The Death Of Common Ground

Over at: the Corner, David French: made a brilliant point about something that has become one of the central problems of governing America in an opulent age of runaway partisanship, infinite niches and a fractured society.

Over at the Daily Beast, Megan McArdle has a long, bleakly realistic piece explaining why there’s little we can do – as a public-policy matter – to stop a determined spree killer. Buried within the article is this illuminating statement:

But now is not a good time to have a cost-benefit discussion, and there may never be a good time. The two sides are too far apart: gun control is mostly advocated by people who do not own guns, or want to own guns, and for them it is therefore a zero cost policy. Maybe a negative cost policy, because—apart from the violence—they have a fairly intense cultural antipathy for people who spend a lot of time playing with guns.

This is exactly right (and the cultural antipathy tends to run both ways – with many gun-owners puzzled that a person would choose to entirely delegate their family’s protection to the state). The bottom line is clear: For the gun controller, restrictions on gun ownership are a zero-cost policy while for the gun owner, gun control provides zero benefit. In other words, how does restricting my gun rights make my family safer – when criminals have proven hundreds of thousands of times over that gun regulations are irrelevant to them? But it goes even further. For many of us, the entire notion of a disarmed society is unpalatable and represents a change in national character from a culture of self-reliant citizens to one of state-reliant subjects.

The more we’re encouraged to separate ourselves out by race, sex and class, the more we’ll see issues where there can be no common ground. We’re increasingly coming to a point where every policy is a win/lose proposition because we agree on so few things to begin with. That’s a frightening prospect because it’s difficult to reverse and if you take it far enough, you end up as Afghanistan. We’re a long way from that point, but the movement towards hyper-partisanship in this country looks much more like a trend than a fad.

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