Politics & Policy

What Gun Control Advocate Tom Diaz Gets Wrong in His New Book


Tom Diaz, senior policy analyst, Violence Policy Center, right, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, on March 12, 2009

Photograph by Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Tom Diaz, senior policy analyst, Violence Policy Center, right, testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, on March 12, 2009

For many years, Tom Diaz has served as one of Washington’s most articulate advocates for stricter gun control. His timely new book, The Last Gun: How Changes in the Gun Industry Are Killing Americans and What It Will Take to Stop It (New Press), offers characteristically colorful accounts of firearm crime and related mayhem. Look for it to surface momentarily in the debate in Congress about large-capacity magazines, military-style semiautomatic rifles, and comprehensive background checks.

Readable and topical as it is, the enigmatically titled The Last Gun represents the confused current state of the gun control movement.

Diaz puckishly describes himself as “a former gun enthusiast and an ex-member of the National Rifle Association.” Until recently, he worked for the Violence Policy Center, a liberal advocacy group. He discusses calibers, makes, and models with authority.

Alas, some of his major premises and conclusions fly in the face of reality. That’s a weakness when it comes to a policy book—or a political campaign. Here are several examples:

Violent crime is down. Diaz accurately describes how the firearm industry has increased the potential lethality of many civilian weapons by marketing large-capacity ammunition magazines. Then he asserts that “these more powerful guns have enabled new levels of gun violence to crest.” The problem with the latter claim is that since the early 1990s, when Glock and other manufacturers pioneered the large-capacity vogue, violent crime rates (including gun homicide rates) have fallen dramatically in the U.S.

The gun lobby is still strong. Diaz argues that “the once-impregnable gun lobby has become a ‘paper tiger.’” In the wake of the December 2012 Newtown (Conn.) elementary school massacre, it’s true that gun-rights groups have not been able to stop states such as New York and, more recently, Colorado, from moving toward tougher firearm regulation. However, the NRA’s deterioration has been greatly exaggerated. Just ask the U.S. Senate Democrats who are struggling to get even modest gun control provisions out of the Judiciary Committee and onto the floor for a vote. And then there’s the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. Concern about displeasing the NRA remains a major factor in the Washington gun debate. Asserting otherwise seems naive, at best.

The NRA doesn’t take orders. “The NRA’s legislative program,” Diaz maintains, “is largely driven by the gun industry’s business interests.” This contention has gained currency in gun control circles among advocates eager to identify their adversaries with shadowy corporate conspiracy, as opposed to, say, contrary ideas. The relationship between the NRA and the gun industry is complicated. The idea, however, that Smith & Wesson (SWHC) or Glock tells the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre what to say is fanciful.

Barrett_190
Barrett is an assistant managing editor and senior writer at Bloomberg Businessweek. His new book, Law of the Jungle, which tells the story of the Chevron oil pollution case in Ecuador, will be published by Crown in September 2014.

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