This is part of a continuing dialogue between Ramesh Ponnuru and Margaret Carlson about Washington politics.
Margaret, when I read your column about the NRA and the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, I started thinking about those children's last moments, and the survivors’ trauma, and what their parents have gone through -- and will go through for the rest of their lives -- and then I had to stop myself. I can’t be the only parent of small children who can’t bear to imagine it. I know many of us have been looking up school security policies since Friday.
So it seems like a good moment to look for common ground. Like you, I’m not part of the gun culture. I’m not a Second Amendment absolutist, either: The Constitution can’t reasonably be read to block all regulations of gun ownership, and the Supreme Court has rightly refrained from saying any such thing. Nor do I agree with those opponents of gun regulation who say that it would be wrong to politicize a massacre by talking about gun policy after it. What better time to discuss how to make this kind of slaughter rarer than when everyone is thinking about it? So by all means let’s talk about government policy toward guns, and toward mental illness.
What’s disheartening is that I haven’t heard any proposal since the shootings that, if implemented years ago, would have prevented them. That’s true even of proposals I support, such as making it easier to compel the mentally ill to receive treatment. It does not seem as though the reinstatement of the assault-weapons ban would have stopped the killer. It is not clear that the Bushmaster he used would have fallen under that ban, or that he could not have used a different weapon outside the ban in as deadly a manner as he used the AR-15. Background checks wouldn’t have changed anything. Crime rates overall have been falling, and neither the ban nor its expiration appear to have had anything to do with those trends.
It does seem to me that, as you suggest, there should be a way, consistent with due process, to keep suspected terrorists from legally owning guns. But I don’t think even in raising that idea you believe it would do much to make Americans safer.
The problem with more ambitious gun regulation arises from something else you mention, Margaret: Guns are everywhere in our country. A ban on civilian handgun ownership would be unenforceable even if it were constitutional and popular. I am reading a lot of anguished op-eds from people who want gun control. Many of them claim, very plausibly, that other countries show that a less armed society would be a more peaceful one. What they don’t show is that our country can get there from where it is now.
That’s the hole in the argument for greater regulation, and it may be a bigger problem for its political prospects even than the NRA.
(Ramesh Ponnuru is a Bloomberg View columnist. Follow him in Twitter.)
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