Skip to content
Matthew Yglesias

The Flaw in the Progressive Stance on Guns

Reducing gun violence will require more policing and incarceration, not less.

Necessary, perhaps, but not sufficient.

Necessary, perhaps, but not sufficient.

Photographer: Eric Thayer/Getty Images North America

“When guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” The National Rifle Association doesn’t really use that slogan anymore, but it came to mind last week as I considered a core tension in contemporary progressive thought: strong advocacy of gun control paired with increasing skepticism about law enforcement and incarceration.

In Philadelphia, for example, progressive District Attorney Larry Krasner has deprioritized gun possession charges altogether, holding that they fuel racial disparities and mass incarceration. At the same time, national Democrats are arguing more forcefully than ever for stricter gun laws. The last time this was actually successful, back in the 1990s, it was part of a seamless web of tough-on-crime politics — the assault-weapons ban was in a comprehensive crime bill that included hiring more police officers and provisions to build more prisons and make prison sentences longer.