Several months ago, when the stench from Fairfax was just beginning to roll out and the 2020 Presidential wannabees hadn’t yet begun to try and top one another in terms of their plans for gun control, our friends at the Bloomberg School rolled out an online course, “Reducing Gun Violence in America,” which offers a definitive syllabus on the research which has been done on gun violence.  The course modules do a good job of covering what we know and what we don’t know, and each module is accompanied by a bibliography that is the best and most complete compilation of relevant printed sources compiled to date.

So far, 2,750 intrepid students have registered for the course, a number which, in and of itself, has an awful lot to say about the intentions and motivations of folks who want to do something about the violence caused by guns. Because for all the talk about how gun-rights groups like the NRA do nothing except peddle half-baked truths about the joys and blessings of gun ownership, you would think that our side, the gun-control side, would contain a sufficient number of people who want to make sure that what we say about gun violence aligns with the truth. 

Of course who am I to question the honesty and sagacity (I’ve never used that word before) of the folks who create and promote the narratives on gun violence that have become a de rigeur component of the political messaging for entry into the 2020 Presidential campaign? After all, we know that universal background checks keep guns from getting into the ‘wrong’ hands. We know that red-flag laws keep guns away from people who are at risk. We know that leaving a loaded and unlocked gun around the house means that more teen-agers will use the gun to hurt themselves. We know all these things, so why bother to sign up for the Johns Hopkins course?

I’ll tell you why. Because if there’s one thing that emerges from the careful and candid presentations by the Hopkins faculty members, along with some guest appearances by others as well, it’s that when all is said and done, we don’t really know squat.  And the reason we don’t know squat is because gun-control laws are such a jumble from one state to another, and because we are a country of very diverse regions with diverse cultures and diverse histories, the idea that what has worked to reduce gun violence in one place will work just as well when applied somewhere else is, at best, a shot in the dark (pardon my pun.) 

I live in a state – Massachusetts – where it is estimated that only one out of five or six households contains a legal gun. Now these gun owners probably think about their guns the same way that gun owners in a gun-rich state like South Carolina think about their guns. But I used to live in South Carolina, and I can tell you that none of my neighbors even noticed when I walked out of my house carrying a gun. If I lived in Boston and a neighbor spotted me carrying my trusty Mini-14 out to my car, there’s a pretty good chance that the Boston PD would shortly be following me down the street.

And this is precisely what makes the Hopkins course important for folks on our side, because there aren’t any simple answers to deal with the problem of gun violence, no matter what you hear on NPR or MS-NBC.

Oops, I forgot. There is one simple answer. Get rid of the guns. But that’s not going to happen even if, in the best of all possible worlds, Wayne LaPierre gets appointed Ambassador to Moscow and the NRA joins the dodo bird as something which used to exist.