Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Sandy Hook and the State of Public Discourse

I am a member of a group on Facebook which is made up of current and former political types.   This morning I posted something from Ezra Klein which presented two graphs one from Mother Jones which shows a shocking (my terminology) increase in gun violence and another from a contributor to Reason which shows the trend to be more flat.   As someone who spent a good part of his career on public policy issues I am always interested in seeing whether we can use data to understand how to make a situation better.   Here are a couple of things that we know.  First, compared to OECD countries, the US (see the first chart) has a higher level of gun ownership than other developed countries.   But second, gun ownership in the last several decades has decreased from about 50% of households to about 35% of households.   Simultaneously, the number of gun laws has increased significantly.   There is a perception, supported by the Mother Jones data that even with the decline in gun ownership and increase in laws, that gun violence - especially the type of violence in Aurora or Sandy Hook - is up.
So if you are aghast at the tragedy that unfolded in Connecticut, but you are aware of the underlying logic of the Second Amendment, how should the discourse go forward?   So this morning I posted to the Facebook group the article offered by Ezra Klein.   From my perspective more there is something missing from the debates about how to deal with this issue from the absolutists on both sides.   We need to do some good old fashioned clear headed thinking about how to reduce risks to society, especially school children.   The most realistic answer does not lie in the absolute positions of either gun antagonists nor gun advocates.

As I have thought about it we seem to have been able to let some guns slip through to people who should not have them.  Indeed, a couple of articles have suggested ways to tighten restrictions on gun ownership for people with mental problems, that on first glance seem eminently reasonable.  From my perspective, it would also be reasonable (although not something we should do in statute) for television networks to quit four walling tragedies like this.   I would prefer that the perpetrators of these kinds of things are referred to as "loon" or "nut case" but never with their names.  I am sick and tired of the endless coverage that every network does on people who had the most remote contact with the shooter - "Yes I was at a Dunkin' Donuts about two years ago and the guy behind me looked a lot like the shooter and I could tell he was deranged...."    

From my perspective we need not pass a bunch of laws which are not likely to solve the problem.   But as I have looked at the commentary on Facebook about this event, I've seen both sides devolve to the legislative kabuki which will not begin to solve the problem.    Perhaps the most odd response to my original post came from someone in the group who said - (quoted in its entirety)...

oops the rest of this is: trajedy and say hey stats show no prob, it's God punishing us for a woman's right to choose or gay marraige, stop. Children are dying. George, Ben and Thomas never could conceiv ably foressen asswault weapons. Maybe we should all be allowed to have hand grenades and bazookas. Afterall, they arms too.

The American political system depends on civil discourse.  From my perspective this issue suggests that we have lost a lot of what we need to work on common problems.

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