itself, and then the halo after-effects. Good friend of mine developed full-blown PTSD from dealing with the aftermaths of several incidents in Iraq, none of which he was directly engaged in as a “victim”. It all stemmed from survivor’s guilt, and that mental trauma that comes when you realize, as a leader, that you were essentially a Judas Goat who led men you cared about to their deaths.

    This is the essence of what Confucius was saying–The Arab concept of the “House of War” and the “House of Peace” is a valuable mental tool. What goes on in the “House of War” are things you have to prepare yourself for, tempering the steel as it were. You do not walk into the Dar al Harb as though it were any other environment you are accustomed to; things are done differently there, and you will not survive so long as you behave and react as though you were still in the House of Peace. Transitioning back into that region of life, having become one with the needs of the House of War, even for a moment? It’s never easy. If it is, you’re probably a high-functioning sociopath, and none of this means a damn thing in the first place, because you don’t think like a normal human being.

    Give a sheep the teeth and claws of a wolf, and it’s still going to be a sheep. Take claw and fang from the wolf, and it’s still going to be a wolf, and the more dangerous of the two to try and fight. Anyone who casually mentions that they are a vegetarian by ethos, and then discusses the things our friend Le Micromegas does? I leave that as an exercise for the thoughtful reader. I’ve run into this sort of thing before, and every time it has reached the moment of final exigency, it’s been a disaster for the involved party. Don’t try to mimic the wolf’s outward appearance without internalizing the rest of the package; it will never work. A wolf can wear a sheep’s clothing far more easily than a sheep can wear that of a wolf.

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