Published May 12, 2023
Democrats can’t stop shooting themselves in the foot on gun control. Their mistake is that they refuse to connect their push for more firearm restrictions with, well, everything else they are doing.
The Democratic approach to guns is to wait until there is a mass shooting and then demand more gun control. But the narrow logic of their argument — that we should ban, or at least further restrict, the weapons used to commit the latest mass murder — is undermined by what Democrats do the rest of the time.
Except for those who are already ideologically committed to it, gun control is a high-trust proposal. People keep and bear arms to defend themselves, and so persuading citizens to limit or even give up their guns requires persuading them that they do not need them for protection. But voters do not view Democrats as prioritizing a country with low crime and high social trust. Rather, Democrats are seen as the soft-on-crime party, with a left flank that is committed to insane defund-the-police policies.
When Democratic prosecutors refuse to prosecute, when Democratic politicians enact revolving-door bail policies for violent criminals, when Democratic mouthpieces insist that violent and threatening lunatics on public transit should be accepted as a normal part of life, they are telling people they are on their own. And many Americans have gotten the message; the 2020 Black Lives Matter riots sold a lot of guns, many of them to new gun owners.
If Democrats want to convince Americans of the benefits of gun control, they should start by showing they are willing and able to control crime. But they often do not even bother to enforce existing gun laws against violent criminals. The more Democratic leaders and activists tolerate crime and disorder, the more they sabotage their demands for more gun control.
Democrats Stoke Mistrust
Similarly, Democrats are also hampered by the mistrust and animosity they stoke. New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie got the causality backward when he wrote that an armed society is “a world of fear and alienation, where people live in a state of heightened awareness, even anxiety. It is not a world of trust or hope or solidarity or any of the values we need to make democracy work as a way of life, much less a system of government.”
But it is not guns that have created social alienation. Americans have always been well-armed — for a while last century, it was possible to mail-order machine guns. Rather, it is the culture that has changed, along with the nature of American violence — we have tended to be a violent nation, but regular mass shootings are a relatively recent development.
Americans are increasingly alienated, with a massive deficit of social trust. Trust in everything from the government to churches is down dramatically, and Americans are increasingly lonely. No wonder people are arming up, including many of those who still have strong families and communities — they can tell what time it is, and they have others to protect as well as themselves.
Democratic leaders and their apologists at The New York Times and elsewhere may claim to want trust, hope, and solidarity, but these cannot be established by government edicts and programs — though they can be destroyed by them. A little more gun control, or even a lot more gun control, won’t do the trick. Nor will Bouie writing a column or two a week calling conservatives racist change anything for the better, or even advance his goals (other than his getting paid, which is a goal every writer should respect).
How to Build Trust
The ways of life that actually build trust, hope, and solidarity are not mysterious: Get married and stay married, have kids and raise them well, go to church, and get involved in your community. These patterns of life used to be normal for everyone, but now it is mostly conservatives advocating for them. And a nation with strong families and communities, united by shared values and high social trust, would probably have far fewer mass shootings, regardless of its gun laws.
It is not guns, but the left’s hostility toward traditional values and ways of life that is driving much of the alienation in our country. And while it is most destructive for those caught up in it (fatherless children being a leading example) it is also threatening for everyone else. Part of why it is so easy for many American gun owners to envision a tyrannical government that might need to be forcefully resisted is because they can see the cultural revolution the left is waging against them.
If Bouie and the rest want some more trust, hope, and solidarity, they could start by calling off the culture war, or at least admit to waging it — one of the more surreal aspects of our political discourse is watching leftists proclaim their intention to radically remake American culture with every tool at their disposal, which they press to even the pettiest of points, and then turn around and pretend they are not the culture war aggressors.
The left can, for example, try to empower every schoolteacher in America to transition children without parental knowledge or consent, or it can try to increase trust, hope, and solidarity. It cannot do both. Likewise, the left can make the case for gun control, or it can demand that we defund the police. It cannot do both.
If leftists want our guns, they should stop trying to take our children.
Nathanael Blake is a senior contributor to The Federalist and a postdoctoral fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.