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.
It does, however, make a case against a worldview that ignores other possible policy responses to gun violence, treats guns themselves as a “ravaging infection” and gun ownership is a form of mass psychosis — and yet sees no contradiction in rhapsodizing elsewhere about “the mystique and the smoke and the complexity” of a substance whose widespread availability kills just as many people every year. I am not one of the many millions of Americans for whom gun ownership provides a sport, a pastime, and a feeling of security, and like Adam Gopnik I enjoy a glass of wine with my dinner. But I don’t confuse that cultural difference with a self-evident moral distinction. Recall that Tartuffe’s real sin wasn’t self-congratulatory piety; it was hypocrisy, and the refusal to apply to his own pleasures and appetites the judgments he passed so easily on others.
Ross Douthat. I’d really like to see a thoughtful response to Ross’s argument here: if banning guns is significantly different from banning alcohol, in what way is it different?