At its best virtue signalling only wastes time, prioritizing guilt reduction over crime reduction. At its worst it squanders limited resources that could have been used to enact real solutions.
Few have applied reason and evidence to the gun controversy better than Kevin Williamson. In National Review he writes What the Gun Debate Misses:
These are real shortcomings in the system. But, even with that being the case, I should reiterate here that the data very strongly suggest that people who buy firearms from firearms dealers very rarely commit crimes of any kind with those firearms — less than 2 percent of the prisoners in the federal system and about 13 percent of those in the state systems had a firearm obtained from a retail source when they committed their crimes. (And even those figures may overstate the prevalence of retail-sourced firearms in that they probably include some straw purchases and firearms stolen from retailers.) Given the very weak statistical relationship between buying a gun from a gun dealer and committing a crime with that gun, why is there so much focus on federally licensed firearms dealers and the people who do business with them?
In contrast to those modest figures of 2 percent or 13 percent, the great majority of murders committed in the United States — upwards of 80 percent — are committed by people with prior arrest records, often by people with prior convictions for violent crimes or prior weapons offenses — and almost none of our gun-control proposals is targeted at this group.
If you have not bought a gun from a gun dealer, then you might not appreciate just exactly how law-abiding and how i-dotting and t-crossing you have to be to make the purchase: Not only are you excluded for a felony conviction, you also are excluded for misdemeanor convictions involving domestic violence or any other misdemeanor for which you could have been sentenced to more than one year in jail, irrespective of the sentence you actually received; you are excluded if you are a “fugitive from justice,” meaning someone with an active arrest warrant who has left the state to avoid arrest; you are excluded if you have been dishonorably discharged from the military; you are excluded if you are a drug addict or a user of illegal drugs; you are excluded if you are an illegal alien or an alien legally present on a nonimmigrant visa; you are excluded if you have been judged mentally deficient by a court of law or committed to a mental institution; you are excluded if you are subject to a restraining order; you are excluded from purchasing a handgun if you are not a resident of the state in which the purchase is being made; you are excluded if you are buying a gun for anyone other than yourself; you are excluded if the information on your government-issued identification does not match current records and the information on your application, a provision that is enforced with such exactitude that an application may be rejected if it says “111 Main St.” instead of “111 Main Street.”
As is so often the case in our contemporary politics, what we are talking about matters mostly because it is a way of not talking about something else.
In the 2020 cycle, the NRA was not among the top 1,000 political donors or among the top 250 in lobbying outlays. It is true that the NRA is currently in a weakened condition after a series of self-inflicted wounds, but even back in 2012 it was No. 301 among campaign contributors and only No. 181 on lobbying outlays. The NRA’s strength has never been its pocketbook — it has always been the fact that it represents millions and millions of American gun owners who prioritize Second Amendment issues when they go to the polls. The NRA’s political clout has always been of the most genuine kind — the kind you cannot purchase. If you think clout like that can be bought, ask Mike Bloomberg about his efforts on the gun-control front.
If this were a matter of public policy, the thousands of people who were standing outside the convention center in Houston to shout obscenities at the NRA would be standing outside the office of the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Chicago and raising absolute hell about the failure — about the refusal – of the federal government and most big-city DAs to prosecute straw-buyer cases. If this were about policy, Joe Biden would be in New York with Kathy Hochul in a headlock demanding to know why career criminals arrested on murder charges are being released — without bail! — into the streets of our largest city. Or, short of that, President Biden could take a brief walk down the street to the ATF headquarters and find out why the agency won’t even bother to go around and pick up guns in sales that it knows were wrongly approved. But none of that happens.
The reason none of that happens is that this is not about crime — it is about culture war and cultural enemies.