Guns and The Soul Of America

In How We Behave, NATIONAL SECURITY -- articles only On
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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 of Harvard Business School 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 wrong answer is that the N.R.A. is this maliciously powerful force that controls legislators through campaign dollars. In fact, the N.R.A. spends a minuscule amount on campaign contributions compared with the vast oceans of dough washing through our politics.

The reality is that in some places people want these laws. It’s true that individual gun control measures, like banning bump stocks, have popular support, but, over all, the gun rights people are winning the hearts and minds of America. 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.

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