The Logic, Illogic And Political Calculus Of The Great Gun Control Debate

Whenever you see a parade outside, you can count on politicians to jump out in front of it to demonstrate their leadership. Even better is when two parades cross paths, shouting opposing slogans that can be turned into campaign dollars at the drop of a sound bite. And best of all, if the issue they are shouting about is unlikely ever to be “solved,” you have the closest thing to a political annuity yet invented.

Like many culture-war issues, attitudes about gun control pretty much evenly divide the electorate. As the political debate gets louder and nastier, it sucks all the air out of the news cycle, leaving other issues crying for attention. Now, if only the country’s looming bankruptcy could ignite that kind of passion! Instead, the runaway spending train continues hurtling down the tracks, with no one willing to get out in front of it.

The effectiveness of laws that restrict firearm access for law abiding citizens to reduce the level of murder and mayhem perpetrated by non law abiding citizens is an open question. Under what’s left of our Federalist System, this has resulted in a patchwork of gun ownership laws that vary widely by city and state, largely because attitudes about guns also vary widely. As a result, murder rates vary by city and state, with the highest rates of gun violence usually occurring in places that have the strictest gun laws. Cause or effect? Only rabid partisans think they know for sure.

In one corner, the vast right wing conspiracy has the awkward job of explaining why any citizen who is not a convicted felon or certified loon should be able to walk into his local Walmart and buy a 30-round clip for his semi-automatic weapon with no questions asked, and that outlawing anything short of a bazooka spells death for the Second Amendment. In the opposite corner, the loony left has the awkward job of explaining why someone who would empty a 30-round clip into a movie theater or classroom would be deterred by the law and why those victims wouldn’t have been better off had someone capable of shooting back been around. The rest of us watch as they shout past each other, realizing that at the end of the day, very little substantive change will be made one way or the other.

This continues until the fracas has been fully milked by all parties. Then the president appoints a Blue Ribbon commission that will make sure the issue continues to fester long after the news cameras have rushed off to swarm around the next story. Given his recent leadership “success” brokering a bipartisan fiscal cliff deal that lasted all of twelve minutes, chief negotiator Joe Biden has been called on to run this episode’s high profile exercise in futility, promising to resolve the gun control issue “once and for all.”

Did it ever occur to you that this is the main purpose of the culture war? Don’t you understand, vocal advocates of both left and right, that you are being used as props in a scripted stage production? Every time one of these fights breaks out both parties win. Our entrenched duopoly has done such a thorough job of gerrymandering the country that even if one side “loses” on a particular culture war issue and the law moves five inches to the left or five inches to the right, savvy politicians know they can appeal to their core constituents for a few more donations to try to push it back the other way. All the while, it’s business as usual as Uncle Sam spends our money like it’s being printed by the freight car load.  Because it is.

How much safer will new gun control laws make you feel when you are standing in a bread line?

Bill Frezza is a Boston-based writer and venture capitalist. You can find all of his columns, TV, and radio interviews here.  If you would like to have his columns delivered to you by email, click here or follow him on Twitter @BillFrezza.