The Democratic Party led off tonight's installment of its national convention with a video lamenting the scourge of gun violence. It is a problem that has been rising this year, though longterm trends since the early '90s show gun murders per capita as a significantly smaller problem for America now than it was then.
Whenever it happens, however often, gun violence is as devastating a tragedy as one can imagine. The segment ended with a statement from former Arizona Rep. Gabby Giffords, herself a victim of gun violence. Yet this part of the evening offered no specific policy recommendations beyond stressing the party's commitment to ending this source of human pain.
There is a reason for that. The "common sense gun law reforms" that the Democrats have been pushing for years—generally things like toughening background check requirements, banning certain classes of weapons for cosmetic features, or limiting legal magazine sizes—would in nearly every case have no actual effect on any of the heinous gun tragedies that drive the public outcry against them.
Instead of specific policy recommendations, the video spotlighted the pain of shooter drills, a dilemma caused less by the actual threat of school shootings than by the fear of them this video is trying to instill. It brought up the particular pain brought to black and brown communities by gun violence, but evaded the question of how asking the American police to enforce laws against possessing certain kinds of weapons might affect those same communities. (The Democrats' vice presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, is all for forcefully taking back peacefully owned weapons if the law decides to ban them.)
The politics of these stances is easy to understand. A majority of Americans now want stricter laws on gun sales, and the issue has traditionally energized the party's base. (Though this year's urban riots making clear police's inability and/or unwillingness to defend individual's lives and property might make individual gun ownership seem more sensible to many Americans across party lines.) But when it comes to policy, doing anything effective and constitutional about the problem of gun violence is a lot harder. Hence tonight's lack of specifics.