I wonder if Bobo has a Lifetime Membership in the NRA. In “The Killing Chain” he scolds us that our present debate around violence fixates on guns at the unhelpful expense of nonmaterial factors and more prudent policy considerations. Right, Bobo. You want more attention given to policing and social services. What are among the first things slashed in Republican “don’t tax me” budgets? Mr. Bruni takes a look at “Rand Paul’s Loopy Ascent” and says at risk to a party that must muffle its cuckoo’s nest, the junior senator from Kentucky spreads his wings. Here’s Bobo:
Let’s say you were writing a novel about a homicide. You’d want to describe the killer’s neighborhood and family background. You’d want to describe his school, his culture and his gang.
You’d want to describe how he got into crime, his prior arrests, his prison time, his drug use and his relationship with his probation officer. You’d want to describe how he got the murder weapon, what sort of police presence there was the night of the killing and what incited the murder.
In other words you’d want to describe a long killing chain, a complex series of links leading up to the ultimate homicide.
Over the last 25 years, American authorities have tried to interrupt that killing chain at almost every link except one. In a hodgepodge but organic manner, there have been vast changes in proactive policing, mentoring programs, gang eradication programs, incarceration rates, cultural attitudes and so on. The only step in the killing chain that we haven’t really touched is gun acquisition. Federal gun control laws have become more permissive over the last several years.
This de facto approach — influencing the whole killing chain except gun acquisition — has nonetheless contributed to a phenomenal decline in violence. Murder rates over all have fallen by about 50 percent, back to levels not seen since the Kennedy administration. There are thousands of people alive today because homicide rates dropped so precipitously.
Now we are in the middle of another debate about violence. If we lived in a purely rational society, this debate would have started with a series of questions: What explains the tremendous drop in violence? How can we build on recent efforts to bring the murder rate even lower? These general questions would have led to a series of more specific questions about police procedures, probably the most direct way to prevent shootings.
For example, as Heather Mac Donald of City Journal, published by the Manhattan Institute, points out, 75 percent of the shootings in Boston over the past 30 years have occurred in 4.5 percent of its area, while 88.5 percent of the city’s street segments had not had a single shooting. So how can we focus police resources on those few areas that host most of the killing?
Or as Robert Maranto of the University of Arkansas points out, in New York police chiefs and precinct leaders are held accountable for changes in the murder rate in their areas. New York has seen an 80 percent drop in the homicide rate. Why aren’t police officials held similarly accountable in many other cities?
But those questions are rarely asked. Instead, the national debate has focused on just one link in the killing chain, the acquisition of the gun.
Now I understand why the gun has taken center stage. The gun is the shocking fact at the moment of the murder. Also, many Americans are material determinists. In any moral question or frightening conflict, there are a lot of people who are uncomfortable with the human element and like to fixate on the material factor.
But the sad fact is that gun acquisition is probably the link on the killing chain least amenable to influence. We live in a country that already has something like 250 million guns floating around. It’s hard retroactively to get a grip on them.
Past efforts to control guns have not dramatically reduced violence. The Gun Control Act of 1968, the Brady Act of 1993 and the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994 all failed to reduce homicides significantly. The Brady law, for example, led to a drop in suicides for those age 55 and older, but a 2000 study commissioned by the American Medical Association found that it did not lead to a reduction in the overall murder rate.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention did an analysis of 51 studies of a series of gun control regulations. It could not find evidence to prove the effectiveness of gun control laws. A 2012 study conducted at Arizona State University and the University of Cincinnati found that waiting periods and background checks had little statistical effect on gun crimes.
Other studies have found more significant effects, but nothing like the impact we’ve seen from changing police procedures and other efforts up and down the killing chain.
If we could start the violence debate over, I’d begin with universal background checks. Acknowledge that on their own, these checks won’t accomplish much. (Drug dealers from Baltimore are not driving to West Virginia gun shows to acquire weaponry.) But use those checks as the first step in a series of policies to reinforce gun trafficking laws and reassert police control over the zones of concentrated violence.
We have a successful history of reducing violence by spreading efforts across the killing chain. We have a disappointing history of trying to reduce violence with a gun-obsessed approach. Let’s focus on what works.
we you decide to slash taxes and cut services… Here’s Mr. Bruni:
When you’ve got loons the likes of Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin fluttering about, I suppose it’s easy not to seem like such a wacko bird yourself.
Is that why Rand Paul is flying high right now? Or is it because he followed his 13-hour filibuster — that knee-defeating, bladder-defying moment in the Senate sun — by showing a few of his less florid feathers? Either way, he has managed, with remarkable speed, to migrate to the foreground of Republican politics. You could almost lose sight of what an albatross he really is.
Today he’s singing the moderate song of immigration reform, and that dirge about drones, which had a valid bass note despite its alarmist melody, struck chords across the political spectrum.
But Paul’s greatest hits include a denunciation of Medicare as socialism, a recommendation of stopping foreign aid to a few key allies, and the insistent introduction of Patriot Act amendments so loopy that one of them netted all of 10 votes from the 95 senators present while another garnered a whopping total of 4.
As Jennifer Steinhauer noted in The Times right after he peddled those clunkers, he had seemingly relocated to Washington “less to make laws than points.”
Now he’s making headlines and waves, and not as a Tea Party curiosity but as a Republican Party lodestar, someone discussed seriously as a possible force in the 2016 presidential primaries. He was tapped just last week to be the featured speaker at the approaching Lincoln Day Dinner in Iowa. There’s an important caucus in that state, you’ll recall.
Paul personifies the G.O.P.’s curse right now. Although it needs to re-establish its bearings in the mainstream, many of the Republicans making the biggest splashes are rowing in from strange tributaries, and the establishment can’t seem to stop the tide.
Seasoned hands with cooler heads tend not to generate nearly as much excitement. All Jeb Bush generated with the publicity tour for his immigration book was outright befuddlement.
The tail wags the dog. Rather than Cruz, the junior senator from Texas, humbly taking cues from John Cornyn, the senior senator, Cornyn labors to match the supercilious upstart scowl for scowl, and even followed Cruz’s intemperate lead to cast one of only three Senate votes against John Kerry’s confirmation as secretary of state.
And Mitch McConnell, who is not only Kentucky’s senior senator but also the Senate minority leader, seems to worry more about Paul, the state’s junior senator, than vice versa.
Back when Paul began his 2010 Senate campaign as an insurgent ophthalmologist (how many times does a journalist get to write that phrase?), McConnell supported the other, more established candidate in the Republican primary. Then Paul triumphed, the Tea Party proved its muscle and McConnell, eyeing his own 2014 re-election bid, had to worry about being undone by the very romance with naysaying outsiders that lofted Paul to victory.
McConnell’s campaign manager this time around? The same one Paul used. His new public posture toward Paul? Indulgent, sometimes even adulatory. He joined Paul for a portion of that marathon filibuster, egging him on.
McConnell doesn’t fear a potential Democratic run by Ashley Judd. He fears being “primaried” — the menacing verb that was popularized by the 2010 and 2012 elections, signifying the threat that a state’s restive Republican voters will pick a Richard Mourdock over a Richard Lugar. That’s Cornyn’s dread, too. He’s also up in 2014.
And so someone like Paul (who, by the way, voted for Kerry’s confirmation) sets the tone. I also wonder if he’s modulating his own, as some long-term strategy moseys into his thinking.
Yes, his recent questioning of jail time for marijuana arrests isn’t a certain winner, but it’s not a surefire loser, either. And his immigration speech last week, which called for a path to citizenship without quite calling it that, suggested a fresh calibration and sensitivity.
But his past brims with statements and stands that make him an unhelpful mascot for his party. He’d be a skunk in a presidential primary and a quixotic, doomed nominee.
He has railed erroneously about the Clean Water Act’s effect on his toilets, indelicately quibbled with aspects of the Civil Rights and Americans With Disabilities Acts, and carped about the “nanny state” in relation to seat-belt laws. Yes, seat-belt laws.
His distaste for government is so deep you wonder how he can bear to work there. He’s like a vegan who has chosen to sup at a steakhouse, though I guess that’s the point. Now that he has access to the kitchen, he can filibuster the filet, stall the sirloin with nuisance amendments, and leave diners with only a side of spinach, and maybe an iceberg wedge.
It’s a crazy salad he’s serving, no matter how it’s currently dressed.
Charles Pierce at Esquire has posited the “Paul Rule,” which he says applies equally to Rand and his daddy Ron. He says the first 5 minutes of what they say can make sense, but at 5:01 the crazy starts…