Questions about the gun conversation

So it happened again this week: Some nutcase with a gun killed a bunch of people he’d never met before. Three weeks ago, it was 12 dead in Aurora, Colo.; on Sunday, six died in Oak Creek, Wisc.

Stylized close-up of cover art from George Pelecanos’s “The Sweet Forever,” an excellent detective novel that involves a great many guns.

(Disclosure, part 1: I started writing this post after Aurora, got distracted and set it aside, figuring that news would make it relevant again eventually. I didn’t know the wait would be so short.)

(Disclosure, part 2: I have shot guns a few times at targets, once including popping off a few rounds with an M16, and I enjoyed those experiences. I have also had a gun put to my head during a mugging. I did not enjoy that.)

For the second time in three weeks, we are talking about firearms regulation and the Second Amendment with few expectations of things changing. I have some questions about this unproductive conversation.

Could we have a little more context about the relative scope of the problem? Violent crime overall is down, way down, even as we’ve steadily loosened gun regulation; you face a higher risk of death from a car than a gun, and the majority of gun deaths are self-inflicted. (Mass shootings, however, have remained stubbornly steady; why is that?)

Can we agree that, NRA-engineered paranoia aside, nobody is going to confiscate everybody’s guns in the United States? (I will strikethrough the preceding sentence when Democrats launch a serious campaign to repeal the Second Amendment.)

Can we also agree that the Second Amendment permits reasonable limits on who can own a gun, what kinds of guns they can own and where they can take them? Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion in District of Columbia v. Heller striking down D.C.’s handgun ban is clear about that. So can we move on to debate Second Amendment-compliant limits from a public-health perspective, assuming we ever get conclusive data?

Do news stories provide an accurate picture of what most gun owners are like? (One of my neighbors is a competitive target shooter and Navy vet; he and his wife are the people we trust with a spare key to our house.)

To those who have written, sometimes convincingly, that no current or politically plausible gun regulations would prevent an Aurora or an Oak Creek: Are these just unavoidable random tragedies, much like the far higher casualties we tolerate on our roads? Or do you have suggestions for a more effective response by government–like, say, better mental-health care?

If those suggestions instead boil down to “more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens in more places”–well, don’t we have enough in circulation already? We are already the most heavily armed country in the world. Should I not regard the idea that security lies in individual citizens packing heat on their daily errands, staying in a state of perpetual alertness, as a confession of a failure of civilization?

If a post like this counts as “politicizing the tragedy,” when would be a better time? Is there a mandatory waiting period for this sort of thing?