On Tuesday’s Morning Joe, former CEO of NPR Ken Stern came on the show to promote his new book, Republican Like Me. Most of the segment with Stern focused on the book’s themes of political polarization in the U.S. being a distortion of Americans’ true unity as a “moderate country” and Stern’s experiences speaking to Trump voters about their beliefs. However, at the end of the discussion, Stern oddly made the case that while ‘most’ ‘gun control measures’ would not have a ‘major effect’ on gun homicides, he was still ‘fine’ with those very same restrictions on Americans’ Second Amendment rights.
Midway through the segment, while discussing the notion that Americans’ political opinions are not quite as polarized as many might believe (which is debatable), Stern and the panel arrived upon some interesting conclusions:
STERN: If you go to, like, to the Democratic and Republican platforms in 2016, they each bragged about how extreme their positions are. They said: we are the most pro-life or most pro-choice platform in the history. And I said: how can that be when Americans haven't changed their views in 50 years? It’s because the parties have been -- they've both been taken over by the extremes. And that's the fundamental challenge. They win off the extremes. The media wins off the extremes. And that’s what the challenge we have right now [inaudible].
WILLIE GEIST: [interrupting] Over the course of this reporting trip, Ken, did you change your views on anything? I was looking through-
STERN: [interjecting] Yeah.
GEIST: -the chapter on guns where you seem to concede that there's nothing -- the guns used in Aurora and Las Vegas, now we can add, and Orlando were lawfully obtained. They passed background checks, they were legal weapons. And that's the argument we often hear when had Progressives say: “You gotta do something! We gotta do something! There have to be more laws!” Well what exactly is the law? Did you change your views on guns?
STERN: So I started off, you know, knowing and believing, you know, we all have a confirmation bias. We all take our views from signals from others. And I sort of -- how could I be right about everything? I mean, that was sort of an opening gambit that I had. I was gonna go out and say: I can't be that right and everyone else can't be that wrong. And, I did change my views on guns. And it starts with the notion, which I wouldn’t have thought of before, which is: gun homicides, death by guns in this country, has gone down by more than half over the last 25 years, the most extraordinary trend in sort of modern American criminal history. At the same time, the number of guns have gone up. Those two things are correlated.
Based on the above statements alone, it seems pretty clear that Stern spent some time not just travelling to more conservative parts of the country, but actually listening to what people there had to say. This is a commendable thing that every good journalist should be doing. Additionally, the points that Stern made echoing longtime conservative and libertarian arguments regarding correlating gun trends are indeed correct: gun homicides have gone down in the past couple of decades over the same time period that private gun ownership has risen dramatically.
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Leaving the segment right here, one would get the impression that Stern’s newfound understanding of gun control has led him to be opposed to enacting most of its variations, perhaps in a similar fashion to Leah Libresco, a statistician who recently wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post stating that her anti-gun opinions changed significantly after researching the issue in depth. However, near the end of his spiel about gun control, Stern actually assured the liberal panel that he still supported enacting gun control measures that don’t necessarily affect crime rates:
But it’s clear that we know how to drive down gun murders without gun control. And the question is: why are we talking about gun control when there are other things that we've been doing for 25 years that actually have reduced murders in this country by an extraordinary amount? I mean, as you say, Willie, most of the gun control measures, and I'm still fine with them, really aren't something that were gonna have a major effect. But we know other things, things like the “Pulling Levers” program in Boston, actually can reduce gun homicides by a lot.
Because of the brevity of Stern’s comment, it’s difficult to know precisely what gun control laws he is “fine” with or what justification he has for infringing on people’s Second Amendment rights without the argument that such laws reduce crime. Perhaps Stern’s naturally felt anti-gun inclinations go deeper than any rational argument or understanding of facts can reach. That’s not exactly a comforting thought, but maybe more liberals will at least move in Stern and Libresco’s direction as data continues to contradict the standard pro-gun control view.