But what makes the gun debate so unbearably stale isn’t any disagreement over the interpretation of data. Nor is it a dispute over the value of firearms in a free society. If only it were about these questions. What makes the debate so stale, rather, is the disingenuousness of those who claim to want “sensible” and “reasonable” gun regulations but who in fact want an outright ban.
Supporters of stricter gun laws are not stupid. Some are rather prone to moral exhibitionism, for sure—we think of Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who didn’t wait for the blood to dry in Las Vegas before commencing a self-righteous tirade about the “cowardice” of his colleagues on the Hill who disagree with him on gun policy. But Murphy, Hillary Clinton, Piers Morgan—these people are not stupid. They do not actually think that reducing the capacity of magazines on semi-automatic rifles will somehow make it more difficult for deranged men to shoot schoolchildren. They don’t actually believe that closing the “gun show loophole” (the provision in the Brady law of 1998 by which gun purchasers may avoid background checks) will make Americans safer.
Yet gun-control proponents persist in this charade. Why? Because their real aim—an outright ban on all civilian use of handguns and most rifles—would require a repeal of the Second Amendment. They can’t or won’t call for such a repeal because, for all their brandishing of opinion polls and claims to speak for the majority, they stand no chance of accomplishing it. It’s not impossible to repeal an amendment. The Eighteenth Amendment, establishing Prohibition, was repealed by the Twenty-First in 1933. But it’s impossible to repeal a popular amendment, and Americans like guns and value the Second Amendment far too much to consider excising it from the Constitution.
Since they can’t name their desire, anti-gun activists, in a kind of Freudian displacement maneuver, spend their energy fulminating against the “gun lobby.” Hence all those Times editorials about the NRA “bullying” Washington and holding congressional Republicans in thrall. Hence all those talking-head diatribes and crime-show episodes portraying the “gun lobby” as some dark super-mafia, the mere mention of which turns otherwise cocksure politicians into whimpering fools. But do the NRA and related groups really have such great power? You wouldn’t know it from their lobbying expenses. Last year, gun-rights groups spent $10.5 million on lobbying. Environmental-advocacy groups spent $13 million. Labor unions spent $47.2 million. The agricultural services and products sector: $32.7 million.