A Gun Is Not a Swimming Pool

January 11, 2016
Posted by Jay Livingston

The trouble with us liberals is that we worry about guns being dangerous.  If we can’t get rid of guns, we think, then at least let’s make them safer. But arguments and policies based on safety are not going to get much support from the gunslingers.

Charles Blow makes the safety argument in today’s New York Times (here). He draws the rough parallel between guns and cars.

People, including the president in his speech and town hall meeting last week, like to compare increasing gun regulations to the way cars are regulated. . . . Furthermore, cars are required to be licensed, registered, insured and periodically inspected.

Usually, it’s the the gunlovers who bring up cars, almost always in the same paragraph as swimming pools. Why all the fuss about guns, they argue, when these other ordinary things pose far greater danger.  In the National Review in 2013 (here), John Lott asked, “Should you ask your neighbors if they own a gun before your child plays at their house?” Here’s how he answered his own question:

If you are going to worry about your child’s safety you should check into other, perhaps less obvious dangers lurking in the playmate’s house: swimming pools, bathtubs, water buckets. . . Drownings alone claimed 609 deaths. . . .And don’t forget to ask about the playmate’s parents’ car and their driving records if your child will ride with them: After all, motor-vehicle accidents killed 923 children younger than 10.

All of those are far outnumber the 36 children who died in shooting accidents.

Lott doesn’t say what would happen if we looked not at absolute numbers but at risks. To do that properly, we’d have to know how many children played at houses where there were pools; or how many children rode in cars. We’d have to find out what proportion of car trips or swimming-pool play dates were fatal. Then we’d have to make the same comparison for children who played at homes equipped with guns.

Both sides leave out the crucial difference between swimming pools and cars on the one hand and guns on the other: The purpose of a swimming pool is recreation; the purpose of a car is transportation. Neither is intended to kill. But guns are for killing.

Suppose we could design a totally safe car – a car that absolutely could not kill anyone in the car or outside it. Many people would buy such a car. Insurance companies would give discounts to owners. Our elected officials might even require that all cars be equipped with this life-saving technology. And similarly for swimming pools.

Now imagine a gun that was guaranteed incapable of killing people.

Actually, you don’t have to imagine it. It happened. Or rather, it didn’t happen. Just the threat of such a disaster – a safer gun – was enough to mobilize the gunslingers to prevent it.

In 2000 the Clinton administration reached an agreement with Smith & Wesson, to end federal and state lawsuits, in exchange for marketing and design changes by the company. Some of the items Smith & Wesson agreed to were: to sell guns with locks; to build the locks in the weapons within two years; implement smart gun technology; and take ballistic fingerprints of its guns. [Wikipedia]

The NRA went ballistic. They organized a boycott. In the next year, Smith & Wesson sales fell by 40%.

This time around S&W has said nothing about Obama’s proposal but has been content to silently watch the price of their shares rise.
Smith and Wesson
Learned its lesson:
Forget the prez;
Do what NRA says.
We liberals fail to understand the gunlovers’ reaction because when we think about the ability to kill a lot of people, we don’t think of that as a good thing. When we think about guns, we think about danger and safety. We make the mistake of thinking about guns the way we think about swimming pools and cars – that each step we can make towards greater safety will be welcomed by manufacturers and consumers.

But with guns, as we clearly see in the reaction to Clinton’s and Obama’s proposals, the NRA, et al., see each step towards safety as a threat. Guns are for killing. Making guns safer, limiting magazines to “only” ten or fifteen rounds, limiting guns to firing “only” three rounds per second, making guns usable only by the owner – all bad.  The gunlovers do not want anything that might reduce their ability to kill people. Lots of people.

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