It's true that if we had 10% as many firearms in private hands as is now the case, we'd have fewer homicides. But it's not true that reaching 90% of the current level would matter at all, unless the reduction came among people likely to use guns to commit crimes. One of the reasons Al Gore isn't finishing his second term as President is that he endorsed national gun registration (to compete with Bill Bradley in the New Jersey primary) even though all of the benefits of registration save annoying gun owners could have been achieved with much less controversial measures. That move cost him West Virginia, New Hampshire, Florida, and maybe Tennessee.
The first point is important, reasonable if overstated, and pure two hundred proof Kleiman -- the fact that something is bad [drug abuse, too man guns] doesn't mean that an effort to fight it is worth the cost. The second is a political calculation. I think it is important for bloggers to keep policy and politics separate. "Not worth the political cost", "worthless" and "costly on net" are different. Politicians have to censor themselves and act as if the don't believe things which a politically costly. The debate is damaged if commentators who are not running for office do the same.
An overheated example. Democrats decided it would be too risk to debate whether Saddam Hussein had WMD or whether this was acceptable since he was deterred. Dovish pundits followed their lead. The possibilities became unmentionable. The consequences were not good.
Another absurd analog : it is generally bad political strategy for a US politician to admit that he or she thinks that an other country [and especially France] is better than the USA in an way. Self censorship of such thoughts by pre blogging opinion leaders has done great damage to the debate about health policy
"Politicians seeking national office should not advocate national gun registration, as the huge political costs are not worth the benefits times the near zero probability of it happening." and "the benefits are small" are two separate statements and their should be a paragraph break between them
yes I am, among other things, attempting amusing absurdity by citicising Kleiman's punctuation.
I also think that there is a real issue of mixing up "politically unwise" and "false" and that it is important to be willing to say "I would advise a politician to never say this but it is true that ..." when speaking frankly among friends and it is important that the internet be used so that people all around the world can communicate frankly among friends with each other.
In this case "But it's not true that reaching 90% of the current level would matter at all, unless the reduction came among people likely to use guns to commit crimes." is overstated to the point of being an arithmetic error. One does not call a one in a thousand chance "likely". Ceteris paribus, taking ten percent of US guns from people each with a one in one thousand chance of committing a gun crime would prevent about seven thousand gun crimes per ear hardly "not an difference".
Not to mention what about accidents ? A ten percent reduction of gun accidents would save about three hundred lives a ear. I don't want to tell three hundred sets of grieving relatives a ear that there suffering is nothing.
In fact, I would interpolate the effect of fewer guns linearly as a first guess which would imply that a ten percent reduction would have huge benefits.