Yesterday, for the first time in 95 years, the New York Times published an op-ed on the front page, position A1, above the fold. The subject of that op-ed: “End the Gun Epidemic in America.” The piece is filled with tired arguments and moralistic fervor, and it even includes the most vacuous of all public policy arguments: We gotta do something.
The title itself is odd. By focusing on guns themselves as an “epidemic” rather than on the ever-decreasing rate of gun violence, the Times seems to confirm that its editorial staff has a problem with gun ownership per se, regardless of its effects on public safety. The placement of the piece on the front page also suggests that the Times prefers moralizing to simple fact-checking.
But it is even worse than that. At a time when the Times could have placed a meaningful and trailblazing op-ed on the front page, perhaps calling for an end to the drug war and the thousands of gun deaths associated with it, they instead chose to advocate for an impossible public policy goal that will have little to no effect on the problem at hand.
The piece was clearly animated by the recent spate of disturbing mass shootings. First of all, because it apparently needs to be said again and again, focusing on mass shootings when discussing firearms policy is deeply problematic. Not only do victims of mass shootings constitute one percent or fewer of gun deaths (depending on how “mass shooting” is defined), but the perpetrators of mass shootings are the hardest to affect with public policy changes.
A picture of Shawn Moore’s 11-year-old clad in camouflage and holding a scary-looking gun prompted New Jersey’s Department of Children and Families to visit his house for an “inspection,” according to Moore. As reported by the Associated Press:
The elder Moore was at a friend’s house when his wife called, saying state child welfare investigators, along with four local police officers, were at the house, asking to inspect the family’s guns.
Moore said he called his lawyer Evan Nappen, who specializes in Second Amendment cases, and had him on speaker phone as he arrived at his house in Carneys Point, just across the Delaware River from Wilmington, Del.
“They said they wanted to see into my safe and see if my guns were registered,” Moore said. “I said no; in New Jersey, your guns don’t have to be registered with the state; it’s voluntary. I knew once I opened that safe, there was no going back.”
The Department of Children and Families has not confirmed that the Facebook picture was the reason for the surprise “inspection,” but a spokeswoman did comment that it is “important to note the way an investigation begins is through the child abuse hotline. Someone has to call to let us know there is a concern.”
Yesterday, I argued on FoxNews.com that the gun debate is really a culture debate. Two cultures are emerging in America. One culture respects guns as important tools in the hands of responsible citizens. The other culture is disgusted by guns. It is becoming increasingly difficult to bridge the gap between those cultures in order to devise reasonable and effective gun laws that respect citizens’ Second Amendment rights.
Clearly, Mr. Moore is in the former camp and has taught his son how to responsibly use firearms. Appearing on “Fox and Friends” this morning, Moore’s son Josh said he’d been shooting guns since he was five, that he likes to hunt, and is a “pretty good shooter.”
Yet many who are animated by “gun disgust” believe keeping firearms in the home is tantamount to child abuse. But the actual number of accidental firearm deaths of children are usually grossly overstated. In 2010, the CDC reported 62 deaths by accidental firearm discharge for children between 0-14 years old. (You can check the numbers yourself here.)
While each and every one of these deaths is undeniably tragic, the number is far less than deaths due to accidental drownings (726) or bicycles (approximately 100 in 2006). Yet I’m sure social services would not have visited Mr. Moore’s house if he had put up a picture of Josh on a new ten-speed. In fact, for an instrument with such potential for lethality, the number of accidental gun deaths for children is remarkably low. Even seemingly innocuous things, such as adult beds, can kill dozens of children per year. Between 1999-2001, 41 children under five died after being caught between a mattress and a wall or headboard. Nevertheless, during the Clinton administration the Department of Justice ran a series of ads designed to frighten parents about the dangers of unlocked guns, claiming that “an unlocked gun could be the death of your family.”
Those numbers are unlikely to change the minds of the gun-disgusted. As in many areas of public policy, facts often matter less than we’d like to believe.
The Washington Post has an interesting article about what has happened in the city since the Supreme Court declared the city’s gun ban unconstitutional in the landmark Heller decision in 2008. Basically, hundreds of residents have registered thousands of firearms. More than 2 years have passed and the predicted mayhem is not here. DC Mayor Fenty called the court ruling an “outrage” and said the ban was necessary to stop residents from intentionally or accidentally killing one another. Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign says the debate over the ban is not over yet. Several more years of data gathering will be necessary. And so the debate rolls on!
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