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Reviews | A smarter way to reduce gun deaths

The New York Times published a Page 1 article in 1995 citing critics warning of “modern Dodge City scenarios in which routine crashes with bumpers could escalate into bloody duels between armed motorists.” False alarm, for the most part. Concealed carry permits did not turn communities into Dodges, as those who went through the permit process were often middle-aged adults with no criminal history and fairly good self-control. (That said, it’s a problem when the Supreme Court encourages gun proliferation and some states now license almost everyone, but the Court still leaves some room for regulation.)

Third, the Liberals have focused too much on banning assault weapons rather than on the full panoply of interventions that can help. What we call assault rifles probably account for less than 7% of firearms used in crimes and only a small share of suicides, and they have repeatedly proven difficult to define. California banned assault weapons, for example, but manufacturers quickly designed and began selling California-compliant guns that are almost the same as the banned ones but are technically legal.

In any case, even if it were possible to obtain a new ban on assault weapons through the Senate, the ban would not affect the 20 million or more such rifles already in circulation. The last ban on assault weapons, from 1994 to 2004, did not slow down the sale of these weapons (due to poor definitions) and may have been counterproductive by turning them in certain circles into icons of the American masculinity. Indeed, there are probably now more assault rifles in private hands in the United States than in US Army armories. We Liberals have become marketing champions for gun manufacturers.

I still believe in the strict restriction of AR-15 type guns and high capacity magazines as they play such an important role in mass shootings, but we must not lose sight of the reality that handguns kill a lot more people – and the need for a broad, evidence-based public health strategy.

Fourth, we liberals have failed to adequately pursue approaches to reducing gun violence that have nothing to do with guns. Reducing lead exposure in infants today appears to reduce violent crime 20 years later. Violence interrupters working for initiatives like Cure Violence can sometimes break cycles of revenge shootouts. Youth programs like Becoming a Man also help by producing more mature young men who do better in school and are less likely to settle an argument by hitting a .38. Research finds that better street lighting and converting vacant lots to green space seem to reduce shootings. Counseling and intervention strategies reduce suicides, which constitute the majority of firearm deaths.

Fifth, we weren’t as evidence-driven as we should have been. One of the problems with gun research today is that it is often pursued by people with strong agendas, whether pro or anti-gun. Liberals sometimes jump on poorly designed studies if they support our conclusions, in a way that discredits our camp. The liberal impulse has sometimes also been to delegitimize all police departments due to a history of racism and abuse; in fact, law enforcement is plentiful, and some police strategies such as targeted deterrence, targeting those most likely to use illegal firearms, have reduced violence.

So let’s learn some lessons, because armed violence is reaching unacceptable levels. Just since I graduated from high school in 1977, it seems more Americans have died from guns (over 1.5 million), including suicides, homicides, and accidents, than in all wars in US history, dating back to the Revolutionary War (about 1.4 million).

nytimes Gt

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