Image: AP

Twenty-four hours, two bad centrist columns about gun violence that distort public sentiment. Why?

In The New York Times, David Brooks writes:

Respect First, Then Gun Control

He continues:

So if you want to stop school shootings it’s not enough just to vent and march. It’s necessary to let people from Red America lead the way, and to show respect to gun owners at all points. There has to be trust and respect first. Then we can strike a compromise on guns as guns, and not some sacred cross in the culture war.

And concludes:

We don’t really have policy debates anymore. We have one big tribal conflict, and policy fights are just proxy battles as each side tries to establish moral superiority. But just as the tribal mentality has been turned on, it can be turned off. Then and only then can we go back to normal politics and take reasonable measures to keep our children safe.

In USA Today, the president and senior vice president for policy at Third Way (names: Thirdson Way and Thirdington Way Jr.), have also caught the fever:

What becomes apparent on guns is that we are a big country with a constitutional right to own guns, massive gun ownership and a crime problem unlike any other in the world.

Instead of praying the next massacre will shake America to its senses, we must engage the millions who believe possession of firearms is not only their right but also their duty to protect the safety of their families.

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The serious men would like you, the unserious partisan, to know that the attitudes and messaging of gun reform advocates and movements have alienated gun owners and stalled much needed consensus on gun policy. It sounds very sensible.

Except, this is not what has happened! No one reading either of these pieces would learn that there is already considerable national consensus on a number of straightforward gun reforms—an honest oversight by these columnists who are writing without agenda, no doubt.

But this is the actual “center” on the gun control debate: A poll conducted by The Washington Post and ABC News in 2013 found that 90 percent of Americans supported universal background checks; other surveys conducted over the years have found the same thing.

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A 2013 poll from the Pew Research Center found 85 percent of gun owners supported background checks on private gun sales and at gun shows. Another poll conducted by Quinnipiac University in 2014 found that 92 percent of gun owners supported background checks. Another 2015 survey from the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Bloomberg School of Public Health found 85 percent of gun owners said they supported expanded background checks.

Running all gun purchases through a federal database will not on its own end the gun violence epidemic in this country (especially if the databases is not properly updated and offenders still hold on to their guns), but it is a step toward preventing some people—say, convicted domestic abusers—from purchasing deadly weapons when they are already legally banned from doing so.

Yet Congress has rejected measures to expand background checks and failed to reconsider the issue after each subsequent massacre.

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The problem here is not public sentiment or a lack of friendly conversation with Second Amendment absolutists who should not be dictating the parameters of our policies; the problem is a wildly unaccountable political body that acts according to donor interests and a narrow segment of the extreme right empowered by gerrymandered districts.

The fact that most gun owners are not members of the National Rifle Association is just one example of how a well-resourced marginal constituency is given outsized influence over our politics and overrepresentation on our terrible editorial pages (and inside David Brooks’s terrible brain).

The Third Way men even acknowledge that there is consensus on many gun reforms that have nevertheless failed to reach the level of federal policy:

We could start with stricter laws to deal with gun trafficking between states, improving the criminal background check system to thwart illegal would-be buyers and the mentally ill from obtaining guns, requiring the same criminal background checks for all firearms sales from gun shows and the Internet as already required at gun stores, and reducing the lethality of certain firearms such as semiautomatic rifles, bump stocks and the large-capacity magazines they use.

These laws, drafted by weighing the equities held by gun owners and non-gun owners in rural, urban and suburban areas, could be broadly popular.

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And yet the column concludes in the same manner as Brooks: The problem is the discourse. A divide between the “Reds and Blues.” A failure to see our similarities over our differences! Why not ask the gun what it wants for a change?

That kind of political transformation is the bullshit conceit of a Netflix reboot. It is not an idea that anyone should pay you an obscene salary to write about or build policy around.

The failure of our gun laws and the corresponding death toll are not a consequence of degraded discourse. They are a product of obscene market interests, the political overrepresentation of an extremist minority that has captured one of our major parties, and the political donors that our elected officials value more than the lives of high school students, the lives of first-graders, the lives of people in churches, the lives of women in abusive relationships, the lives of concert goers, the lives of people walking down their block, the lives of people considering self-harm and suicide, the lives of people out to see a movie, the lives of children in their own homes, and your life, too.