Greg Sargent’s The Plum Line blog is quickly becoming my favorite Washington Post reading, which is to say I turn to it more often than Ezra Klein’s excellent Wonk Blog. Sargent just seems to write more about the stuff I’m interested in. Klein writes a lot more about economics, but I’m afraid i read a good deal too much economics elsewhere. Anyway. This morning Sargent is focused on gun control.
He notes a couple of articles about where the White House is regarding an assault weapons ban. The New York Times claims that they are planning to dump it and focus on background checks and high capacity magazines. But Sam Stein claims they are still pushing the ban on these guns.
I think the focus on assault weapons is misplaced. I understand that they look scary. On a recent trip to Mexico, seeing all the military with these kinds of guns was intimidating. But like syringes with drug addiction, they are just provocative and indicative, not the problem itself. To me, the thing that I most associate with assault rifles are the 30-round banana clips.
Sure, assault rifles tend to shoot huge rounds with enormous amounts of gun powder. But I think we can all agree that the main problem is the bullet itself. A handgun with a 30-round clip would have done a similar amount of damage. The biggest problem is that a shooter can continue to shoot—30 times!—without reloading or grabbing another gun.
There is also the issue that “assault weapon” is not the most well defined a term. It’s not that I think these are great guns that we ought to promote. In fact, they are designed to appeal to a certain kind of thinking. We don’t need more people thinking we are on the verge of revolution. But the design of these guns is essentially a cosmetic issue.
Given that we will be limited in what we can do about guns in this country, I think we need to first determine what will be the most effective measures. If I had to pick one change, I would require a two week waiting period for guns—especially handguns—at the national level. Currently, very few states require any waiting period at all. Gun suicides are still the number one problem and waiting periods help reduce these because, as they say, “Suicide is a long term solution to a short term problem.”
Additionally, I do not see any need for large-capacity magazines. Most often, a limit of ten rounds is proposed. I think we ought to take this down further, but I don’t claim to be an expert. I’d also like to see something done about handguns. But I’m not suggesting banning them. I just don’t think we could get such a thing through Congress, much less the courts. But I do think that public education campaigns could convince a lot of people that their handguns are more likely to harm them than save them. Again: my concern is overwhelmingly suicide but also accidents.
We can ban assault weapons. I’m not against it. But doing so is like getting China to more rigorously enforce our intellectual property laws: it makes more effective policies less likely. Let’s face it: all options are most definitely not on the table. I haven’t heard any discussion of handguns, which are responsible for most gun homicides and suicides. Instead, it is all about assault rifles, which are actually a fairly minor problem. And that’s fine: death is death. But I also haven’t heard much talk of waiting periods. And that’s criminal.
One of the main writers on The Plum Line blog is Jonathan Bernstein. But I found out yesterday that all the links to his personal page go instead to Robert Samuelson’s page. People may know the foolish and evil Mr. Samuelson from his repeated apologia for conservative efforts to screw the poor. I alerted Sargent to this fact and he is working on it. But it will be a big job; I don’t envy his website tech!
 I don’t mean to suggest that suicide is always irrational or that it ought to be criminalized. I do think, however, that the vast majority of suicides are mistakes and that as a society, we should do everything we can to help those unfortunates who are driven to it.
 It is not true that the Second Amendment only applies to militias. Since around the time of the Civil War, the courts have interpreted the Constitution to mean that individuals have a right to own guns. This right is not going to change unless we change the Constitution. Thus: this right is not going to change.