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Nicholas Kristof on Guns

New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof wrote recently about an approach to guns based on public health -- not restricting their availability, which has proven impossible in the US political climate, but making them safer. Along the way, he points out statistics that should make advocates of unfettered gun rights cringe:

You can talk until you're blue in the face about the 30,000 gun deaths each year, about children who are nine times as likely to die in a gun accident in America as elsewhere in the developed world, about the $17,000 average cost (half directly borne by taxpayers) of treating each gun injury. But nationally, gun control is dead...

[I]n the 1990's, two children a year, on average, died after locking themselves in car trunks. This was considered unacceptable, so a government agency studied the problem, and General Motors and Ford engineered safety mechanisms to prevent such deaths.

In contrast, 15 children under the age of 5 die annually in fatal gun accidents in the U.S., along with 18 children 5 to 9 years old. We routinely make aspirin bottles childproof, but not guns, even though childproof pistols were sold back in the 19th century -- they wouldn't fire unless the shooter put pressure on the handle as well as the trigger.

Something that amazes me about the gun rights debate is that the people most likely to be against restrictions on gun ownership, often in the name of protecting citizens from a hypothetical future totalitarian regime, often seem to be the people with the least problems with the attacks on civil liberties currently being perpetuated in the name of the war on terror. In other words, such people are willing to inflict tremendous harm on society now to prevent (or so they think) hypothetical restrictions on civil liberties, while at the same time being willing to suffer real restrictions on civil liberties today that seem to have delivered no measurable benefit. What sort of cognitive dissonance does such thinking require?

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