There Has to Be a Tipping Point on Guns, Right?

Bret Stephens: Hi, Gail. I know we’ll talk about Joe Biden’s gun-control proposals, but I wanted to ask how Dan is feeling — about Covid and the Celtics.

Gail Collins: Thanks for asking, Bret. I can now march around with a little badge saying, “My husband’s testing negative!” He didn’t have a major Covid case, but it was a reminder of how any illness can really lay a family low. And what a disaster it must be for, say, single mothers or poor seniors. And how important it is to have good social services for those folks and …

Bret: And a timely prescription of Paxlovid, I presume. Glad he’s better.

Gail: OK, not gonna try to lure you into an activist-government argument today. Will move on instead to the championship-contender Boston Celtics and my theory that professional sports, while cheesy in many ways, are an extremely useful part of the culture, not only providing diversion but also uniting folks who would otherwise have absolutely nothing in common.

Anybody you’re rooting for?

Bret: The Celtics, of course. What’s your over-under on the series, now that it’s tied? Or your bet on Biden getting anything passed on gun legislation?

Gail: Sports-wise, I don’t like the idea of betting on whether some team will score over X points or under. Just tell me who you think is going to win.

Bret: The Men in Green. Not only does God root for them; he also used to play for them.

Gail: However, when it comes to betting on the Senate, God help us. I guess you need to look for ways to celebrate minimal achievement. I can imagine them passing a bill to raise the age for buying an assault rifle to 21, but don’t expect me to throw a party.

Bret: I’m hardly the first person to suggest that no one should be able to legally buy a gun in the United States who can’t legally buy a beer in the United States. I’d also argue that every would-be gun buyer should be required to purchase a gun safe and pass a criminal-background check, a psychiatric evaluation, a three-day waiting period and an extensive gun-safety course. Perhaps a few of the conservatives who argue that school shootings are part of a mental-health crisis might be persuaded to sign on.

Gail: Can I also say how it drives me crazy when lawmakers respond to these gun crises by ranting about police efficiency or school construction?

Bret: Well, the performance of the police in Uvalde was shameful, and I hope the episode lives on as an example to cops everywhere of how not to act when the lives of children and teachers are at risk.

Gail: Of course you want well-trained security officers, but that’s not going to stop all these horrors. And kinda amazed by the idea of eliminating entrances to reduce the chance of a murderer sneaking into a school. Could pose a problem if you’re down to one door and the building catches fire.

Bret: Which sort of brings us to the nub of the problem: Conservatives want policies that don’t work in practice, and liberals want policies that don’t work in politics.

Our news-side colleague Nate Cohn had an eye-opening analysis last week on the wide disparity between the way gun-control measures poll and how people actually vote on them. Turns out, gun control just isn’t as popular at the ballot box as many liberals contend. And every time there’s a gun massacre, gun sales go up, not down. Liberals need to reconsider the way they make their case. Your thoughts?

Gail: Well, my first idea would be to … ask an extremely talented communicator with ties to the right. Take it, Bret!

Bret: Hmmm. Can I start with what doesn’t work?

When Beto O’Rourke says, “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15s,” it just encourages people to buy them. When Jimmy Kimmel makes a moving plea for gun control, he is preaching to the converted, but he isn’t moving the needle. When hyperprogressives say “abolish the police,” they are tacitly encouraging people — especially in low-income communities — to purchase weapons as a logical means of self-defense. When coastal elites denigrate gun culture, they foster precisely the kinds of cultural resentments that lead people to “cling to guns,” to use Barack Obama’s famous phrase. When Biden pleads, “Do something,” he merely invites the question, Do what, exactly?

Gail: As someone who is in favor of getting rid of every assault weapon in the world, I have to protest. Let’s open a conversation about what kind of guns are good for hunting and target shooting and separate them from the ones that are ideal for mowing down students or shoppers or whoever turn out to be the next heartbreaking mass murder victims.

The major barrier is the profit-making gun manufacturers and the culture they subsidize. But I understand I’m not exactly moving many AR-15 owners. Give me a better strategy.

Bret: Imagine a TV ad from a moderate Democrat like Ohio’s Tim Ryan or Virginia’s Abigail Spanberger that goes something like this:

“I believe in the Second Amendment. But not for this guy,” followed by a picture of the Tucson, Ariz., mass murderer Jared Lee Loughner; “or this guy” — a picture of Aurora, Colo., mass murderer James Holmes; “or this guy” — a picture of Newtown, Conn., mass murderer Adam Lanza.

It would continue: “I also believe in the right to own firearms responsibly for hunting and self-defense. But not for this” — a picture of the scene outside the Uvalde school; “or this” — a picture of the scene from the Buffalo grocery store; “or this” — scenes from the Parkland massacre.

And it could conclude: “Justice Robert Jackson once told us that the Bill of Rights cannot become a suicide pact. That includes the Second Amendment. We can protect your guns while keeping them out of the hands of crazy and dangerous people by using common-sense background checks, 21-years-of-age purchasing requirements, three-day waiting periods and mental-health exams. It’s not about denying your constitutional rights. It’s so your children come home from school alive.”

What do you think?

Gail: I’m sold. And I have a feeling we’ll be talking about this much, much more as this election year goes on.

Bret: Let’s hope it’s not after the next school shooting. Though, considering what we saw over the weekend in Philadelphia or Chattanooga, it may not be long.

Gail: Let’s take a rest and talk about politics in the old, nonprofound sense. I was fascinated when Mike Pence made a very public endorsement of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in the primary. Kemp was perhaps Donald Trump’s top target — he hates him for allowing the state’s presidential vote to go, accurately, to Joe Biden.

Bret: At least Pence has better political acumen than Trump. Kemp won his primary over David Perdue by more than 50 points, which was a very satisfying humiliation of one of Trump’s favorite bootlickers.

Gail: And our colleague Maggie Haberman recently posted a story from her upcoming book, about the vice president’s security being warned that Trump was going to turn on Pence before Pence went on to accurately record the results of the presidential election.

Are we looking at Pence as a hero in a possible primary with his old boss in 2024?

Bret: I don’t see how a man whose political theme song might as well have been the Meat Loaf classic “I Would Do Anything for Love (But I Won’t Do That)” can sell himself as any kind of hero, much less as a plausible Republican nominee. He’s too close to Trump not to be tainted by his presidency and too alienated from Trump not to be diminished by his wrath.

Frankly, Trump’s only serious opponent for the nomination at this point is Ron DeSantis, who seems to be beating the former president in the straw polls, at least in some states. Between those two, who would you prefer as the G.O.P. candidate?

Gail: Well, DeSantis made a trademark move last week when he canceled funding for a Tampa Bay Rays training facility because the team issued an anti-mass-shooting tweet. (They dared to say: “This cannot be normal.”) He’s horrible, and his advantage is that he’s smarter than Trump. But he doesn’t have nearly as much of that raise-the-rafters-split-the-country creepy charisma.

Bret: You have to admire the ideological flexibility of self-described conservatives who are for free speech, until they aren’t, and who think corporations have speech rights, until they don’t. Still, DeSantis is very effective.

Sorry, go on.

Gail: Not quite sure who scares me more. Especially in an era when people are being encouraged to doubt the whole electoral system. Did you see the story in Politico about Republican poll workers being prepared to contest the Election Day process rather than make it work properly?

Bret: This is the mental infection Trump has unleashed on the Republic. The notion that elections are a case of “heads I win, tails you lose.”

Gail: Just looking forward, I’m imagining an election this fall where either the Republicans win everything or the whole process gets blocked from even taking place. Or both.

OK, I’m being way too negative. Be a pal and cheer me up.

Bret: Here’s what my crystal ball tells me: ​​Democrats get hammered in the midterms. Biden realizes he has to announce he isn’t running in 2024 so that a savior can appear. Gretchen Whitmer, the governor of Michigan, beats Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Gov. Roy Cooper of North Carolina for the Democratic nomination and then chooses the widely respected retired Adm. Jim Stavridis as her running mate.

Meanwhile, Republicans split acrimoniously between DeSantis and Trump. A brokered convention produces a compromise ticket headed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia with Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina as his veep choice. On Election Day, Americans breathe a little easier knowing that none of the candidates is out to destroy the Constitution, and we’re back to politics as it was before Trump.

Reality check: Naaaaaaaaaaaaaah.

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