TODAY'S PAPER
Good Afternoon
Good Afternoon
OpinionColumnistsMichael Dobie

Answer to controlling gun problem? It’s the economy, stupid

A gun show.

A gun show. Credit: News12

The pools of blood are barely dry, and already we’re hunkered down in our corners. Again.

Calls to tighten gun controls in the wake of the San Bernardino slaughter were followed immediately by votes in the U.S. Senate rejecting proposals to do just that. Both sides say the other is politicizing the killings. And nothing changes, except the dateline of the next massacre and the number of victims.

Outside the paralysis of our political process, though, things are changing. We’re becoming more scared. Not panicked, not yet. And not everyone. But you can feel it, and you can hear it in people’s voices. Fear is gnawing away and uncertainty lurks, like an anchor in our minds.

The Islamic State connection in the San Bernardino attack adds to that worry, given the context of our times. But let’s be honest: We have had a long string of these incidents involving perpetrators with all sorts of grievances and hatreds. And with the increasing willingness to act on them. And with the guns to express their anger.

The sheriff in upstate Ulster County is encouraging licensed gun owners to take their guns with them when they leave home, because they “might come in handy.” I’m sorry, but that’s a world neither I nor the majority of Americans want to live in.

Some of you will call me naive, because you say a good guy with a gun will stop a bad guy with a gun. But the fact is that most fellow citizens want to dial down the whole gun thing.

Polling shows a majority of Americans wants stricter controls on gun sales, and numerous polls say the number of us who favor universal background checks hovers on either side of 90 percent.

If your blood is boiling now, please understand that this is not a call to ban guns, take guns or revoke the Second Amendment. I do not want to abridge anyone’s constitutional rights. And, yes, some mass shootings that precipitated calls for tougher measures would not have been prevented had such legislation been in place.

But many Americans, myself included, see the gun-ness of our country as a serious problem. And we’re frustrated.

We know Congress won’t act. Even if Democrats take the Senate next year, the House most likely won’t turn, which means such legislation is doomed.

Under the current dynamic.

So, how do you change the dynamic?

By following the basic law of electoral politics in this country: It’s the economy, stupid.

Make tighter gun controls an economic issue.

How? By acting on your fears. Stay home.

Don’t go to the mall, don’t go to restaurants, don’t go to the movies, don’t go to concerts or sporting events or clubs. The idea comes from a friend of mine and it’s genius: Just stay home, and watch the howls of protest grow from businesses large and small that suddenly find themselves choking.

Our elected leaders, emboldened by a generous gun lobby, are deaf to emotional and well-intentioned calls for action. But they can’t ignore Main Street. That’s the pressure point. If 10 or 20 percent of the public, or the 55 percent that wants stricter laws on gun sales, simply stops spending its discretionary income . . . well . . . change occurs at the margin, as economists like to say, and that’s a whole lot of margin.

For people who have felt powerless, stuck at the margins of a debate with no prospect of resolution, this would be a potent response. Each of us can make a difference, and turn our fears into strength.

Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.

Columns