David Frum

01.25.13

'Let's Talk About Guns' Live Chat Transcript

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2:00 David Frum: We're live.

2:01 David Frum: This arrived by email:

Recently Senator Dianne Feinstein proposed a ban of semiautomatic and assault weapons along with high-capacity magazines. You have mentioned that you believe banning certain types of guns is a futile race against technology. Still, even if such a ban only reduced gun violence by a small percentage, wouldn't such action (of course paired with other regulations) be a small step in the right direction?

2:07 David Frum: Trying to do something about high-capacity magazines would be worthwhile. Otherwise, though, I think Sen. Feinstein is choosing the path of most resistance. I think law should focus on screening gun -owners - and then much more vigorously working to remove guns from those who carry them unlawfully.

2:07 Comment From Jordan

Hi David! So is there a truth serum answer as to what the founders wanted the second amendment to mean?

2:08 David Frum: The "Founders" were a group of people, and they meant different things. Those founders who actually served in the COntinental Army - Washington, Hamilton, John Marshall - were united in their contempt for the capabilities of state militias.

2:09 David Frum: But anti-Federalists perceived the project for a standing army as a dangerous threat to the future independence of the states. They wanted to preserve the independent war-fighting capability of the states. The militia clause expressd their hopes.

2:10 David Frum: All of this has looked rather quaint since at least 1861.

2:11 David Frum: The Supreme Court now says that the gun right is an individual one. So we start from there.

2:11 Comment From JMMonahan

Why torture the gun debate with national positions or solutions? The gun culture in Wyoming differs vastly from the gun culuture in Manhattan. What do you think of a federal hands-off policy that defers to the states?

2:13 David Frum: Guns are highly portable items. States with lax laws will become emporia for distribution of guns to other states and cities. I don't know how it would work to talk about "background checks" if, say, Indiana doesn't operate them - and then Indiana buyers resell weapons inside Illinois.

2:13 Comment From Kevin

I live in Canada where we have some strict gun regulations. I am also retired military, so I can appreciate different sides of the gun debate argument in the USA. Unless they make some of the gun laws in the USA "retroactive", I do not see how bans or restrictions on some guns will have any noticeable effect.

2:14 David Frum: Restrictions will have effect over time. It's like any kind of risk reduction. You try to improve the odds by 5% here, 5% there, and hope that together these measures accumulate to improve overall outcomes - not to perfection, but to some better standard.

2:15 Comment From colette

How can we work to strip gun maker lawsuit immunity - like Big Tobacco - which preceded SWEEPING social change in that area?

2:15 David Frum: Courts are not a good place to make gun policy! But requiring owners to carry liability insurance for harms their guns will do if lost or stolen seems to me a very reasonable step .

2:16 Comment From Guest

I think that under the 2nd Amendment (purpose: to prevent tyranny) it is required to have assault rifles / high-cap mags. These weapons are functionally similar to assault rifles in that most soldiers do NOT fire full auto.

2:17 David Frum: If you really want to prepare the citizenry to resist tyranny, you should be thinking in terms of a draft and universal military training. Otherwise the tyrants will make pretty short work of the gun-owning resisters.

2:17 Comment From Guest

What doe you think of the the threat of the current gun culture to American masculinity. Clinton warned liberals not to dismiss gun culture. But this is not the gun culture of my youth in the south. Guns were treated with respect. There was a realization that if you drew a gun on a man you intended to kil him. If you had an argument with man that escalated to fisticuffs you set your weapons aside. Now our country seems filled with effete cowards who imagine displaying a gun in an argument even with children is the same as "standing your" ground. Not only do these people get killed more by guns but they are ruining the image of American masculinity. Why can't we stop this before people around the world are accused of having "American courage" for brandishing guns in arguments.

2:20 David Frum: I'm nervous about deep arguments about culture, masculinity, etc. Many of these observations may be true, but how does one prove it? I only wish it were possible to divert the concern for masculinity into a wider insistence on physical exericse and personal hardihood.

2:20 Comment From Ajay

Hi David. Thanks for putting this on. What makes the Brady Organization and its subsidiaries (the Million Mom March, for example) so weak in its political organization? I live in Michigan and trying to get involved in gun safety issues is very difficult here. Is there anything we can do to change that at the local and state level?

2:21 David Frum: That is a fascinating question and one I'm trying to understand better. Sometimes it's just a matter of the luck of individual talent. Mothers Against Drunk DRiving were great organizers.

2:21 Comment From Loop21.com

Do you all think there is a right way to be a gun owner? We listed some great suggestions here: http://www.loop21.com/culture/how-be-urban-gun-owner

2:22

David Frum: For sure (and I'll check out the link when the chat is over). My father in law is a gun owner, including the gun his father carried on the Western Front in World War 1. The key of course is to take safety super seriously , beginning with keeping guns in a safe when not in use.

2:22 Comment From Ari

How much of our problem today can be traced to the DC v. Heller decision, in your mind, and how much of our problem with guns would exist regardless of that decision?

2:24 David Frum: Heller can't be held very much to blame. Almost all reasonable gun restrictions are consistent with Heller. Yet we don't do them, even though we constitutionally could.

2:25 Comment From Loop21.com

What do you all think about armed guards in schools?

2:26

David Frum: If schools need them for day-to-day security, then fine. But they are a very poor solution to the problem of mass shootings. Mass shootings can occur at many locations besides schools, of course. And if we're talking about one guard per school, a lot of violence can be done before the guard shows up, assuming the guard was not snowed in that day, as happened at Taft HS earlier this month

2:27 Comment From Think4yourself

Latest gun statistics show about 31,000 deaths and over 100,000 injuries last year with guns. Of those deaths about 10,000 were homicides, 19,000 suicides and the rest were other (accidents, police involved, home protection) An extremely small percentage of those involved 'assault" type weapons (most were handguns). So why pursue assault weapons ban and not address the real issues?

2:27 David Frum: Good point, and it's a reason I'm skeptical of the assault ban idea. Look, if you were going to ban a class of weapons, the class you'd want to ban would be handguns.

2:27 Comment From The Political Omnivore

Changing gun culture will require an effort like changing drunk-driving culture. Something that took hold only when the beer makers got involved. Gun-culture changes need to start with gun-manufacturers. Thoughts (other than: not going to happen)?

2:31 David Frum: I'll venture out on a limb here and predict ... we WILL see a change in gun culture. As is often pointed out, the gun culture of today is very different from the hunting-oriented gun culture of the recent past. It has its origins in the crime wave of the 1960s-70s, in the increased individualism of the baby boom generation vs. the deference to authority of the Depression/WW2 generation, etc. etc.

Today's 20 somethings are growing up in a society that is much safer from crime. They have grown up in an era when institutions like the police and the military are more competent & respected than they used to be. They are bound to think differently about weapons of self-defense than their parents do & did.

2:31 Comment From Mark Langdon

How do you convince ultra conservatives that there is such a thing as common sense gun control initiatives, like the initiatives Mark McKinnon outlined in a Daily Beast article recently, and that people who support these aren’t trying to take everyone’s guns away.

2:32 David Frum: I've said this before, but it bears repeating: change will come when and as we hear more from the victims of gun violence, including not only victims of mass shootings, but families that have suffered suicides and accidents.

2:32 Comment From colette

To @Ajay the original Million Moms were hard line political. I'm a member of One Million Moms for Gun Control - which sprang up after the events at sandy hook. Non partisan. Based on MADD model. Growing daily and gun owners included.

2:33 Comment From colette

I would like to see child welfare visits at any home posting FB/Twitter pictures of children under 16 handling guns. I really would. And we own guns here.

2:33 David Frum: No need to answer that, I'll just leave as comment.

2:33 Comment From AndrewEB

Yeah, but drunk driving is not really inbedded in America's culture as is the gun culture, plus it's a whole lot less controversial as there are studies on the effects of driving while drunk.

2:33 David Frum: Watch an episode of the old Dean Martin show!

2:33 Comment From Guest

Thom Hartmann & others have been pushing idea that the 2nd amendment stemmed from VA & other southern states being afraid that northern abolitionists or feds might "take their guns away" from their local militias aka slave catchers, leaving them open to being killed in slave rebellions as their police state collapsed. Do you find this plausible? & how many generations do you think it might take to get over such sentiments since they seem to be getting worse rather than better in that there's a large group of gun nuts who don't seem to trust their own local police and our troops?

2:35 David Frum: Distorted, I think. There was scarcely such a thing in 1789 as an "abolitionist." John Jay & A. Hamilton maybe. Who else? No, militia clause was about balance between federal and state power. Remember that Pennsylvania was a stronghold of anti-Federalism, while Virginia's James Madison in 1789 was in his ultra-Federalist phase.

2:35 Comment From Shane Taylor

Hello David. Should proponents of gun control do more to define the problem as one of law and order? Might that remedy some of the weakness noted by Ajay? After all, our primary concern is for the peace that liberty requires.

2:36

David Frum: I think this may influence how Canadians think about the gun issue. Worried about social stability and threats to it in ways that Americans less often are ...

2:37 Comment From Qantas

We are putting so much emphasis on assault weapons while the massive majority of murders are committed by very legal hand guns. Except for better background checks, is there any way to limit the violence by hand guns?

2:38 David Frum: Background checks. Outlaw private gun sales. Tighten requirements for carry permits to the very highest possible level. Have police search for guns at every lawful step. Draconian penalties for being caught with a gun without a carry permit.

2:38 Comment From Will

David, I've heard some suggest a gun buy back program. Newark has started a program that buys guns and turns them into jewlery, and I believe Australia has done something similar in the past. Is there any data that suggests that these programs have been effective in reducing gun crime? Where would you stand on a buy back?

2:39 David Frum: It's a final measure after supply is constrained. Otherwise you are making the federal government the gun buyer of last resort!

2:39 Comment From Chrys_Naples_FL

We have an armed policeman stationed in every one of our schools here in Collier County, FL, BTW, & since they have nothing to do they get involved in things MUCH better suited to educators than law enforcement. One cop showed up at the house & yelled at a mom because 2 sisters were arguing on the way home from school.

2:39 David Frum: Police officers, real ones, are very expensive. They're not going to be assigned to school security.

2:40 Comment From DSP

The Biden/Feinstein restrictions will disproportionately affect conservative whites in the red states and whites in rural areas in the blue states. Why shouldn't these restrictions be interpreted as an attack on conservative whites by a black president leading a substantially non-white coalition? When the reverse circumstances exist, this issue is treated as legitimate. Ex: White conservatives were said to be putting forth policies with disparate impact on Latinos in Arizona and non-whites generally in states that sought to limit early voting.

2:41 David Frum: You express a point of view that I think has great influence, but is seldom so explicitly stated - so thank you for that. The answer to your question is that white people suffer even more than minorities from the gun suicides and gun accidents that are the leading forms of gun mortality, much more than gun homicide.

2:41 Comment From CML

How do we get to a place where we can even have a reasonable conversation about gun control or reducing gun-related deaths? It seems like the moment anyone suggests even the tamest examination of gun violence (e.g., background checks or funding for research into gun violence), the pro-gun contingent seizes up into a totally uncompromising (and generally afactual) defense of unconstrained gun ownership. Is there a path towards useful national debate on this?

2:41 David Frum: I'd like to think we're doing it together right now.

2:42 Comment From The Political Omnivore

@AndrewEB There are studies on gun-violence as well. When I was growing up it was acceptable to drive drunk ... until it wasn't. The idea that it was enormously stupid to do so simply wasn't out there in the 70's and 80's. If your buddy tried to take your keys away ... that was a fight. When bars, beer makers, and taxi companies got involved that changed. It wasn't education about statistics.

2:42 Comment From colette

Andrew i'm mid-40s and remember the days (college for me) when drunk driving was most definitely socially acceptable. MADD changed that

2:42 Comment From Derek

I'd like to hear your opinion on Judge Posner's recent ruling striking down IL's concealed carry law, affirming that the Second Amendment ensured a right to self-defense. I know that Posner has been critical of Second Amendment arguments for a right of self defense in the past, as have people like Justice Scalia and Robert Bork. Why have conservative jurists become so willing to deviate from an originalist viewpoint on the Second Amendment? It requires a kind of legal reasoning that sharply contrasts with general conservative jurisprudence, and I wonder if you have any insights into this shift.

2:44 David Frum: I don't want to get personal here, but I think Judge Posner sometimes relishes reaching perverse results. Any judge of ordinary intellect can reach some kind of basically sensible result, but it takes a Richard Posner to devise a chain of reasoning each step of which is fully plausible but whose final result is nonsensical.

2:44 Comment From Ruth Ellis

Not to demonize the NRA (as easy as that would be) but it seems that the gun lobby is not only behind our laissez faire approach to guns but also the primary reason why we don't have more information on what would actually work to prevent gun violence. Do you think the tide is finally turning against the political power of the NRA?

2:45

David Frum: Congress actually forbade federal funding of gun research in the 1990s, at NRA behest. That's one reason we have such huge variance in the estimates of defensive gun uses, with estimates ranging from 100,000 to 2 million per year.

2:45 Comment From Jordan

What about a "national registry" of guns that the NRA screams loudest about? (though the NRA doesn't mind a national list of mentally ill people.

2:46 David Frum: I fear that a national registry would be so easy to evade that it would end mostly by legitimating law-breaking among gun owners.

2:46 Comment From Scott P

Have you thought about doing a skype debate with Sam Harris about guns?

2:46 David Frum: No, but it's a good idea.

2:47 Comment From JMMonahan

There is no "originalist" take on the 2d Amendment. The thing holds absurd language gaps between the "militia" concept and actual right to arms. There are no words that connect, let alone condition, 2d Amendment rights to the militia reference. Posner may be impish, but the flawed amendment language is a prime villain in the gun debate.

2:48 David Frum: I was taught in high school that a dangling participle was an offense against grammar because it was an offense against logic. Yet there it is, embedded in the Constitution.

2:48 Comment From Faith

David, since a previous poster brought up race in a frank way, I'll do it as well. What are these white gun owners so afraid of? I've lived in Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. Now I live in Suburban, NJ. I didn't know a single working soul in Bed Stuy who owned a gun- despite the street violence. In the suburbs, I've now had to re-evaluate if I'll let me kids go to some people's homes, because so many parents own guns. What's up with that?!?!? Seems like people in dangerous neighborhoods are braver and trust in God more than people in safer neighborhoods-if you ask me.

2:49 David Frum: A lot of research shows that human beings are not very good risk estimators. Among our most characteristic mistakes: we hugely over-estimate our own competence. (That's why so many more of us are afraid to fly than are afraid to drive. The statistics may show that the plane is safer, but we feel secure when we ourselves are at the controls - big mistake as that is.) ...

2:51 David Frum: I once had a cover it live exchange with a woman who said she wanted guns because her kids had once been caught in the playground when a criminal ran through to flee police. THe criminal fired at police , and she was terrified. She wished the parents around her were carrying guns to kill the criminal.

I stated incredulously: You wanted a gun fight in your PLAYGROUND? But as we talked, it became clear that it had not occurred to her that a civilian parent shooter might MISS.

2:51 Comment From Sinan
Do you believe in the infallibility of the founders as a group?

2:51 David Frum: Um, no, to put it mildly.

2:52 Comment From lee

After seeing the devastation of night raids on the Occupy Camps I doubt whatever comes next will be caught sleeping unarmed in their tents. How quickly do you think gun laws would change if protestors whether they be conservative or liberal fired on police and many were killed.

2:54 David Frum: We had a number of those cases in the mid-1990s, and they did not change minds. But look, here's the good news: The US today faces much less political violence than eg the period 1955-1970, when segregationists used deadly violence against civil rights protesters and JFK, MLK and RLK were assassinated by gunmen.

2:54 Comment From Faith Hmm...we'll I'm with you. I'll hand in my car keys and fly with a pilot any day of the week, LOL.

2:54 David Frum: Cant get those driverless cars fast enough.

2:54 Comment From DSP
The 2A directly connects the security of free state to armed *people*.

2:55 David Frum: No, to an armed militia. The militia were a body of drilled troops, conscripted by law, and subject to military discipline inclding court martial.

2:55 Comment From Doorkeeper
What are your best arguments against 'open carry' legislation?

2:56 David Frum: If I wanted to live surrounded by gunmen, I'd move to Somalia.

2:56 David Frum: I keep thinking of that passage in Martin Chuzzlewit, where Dickens wonders why Americans think themselves freer than British people because they live surrounded by brawls, duels, and shootings.

2:57 David Frum: Last question , 3 mins to go

2:57 Comment From Think4yourself: David, your comment about the woman who wanted guns on the playground reminded me of the recent Empire St. Building shooting where trained police officers in foot pursuit of the suspect ended up wounding several (7?) innocent bystanders. And these by the men in blue whom next to soldiers spend the most amount of time training for deadly situations.

2:58 David Frum: A story. My father-in-law ended his military career post Korean war as a training officer back home in Canada.

2:58 David Frum: He was drilling a squad of men on a rifle range when a deer crossed the field of fire. He shouted "$10 to the man who brings down that deer!"

2:59 David Frum: BANG BANG BANG BANG - until the deer wandered off perfectly unharmed.

2:59 David Frum: Shooting is hard.

2:59 David Frum: Thanks you all, this was very thought-provoking. Next time!