David Frum

12.14.12

Every Day is the Day to Talk About Gun Control

I have a daughter in a public elementary school in the District of Columbia. When I read news of a school shooting, it touches a particularly intimate place in me. To be a parent is to be haunted by fears. I can contemplate my own death without unease, but every goodbye to one of my children is shaded by dread. What if?

That "what if?" has now darkened a whole town in Connecticut. But of course, it's not the first such darkening. Almost uniquely in the world, the United States suffers massacre after massacre after massacre: in schools, in workplaces, in movie theaters, on city streets. And after each such massacre, there follows a great hushing: don't you dare mention the most obvious reason for this unique American horror.

I experienced a small portion of this reaction personally today.

Earlier this week, the Seventh Circuit opened the way to a concealed-carry law in Illinois, the one remaining state not to allow citizens to carry weapons on their persons. The event moved me to revisit some writing I did this summer about the folly of imagining that law-abiding citizens make themselves more safe by owning weapons.

The pieces can be read here, here and here.

Reposting them elicited angry reaction, as writing about guns so often does. There is a small but vocal community that fancies it can protect itself against the millions of illicit guns on American streets by carrying weapons itself. The evidence for this point of view is highly dubious, but it's not a view that rests on evidence.

When the news of the school shooting first surfaced, my first reaction was anger. Again? Again?! I ventilated that anger in a bitter Tweet:

That tweet was (apparently) picked up and highlighted by Michelle Malkin's "Twitchy" site. Moments later, I was receiving a long string of counter-tweets excoriating me for the supposed insensitivity of my comment.

I believe in dialogue on Twitter. I read comments, I consider them, and when I make mistakes, I correct them (to the extent I can) and apologize for them (where apologies are due).

This is not such a time.

Instead, I say the following:

A permissive gun regime is not the only reason that the United States suffers so many atrocities like the one in Connecticut. An inadequate mental health system is surely at least as important a part of the answer, as are half a dozen other factors arising from some of the deepest wellsprings of American culture.

Nor can anybody promise that more rational gun laws would prevent each and every mass murder in this country. Gun killings do occur even in countries that restrict guns with maximum severity.

But we can say that if the United States worked harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there would be many, many fewer atrocities like the one in Connecticut.

And I'll say: I'll accept no lectures about "sensitivity" on days of tragedy like today from people who work the other 364 days of the year against any attempt to prevent such tragedies.

It's bad enough to have a gun lobby. It's the last straw when that lobby also sets up itself as the civility police. It may not be politically possible to do anything about the prevalence of weapons of mass murder. But it damn well ought to be possible to complain about them - and about the people who condone them.

Video screenshot

A survivor of the Aurora shooting talks about the need for gun control.

Related: President Obama addresses the nation on the Newtown shootings.