In the wake of the Arizona shooting, Stephen Budiansky makes the analogy between guns and cars:
We have made a reasonable social decision, I think, that the benefits of the automobile outweigh its harm; yet that has not prevented us from honestly acknowledging its harm and the perfectly plain fact that how roads and cars are designed and regulated have an enormous impact on death and injury, completely apart from human volition. (Per capita auto-related fatalities are today half what they were in 1950; deaths per vehicle-mile have dropped sixfold, almost entirely through technological modifications.)
Yet only when it comes to guns do people attempt, usually furiously, to deny that anything but individual responsibilitymatters, as I mentioned the other day. If we are ever to have a real discussion on this topic, we need to begin with the simple admission that guns — like drugs, medicines, cars, power tools, ski helmets, and every other piece of technology in the universe — can be built and employed in ways that are inherently safer or ways that are less safe.
The real difference between gun control and auto safety, it seems to me, is that one is politicized and one is not. You can discuss auto safety in detail because you don’t have to spend your time debating the broader principles of how far the ‘freedom to drive’ extends. Changes in policy are not seen as an assault on fundamental values or a slippery slope toward governmental tyranny (if you’re a gun-nut) or indiscriminate violence (if you’re a pacifism-nut).
If gun control wasn’t politicized to the degree that it is, it could be discussed and regulated at the detail rather than the principle level, with the full participation of gun owners, gun manufacturers and gun opponents. If you accept good faith on all sides, of course no one wants guns to be unnecessarily abundant or unsafe. If the NRA wasn’t a de facto political organization, I’m sure they would have great insight into the factors that increase and exacerbate gun violence, and how to rally gun owners behind preventing them.
A number of other issues suffer from the same politicization-imposed mass blindness, immigration being the most prominent. The details of immigration policies, including their actual economic and social impacts, can’t be discussed honestly or in detail because they’ve become signifiers for a larger debate. You want to relax immigration rules because you don’t care about falling domestic wages! You want to tighten immigration rules because you’re a racist!
But once you get into the details, of course no one is advocating for open borders. And of course there are impacts of immigration that need to be prevented and mitigated. But we’re so busy debating the principles we don’t share that we forget the details we do.