Skip to Content

Support MinnPost

The culture war is real

Protest at NRA offices
CC/Flickr/majunznk
Each side in the gun debate is focused on discrediting the other side. That is the purpose of the debate, not actually setting any public policy that will change things in the “real world.”

Most people may want to make the world a better place, but relatively few have given a moment’s thought to what may actually work to achieve that goal.

Instead, most of us pick teams and outsource our thinking to them — and the quality of that “thinking” is, on the whole, simply terrible.

In general, we pick the “team” we are on based upon cultural values much more than self-interest, reasoned ideas or policy preferences. In fact, for most of us, policy preferences don’t precede choosing a side but are a result of that choice.

It’s dispiriting, if not surprising. It has ever been thus, although some political cultures are better at dealing with the problem than others. In many ways, the United States avoided many of the most serious consequences of this fact of life by limiting the powers of government itself; in other words, no matter what “team” won the political battles, there were natural limits to the damage that could be done.

Unfortunately, that is less and less true.

America is blessed with many fine schools of “public policy” and quite a large class of professional government administrators, but remarkably little government policy is actually set through careful analysis of data, genuinely open experiments or any kind of rational decision-making.

Instead, on issues big or small, policy discussions tend to be veiled (or not so veiled) battles between culturally opposed groups. The only issues where real public policy can be set rationally are those few people care about — and even there, you find that economic interests motivate the few people who do care, and those interests tend to override the public good.

Lots of heat, very little light

The issue du jour is, of course, guns. Lots of heat and very little light is shed in the so-called “debates” over how to deal with gun violence, and the reason for that is simple: Few of the participants actually are focused on dealing with the issue of gun violence, regardless of what they say or even believe.

Each side in the “debate” is focused on discrediting the other side. That is the purpose of the debate, not actually setting any public policy that will change things in the “real world.”

How do I know that? (I think you know that too.) Simple: Think of how little discussion there has been regarding actual data and what realistic changes in public policy could actually accomplish. Partisans wield statistics occasionally, but only as rhetorical weapons — not to enlighten.

The data are pretty clear: Gun violence and other violence has been on a serious decline in the United States for quite a while. Murder rates are about half of what they were 20 or 30 years ago. A 50 percent decline in murders is pretty impressive by any standard. Yet during this period of time, the right to carry guns in the United States has expanded quite dramatically. (I am not suggesting a causal relationship here.) Even here in liberal Minnesota, it is not hard to get a permit to carry a gun.

Violent crime rate lower than in Great Britain

The United States’ violent crime rate is actually somewhere between 1/2 and 1/5 that of Great Britain. (Apples-to-apples comparisons are difficult due to different methodologies in counting.) More of our violent crimes involve guns, obviously, because they are more readily available. But most Americans would not trade a lower rate of gun violence for two to five times as much violent crime.

More importantly, even if we could legally ban guns, register them, or simply make it harder to get them, it would have absolutely no effect on the availability of guns in the United States for those who are willing to break the law. Between 40 percent and 50 percent of all households have guns already, and there are about as many guns as people in the US.

Criminals have absolutely no trouble getting illegal guns — automatic weapons are illegal, but not uncommon for gangs to possess. They are so common, in fact, that the U.S. government actually “walked” guns to gangs in order to track them to the bad guys.

No deterrent for criminals

Most of the gun laws passed in recent years have clearly not accomplished their goals. Murder rates are generally the highest precisely where guns are most proscribed. Criminals are proven lawbreakers, so passing a law restricting guns doesn’t deter them a whit.

I have yet to read a persuasive, much less convincing, argument that any achievable public policy could substantially change the number of mass shootings. Frankly, we should spend a lot more time trying to understand the reasons why violence has declined so much, and less on the availability of any particular weapon.

So why the fruitless debate about guns?

It is, as I suggested above, about culture, not policy. One “team” likes or is tolerant of guns, while the other dislikes guns and gun culture. The debate appears to be about gun violence, but it is in fact about who should dominate the culture.

Debate is about which side will win

The debate, in other words, is about whose “team” will win the match. (The “teams,” by the way, are not 100 percent correlated with political party.)

Fine. That is a big part of human relations, but unfortunately the “winners” don’t just get bragging rights; they get to use the power of government to push other people around.

That’s one reason government should be less powerful.

David Strom is a Senior Policy Fellow at the Center of the American Experiment. The views expressed here are his own.

WANT TO ADD YOUR VOICE?

If you're interested in joining the discussion, add your voice to the Comment section below, or consider writing a Community Voices commentary. For more information about Community Voices, email Susan Albright at salbright@minnpost.com.

Get MinnPost's top stories in your inbox

Related Tags:

Comments (47)

Ah, Sorry, Mr. Strom

But I'm not buying your false equivalence, "both sides do it" argument.

The fact is that we are now JUST BEGINNING to enter into rational discussion about gun violence and gun control, and doing so with information that is STILL limited by previously-successful efforts on the part of gun dealers, gun and ammunition manufacturers, and the NRA to ensure that good information already collected by state and local governments,...

NEVER sees the light of day.

Your accusations that BOTH sides are only desperate to "win" seem, quite clearly, to be projections of your own "conservative" side's attitude, an attitude which you clearly find distasteful (or at least indefensible) enough that you feel the need to project it onto those who disagree with you; accusing them of doing what ONLY your side is doing.

The real question that lingers in my mind is why a particular type of "conservative" feels, despite massive evidence to the contrary, that they are not safe in our own communities and neighborhoods unless they have in their possession more personal firepower than the average member of the military carries while on patrol in a war zone where those troops KNOW they will be fired upon by hostile forces.

Are these attached-at-the-hip-and-naked-without-their-guns "conservatives" all victims of PTSD from past combat experiences or personal trauma, or are other factors involved?

Greg, I'm fairly certain that

Greg, I'm fairly certain that you proved the point of Strom's article right there.

Matt, I'm fairly certain that

Matt, I'm fairly certain that you didn't realize our esteemed commentator is a paid shill for conservative interests. The "Center of the American Experiment" is an organization founded by a former Reagan appointee, and "They have campaigned for school vouchers.[6] They also expressed concern about the raunchiness of television for children.[12] They are opposed to affirmative action, especially in academia.[13] They have been credited for playing a major role in empowering conservatives in Minnesota.[14]" according to wikipedia.

By the way, I've left the citation numbers in for a reason. That reason being so you can understand that, unlike our commentators fact-free assertions about "both sides" of the debate, I'm interested in actual information. I'm an unabashed pragmatic progressive who supports policy based on fact. Our writer didn't mention his political allegiances in his attempt to fog the debate with his fallacious argument that "both sides" are the just as bad.

(hint: To those with eyes, there are a multitude of perspectives on this issue, not just two black-and-white sides.)

My theory about fervent gun advocates is that

they are scared, not of criminals, as they claim, but of the feeling that their lives are out of control. Their economic situation is more precarious than that of their parents at the same age, they may hate their job but have no certainty of finding another one, the culture is changing in ways that disturb them, and the political parties in Washington appear to be concerned with issues that have no direct bearing on their lives.

So what can they cling to? Guns.

Guns make them feel powerful in a confusing world, and there is a whole media establishment devoted to exacerbating their fears with talk of Muslims taking over the country, immigrants swarming over the borders, black helicopters full of UN troops ready to conquer the country, African-Americans streaming out the inner city to loot the homes of suburban and rural residents, and similar paranoid fantasies.

Getting good information on gun violence

Although I disagree with all of Mr. Strom's conclusions -- I think there are clear connections between proposed gun violence measures and possible benefits -- I agree with his general premise that policy should be based on analysis of sound, real-world information.

It's too bad, then, that he failed to note and support one very positive step that President Obama is taking, to encourage the Centers for Disease Control to resume research on gun violence in our country:
http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2013/02/06/170844926/debate-rages-on-eve...

Hopefully Mr. Strom will act in the spirit of his commentary and urge conservatives to support this effort -- it's the best current proposal for getting scientifically sound information on this issue.

statistics

I don't have the time right now to fully rebut Mr. Strom's claims. But a few quick things:

The NRA has effectively denied the ability of the CDC to research gun-related violence http://www.businessinsider.com/nra-gun-research-cdc-statistics-2013-1 so we don't know that much about it since the mid-90s.

As Strom correctly noted, the violent crime statistics are kept much differently in the US and the UK. For example, the UK includes "harassment" and non-injurious assault in its violent crime stats, including auto thefts. Nobody ever said reducing easy access to guns was going to significantly reduce these things, so the grouping of the stats is a bit of a red herring. What we do know is that the homicide rate in the United States is significantly higher than in the UK. To borrow one of Strom's rhetorical devices, I think most of us would rather have our car stolen two or three times rather than be murdered once.

As for the "both sides do it" equivalence: Do you really believe the anti-gun and pro-gun forces act with equal weight and influence in the halls of Congress and in the course of general public debate? Which one is better organized, better funded, and more vociferous in its absolutism?

In the wake of Newtown, I heard a lot about how it was mental illness that caused these horrific events and not guns. For pro-gun advocates to have credibility, I would expect them to now be pushing for greater funding for mental health supports. Their past and current silence on this issue is damning to their real motivation.

Please remember that is was

Please remember that is was the Congressman that passed the laws; regardless of the lobbying done by the NRA (or any other group on any other issue), it is the people we elected that screwed up. If you're going to bash the NRA, you better also be bashing every single person that voted to limit the CDC's research capabilities.

"As for the "both sides do it" equivalence: Do you really believe the anti-gun and pro-gun forces act with equal weight and influence in the halls of Congress and in the course of general public debate? Which one is better organized, better funded, and more vociferous in its absolutism?"

I do believe you missed the point of the article. Strom was not advocating for one side or the other and he didn't say that they applied equal pressure. BTW, the Brady Campaign and the NRA are two sides to the same coin. In the 80's & early 90's the Brady Campaign had the huge influence, in the 2000's the NRA has had it.

"In the wake of Newtown, I heard a lot about how it was mental illness that caused these horrific events and not guns. For pro-gun advocates to have credibility, I would expect them to now be pushing for greater funding for mental health supports. Their past and current silence on this issue is damning to their real motivation."

I think you've missed some memo's, but gun advocates are saying that we need to put money into mental health programs. However, support for mental illness isn't what most of the proposed legislation is addressing, and when arguing for or against a bill it makes sense to stay on topic. That said, I am confused why pro-gun congressman haven't submitted more proposals addressing that topic, and others, as alternative/collaborative ways to prevent gun violence.

"Strom was not advocating for one side or the other . . ."

Did we read the same article?

Let me help you with your confusion

Matt--

The reason for your stated confusion is that you took the pro-gun congressmen at their word when they said they needed to put money into mental health programs. This was just a temporary guise and distraction away from centering the blame on the proliferation of guns. Similar to the people who wail about the deficit as something that should be a top priority but then rule out any taxes or defense cuts as a means to reduce debt.

Hope that helps.

Ms. Sandness I agree with you completely

It is indeed the gun culture that I object to.

I know a lot of folks that have guns basically hunters and ex law enforcement or military and not one of them ever (except for one non combat ex military) brags about the fact that they have guns or goes on about the type of guns they have.

Heck I use to work with the Midwest Women's sporting clay champion I would never suggest she give her gun up.

The only people I know who glorify the gun culture are ones that I would classify as fearful or trying to be "trendy". I would say their judgement is already compromised. Not exactly the people I would like to have a gun.

If the past few articles written by staff from the Center for the American Experiment represents their A game they definitely have some up grading to do.

Last paragraph

Very true.

Last paragraph

Absolutely right. I've never been impressed with their output, but lately, they've been phoning it in.

I actually agree with Mr. Strom

that the debates of the 'culture war' are dispiriting. They're also not surprising, especially when Mr. Strom decries certain behaviors of "partisans":

"Partisans wield statistics occasionally, but only as rhetorical weapons — not to enlighten."

And then immediately launches into a statistic used as a rhetorical weapon:

"The United States’ violent crime rate is actually somewhere between 1/2 and 1/5 that of Great Britain. (Apples-to-apples comparisons are difficult due to different methodologies in counting.)...But most Americans would not trade a lower rate of gun violence for two to five times as much violent crime."

The crime rate comparison, as Mr. Robson points out, is true but highly misleading. The conclusion Mr. Strom comes to, that less guns implies more crime, is simply one he wants to be true, ignoring his own statement earlier that the rate of violent crime -- both with and without guns -- has been declining in this country for decades as inconvenient to his desired conclusion.

And of course, Mr. Strom isn't pointing this out as an argument for or against gun control, but rather for his pet issue:

"That’s one reason government should be less powerful."

So yes, Mr. Strom, the culture war is real and many people participating are arguing simply as members of their 'team' rather than in the best interest of the country as a whole. And thank you for providing a perfect example of that.

A few more points

It's really easy to cherry pick one country to compare. In your piece, you slyly hide the message that gun control advocates are the wrong ones based on a few stats, surrounded entirely by an attack at both sides of the argument, claiming both are only out to prove the others wrong.

First, your comparison of the US to the UK is wholly incorrect. http://www.civitas.org.uk/crime/crime_stats_oecdjan2012.pdf This shows that in almost every statistical category, the US and UK are pretty close. Of the 2 that aren't, homicide and assault, the US is roughly 4 times higher than the combined UK rate of homicide, while roughly the same gap lower than the combined rate for assault. Both countries are above average in homicides while the US barely sneaks below the average for assaults. You claim that "most Americans would not trade a lower rate of gun violence for two to five times as much violent crime." Actually, I would argue that most people would certainly trade a 4x lower chance of dying by homicide for a 4x increase in an assault. One you die, one you do not.

But this discussion of UK vs US is frivolous as it ignores the vast sums of other countries with FAR lower violent crimes, including homicide who have stricter gun laws.

I'm not claiming a policy of banning all guns will reduce all violent crimes. I'm also not claiming that certain gun control measures will be a magic solution to our problems of violence (in general and gun violence) - certainly studies have shown the war on drugs could be a part solution to our problem. But I would say that your argument that there are no policy proposals to help reduce gun and total violence in our country are plainly false.

This is an OPINION Piece

I would like to see the fact that this is an OPINION piece be more prominently displayed.

Mr. Strom is correct the culture wars are real. He is a long time warrior in this war.

This is a very poor piece of work. We are entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts.

And I don't hate guns. I hate gun violence.

David, David, David, there

David, David, David, there you go again...

Murder by gun US (2010).....8,755

Murder by gun Britain.......58 (adjusting by ratio of populations....258)

Total murders US (2010)...12,996

Total murders Britain....638 (adjusting by ratio of populations...3095)

Now repeat again, if you can

....Murder rates are generally the highest precisely where guns are most proscribed....

Who's shedding more lies and heat?

Hmmmm...

Coincidence or not?

Take the total number of murders in the US and subtract the adjusted number of total murders in Britain

12,996 - 3095 = 9,901

Hey, that is close to the murders by gun in the US (8,755)

One could then postulate that the excess number of murders in the US are almost entirely explained by the presence of guns.

Now THAT is think-tank worthy material!!

Coincidence

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics. This isn't a statistic.

What are you saying?

Do you dispute the numbers?

Homicide by gun rate (per 100,000 people):

US..........3.6
Britain....0.4

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_firearm-related_death_...

Now tell me again about lies, damned lies and statistics.

I dispute the meaning

"Hey, that is close to the murders by gun in the US (8,755)

One could then postulate that the excess number of murders in the US are almost entirely explained by the presence of guns."

The numbers are fine, the rest of it is malarkey.

"Malarkey"?And what else

"Malarkey"?

And what else would explain the significant difference?

( Much esoteric theorizing, speculation, hand waving and finger pointing ensues)

So far, it appears that the

So far, it appears that the people who have commented missed the point of the article and instead focused on the example Strom used. The point of the article is an "us" versus "them" mentality and how groups of people are pushing an agenda under the guise of public policy. This is not a pro/anti gun article, Strom just chose that hot button issue as an example to prove his point.

It looks like people are taking Strom's example too literally and missing the big picture point that he was trying to make. Maybe he should have used a different example so it wouldn't cloud his actual point?

So far, it appears that the

So far, it appears that the commenters read the article and in addition have followed Mr. Strom's career in MN politics for a long time. Re: "The point of the article is an "us" versus "them" mentality..."

....missing the big picture

....missing the big picture point....

Perhaps the big picture that Mr. Strom is espousing is the idea that facts are culturally based and that each party can make their own facts---that is the core of the Republican philosophy of " we create our own reality" which allows for the ignoring of overwhelming evidence because it runs against their own world-view.

But the big picture he has certainly isn't "let's move beyond cultural bias", it is "you have no facts, accept my bias as fact.".

This made my day...

"Instead, most of us pick teams and outsource our thinking to them — and the quality of that “thinking” is, on the whole, simply terrible.

In general, we pick the “team” we are on based upon cultural values much more than self-interest, reasoned ideas or policy preferences. In fact, for most of us, policy preferences don’t precede choosing a side but are a result of that choice."

Coming from a Senior Policy Fellow at the Center of the American Experiment? Truly, truly funny stuff.

Longtime Culture Warrior

Readers should know that Mr. Strom was one of the "geniuses" behind the old "no new taxes" pledge in MN. His approach then rarely was based on facts and played very much to the cultural resentment toward paying taxes. Who really likes paying taxes? But we all want the services that those taxes pay - we just want someone else to pay the bill.

The author made a career off of the cultural war about "big government" and "taxes". He was a Grover Norquist wanna be. Although I'm not sure anyone wants to be Grover Norquist anymore.

Brilliance by Strom

He argues that people decide issues based upon political idealogy and fail to objectively examine data. Then, shockingly, Conservative Strom from Conservative CAE cherrypicks data to support the......(insert suspense here)...the Conservative position on guns. And if you don't reach the same conclusion, well then, you're Exhibit A for the problem outlined in the opening paragraphs.

Lobbying

The lobbying industry in Washington, DC is estimated to bill clients $5 Billion per year. To a large degree not only do lobbyists influence policy they often write many of the laws that are passed by Congress. The mere fact that voting against the NRA in Congress is a political death wish is a sad commentary. What Congress should be discussing is how do we win the drug war we have been loosing for decade and the lack of mental health access ( it takes up to 2 months to get a mental health appointment at the VA).

Satire in the Comments?

As Matt elude to above, most of the commentary is just what the author is talking about. One commenter went so far to claim, “NO WE ARE NOT!”, and then proceeded to prove that “yes we are” engaging in that behavior.

After reading the column, I expected some thoughtful commentary to follow. By Strom “calling the behavior”, it should challenge commenters to step up their game, or at least put a thin veneer on it. Not this crowd.

If interested in reading more about the national conversation on gun violence, checkout this MinnPost Community Voices column:

http://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2013/01/do-we-really-want-keep-...

I'm sure it is mere coincidence

Let's set the chronology of events here. Dozens of schoolchildren were massacred in Newtown. The public response was an outcry against the proliferation of guns. The head of the NRA responded that the solution was more people with guns in our classrooms and around the perimeter of the schools. President Obama's response was to make it tougher for people to obtain guns without proper identification and without a look into their background in case they were mentally unstable or had a history of violence.
Attendant sides have indeed weighed in. Strom says both sides are guilty of overreach.
Now don't you think it is a little bit convenient that a man with a long history of espousing conservative causes would trumpet this "both sides do it" and "there is a cultural war blinding both sides" at precisely the time when awareness and concern about gun violence is near its height? And don't you think it is a little bit convenient that Strom has chosen to cherry-pick statistics that seem to make those amenable to gun control seem like their position is ineffective?
Or is it merely just coincidence?
Mr. Rose, we are not being satirical. And we're not stupid. Neither are you. Cut the charade.

Dozens?

Your chronology begins with an exaggeration. How many dozens are there in 20? That sounds like a 4th grade math test.

I don't know how I am able to make an argument against gun control without stating what the Brady Campaign is attempting to accomplish. You see, nearly every argument for gun control is sprinkled with the term "NRA". Sometimes, it gets invoked without any connection, like between sentences.

Who is worthy of protection by armed guards? Certainly the White House and federal and state legislative chambers. Also, court houses, sporting events (major and minor), big shopping malls, and the list goes on. Elementary schools, not so much. In fact the gun control laws recently rammed through the New York Assembly by Governor Andrew Cuomo do not exempt police officers from the gun restrictions. In the state of NY, police officers are not allowed to bring their guns on school property. In law, as in life, when you want it bad, you get it bad.

Who is more likely to know and obey laws, criminals or peace officers?

What IS the author talking about?

Perhaps I'm missing something. Mr. Strom starts by castigating those who would engage in public debate for their willingness to fall into positions based on predisposition (not his exact words, but that's the gist). He then uses the debate on gun control as an example.

Fair enough, until he resorts to repeating the same old anti-gun regulation bromides that anti-gun control advocates have been using for years. He uses these as an excuse to dismiss the debate over gun regulation as "fruitless." Those who would impose new restrictions, he hints, are those who would "use the power of government to push other people around." A piece about the influence of culture turns into libertarian sloganeering (as an aside, this type of writing or composition is the main reason I regard the Center for the American Experiment as pretty shabby excuses for public intellectuals).

Mr. Strom's point seems to be that he doesn't like debate that doesn't go the way he thinks it should go. That is a poor understanding of the way things are supposed to work in a democracy.

One man's view

Connecticut's gun laws appear to be among the most restrictive in the US. For overview, browse informative tables on the Wiki, "Gun laws in the United States by state". Gun-related deaths for years prior to our Dec 14 tragedy were slightly lower than in most other states. Today I read ABC's reporting on a manuscript from a pro-gun control group that attempts to correlate state's gun laws with 2009-2010 gun deaths (supposably the newest available data). This effort, admittedly from a pro-control lobby, also finds support for the "effectiveness" of Connecticut's gun laws (though a small effect), along with similar small results from other states with more restrictive gun laws. The converse correlation is reported, that states with weaker gun control have slightly greater gun-related deaths. Guess I'm in general agreement with their results having checked their sources and others, though aspects of this "anti-gun" lobby's selling points can and will be debated. I again want to say these associations reported within this data are small. This is not my main reason for writing. Please read on...

David Storm is correct that violence and violent deaths have decreased by exceptional measures in recent years throughout America. The reduction appears to be ~20-50% depending on what types of violence and deaths are included... despite recession... despite the removal of restrictive gun laws or passage of conceal/carry gun laws within many states — like those in Minnesota. I did not predict this result when changes were made, mostly by Republicans, in Minnesota's gun law. This data is very accessible to all... I believe greater funding for police or our massive funding for post-911 security made less of the difference here. While police should be commended for progressive methods of intervention to mitigate gang-related violence and now for predicting more accurately where future violence may occur, other larger params are of importance. Rather I think: 1) social and mental health programs are pro-active with interventions and more benefits exist for those suffering, 2) the younger population most apt to commit violence/crime (gun-related or not) has decreased and 3) the incarcerated US population has hugely increased. Perhaps the fact that everyone knows non-governmental surveillance (especially video) has mushroomed has had a chilling effect on violence in public areas outside the home. Why anyone wants to decrease funding for social and mental health programs given the data available makes little sense to me! Seems most of those seeking to decrease resources for these services support Republicans these days. Greater research, education and intervention services to reduce suicide would be much more effective in prevention of future Newtown-like shootings than more restrictive gun-control laws. This is not my main reason for writing. I'm actually hoping to reach like-minded Democrats, particularly those solidly within the "anti-gun culture"... as David Strom puts it. Please read on...

Yes, preventing our government from conducting research on any subject significant to the American people is super stupid... and perhaps the NRA-lead pro-gun "culture" is more enthusiastic and mobilized except when tragedies involving shootings occur given today's main brands of mass media. Not my main issue, please read on...

Rather I want readers to consider how many untimely deaths (including self-inflicted suicides) occur from guns. After high emotions fade somewhat, please realize the data suggests that the number is actually not that many despite the eye-catching story titles that media uses to increase readership. Among other resources read Minnpost's, "Tally gun deaths: one Minnesotan killed every day by firearms". This question and answer seems cold-hearted but there is purpose. Research and data better guides implementation of more effective governance and aid to reduce violence and violent deaths further. The numbers of gun-related untimely deaths are hardly any when compared to "preventable" deaths by other means! Use of knives or blunt force via hands and/or various implements are much more common than guns. Moreover, numerous more untimely preventable deaths or acts of violence are occurring on our highways or due to drugs. Of course, I'm not suggesting we out-law possession of knives, hands and hammers too.

And Assault Rifles bans? Wish I could find the reference right now but I read somewhere only 3 "rifle" related deaths occurred one recent year in Minnesota... and probably all those were normal rifles. Should us Democrats pick this semi-military thing as that most important? To be most emotional about? I say NO. I think we must protect the more effective social and mental health programs from cost cutting, perhaps increase services even.

"Rifle" related deaths in Minnesota.

If it didn't happen in Minnesota, it's not important?

He has a point

Ignoring the example of gun control advocates vs. gun ownership advocates (an argument that's about as deep with BS as the day is long), Mr. Strom has a point. As a collective, Americans are not terribly thoughtful. I don't mean "nice thoughtful," I mean "engaging the brain thoughtful." We pick sides and don't really consider what any of it means beyond the shellac provided by our favorite cause or pundit. It's not that we're stupid, but so intellectually lazy, it's a wonder that we're the most productive country in the world. Maybe it's because we're tired of thinking at work that we simply fail to do so during most other moments of the day.

For example, every morning, I wait in line at the park and ride to get on the bus. There is a HUGE expanse of sidewalk on either side of the two shelters (a sidewalk that is always cleared of snow, to boot!). Yet, people--mostly people who work in professional environments, so you'd think they'd be cognitively capable--insist on forming a line between those two shelters, through at least one handicap parking spot, and well into the parking lot rather than simply curving to the right or left to remain on the sidewalk, out of the handicapped parking spots, and out of the way of the sleepy drivers hoping to quick get into a parking spot before the bus leaves them behind. They'll even curve that line in the parking lot to take out 2 or 3 more handicap parking spots rather than do the same to remain on the sidewalk. I have experimented several times to turn the line one direction or the other while on the sidewalk, but the line invariably zigs back out into the parking lot/handicap parking spots. Why? Because people have decided in their heads that things should be a certain way and no amount of logic and reason will change that. There are about 2 other people who "get it" and have caught on to this experiment. But at some point, the people doing the logical thing look illogical because the larger group is doing the illogical thing.

Of course, I go and do the Minnesota passive aggressive thing and experiment with them rather than simply suggest to the other people that it might be a better idea to stay on the sidewalk. Hey, I'm not perfect.

Reading the comments above, the initial point of Mr. Strom is further proven (however off-base he may be with the rest of his opinion piece). There is no dialog, only a shouting match.

Disagree

At the heart of it, as you say, Mr Strom's point was that it becomes a shouting match comparing facts and no side proposing policy change based on data.

1) As people have pointed out, we have a severe lack of trustworthy data and research, thanks to one side pushing an agenda (not the other). Makes it hard to put forward policy changes gun advocates would accept as worthy (which was the point of blocking federally-funded studies in the first place)

2) He states that no one puts forth policy changes. That is blatantly false. Read any blogger, comment section, or even Obama's executive orders for policy changes regarding guns, backed up with whatever facts do exist (between counties, states, countries, whatever you want), and an admittedly emotional desire to make our country a less violent place (in general and gun violence). Yes, there are plenty of people who scream NO GUNS, HERE ARE SOME STATS!! And there are plenty who scream GUNS ARE MY RIGHT, HERE ARE SOME (less credible) STATS!! But there are a whole lot of people, including our current state and federal legislators putting forward policy changes. Mr Strom just doesn't like them.

3) Mr Strom does the exact thing he rails against. Puts forward a bunch of (bogus) statistics to try to back up his own personal gun agenda veiled in a piece about how no one is willing to move forward with a plan. I'm not sure if this was for irony or if he is really that dense. Either way it makes his opinion piece a bit hard to digest.

Less credible statistics

Here's an interesting article. Apparently might be an "Obama effect" on violent crime. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-13799616

That article is a good example of taking facts and assigning meaning to them. Each of the theories is more or less credible, and each has statistics to back them up. Even the least credible "Obama effect" might be a part of the puzzle.

Credibility only requires believability, not factual basis. Credibility is purely subjective.

"Shouting ensues" most

"Shouting ensues" most certainly when there is no respect for facts or correct analysis of statistical data.

Too many 'think-tanks" like the author's exist solely to find the most inventive and opaque way of interpreting cherry-picked data to support preconceived ideas. The desired result is known, the direction set, and only the desired result will be public. They insure that "shouting ensues" because they provide an "impartial, intellectual" gloss of legitimacy to distortion, half-truth or outright lie.

"Shouting ensues" when there is no overlap between my "fact" and your "fact". Mr. Strom and his organization are a key part of ensuring that. His job depends on it. Of course he wants debate without resolution.

I love facts

I respect facts. But I see very few here. I believe it was you who suggested that the gap between US and UK murder rates might be entirely linked to guns. Oy. The only thing you can glean from the murder rates of the US and the UK is that the US has a murder rate per capita about 4x that of the UK. There are too many other variables to conveniently pin that on any one of them.

I don't have to respect an opinion, however, and I see lots of them in the gun debate. And I do mean both sides. I am a gun owner, but I have never and will never see eye to eye with the NRA (cold dead hands? gladly). The NRA, as an organization, is completely out of its mind. On the other hand, many of the anti-gun groups are also completely out of their minds. The best part is, the moderate voices--you'll simply never hear them. Either because you don't want to (being on the extreme of either side of the debate) or because their voices are being drown out (oh, and they'll never make the news).

As a "respecter of fact", if

As a "respecter of fact", if Britain has very tight controls on guns and has a very low rate of gun murders, and the US has looser gun laws and has a higher rate of gun murders, how is it distortion to associate tight gun laws with lower gun murders?

And when gun murders are 2/3 to 3/4 of total US murders, but are only 1/10th of the murders in Britain, how can the association of stricter gun laws with fewer gun murders be denied?

Those are the statistic of death by gun murder. There is no decision in that statistic. It's informative, but makes no decision in itself

The decision for American society is whether the higher levels of gun murders associated with the current set of laws and enforcement is acceptable.

But I can't stand a lie such as Mr. Strom commits, "Murder rates are generally the highest precisely where guns are most proscribed."

In a word, Chicago

Chicago has the strictest gun laws in the nation and also one of the highest rate of gun murder.

Back to the UK. It seems our cousins in the UK are way out ahead of us; they banned and confiscated handguns in 1997. As reported in this BBC article, within a few years of the gun grab, they became gravely concerned with the included angle on the tips of kitchen knives.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/4581871.stm

“A team from West Middlesex University Hospital said violent crime is on the increase - and kitchen knives are used in as many as half of all stabbings. They argued many assaults are committed impulsively, prompted by alcohol and drugs, and a kitchen knife often makes an all too available weapon. The research is published in the British Medical Journal. The researchers said there was no reason for long pointed knives to be publicly available at all. They consulted 10 top chefs from around the UK, and found such knives have little practical value in the kitchen. None of the chefs felt such knives were essential, since the point of a short blade was just as useful when a sharp end was needed.”

I find it curious that these 10 top chefs live on an island, but have never fileted a large fish.

I find the parallels to our concerns here in the states regarding gun features and magazine capacities to be remarkable.

“No legitimate purpose.” Whether protecting your home or gutting a fish, should the government be the arbiter of what you need, and more importantly, what you don’t need?

The elephant in the room

Most of the debate is looking at one factor or another and advocates are arguing their cause without looking at the big picture. If one is a hammer, all the world is a nail. With guns, only 0.012% of the guns in the U.S. will ever kill a person (REF http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/region/united-states divide number of guns/number of gun deaths) assuming that easch person is killed by one gun. Of the millions of violent video games and/or movies, only a handful of players/viewers are inspired to shoot up people. Neither on their own is the issue. However, when combined with certain mental illnesses, you have a very significant chance of an issue. It is true that the U.S. has a higher number of guns that the UK, it is also true that unlike the UK, US treats mental illnesses as a civil right. We need to better understand this correlation of weapons, violence and mental illness to develop a policies that minimize the chances of tragedies like Newton, CT. We need to look at mental illness as a medical issue and a even as a public health issue, not only as a civil right.

This

It's not hard to come up with statistics that don't belong in the damned lies category if you look at the statistics that no one can dispute (and use a little math). In the end, we can see that only a tiny, tiny percentage of each of the central "problems" are associated with our culture of violence and murder. And they are simply associated, not causes. It's like changing the light bulb when the power's out when we focus on those individual problems rather than the big picture, or even just how they're associated. Sure, the bulb MAY be burnt out, but until you get the power back on, no number of light bulb changes will shed any light.

So, no, there is no discussion going on. Just shouting. If all the statistics are in the damned lies category, the level of credibility is worthless. I can tell a good story that's pretty credible, but it's still fiction.

I think

that attitudes coming from your point of view are partly the reason why nothing is done. Anyone, anywhere, can dissect any argument or case for a policy change based on the data. They can choose to come up with poor methodologies, different conclusions from the same data, point to any number of other factors at play (like culture differences, history, other contributing factors to violence, etc etc). The responses to logical (even if not 100% true) arguments in support of one policy change or another keeps us in gridlock. Not the original piece in the first place.

I notice that in all your posts you have never put forward a solution to the problem, either. You have chosen to categorize every data set as a "damned lie statistic" to suit your case of no changes to be made to try to make our country a safer place.

Silly Argument

Doesn't really matter if two sides of an issue focus on "winning." Public policy belongs to the public, rather than pubic policy academics who ponder issues in a theoretical sense, devoid of social context. By bringing issues to light, people begin to form an awareness of these issues and the positions on both sides of the issue. In the case of gun control, I have learned a great deal about the values of the NRA as well as why large city majors have mounted an offensive on the prevalence of guns and shootings in urban areas. That is useful information, regardless of the motivations behind the positions. If the public "tunes in" to issues, the public becomes involved. It is called a participatory democracy.

Culture War?

Sure there's a culture war. People like Mr. Strom started that war and now they're losing it. It's no surprise that they write articles declaring that it's our culture not our guns that are shooting children in schools. And this is why their voices are becoming more and more irrelevant. Guns don't kill people, liberal cultures kill people. Uh huh.

Only those losing the debate claim "both sides" are just as bad.

I'm a pragmatic progressive interested in fact-based policy and legislation that delivers its intended result. The writer and his employer, however? They're interested in providing cover for the disastrous position the NRA has dug itself into with regards to public opinion. Believe it or not, this discussion is not populated entirely by groups of fact-free team cheerleaders like the NRA. Most of ordinary citizens, myself included, genuinely wish to reduce the number of lives lost to gun violence. And especially the number of children's lives lost.

Mandatory safe storage saves lives. That's a fact. Some 3-6% of Minnesotan gun owners fail to adequately secure their firearms. If a law requiring them to do so saves the life of 1 child a year, it's worth it, in my opinion. According to the CDC, 98 unintentional firearm deaths of victims aged 0-17 were recorded in 2010. Preventing some fraction of those deaths with a reasonable requirement to safely store firearms doesn't seem to be too much.

Yet this eminently reasonable suggestion, proposed by one "side," is—if our commentator is to be believed—merely another round in the us vs. them game of politics. It's not. But he's paid to obscure that, so believe his commentary if you will. The rest of us weren't born yesterday and can see through juvenile chicanery with ease.