Want to read the latest attempt by a liberal social scientist to tell us what we need to do about gun violence? Try Thomas Abt’s Bleeding Out, the sub-title proclaiming this book to be a “bold new plan for peace in the streets.” And what Abt believes we can accomplish if we follow his bold plan is an annual 10% drop in homicide every year in cities with high homicide rates. If the 20 cities with populations of 50,000 or more which register the highest rates of fatal violence all initiated Abt’s plan this year, the result would save 12,132 lives over the next eight years.
The author’s focus isn’t on gun violence per se, but he realizes that no significant reduction in urban violence will ever occur without doing something about guns. With reference to the usual suspects (Hemenway, et. al.) he makes the argument that we suffer from such a high rate of fatal violence because we have too many guns. But there’s nothing wrong with the existence of guns per se, it’s when the guns get into the wrong hands of young men who use them in a violent way.
Abt believes there are three categories of wrong-handed gun owners (‘owning’ as in access to a gun, not necessarily legally owned) whose behavior needs to be regulated in order for his bold plan to work. These categories are:
- Would-be shooters – individuals who view using a gun as a way to be accepted within their social milieu.
- Legacy shooters – individuals who grew up in families that are “entrenched in criminal violence.”
- Wounded shooters – individuals who were subject to extreme trauma (beatings, molestations) during childhood.
Abt’s grand plan for dealing with these individuals relies on a mixture of effective policing, even-handed justice, community-level outreach and behavior modification. Sounds interesting, it’s certainly a new and different approach, but I happen to disagree.
Want to know why most kids in the inner-city carry guns? They carry them for the exact, same reason that the middle-class guy in my town walks into my shop to buy a gun – for self-protection. The difference, of course, is that the guy who comes into my shop, plunks down six hundred bucks and walks out with a Glock, has about as much chance of ever needing to use that gun to protect himself as I have a chance to lose the next 20 pounds that my internist has been hocking me to lose for the last ten years.
Having created a portrait of inner-city gun users which may or may not have any connection to reality, Abt then shifts his focus back to where he believes the primary responsibility for reducing gun violence should rest, namely, reducing the demand for guns amongst the at-risk kids and young adults. The whole point of Abt’s approach to gun violence is to move the discussion away from various supply-side schemes to reduce the flow of guns, substituting instead his grand plan that will, he claims, wean people away from their desire to carry and use guns.
Like every other liberal-mined scholar who wants to reduce gun violence, Abt makes a point of explicitly stating that none of his policies would in any way prevent law-abiding citizens from safely owning guns. What we have is yet another attempt to somehow get rid of the results of guns but allow the guns themselves to remain. This country has gun violence for one reason: we allow private ownership of what Antonin Scalia calls ‘weapons of war,’ which just happen to be the handguns made by Glock, Sig, Smith & Wesson, etc., all initially designed and used as military guns.
Everybody keeps telling me it would be next to impossible to forge a national political consensus around the idea that some types of guns are simply too lethal to be owned. Think it would be easier to get hundreds of relevant organizations in 20 large cities to do something which has never been done in even one urban site?
By the way, I liked the book.