I’ve had a “guns post” half in the can for a long time. Since before the Sandy Hook massacre, if I remember right. The Navy Yard shootings are a good enough reason to dig it up and hit Publish. It could have been any other mass shooting between then and now, which roll through American life like weather.

It’s clear as a bell that political actors in America’s early independence wanted an armed populace. However you might crack wise about a “well-regulated militia,” (read: slave patrol, fyi) or make nitpicky jokes about 18th century muskets vs. contemporary automatic weapons, this is the hill you have to climb. It’s on the books. It IS the book.

America is more lethal to itself than it might otherwise be because of the mass availability of guns. People kill people, with guns. No really, guns kill people. That’s what they’re for, and they do it well.

That said, I think current liberal thinking on gun control is misguided. I’m in favor of basically nothing except a nice, steep, Pigovian tax on ammunition. It’s not a new idea. Let me play wonk for a sec. (I had this thing festooned with links, but I got rid of most of them; I feel like justification for this is all out there).

All we should try to do, and all we need to do, is reduce the number of shootings, period. Trying to make any other distinction is useless. Just bring the number of shootings down, and do it by making each shot more expensive. We did it with cigarettes. We did it with fuel economy. It’s a public health problem.

Forget about good guns vs. bad guns. The AR-15 is now a fetish object, for gun nuts and grabbers alike. But it’s not a stable category. There are hundreds of models by dozens of makers. It’s not like saying “Ford Taurus,” it’s like saying “mid-size domestic sedan.” Calling it a “military rifle” is equally meaningless; the military could and does purchase any number of small arms in different calibers, barrel lengths, and so on. There’s nothing special about 5.56mm. You’re not talking about anything you can draw a clear line around.

Hunting weapons are chambered in much more powerful rounds, and nobody is talking about restricting those. If I recall correctly, James Holmes killed most of his victims with a shotgun and not his AR-type rifle, whose extended drum magazine failed. And nobody is talking about restricting shotguns either. The scariness doesn’t rest on anything tangible.

More importantly, the AR-15 or any other “military style” rifle is not what’s killing us. It’s scary, but as numbers go, not the greatest public danger. Most people die by “good guns” i.e. the low-caliber pistols that nobody anywhere is talking about restricting.

Absurdly well-armed mass shooting events drive the issue in the news, but it’s the steady drip of homicide, accident and suicide with the smallest arms that make up the lion’s share of gun death. We need to bend the whole line down, not pick and choose by which gun looks more “tactical” on a magazine cover.

Forget about good gun owners vs bad ones. Trying to prevent the delusional, unstable or already-violent from getting a gun sounds like a simple thing. But you’re either talking about maintaining lists of the convicted (simple enough), or lists of the mentally ill which, frankly, I’m against.

For all that political risk, civil liberties danger and public resource expenditure setting it up, I don’t think you’d get very much safety out of it.

Let me say it again, mass shootings make the news, but it’s the constant numbing hum of homicide, accident and suicide that’s killing us. We need to make each shot more expensive. Gun death is not fantastical; almost none of it is done by the insane or “professional”. People are killed by people they know, either spur of the moment or by mistake. Or by themselves, We can make all of it less common.

The guns don’t know what they’re doing, and don’t care. We need more of them to lie empty. The number of guns is not going down (already 200+ million, and they don’t wear out). The median quality of American mental health is not going to change, and I don’t trust anyone to pick and choose, and wouldn’t want to anyway — it’s the “good” shooters you have to worry about as much as the bad. Anybody can lose it. Anybody can miss.

It’s worth noting, as an aside, that the number of homicides has gone down, while the number of shootings has not (as much). This is entirely due to improvements in emergency medicine, driven by the frequency of gun violence itself, and (my own unexamined theory) spill-over improvements from a decade of battlefield medicine. We are shooting each other and ourselves about much as we used to, but our doctors are getting better at keeping us breathing.

Cross-posted to midwestballadreview.tumblr.com