Mass shoot­ings, more laws — and some­how, more guns

Dayton Daily News - - IDEAS & VOICES - David Brooks He writes for the New York Times.

The pat­tern is by now numb­ingly fa­mil­iar. A lone lu­natic mur­ders a mass of in­no­cent peo­ple in some pub­lic lo­ca­tion. There is a heart­felt cry for tighter con­trol on gun own­er­ship. Then state leg­is­la­tures swing into ac­tion. They pass a se­ries of laws loos­en­ing con­trols on gun own­er­ship.

As David Frum points out in The At­lantic, the five years since the shoot­ings at Sandy Hook El­e­men­tary School “have seen one of the most in­tense bursts of gun leg­is­la­tion in U.S. his­tory.” More than two dozen states have passed new gun laws. And in al­most all cases these laws have made it eas­ier to buy or carry guns.

Wis­con­sin elim­i­nated its 48-hour wait­ing pe­riod to buy hand­guns. Ohio al­lowed con­cealed-carry weapons to be brought into day-care fa­cil­i­ties and air­ports. Florida changed its “stand your ground” law to make it harder to pros­e­cute gun own­ers.

The ex­pan­sion of gun rights is di­rectly re­lated to the epi­demic of mass shoot­ings. A study by Michael Luca, Deepak Mal­ho­tra and Christo­pher Poliquin found that a sin­gle mass shoot­ing leads to a 15 per­cent in­crease in firearm bills in­tro­duced in the same state’s leg­is­la­ture within a year.

In Repub­li­can states, they found, a mass killing “in­creases the num­ber of en­acted laws that loosen gun re­stric­tions by 75 per­cent.” In Demo­cratic states, mass shoot­ings have no sig­nif­i­cant ef­fect on laws passed.

So why are law­mak­ers re­spond­ing to mass killings by loos­en­ing gun laws? The re­al­ity is that in some places, peo­ple want these laws. In 2000, ac­cord­ing to a Pew sur­vey, only 29 per­cent of Amer­i­cans sup­ported more gun rights and 67 per­cent sup­ported more gun con­trol. By 2016, 52 per­cent of Amer­i­cans sup­ported more gun rights and only 46 per­cent sup­ported more con­trol.

This shift in pub­lic opin­ion hasn’t come about be­cause the facts sup­port the gun rights po­si­tion. The re­search doesn’t over­whelm­ingly sup­port ei­ther side. Gun con­trol pro­pos­als don’t se­ri­ously im­pinge free­dom; on the other hand, there’s not much ev­i­dence that they would pre­vent many at­tacks.

Be­sides, bet­ter facts tend to be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive on hot-but­ton is­sues like gun con­trol. As Tali Sharot notes in her book “The In­flu­en­tial Mind,” when you present peo­ple with ev­i­dence that goes against their deeply held be­liefs, the ev­i­dence doesn’t sway them.

The real rea­son the gun rights side is win­ning is postin­dus­tri­al­iza­tion. The gun is­sue has be­come an epiphe­nomenon of a much larger con­flict over val­ues and iden­tity.

A cen­tury ago, the forces of in­dus­tri­al­iza­tion swept over agri­cul­tural Amer­ica, and mon­e­tary pol­icy be­came the proxy fight in that larger con­flict. To­day, peo­ple in agri­cul­tural and in­dus­trial Amer­ica le­git­i­mately feel that their way of life is be­ing threat­ened by postin­dus­trial so­ci­ety. The mem­bers of this re­sis­tance have seized on is­sues like guns, im­mi­gra­tion, the flag as places to mo­bi­lize their coun­teras­sault. Guns are a proxy for larger is­sues.

Four in 10 Amer­i­can house­holds own guns. As Hahrie Han, a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor, noted in The Times, there are more gun clubs and gun shops in this coun­try than McDon­ald’s. For many peo­ple, the gun is a way to pro­tect against crime. But it is also an iden­tity marker. It stands for free­dom, self-re­liance and the abil­ity to con­trol your own des­tiny.

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