I have not, traditionally, held entirely orthodox liberal opinions on the issue of gun control. For political reasons, for practical reasons, even in part on principle, I never thought a far-reaching gun ban was realistic, or even necessarily desirable, in the United States. (A strictly enforced ban would necessitate massive, nationwide police action, for one thing, and would assuredly also involve disproportionate policing and additional incarceration of people of color.) I continue to believe that, as Democrats attempt to win victories across the entire country, there will be tough trade-offs and brutal internal arguments on gun rights—much more so than on other hot button issues, including even abortion access.
But it’s obvious that we, as a nation, need to disarm.
Spree shootings have become an epidemic. Six of the ten deadliest spree shootings in American history have occurred in the last decade. Three of the five deadliest happened in the last two years. Rampage spree shootings might be culturally “contagious.” Or perhaps they are simply becoming deadlier because it is easier than ever for killers to obtain incredibly over-powered weapons. Regardless, we’ve become numb to garish death tolls.
And yet, those mass shootings still represent just a fraction of the tens of thousands killed by guns annually in the United States. The number of yearly firearm homicides is well below historic highs (along with nearly every other form of violent crime) but that rate stopped falling years ago. It has remained steady at an unconscionably high level for nearly two decades. Our rate of gun deaths remains many times greater than the rates of every other wealthy nation.
And the majority of those gun deaths are suicides. We have too many guns.
There are a few positive signs. There is support for more regulation. Much, much more regulation than we currently have in place. And we should fight for it all: Ironclad background checks and gun registries and assault weapon bans and whatever else can mitigate the problem. But it’s clear that the historical era in which America’s many responsible gun-owners could’ve joined with liberal gun rights opponents to beat back the nuts and install sensible regulation is long behind us.
I think it did exist once. In the midwest of my youth, gun ownership was common and didn’t seem to conflict with progressive values. It was much easier to believe that people genuinely owned rifles because they enjoyed hunting, and not because they fetishized weapons of mass death. And people didn’t walk around in public openly displaying handguns, because that is lunatic behavior in a civilized society. That is the context in which the Brady Bill and the assault weapons ban were achievable.
But we can’t get back there—we’re too far gone. The decades-long intentional derangement of white conservatives and the unchecked profit-seeking of arms manufacturers brought us here, and now “gun culture” is a grotesque death cult.
I’d love a compromise, where no one had (or felt they needed) handguns, and hunters and recreational shooters got to enjoy their registered and safely stored shotguns and old-fashioned repeating rifles. But the “responsible” owners are a dying breed. The future of the gun debate in the United States is a ruthless political fight between an anti-gun majority and a hysterical, well-armed revanchist minority. That minority will have one of our two major political parties, the Supreme Court and much of the judiciary, and a lot of arms industry money on its side.
So what should we fight for, knowing the near-impossibility of full disarmament? We will probably not nationalize or expropriate our arms manufacturers any time soon, though we obviously should. We can at least make it possible to sue them into dust. But if you want a gun ban in the United States, here’s a thought: Even if you accept the (obviously, stupidly, grandly wrong) conservative interpretation of the Second Amendment, there’s still no actual right to sell guns. So why not ban that?