Convicting the Guns (or the Bottles):

The New York Times writes about the recent school shootings:

It is not clear what led [the shooter] to seek out a quiet country school in Lancaster County, Pa., but it is possible he chose it because he knew that it belonged to a trusting, insular community, where there would be no one to stop him from entering with a shotgun, a rifle and an automatic pistol....

There are no simple solutions to this conflict. It is neither possible nor tolerable to secure every school or guard every child. Nor is it possible or politically tolerable to keep tabs on every gun. But in these killings we see an open society threatened by the ubiquity of its weapons, in which one kind of freedom is allowed to trump all others. Most gun owners are respectable, law-abiding citizens. But that is no reason to acquit the guns.

Just what is the editorial board proposing that we do? Apparently it's that we shouldn't "acquit the guns," but what does that mean? Are they urging gun registration of some guns (since they claim that they're not supporting "keep[ing] tabs on every gun")? That surely would do nothing about such school shootings. Are they implicitly urging handgun bans? Even if such bans succeeded in preventing a material number of would-be murderers from getting handguns, which I doubt, this very incident reminds us that shotguns and rifles can be at least as lethal (in fact, are in many respects more lethal, and just as usable if you're not worried about easy and convenient concealability, and are willing to carry the long gun open, to conceal it in a suitcase, or to saw it off).

When pro-gun-control forces urge restriction on guns in response to certain kinds of crimes — for instance, crimes where the criminal is trying to evade detection and capture — then it's at least credible that those controls would be limited to (say) handguns, or illegal carrying of handguns, or some such. But the only gun control that would stop people who are willing to commit multiple murder, and who don't worry about getting caught, would be (1) a total ban on guns, (2) confiscation of the likely more than 200 million guns in private American hands, and then (3) diligent action to control the black market in guns that would inevitably result. So when such multiple murders are seen as occasions for calls to gun control, however disclaimer-laden ("Nor is it possible or politically tolerable to keep tabs on every gun"), people who care about gun rights and self-defense naturally worry that the gun controllers' true goal is broad indeed.

I agree that murder and crime more broadly is a very serious problem, and that gun homicides and (to a lesser extent) other gun crimes are a very serious aspect of that problem. Likewise, for instance, alcohol-related death and crime is a very serious problem.

The question is what exactly should be done about it. Should we ban guns and alcohol? Try to seriously diminish access to them? Try to regulate them in ways that don't seriously diminish access, at least to law-abiding citizens? If we have in mind a particular manifestation of the problem (e.g., school shootings, or drunk-driving deaths, or whatever else), what policy proposals would diminish that aspect of the problem, without unduly exacerbating other problems? Hard questions, and important ones. But simply talking about "not acquit[ting]" the vodka bottle or the shotgun — an inanimate object that one would have thought wouldn't be subject either to acquittal or to conviction — hardly advances the analysis.