An experiment in making America the kind of “gun-free society” that Gopnik favors would probably run into some of the same problems that bedeviled Prohibition — alcohol is easier to manufacture, but there’s a high demand for guns and a large enough supply already to sustain a black market more or less indefinitely. On the other hand, a sweeping gun ban would probably save lives, just as Gopnik argues — but then the original Prohibition, for all its unintended consequences, probably saved lives overall as well.
Note that this parallel doesn’t make a case against any of the specific gun control options that are currently on the table.
For alcohol and firearms alike, there’s room for sensible restrictions in a non-prohibitionist world. I don’t think the Assault Weapons Ban was remotely effective as public policy, but I don’t think it was a severe blow to liberty either, and maybe there’s a better version waiting to be crafted. The chance, however small, that an experiment in restricting high-capacity magazines might reduce the deadliness of massacres could make such a restriction worth trying. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging gun safety in the same way that we try to limit underage drinking (though those efforts are sometimes counterproductive) and discourage drunk driving.
Ramesh Ponnuru is unsure what can be done:
Guns are everywhere in our country. A ban on civilian handgun ownership would be unenforceable even if it were constitutional and popular. I am reading a lot of anguished op-eds from people who want gun control. Many of them claim, very plausibly, that other countries show that a less armed society would be a more peaceful one. What they don’t show is that our country can get there from where it is now. That’s the hole in the argument for greater regulation, and it may be a bigger problem for its political prospects even than the NRA.
(Photo: Candles with the names of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting written on them are seen at a makeshift memorial near the entrance to the grounds of Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 18, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. By Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images)