How to Win an Argument About Guns

Tragically, predictably, infuriatingly, we’re again mourning a shooting — this time at YouTube’s headquarters — even as the drive for gun safety legislation has stalled in Washington. Polls show that nine out of 10 Americans favor basic steps like universal background checks before gun purchases, but the exceptions are the president and a majority in Congress.

Usually pundits toss out their own best arguments while ignoring the other side’s, but today I’m going to try something new and engage directly with the arguments made by gun advocates:

You liberals are in a panic over guns, but look at the numbers. Any one gun is less likely to kill a person than any one vehicle. But we’re not traumatized by cars, and we don’t try to ban them.

It’s true that any particular car is more likely to be involved in a fatality than any particular gun. But cars are actually a perfect example of the public health approach that we should apply to guns. We don’t ban cars, but we do work hard to take a dangerous product and regulate it to limit the damage.

We do that through seatbelts and airbags, through speed limits and highway barriers, through driver’s licenses and insurance requirements, through crackdowns on drunken driving and texting while driving. I once calculated that since 1921, we had reduced the auto fatality rate per 100 million miles driven by 95 percent.

Sure, we could have just said “cars don’t kill people, people kill people.” Or we could have said that it’s pointless to regulate cars because then bicyclists will just run each other down. Instead, we relied on evidence and data to reduce the carnage from cars. Why isn’t that a model for guns?

Because of the Second Amendment. The Constitution doesn’t protect vehicles, but it does protect my right to a gun.

Yes, but courts have found that the Second Amendment does not prevent sensible regulation (just as the First Amendment does not preclude laws on defamation). There is no constitutional objection to, say, universal background checks to obtain a gun. It’s crazy that 22 percent of guns are obtained without a check.

We all agree that there should be limits. No one argues that there is an individual right to own an antiaircraft gun. So the question isn’t whether firearms should all be sacrosanct but simply where we draw the line. When more Americans have died from guns just since 1970 (1.4 million) than in all the wars in American history (1.3 million), maybe it’s worth rethinking where that line should be.

Whoa! You’re inflating the gun violence numbers by including suicides. Almost two-thirds of those gun deaths are suicides, and the blunt reality is that if someone wants to kill himself, he’ll find a way. It’s not about guns.

Actually, that’s not true. Scholars have found that suicide barriers on bridges, for example, prevent jumpers and don’t lead to a significant increase in suicides elsewhere. Likewise, almost half of suicides in Britain used to be by asphyxiating oneself with gas from the oven, but when Britain switched to a less lethal oven gas the suicides by oven plummeted and there was little substitution by other methods. So it is about guns.

No, it’s more about our violent culture. The Swiss and Israelis have large numbers of firearms, and they don’t have our levels of gun violence.

Yes, there’s something to that. America has underlying social problems, and we need to address them with smarter economic and social policies. But we magnify the toll when we make it easy for troubled people to explode with AR-15s rather than with pocketknives.

You liberals freak out about guns. If you have a swimming pool or a bathtub, that’s more dangerous to neighborhood kids than a gun is. Kids under age 14 are much more likely to die from drowning than from firearms. So why this crusade against guns, but not against bathtubs and pools?

Your numbers are basically right, but only because young children routinely swim and take baths but don’t regularly encounter firearms. But look at the picture for the population as a whole: Over all, 3,600 Americans drown each year, while 36,000 die from guns (yes, including suicides). That’s one reason to be talking more about gun safety than about pool safety.

Note also that a backyard pool isn’t going to be used to mug a neighbor, or to invade a nearby school. Schools don’t have drills for an “active pool situation.” And while some 200,000 guns are stolen each year, it’s more difficult to steal a pool and use it for a violent purpose.

Moreover, we do try to make pools safer. Many jurisdictions require a permit for a pool, as well as a childproof fence around it with self-locking gates. If we have permits and safe storage requirements for pools, why not for guns? What’s wrong with trying to save lives?

Why I Was Wrong About Elizabeth Warren

And her growing popularity suggests others are coming around, too.

As the Democratic presidential campaign began, I was deeply skeptical of Elizabeth Warren.

My first objection was that she appeared to have parlayed possible Native American heritage to gain academic jobs (Harvard Law School listed her as Native American beginning in 1995). That offended me, and I knew it would repel huge numbers of voters.

Second, I thought she shot from the hip and, with her slight political experience, would wilt on the campaign trail.

Third, I thought she was a one-note Sally, eloquent on finance but thin on the rest of domestic and foreign policy.

So much for my judgment: I now believe I was wrong on each count, and her rise in the polls suggests that others are also seeing more in her. Warren has become the gold standard for a policy-driven candidate, and whether or not she wins the Democratic nomination, she’s performing a public service by helping frame the debate.

Let’s examine my misperceptions. First, The Boston Globe conducted a rigorous examination of Warren’s legal career, and it is now clear that she never benefited professionally from Native American associations.

“The Globe found clear evidence, in documents and interviews, that her claim to Native American ethnicity was never considered by the Harvard Law faculty, which voted resoundingly to hire her, or by those who hired her to four prior positions at other law schools,” the newspaper concluded.

Then there’s the concern about political naïveté and inexperience. Warren first ran for office only in 2012; even Pete Buttigieg has been in elective politics longer.

It’s reasonable to worry about her electability, partly because last year she won re-election in Massachusetts as senator with a smaller share of the popular vote than Hillary Clinton had received two years earlier in the state. In contrast, Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota hugely outperformed Clinton.

I worried about a tendency to shoot from the hip when Warren misread an article and in 2016 wrote a Facebook rant denouncing a supposedly greedy Trump-supporting investor, Whitney Tilson. In fact: Tilson opposed Trump and agrees with Warren on most issues; indeed, Tilson had previously donated to Warren.

The unbalanced screed resembled a Trump tweet and made me wonder about Warren’s judgment. But Warren later apologized, and she has been more careful since. Tilson told me that he thinks the rant was not part of a pattern but perhaps reflected a sleep-deprived moment.

More broadly, Warren has improved tremendously as a politician. Early on, she sometimes came across as a stern Harvard professor eager to grill you about an obscure tort case. She’s now much better on the hustings. Forget the tort case and Harvard Law; she’s an Oklahoma gal who wants to have a beer with you.

Finally, I was manifestly wrong on Warren’s policies. She has been a geyser of smart proposals, including one I particularly like for universal child care. This would resemble the outstanding child care program operated by the U.S. military and would benefit both working moms and at-risk kids.

Warren also has a range of other proposals, pertaining to everything from election reform to housingantitrust to corporate governance. Then she offers a wealth tax to help pay for social programs.

One of America’s biggest problems is the collapse of the working class and the lower middle class, with suicide at a 30-year high and drug and alcohol abuse causing life expectancy to fall. Warren confronts that crisis head-on both with her personal story and with sharp policies to boost opportunity. Her 2017 memoir, “This Fight Is Our Fight,” is that rarity of campaign books: a decent read.

Warren’s proposals might or might not succeed, but they are serious, based on work by top scholars. She is a believer in a market economy, regulated to keep it from being rigged, and in corporations that contribute to the well-being of all. And while she’s no expert on foreign policy, her instincts on avoiding war with Iran and showing concern for Palestinians seem good ones.

At her best, Warren is also brilliant at shaping the narrative. In 2011, she explained why taxing the rich isn’t “class warfare.”

“There’s nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody,” she said in a clip that went viral. “You built a factory out there? Good for you! But I want to be clear: You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces the rest of us paid for.”

She ended: “You built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless! Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay it forward for the next kid who comes along.”

That’s a conversation we need to have in America, and I’m glad Warren is getting attention so that she can make her case.

‘He Is a Racist, He Is a Con Man, and He Is a Cheat’

Nixon was bad, but nothing compared to Michael Cohen’s portrayal of “gangster” Trump.

.. What was almost as dispiriting as the range of misconduct alleged was the behavior of Republicans on the committee. They seemed less interested in ferreting out the truth than in covering it up; all they wanted to do was protect Trump and discredit Cohen.

It was three hours into the hearing before a Republican even asked Cohen a question about Trump.

.. And I hope the Republicans listened when Cohen told one of his G.O.P. interrogators: “I did the same thing you are doing now for 10 years. I protected Mr. Trump for 10 years.” He added: “People who follow Mr. Trump blindly will suffer the same consequences I’m suffering.”