Handgun Heaven


I'm a Jewish liberal from New York City so naturally I grew up to believe in gun control. Crime is bad, gun crimes are deadly, gun enthusiasts are weird, the NRA should get off our backs. I changed my mind on the subject because I started reading Mark Kleiman, who's also very much the sort of person who'd be for gun control -- a liberal Jewish professor living in Los Angeles. But he's a professor of public policy and specializes in crime control issues and well it turns out:

There's simply no evidence that keeping guns out of the hands of those currently eligible to own them under Federal law (adults with no felony convictions, no domestic-violence misdemeanors or restraining orders, and no history of involuntary commitment for mental illness) reduces the level of criminal violence. Nor is there evidence that allowing anyone who can pass a background check and a gun-safety course to carry a concealed weapon increases the level of criminal violence. All that matters is keeping guns away from people who demonstrably shouldn't have them. Present law does that, but the gun lobby has done many things to make that law impossible to enforce.

With any luck, taking the "gun confiscation" card out of the political pack might actually reduce the fervor of the opposition the NRA can whip up to sensible measures such as requiring background checks for gun sales by private individuals (the current rule that requires them only for purchases from gun dealers), computerizing data on which dealers are selling the guns that get used in crimes, and developing and deploying technology that would allow police to identify, from a bullet or a shell casing found at a crime scene, when, to whom, and by whom the gun that produced that metal was lawfully transferred.

Maybe that optimistic take is right, or maybe that optimistic take is wrong, but either way there's no reason to be afraid of the Heller decision and Kleiman here points the way toward the compromise we should be seeking. Gun confiscation formally and credibly off the table, with a firm understanding that law-abiding competent adults have a right to buy and own guns if they so choose combined with an understanding that law enforcement agencies need serious tools with which to track and identify guns used to commit crimes.

Photo by Flickr user Robert Nelson used under a Creative Commons license