by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor, John Locke Foundation
Today, the editors of the N&O wish to point out what they see as a paradox. The headline proclaims it: “Trump promised to end ‘American carnage’ but he embraces the NRA.”
Their choice of conjunction says it all. In their view, support for the National Rifle Association is pro-“carnage.”
There is no way to make that case except rhetorically. Research and history, especially the past few decades, have shown that a large increase in gun ownership in this nation have coincided with steep declines in firearm murder rates as well as nonfatal firearm victimization rates. Overall crime rates are at near historic lows.
How much has gun ownership increased? A Congressional Research Service study released in August 2015 found that, from 1994 to 2009, gun ownership increased from 192 million firearms to 310 million. Ownership rates have continued to increase since then.
If gun ownership itself caused gun crimes, then fatal and nonfatal gun crimes would be spiking alongside gun ownership. These twin spikes would be more noticeable since non-gun crimes are falling.
Going further: gun-rights advocates and the NRA have long asserted that gun ownership tends to dissuade against and ward off violent crime. If they’re right, then the crimes averted by gun ownership would not necessarily be just gun crimes, but also crime in general.
Why would that be? Well, Sean Connery’s character in “The Untouchables” made a hint along those lines in his wisecrack about “bring[ing] a knife to a gun fight.”
Never bring a knife to a gun fight.
Historically low crime rates, steeply falling fatal gun crime rates, and steeply falling nonfatal gun victimizations cannot be argued as “carnage.” That they’ve occurred amid spiking gun ownership rates seems to validate gun-rights advocates, including the NRA.
If so, stymieing or preventing gun ownership would tend to encourage more crime, violent and otherwise. A fair-minded person concerned about carnage would take pause at that.
But why “carnage” in the first place? Here’s why the editors chose that word:
It remains to be seen how someone who could act in this way managed to acquire so many high-powered weapons, but anyone who dares to even ask that question will be dismissed by the “gun lobby” that resists additional regulation in the name of freedom — and does so even when 20 children die in a school in Newtown, scores are slaughtered in an Orlando nightclub and assualt [sic] rifle fire sweeps a field where Congressmen and others are preparing for a softball game.
In his Inaugural Address, President Trump said, “This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” But he has done nothing to stop this particularly American form of carnage: the unstable and the aggrieved blasting away on crowds with weapons made not for hunting, but for war.
Indeed, the president has embraced the agenda of the National Rifle Association that helped end a ban on assault rifles. The president who said he would end the carnage in America also told the NRA’s Leadership Forum in Atlanta in April, “The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end. You have a true friend and champion in the White House.”
Put aside the red herring that the Second Amendment was merely to protect hunting. What was Trump talking about when he said that? What is the context for the remark? Was he speaking of mass shootings, as the editors make it sound?
Or, as is usually the case in an inaugural address, was he speaking more broadly?
Here is that quote in context:
You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before.
At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.
Americans want great schools for their children, safe neighborhoods for their families, and good jobs for themselves.
These are the just and reasonable demands of a righteous public.
But for too many of our citizens, a different reality exists: Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities; rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system, flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of knowledge; and the crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
We are one nation – and their pain is our pain. Their dreams are our dreams; and their success will be our success. We share one heart, one home, and one glorious destiny.
It is clear from the context that the president was speaking broadly about the poor, the downtrodden, those in bad schools and bad neighborhoods — people situated where institutions are failing to help them (family, community, schools, work). He wasn’t speaking narrowly about mass shootings.
No fair-minded person would make such a misreading. It is bad faith to misrepresent the president’s words in order to try to gainsay him over a mass shooting, not to mention unimaginably crass to discount the toll of humanity in seeking to score a cheap political point. Pitiful garnish to persevere in doing so while being flat wrong.
Like all politicians, Trump will present many opportunities for criticism and policy disagreements. Yesterday’s unprecedented and hitherto unexplained attack is no such opportunity
It is instead a time to, in the president’s words, “call upon the bonds that unite us, our faith, our family, and our shared values … the bonds of citizenship, the ties of community, and the comfort of our common humanity.”