In a self-righteously overwrought article that blames liberals for the lack of gun control laws, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof either makes a classic rhetorical mistake or employs a reliable propaganda trick: stating that just because two things happened at the same time, one caused the other. In algebraic terms, the flaw unfolds thusly: A is true, B is true, therefore A caused B.
In “Some Inconvenient Facts for Liberals,” Kristof points out that since 1993, gun homicides have dropped by 50% while gun ownership has increased by 50%. Kristof wants us to believe that the increase in the number of guns in circulation led to a decrease in gun homicides.
But he’s wrong, and he may know it. Note that Kristof refers only to gun homicides: all gun deaths and injuries are up over the past 20 years, whereas all homicides are down, not just gun homicides. Two years ago, Oliver Roeder, Lauren-Brooke Eisen and Julia Bowling of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School, released What Caused the Crime Decline?, which analyzed all of the possible factors leading to a decline in the crime rate using the most complete reports and advanced computer modeling techniques. Among other interesting revelations, the trio found that enactment of looser gun laws had absolutely no effect on the crime rate. Also note that statistics from around the world demonstrate that when private gun ownership increases, so do homicides, deaths and injuries from guns.
Instead of citing a statistic out of context as Kristof does, if we look at the totality of available evidence, we must conclude that if the number of guns had not increased in society gun homicides would have declined even more than they did over the past 25 or so years.
Kristof wonders, at least rhetorically, why legislatures don’t pass anti-gun legislation, when most Americans want stiffer gun laws, including 74% of National Rifle Association (NRA) members. He answers his own question, blaming liberals for antagonizing gun owners by coming across as “supercilious, condescending and spectacularly uninformed about the guns they propose to legislature.”
His two examples of being uninformed don’t prove anything: 1) He says the New York State legislature was uninformed when it passed legislation banning gun magazines holding more than seven bullets, when for most guns, the magazine always holds more than seven bullets. All that proves is the legislators were covering all bases. 2) He points out that assault weapons accounted for only 2% of guns used in crimes and references without citing a study that found that only 2% of all guns used in crimes were assault weapons. Kristof wants us to draw the conclusion that the fuss about reinstituting a ban on assault weapons is wasted effort and shows the ignorance of liberals. The online edition of the Times thankfully provides a link to the study, by three University of Pennsylvania researchers. Titled, “An Updated Assessment of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban: Impacts on Gun Markets and Gun Violence, 1994,” the study states that assault weapons account for a large share of police killings and public mass murders, again demonstrating that liberals were not uninformed. Congress knew when it passed the temporary ban on assault weapons in 1994 that it would reduce police and mass shootings, and it did, for the ten years it was in effect.
As to the charge of superciliousness and condescension, Kristof provides not one shred of evidence, not one quote, not one attitudinal study, not one Internet word analysis. He’s just tarring liberals with some unpleasant adjectives. His ad hominem attack on those who favor gun control conveniently shifts that blame for our loose gun laws to the “supercilious” liberals and away from the NRA and the multitude of politicians on the state and federal level who pig out at its all-you-can-eat money trough.
Kristof declares that he is sympathetic with those advocating tighter gun control laws. He writes that “Americans are absolutely right to be outraged at the toll of guns.” He agrees we need to reduce the carnage from guns, and proposes what he calls a new strategy, to take a “public health approach.” Essentially he wants to stop talking about “gun control” and start talking about “gun safety.” As if changing one word is going to completely rebrand the gun control movement and make it more palatable to the NRA, whose supporters—weapons manufacturers—depend on selling the myth that the only way to be safe it to own a gun and carry it with you everywhere.
Kristof is a fool if he actually believes that if “liberals” had presented the proposed ban on selling guns to suspected terrorists as a “safety” measure instead of a “control” measure” the NRA would have signaled their legislative factotums to vote “yes” or those factotums would have felt secure enough in the desires of the electorate to defy the NRA. No way.
Near the end of the article, Kristof calls for universal background checks for anyone wanting to purchase a gun. Why he supposes calling such a new law a “gun safety” measure will matter to the NRA and legislators remains a mystery.
In short, Kristof’s column is nonsense, the sole purpose of which is to blame liberals for something that is not their fault. The mainstream news media seems to love these articles by centrists or self-loathing liberals that fault liberals and progressives for their inability to pursue their political agenda. Perhaps the self-loathing liberal motive shows up so often media because the owners of mainstream news media tend to be corporations and ultra-wealthy. Like Kristof’s, these articles typically neglect the power of money, influence and control of the news media to subvert the desires of the American people, not just when it comes to gun control, but also on economic, educational, tax and healthcare policies.