In the Year of the Dragon: Ross Douthat Writes About Guns

In the Year of the Dragon: Ross Douthat Writes About Guns December 6, 2015

so I don’t have to. He makes his point in his characteristically careful, suggestive style, so I will add value by being incautious and blunt: Crime hysteria leads to expansions of state surveillance and punishment that target poor and minority communities. Gun control isn’t different just because you personally are a progressive. Progressives are advocating for tools that others will wield. That is still true–in some ways more true, because the fear runs deeper–when the crime is real and awful. Douthat writes:

Does that make “getting to Australia” a compelling long-term goal for liberalism? Maybe, but liberals need to count the cost. Absent a total cultural revolution in America, a massive gun collection effort would face significant resistance even once legislative and judicial battles had been won. The best analogue is Prohibition, which did have major public health benefits … but which came at a steep cost in terms of police powers, black markets and trampled liberties.

I suspect liberals imagine, at some level, that a Prohibition-style campaign against guns would mostly involve busting up gun shows and disarming Robert Dear-like trailer-park loners. But in practice it would probably look more like Michael Bloomberg’s controversial stop-and-frisk policy, with a counterterrorism component that ended up heavily targeting Muslim Americans. In areas where gun ownership is high but crime rates low, like Bernie Sanders’ Vermont, authorities would mostly turn a blind eye to illegal guns, while poor and minority communities bore the brunt of raids and fines and jail terms.

Douthat mentions stop and frisk; I’d also suggest noting the role of Columbine here. Plus everything here.

It is obviously horrifying that shooting a bunch of terrified people in a public place has entered the American symptom pool for alienated men. There are a lot of sick and sinful aspects of American gun culture, especially where it overlaps with right-wing politics, coded or open racism, and Christianity. The Holy Spirit is a dove of peace and reconciliation, not an eagle and not a peacock.

But the more we talk to ourselves, the more we pride ourselves on baffled incomprehension of our fellow citizens (I just wrote “our neighbors” but of course they aren’t, are they? If they were, we moved away), the more that incomprehension turns to contempt. And the less able we are to envision the unintended consequences of our good intentions. The easier it is for us to imagine ourselves as rulers, instead of remembering that the Christian needs to stand with the ruled.

(I keep vacillating between thinking I’m being too self-serious, that horrified piety isn’t actually a great emotional basis from which to work out public policy… and thinking now is not the time to remind everybody that America has this violent streak and that’s part of what the people who love her love about her.)

There are policies I can imagine passing the “Will this be used against the poor?” test. Some forms of gun buybacks and turn-in amnesties, for example. Possibly some policies targeting gun manufacturers? But that’s not what we’re going to get–or if we do get them, they’ll be enmeshed in broad expansions of surveillance and punishment. “Like the War on Drugs, but for guns” is not an inspiring image. “End mass incarceration, but first pass lots of tough restrictions on something tons of Americans own and want!” Also any time you hear the word “loophole” the loophole you should be picturing is the Mexican border but hey if we don’t do something gun violence and gun homicides might continue… dropping, the way they’ve dropped precipitously since I was in high school.

Ahhh Douthat is better-informed than I am and I should really just turn this over to him. But I do not want the rise of mass shootings to lead, like the rise of crack and the supposed rise of “superpredators,” to yet another Year of the Dragon–yet another attempt to solve crime through criminalization, through government watch lists and expansions of the carceral state.

Quiet as it’s kept, they won’t be back next year

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