This article, by the Economist’s Lexington correspondent, David Rennie, is one of the best I’ve read on the inevitable debate on gun control following the appalling shooting in Connecticut last week. His argument is essentially that the only change that might actually have an effect is stopping most people having guns, with the rest only allowed under a tough licensing regime.
But since I read the piece a couple of days ago, it is this penultimate paragraph that has had me thinking:
But here is the thing. The American gun debate takes place in America, not Britain or Japan. And banning all guns is not about to happen (and good luck collecting all 300m guns currently in circulation, should such a law be passed). It would also not be democratic. I personally dislike guns. I think the private ownership of guns is a tragic mistake. But a majority of Americans disagree with me, some of them very strongly. And at a certain point, when very large majorities disagree with you, a bit of deference is in order.
And he’s right. In a Gallup poll last year, a record low of 26% of Americans favoured a ban on handguns. No doubt that figure would increase – perhaps substantially – in a poll taken now, but if the past is anything to go by we shouldn’t expect that increase to be permanent.
So David – and I – have to accept that most Americans disagree with us. But should we, as David suggests, defer to that majority? Or should we do what we can to make politicians act, despite the views of their constituents?
As liberals and democrats, when do we say that government should not act against the wishes of the majority of the citizenry, and when do we say that politicians need to lead from the front, changing public opinion through positive action?
Over to you…
* Nick Thornsby is Thursday Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs here.