The year was 1791 and a bunch of revolutionaries got together and ratified 10 Amendments to the United States Constitution, amendments known collectively as the Bill of Rights.
Amongst those amendments was, of course, the Second, which protects the right to keep and bear arms.
Fast forward 227 years, and the star of 1980s sitcom “Who’s the Boss?” wants you to know that that Amendment should be tossed because it’s, like, really old.
On Monday, actress Alyssa Milano tweeted a list of terribles — things she said were “also popular in 1791” — including cholera, smallpox and dying in childbirth.
I don’t think these things were ever “popular,” but before you waste too much time trying to make sense of what she said, let me save you 40 seconds: The notion that the Second Amendment should be discarded just because it’s old is absolutely absurd.
But in the wake of yet another tragic mass shooting, the absurd occasionally rises to the top. What Milano tweeted may be inane, but during times like these, when we are understandably desperate to “do something,” inane ideas can masquerade as serious, and get some undue consideration.
Take this one, from Wall Street Journal editorial board member, Holman Jenkins Jr. He suggests we just vastly increase the government’s industrial surveillance complex so that police can swoop on anyone, anytime.
“Would such an approach produce an unmanageable number of false positives?” he asks. “Let’s find out.” Actually, let’s not.
Or this one, from Andrew Ross Sorkin in the New York Times. Sorkin suggests that banks and credit card companies simply refuse to do business with retailers that sell the guns he thinks are the most dangerous. It’s hard to imagine anyone suggesting that U.S. banks should conspire against U.S. citizens to limit access to voting or any other right, but the worse problem, even he acknowledges, is that this would effectively force all of those purchases — of the worst guns, in his view — to be underground, untraceable and in cash. What could go wrong?
There’s a reason the problem of mass shootings persists: because solving it isn’t simple.
Nor is an answer likely to come in the form of TED Talk “big ideas” from solutionists who believe huge, complex problems involving systemic political, sociological, economic and even biological factors remain problems simply because they haven’t yet pondered them.
The flip side of this coin are the blunt-force proposals that have neither data nor reality to back them up, only righteous indignation.
Banning so-called assault weapons — a category of gun that has no concrete definition and is responsible for less than 2% of all gun deaths — might feel like the right thing to do. But it ignores the fact that the first 10-year ban did not measurably lower gun crime, nor did it keep banned guns out of the hands of dangerous mass shooters, like the Columbine killers.
Finally, it isn’t politically feasible. Democrats know that as much as Republicans. Just ask the 54 Democratic House members who lost their seats in 1994 after passing the assault weapons ban.
Still, none of this means there are no solutions. And law-abiding gun owners want to find them. But they’re more likely to be small, narrow and far less flashy.
As statistician Leah Libresco, a gun control proponent who decided to research gun violence for FiveThirtyEight, discovered, “the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence. The best ideas left standing were narrowly tailored interventions to protect subtypes of potential victims, not broad attempts to limit the lethality of guns.”
National Review columnist David French pointed to one such micro-solution: gun-violence restraining orders, which are already being tried in a number of states. This allows a family member to temporarily order a gun restriction against a violent or unstable person at risk of harming themselves or others, without stepping on due process or civil liberties.
Another micro-solution is raising the age minimum for certain classes of semi-automatic rifles. Another would be to ban bump stocks, which turn legal guns into illegal ones, thus negating the point of having gun laws.
And enforcing existing background check systems, something the Cornyn-Murphy Senate bill calls for, and that the gun lobby has been demanding for years.
There are likely dozens of others: small-sounding solutions that are tailored to specific populations and problems, including suicide, domestic violence, gangs and mental illness.
They might not go viral on social media. They might not make for a jazzy op-ed or satisfy the righteous indignation of anti-gun activists. But on the upside, they might actually work.
Contact Cupp at thesecupp.com.
This column first appeared in the New York Daily News.
Send letters to: firstname.lastname@example.org