But no matter how tight a connection one draws between a gun culture and a high murder rate, gun ownership is not an intrinsic evil: Most gun owners are law-abiding citizens, most guns are never used to kill, and the tragedies associated with the Second Amendment are exceptions to a liberty that’s mostly exercised with restraint, discretion and an appropriate level of caution. The intrinsic evil that we’re concerned with here is murder, not gun ownership — and that means, in turn, that we are not morally required to embrace doomed-seeming crusades to limit gun right when other paths to a lower murder rate are available….
A generation ago, for instance, there was a lot of skepticism among researchers that the size of police forces had an impact on the crime rate. Today, however, most of the evidence suggests that more cops does, in fact, equal less crime, and that a nation with more police would have safer streets and fewer murders. (Here’s a good recent summary of the research from Marginal Revolution’s Alex Tabarrok, who argues that it wouldn’t be unreasonable to seek to double the number of active-duty cops in the United States.)
True, such a nation might not have fewer spree killers — but then we should be doubtful of any policy proposal that promises to prevent events that are by definition unique, unpredictable and irreducibly complex….
Now obviously a push to hire more cops, no less than a new push for gun control, would run into political opposition in our age of tight budgets and public-sector layoffs. But shifting state budgets from incarceration to enforcement makes long term fiscal sense, and between the Republican Party’s affinity for cops and firefighters and the Democratic Party’s affinity for aid to state and local governments, it’s arguably easier to imagine a post-Newtown coalition forming around, say, a new version of Bill Clinton’s COPS program — which was mainly criticized after its expiration, as I recall, for subsidizing too many extra cops in sleepy small towns — than around a return to his ineffective gun control efforts. And based on the public policy record of the last twenty years or so, it’s much easier to imagine such an effort actually making a difference on the ground.
“Surely, we can do better than this,” President Obama said last night in Newtown. His speech was eloquent, moving, and absolutely right. But there’s more than one way to do better by our children, and hiring more cops seems like a far, far better use of our political energy than a probably-futile war on guns.