On the assumption that there are good and bad people on both the right and the left and that everyone is horrified by mass shootings, how is one to explain the great divide between right and left on the gun issue as it relates to these mass murders?
Why does the left focus on more gun control laws, and why doesn't the right?
One reason is quintessentially American. Most Americans believe that it is their right — and even their duty — to own guns for self-protection. Unique among major democratic and industrialized nations, Americans have traditionally believed in relying on the state as little as possible. The right carries on this tradition, while the left believes in relying on the state as much possible — including, just to name a few areas, education, health care and personal protection.
A second reason for the left-right divide is that the left is uncomfortable with blaming people for bad actions. The right, on the other hand, is far more inclined to blame people for their bad actions.
Thus, liberals generally blame racism and poverty for violent crimes committed by poor blacks and Hispanics, while conservatives blame the criminals. Likewise, during the Cold War the left regarded nuclear weapons as the enemy while conservatives saw Communist regimes that possessed nuclear weapons as the enemy. It was the arms, not the values of those in possession of the arms, that troubled the left.
The third reason for the left-right divide on guns is that the two sides ask different questions when formulating social policies. The right tends to ask, "Does it do good?" The left is more likely to ask, "Does it feel good?"
Attitudes toward the minimum wage provide an excellent example.
As I noted in a recent column, in 1987, The New York Times editorialized against any minimum wage. The title of the editorial said it all: "The Right Minimum Wage: $0.00."
"There's a virtual consensus among economists," wrote the Times editorial, "that the minimum wage is an idea whose time has passed. Raising the minimum wage by a substantial amount would price working poor people out of the job market."
In 1987 the Times editorialized against having any minimum wage because it asked the question: "Does it do good?"
Twenty-seven years later, the same editorial page wrote the opposite of what it had written in 1987, and called for a major increase in the minimum wage.
Why? Did the laws of economics change? Of course not.
What changed was the question the Times asked. Having moved further and further left, the Times editorial page was now preoccupied not with what does good, but with what feels good. And it feels good to raise poor people's minimum wage.
So, too, on gun control. Immediately after the killings in Oregon, President Obama expressed great anger over Congress's unwillingness to pass more gun laws. But neither he nor other left-wing gun control advocates tell us what law or laws — short of universal confiscation of guns (which is as possible as universal deportation of immigrants here illegally) — would have stopped any of the mass shootings that recently occurred.
To liberals it feels good to declare a college a "gun-free zone." Does it do good? Of course not. It does the opposite. It informs would-be murderers that no one will shoot them.
On gun violence, the left doesn't ask, "What does good?" It asks, "What feels good?" It feels good to call for more gun laws. It enables liberals to feel good about themselves; it makes the right look bad; and it increases government control over the citizenry. A liberal trifecta.
Are federal background checks a good idea? The idea sounds perfectly reasonable. But if they wouldn't have prevented any of the recent mass shootings, they would have been no help.
So, then, short of universal confiscation, which is both practically and constitutionally impossible, what will do good? What will reduce gun violence?
One thing that would make incomparably more difference than more gun laws is more fathers, especially in the great majority of shooting murders — those that are not part of a mass shooting. Why aren't liberals as passionate about policies that ensure that millions more men father their children as they are about gun laws? Because such thinking is anathema to the left. The left works diligently to keep single mothers dependent on the state (and therefore on the Democratic Party). And emphasizing a lack of fathers means human behavior is more to blame than guns.
Another is to cultivate participation in organized religion. Young men who attend church weekly commit far fewer murders than those who do not. But this too is anathema to the left. The secular left never offers religion as a solution to social problems. To do so, like emphasizing fathers, would shift the blame from guns to the criminal users of guns.
I would ask every journalist who cares about truth to ask every politician who argues for more guns laws, and every anti-gun activist, just two questions:
"Which do you believe would do more to decrease gun violence in America — more gun laws or more fathers?" "More gun laws or more church attendance?"
Barack Obama says, "Our gun supply leads to more deaths. The GOP has no plausible alternative theory."
The GOP does. But as usual, few Republicans say what it is. And no liberal wants to hear it.