Gun Control, Ad Infinitum

Gun control is something Americans almost never stop talking about.


Gun control, according to a recent blog post by Timothy Egan of The New York Times, is "the issue that dare not speak its name." Egan is upset that people who do not like gun control recently said mean things about sportscaster Bob Costas, who does. This proved to Egan that "you cannot talk" about guns in America.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg agrees. Thanking Costas for speaking up, he tweeted: "A frank discussion about gun laws and gun violence is a discussion we need to have."

Bloomberg has an ally in NPR's Neal Conan. In a "Talk of the Nation" segment back in March titled, "Trayvon Martin Story Sparks Difficult Conversations," Conan lamented: "I feel we're missing the opportunity to also have a discussion about guns." 

Liberals aren't alone in talking about how nobody's talking about gun control. "This country needs an honest debate" about the issue, says Juan Williams of Fox News. "The issue should be debated as a matter of public safety. But anti-free speech forces have prevented this debate from happening."

Williams is absolutely right. Remember the movie-theater shooting in Aurora, Colo., earlier this year? After that horrible crime, there was no discussion of gun control whatsoever—at least if you don't count the several thousand news stories such as, "Gun Debate Reignited by Aurora Shooting" (Chicago Tribune) and "Aurora Shooting Highlights Gun Debate" (MSNBC) and "Aurora Shooting Sparks Gun Debate" (AP) and so on.

Yet despite those stories, plenty of gun-control advocates felt enough wasn't being said.

"I think it's time there was a serious debate about guns in the U.S.," tweeted Piers Morgan of CNN. Calif. Sen. Dianne Feinstein said she wanted "a sane national conversation about guns." "Can We Please Have an Honest Debate About Guns Now?" asked Amy Sullivan in The New Republic

"Why Can't We Talk About Guns?" asked the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. "There needs to be a serious discussion" about guns, the paper said, quoting New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg's concurring view that "the silence is almost deafening." Rep. Peter King, a Republican who favors an assault-rifle ban, agreed that America's gun culture is "almost something not debated. It is just accepted."

It was the same story when Jared Lee Loughner shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in January of 2011. "Tucson Shooting Fires Up Gun Debate," reported the Los Angeles Times. Nevertheless, Derrick Jackson of The Boston Globe doubted that "even an assassination attempt on a member of Congress is going to spur America into a fresh debate about guns." Blogging at WNYC.com, Justin Krebs took the view that "we have not had a mature discussion about guns in our culture." Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign said he hoped the shooting would "start a discussion" about gun control. Writing in The Arizona Republic, Ronald Hansen observed that "many people" hoped the shooting "would spark a new debate about guns in America."

What's wrong with the old debate? Search The Washington Post's website, and you'll find the term "gun control" show up more than 3,700 times in just the past seven years. The New York Times' site, whose archives go back considerably further, turns up nearly 30,000 mentions.

Every year, hundreds of gun-control measures are introduced in Congress and state legislatures. Some of them pass; a lot don't. In recent years, lawmakers also have passed—after much furious debate—measures allowing concealed-carry, guns in bars, and so forth. The Supreme Court has handed down a brace of  landmark decisions upholding an individual right to own firearms. There was more than a little debate about those cases too, if memory serves.

As should be laughably obvious by this point, gun control is something Americans almost never stop talking about. The trouble—from the liberal perspective—is that the discussion keeps going the wrong way. Despite the horror at Virginia Tech, in Tucson and Aurora and too many other places to list, Americans consistently decline to adopt sweeping gun-control measures. Just a week after the Tucson shooting, 69 percent of survey respondents still told CNN the episode had not changed their views on gun control.

Gun-rights advocates are being disingenuous when they say the aftermath of a  shooting is not an appropriate time to talk about gun control. Nonsense—it's the most appropriate time. Nobody ever says, "Let's not talk about airline safety right now" after a plane crash.

But gun-control advocates are being just as disingenuous. When Egan and Williams gripe that you can't talk about gun control, what they really mean is you can't talk about it without other people talking back. And when other gun-control advocates say they want a "candid" debate  about guns—or an "honest," "sane," "serious," "fresh," "mature," or "new" debate—what they really mean is: a debate we actually win.

Saying what they really mean would be the candid and honest thing to do. Wouldn't it?