What Policies Will Reduce Gun Violence? Maybe The New York Times Should Ask People Who Own Guns?

The New York Times has just released a very detailed survey of academic experts regarding the effectiveness of various policies to help reduce gun violence.  In addition to the academic experts, the surveys also captured views both of the general public and law enforcement personnel.  The survey queried respondents on 29 specific policies, and compared their responses to views of the general public as well as the gun-control views of the incoming President-elect.

nyt logo             If the purpose of this survey was to contrast the gun-control views of the academic community versus the policies advocated by Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, The Times didn’t need to waste anybody’s time.  The NRA ponied up $30 million in television advertising for Trump after the organization endorsed him at their annual meet, and the one time he briefly deviated from the approved script by calling for guns in nightclubs and bars, he quickly fell back into line. Academics, on the other hand, usually tend to be anti-gun, although in this case The Times made sure that the pro-gun academic community (Kleck, Lott, Kopel, Volokh) was represented as well.

Many of these policies mentioned in the surveys are found in some states, such as expanded background checks, child access prevention (CAP) laws , banning or regulating hi-cap mags. But most state gun laws exist in places with smaller numbers of gun owners and/or states whose electorate is still largely colored blue.  Go into a gun-owning, red-vote state like Missouri or Alabama and see how much support you find for a bill to expand background checks. Meanwhile, states with fewer gun laws tend, by and large, to suffer more violence from guns.

So why is it that none of the ten policies rated to most effective for curbing gun violence, all of which had public support ranging from 63% to 88%, have actually become federal law?  The usual explanation is what you would expect, namely, the power and the money of the NRA.  But when I look at The New York Times survey it actually reflects something much more concerning about why sensible ideas for gun regulations at the federal level never get beyond first base.  And my concern is based not on who participated in the poll, but who did not.

Virtually every single policy which the experts were asked to rate in terms of effectiveness for increasing safety from gun violence would require some behavioral or attitudinal response on the part of gun owners themselves. And while the survey may have caught a few gun owners in the ‘representative sample’ of voters who were queried for this poll, the Times made no effort to reach out to the gun-owning community at all. They did what liberals concerned about gun violence always do – they came up with a ‘balanced’ roster of participants representing both sides and they ended up with results that tell us nothing about how people will react who ultimately be affected by any change in gun laws.

The inability of the gun violence prevention community to communicate with gun owners about the risks of firearm ownership is a much more potent weapon in the NRA’s arsenal than any amount of money dumped into a legislator’s lap.  Public health researchers publish their work in peer-reviewed, academic journals with minimal notice beyond academe;  leading gun-control advocates aren’t invited on the shock-jock media circuit, none of the major gun-control organizations (in comparison to the NRA) has a digital video presence which has become the real information superhighway over the last several years.

For gun owners to understand that sensible gun regulations don’t represent Armageddon, they need to be engaged with language and arguments they understand.  You don’t do this by publishing scholarly articles in JAMA or Saturday Review. Instead, you find a hunter or sportsman to send an article to Field and Stream.  And then you figure out a message that tells gun owners they can be pleased and safe with their guns at the same time.

13 thoughts on “What Policies Will Reduce Gun Violence? Maybe The New York Times Should Ask People Who Own Guns?

  1. Well said, Mike. But as far as that hunter or sportsman speaking out, let’s not forget what happened to Dick Metcalf when he tried to be reasonable in Guns and Ammo. He got the boot ride.

  2. Point well taken.

    Just got accepted at the Sportsman’s Club. I was ready for a fight, but was met with bovine indifference. They seemed happy to see my $177.50. I’m volunteering in the kitchen and will make friends.

    When I get the indoor and outdoor ranges sorted out, I’ll let you know. Being an insomniac I appreciate the opportunity to have a place to shoot at 4 am.


    Quoting mikethegunguy :

    > mikethegunguy posted: “The New York Times has just released a very > detailed survey of academic experts regarding the effectiveness of > various policies to help reduce gun violence.  In addition to the > academic experts, the surveys also captured views both of the general > public a” > > >

  3. Maybe the underlying problem is that gun-control enthusiasts in general have no interest at all in reducing gun violence. And that their entire (emotional) motivation is just to harm and humiliate gun owners. Afterall, how hard would it be for the NYTs to ask Joe SixPack The Gun Owner to email them their thoughts? I have subscribed to the NYTs for decades and have sent them a lot of screeds about gun issues they never asked for. What if they asked? What we are seeing is different personality types who do not really understand or easily like one another. My side is willing to leave “them” alone but “they” apparently cannot.

  4. Mike, I don’t get your point here because the NY Times relied on public polling which includes gun owners. And, as you acknowledged, they consulted with researchers on both sides of the debate. Unfortunately, my experience when I write an opinion piece–I have published two this week following the Ft. Lauderdale airport shooting–is that I get hate-filled messages from a segment of the gun-owning community that is entirely devoid of facts. I would relish a real frank and respectful dialogue with gun owners to see if we can find some common ground and move the nation forward toward some sane gun policies that respect the rights of gun owners but address the dreadful problem this nation faces. Khal’s note reinforces the intolerance that exists toward anybody proposing some reasonable regulation. Of course, there is intolerance on the other side too and I don’t support any of it.

    • Hello, Thomas. Mike reminded me that Guns and Ammo is just about entirely supported by the gun industry (my paraphrase) so it may not be a fair example of where a moderate message from someone who is a gun person would be fairly received.

      I’m a little surprised by the results of the public poll. The support of gun regulation was so high even when the poll was purportedly equally answered by those on the left and the right. That doesn’t square with the policies that seem to pass legislative muster in red v blue states. So I wonder about the methodology. If conservatives were so easy to convince about gun control, we should not see such divergent results in state to state gun laws. In Maine, an Everytown background check bill was defeated 48-52% and a similar initiative passed in NV, 50.1 to 49.9%.

      As far as sane policies and ways to get people to come out of their trenches? Mike makes one suggestion, ie., reaching out in venues that don’t attract extreme voices. I’m a little frustrated with the GVP biz right now. Everytown introduced bills in the New Mexico legislature that are billed as closing the “gun show loophole” but actually provide for background checks for all private sales as well as virtually all private temporary transfers, as though gun owners loan guns to perfect strangers. That has gotten NM on the radar of the NRA and has polarized the debate. I spoke on the radio with a Dem senator from Albuquerque yesterday who promised amendments but meanwhile, that language is sticking in a lot of gun owner’s craws and reinforces the notion that there is no middle ground. I’ve spoken with both an Everytown and an NRA lobbyist and neither had horns growing out of their heads, but I think official positions are official positions.

      Sometimes, I would suggest, starting with moderation is a virtue. But not being a pol, what do I know?

      • Khal, you and Mike are likely correct about people ultimately standing behind the official positions of organizations they support. Maybe we need a national populist organization, comprising gun owners and non-owners, who will seek some common ground. I have heard several people mentioning this possibility of late. I would certainly support such an effort. I think Mike had mentioned to me that public health researchers had tried to reach across the divide. Any body heard of such efforts or think it can be done? I am so frustrated by the fact that so many issues in our country (others being health care and climate issues) are caught in a partisan vortex.

      • To paraphrase someone here, we need to listen to someone besides Wayne LaPierre and Michael Bloomberg.

        I had lunch yesterday with a lady active in New Mexicans To Prevent Gun Violence, a genuine grassroots group down this way made up of local folks, including me. The lady, Barbara, grew up in Oklahoma in a rural area where hunting was normal as was gun ownership. Somewhat akin to me, who grew up in a small town in Western New York, where I learned to shoot a single shot Ithaca 22 rimfire rifle in my early teens and was missing wing shots routinely once I was sixteen. She asked me if I had a CHL and I said sure do, but not packing. After all it was Santa Fe, not the War Zone (Zuni Ave) of Albuquerque. Did not faze her a bit.

        I’d like folks like Barbara to get more air time as she recognizes the nuances in the gun issues rather than spouting the winner take all gotcha philosophies of the NRA and some of the anti-gun folks. The extremes feed on each other and dominate the conversation.

  5. As a broad generalization, in most times and most places, restrictive gun laws have not been put in place to simply reduce the rate of gun crime per se. Frequently, they have been instituted in places with very low rates of pre-existing gun crime (like most of Europe and the UK — or Japan which never had any to speak of). There was an intent to shape the culture and in sense “pacify” the population going forward. In the sense of limiting its fighting capabilities. One can get a sense of that from the fact that many nations have banned rifles and pistols that fire the type of ammo that is used by the state. Allowed civilian versions are neither more or less deadly, just incompatible. This goes back to the time of British colonial rule in Africa. Trouble makers cannot use state ammo they might capture. Germany never has had significant gun crime (civilian, that is) but they did have some domestic terrorism in the 70s that led to their present laws. When the murder rate in the UK went up slightly in the years following the handgun ban of the mid 90s, the government explained that their goal had been simply to prevent a “gun culture” and ordinary crime was beside the point (IOWs, the ban was a success despite having no impact on violence per se).My own conclusion is that the effects of changing gun laws is so weak it cannot get out of the background noise. Mainly, because guns are a very private thing and laws about them are only ever going to be obeyed on a voluntary basis. I made an excellent gun when I was 15 out of hardware-store stuff. Japan is covered with high-end small machine fabricating shops that could produce off the books guns in a heart-beat — if they wanted to. Gun violence prevention per se would be 1. Mandatory gun safety instruction in public schools. 2. Mandatory gun safety instruction to get a drivers license, 3. Make involuntary committment of crazy people a little easier. Obviously, there is a fine line here; but I think we are currently on the wrong side of it.

      • Thomas. Good on the Aussies. But their overall murder/gun crime rate improvements over that period were in parallel with similar trends in many other similar places that either changed nothing or liberalized their gun laws. New Zealand changed nothing and saw the same improvement. Texas (same population as Oz and just as urbanized) had a mass shooting at the same time as Oz and began legal concealed carry as a result. Since then, the murder rate is down by half (like the rest of the US) and there have been no mass killings there of the relevant sort. That is, a slaughter of strangers for political or psychotic reasons in a place where concealed carry is allowed. The Fort Hood massacre was on Federal territory that was gun free. Drug gang shoot outs are not the same thing. If that is considered, Texas has had no more mass psycho-killer episodes since the 90s than Oz. (There was a multiple shooting of strangers event recently but no one died. He was shooting at people in cars. He was deterred from getting closer – one might speculate.) In Oz, no one thinks that more than 33% of the targeted guns were actually turned in. In Texas, literally millions and millions of the same type of firearms Oz bought-back have been bought-into Texas. Oz spent 500 million dollars buying the fraction of guns that were turned in. Texas makes money from license fees. The media, and figures like Jeff Jefferies, shout all day about the Australian experience but totally ignore Texas. But gun rights folks tend to know it intimately. Consider that when dialoging with them.

  6. The only difference between a gun barrel and seamless 4130 steel pipe is the cost and the quality of the surface finish. 4130 seamless is a raw commodity that is available worldwide in every imaginable size, shape, and configuration by mail-order.

    • Speaking of pipes. When I was doing the research for my master’s thesis, the hydrothermal bomb containment vessels were made out of Rene-41 which had been considered for high rate of fire machine gun barrels except the alloy interacted with copper. So my advisor’s lab had dozens of potential machine gun barrels sitting around as all of these were drilled to contain the experimental charges. Never occurred to us to make illicit use of them.

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