Without subscribing to all the claims of Naomi Klein’s controversial Shock Doctrine, it’s easy to agree with one premise: calamitous events tend to tip the balance of the public’s attention, often creating outsize focus on a single issue while others receive less than their due consideration in its shadow. The latest disaster to shock the system of the American body politic–after the Hurricane Sandy disaster inspired some reversals from former climate-change holdouts–was, of course, the horrifying shooting in Newtown, CT. The tragedy–following all too closely on similar lone gunman incidents, but this time counting children as its main victims–has induced a new level of outrage and fervor among gun-control advocates, emboldening their efforts at influence–and an equally ferocious blowback from 2nd amendment originalists like the NRA. The results of this antagonism remain in the future, but surely the passionate focus and blanket political entreaties on both sides obscure other issues, if we abide by the premise cited above.
Here’s one: drunk driving, which tends to kill just a few innocents at a time and therefore garners less attention than mass shootings. But if political capital is finite, isn’t there an argument to be made that the prevention of drunk driving–which is within reach–should be given a higher priority by lawmakers than gun control? 8,583 deaths were caused by firearms in the US in 2011, more being suicides than homocides. By comparison, according the the New York State Troopers website, drunk drivers cause more than 17,000 deaths annually; in New York 30% of fatal crashes are alcohol related. Even allowing that statistics and comparisons can be skewed, the general picture is in focus. To prevent recidivism in drunk drivers, states often compel installation of a device that measures blood alcohol level and disables the ignition if it reads above the legal limit. These devices are relatively inexpensive (especially when measured against the real fiscal cost to society of the present problem) and, importantly, there is no 2nd amendment right guaranteeing anything like the liberty to drive an SUV while hammered. What if such devices were installed universally? Is it big government meddling? Many will say so. But what is the justification for that claim? Nothing is taken from the sober driver and much is given to the potential victim. Amidst all the furor over guns, is there a bigger problem–with an easier solution–being ignored?