Eugene Volokh and Richard Aborn debate gun control at NYU Law

Tackling one of the most polarizing political issues of the day, Professor Eugene Volokh of UCLA School of Law, founder of the Volokh Conspiracy blog, and Richard Aborn, president of the nonprofit Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, engaged in a spirited debate on February 19 sponsored by the Federalist Society, the NYU Journal of Law & Liberty, and the Classical Liberal Institute.

Richard AbornAborn’s ideas about the need for gun control stem largely from his previous work as a violent crime prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, where, he said, he saw how often guns were murder weapons. As president of Handgun Control, Inc. (now the Brady Campaign), a leading gun control advocacy organization, he was instrumental in securing passage of the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act and the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.

“This is a policy area, not unlike other areas, that tends to be debated on the fringes,” said Aborn, “very often on cable stations with two ‘talking heads’ really firing at each other and the audience hearing just a jumble of words and very little cogent discussion…. The press would much rather position this, as would our opponents, as a gun ban versus no restriction debate.” Aborn grouped himself with the majority of gun-control advocates, most of whom, he argued, favor a middle-of-the-road approach.

Eugene VolokhVolokh, for his part, utilized a host of facts and figures as he sought to show the misguidedness of some gun control advocates, arguing that the vast majority of America’s 300 million guns are never used in a criminal manner and that gun crime has decreased significantly in the past two decades.

“The question,” said Volokh, “is what are the costs and benefits of a proposed policy?... Often people don’t ask that question. They ask, what are the costs and benefits of the regulated activity? Or they ask, wouldn’t we be better off in a blank-free world?... Prohibition was pretty quickly repealed because it was seen that the costs of the policy were much greater than the benefits that were actually realized.”

Aborn suggested that Volokh was engaging in some level of deflection. “Those who oppose gun control laws almost never discuss the elements that we put out there as a prescription for reducing some of this violence,” said Aborn. “They try and use the strawman of the ban, and I’m not going to fall for it…. This is not about banning all guns. This is about regulating guns. The vast majority of guns that are held by law-abiding citizens never end up in an act of criminality or suicide.”

When a student in the audience asked Volokh what he saw as a potential path to legislative compromise, the professor offered that “you need to put something on the table that the gun rights movement won’t just see as a lesser loss, but an affirmative win to counteract their loss on the other thing that you want to win on. If you aren’t willing to offer that, aren’t willing to offer anything by way of positive benefit to the gun rights movement, it’s not clear why you’re going to have a compromise.”

Posted on March 3, 2014