Looking to the Data on Gun Control

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Leah Libresco’s Washington Post commentary on gun control is worth a read, not only for information on that specific issue, but also for some perspective on how political issues should be considered:

By the time we published our project, I didn’t believe in many of the interventions I’d heard politicians tout. I was still anti-gun, at least from the point of view of most gun owners, and I don’t want a gun in my home, as I think the risk outweighs the benefits. But I can’t endorse policies whose only selling point is that gun owners hate them. Policies that often seem as if they were drafted by people who have encountered guns only as a figure in a briefing book or an image on the news.

Instead, I found the most hope in more narrowly tailored interventions. Potential suicide victims, women menaced by their abusive partners and kids swept up in street vendettas are all in danger from guns, but they each require different protections.

One often gets the impression that the motivation for gun laws really is an assertion of power over the types of people who own them.  Another motivation often seems to be a personal sense of having done something about some tragic event by passing new laws, which shouldn’t outweigh the rights of others.

The key quality of Libresco’s thinking is that she apparently began by asking what her objective was and then measuring possible solutions.  Following her lead would also allow us to weigh one objective against another.

For example, among the policies that she suggests is “identify[ing] gang members for intervention based on previous arrests and weapons seizures” using “an algorithm.”  This brings to mind the Community Safety Act in Providence, which places extreme limits on the lists that law enforcement can use to track gang activity.  If reducing gun violence is a critical goal, then a policy like the CSA would have a different context.

Maybe one policy wins out over another, or maybe neither makes sense, but if our public policy debates were more logically structured and more rationally conducted, at least we would be weighing pluses and minuses.  Instead, it too often seems that the arguments proceed with participants feeling that the problems and solutions are obvious and easily resolved if not for the intransigence of the other side.



  • Rhett Hardwick

    I am troubled by many of these proposed “red flag” laws. Aside from circumventing the 2nd Amendment, how about the constitutional right to confront your accuser? How does one “confront” an algorithm?

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