Two of the disappointments of the post-Newtown season of gun reform are as follows:
The paucity of new ideas.
The repeated argument that we cannot do one reform because we must instead do another.
On the latter score, the most-oft-repeated trope, here in Connecticut and in Washington, is that we should not pass new gun laws because we must address mental health issues instead. As if reform were like one of those supermarket coupons that says, "Only three cantaloupes per customer."
Another motif repeated constantly by gun rights advocates is that they resent the way guns are being singled out for restriction when cars kill so many people.
It sometimes seems that the only thing happening more times per hour than car deaths or gun deaths is people bringing up this idea as if it represented a cogent argument against control.
It's the opposite.
I've written about this before, but: Car deaths peaked in the 1970s when annual numbers over 50,000 were routine. As of 2011 they were dropping toward 32,000. In the same time period, miles driven per year nearly doubled.
Meanwhile, we did basically nothing about the gun death rate, so it creeps up a little every year as population grows. Some time very soon, if it hasn't happened already, the two lines will cross. Gun and car death numbers are nearly identical.
How did we make car deaths drop so dramatically? No single thing, but — and tell me if this sounds familiar — citizen groups and, in particular, mothers banded together to push the government and private industry for changes, which included safer cars, safer roads, speed checks, seat belt laws, better car seats, graduated licensure for young drivers and tougher enforcement of drunken driving laws.
Nobody said: "We can't enforce the speed limit because we have to concentrate on air bags." Nobody said he had a constitutional right not to wear a seat belt. (Actually somebody in Iowa did, but he didn't get very far.) We did a whole bunch of everything and it worked.
We are still pikers compared to other Western countries. Spain and Portugal cut their road fatalities in half during the first 10 years of this century. Not far behind them, I say with pride, are the imperishable people of Ireland, with a 42 percent drop, partly because of a multi-pronged assault on drunken driving, further proof that a nation can change an ingrained part of its culture,
So to gun rights people, I say: You're right! Let's treat guns more like cars. Every car is registered at a specific address, and every car must carry liability insurance to pay for the harm it might do.
The latter is one of the new ideas I had hoped would be discussed post-Newtown. One thing that helped U.S. road safety was the insurance industry's role. One of the less-sung heroes was William Haddon Jr., who was the first federal highway safety chief and then took over the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and revamped it. Insurance companies pushed hard for measures such as air bags to reduce their payouts.
If every gun owner had to carry insurance, there would be discounts for trigger locks, safe storage and other good practices. This seems only fair after 2005, when the gun lobby pushed through an unconscionable law shielding gun makers and dealers from liability suits.
Of course guns are not the same as cars. We are not as united — citizens, government and private commerce — in seeking the same result. But we need to be.
The most felicitous phrase of last week came from Sandy Hook mom Nicole Hockley, who said the Newtown parents approached legislators with "love and logic." That's a promising alternative to the current climate of distrust and absolutism.
Japan, despite having no firearm violence, has a terrible problem with suicide. They've recently made a little headway, at long last. One idea that took hold was "inochi no monban" — gatekeepers for life. These are just citizens instilled with the duty to watch out for depression and then try to help.
So there's another idea. Find somebody on the other side of this issue and explore how you can be inochi no monban. Together. With love and logic.