(That is the gun one, right?)
Grumbly Eric brings a good point to our attention from a book review in the Bangkok Post:
While this reviewer agrees that deaths (including accidental and suicides) by firearms are high, they are lower than vehicle deaths. Yet I haven't heard of groups clamouring for taking cars off the road. Air-bags and sober driving about does it.
I have long thought that we must be insane to put up with the number of traffic fatalities that we do. The laser-like focus on drunk driving is hard to countenance; most traffic deaths do not involve alcohol. As someone once said, "The carnage on our roads is the biggest public-health scandal of our time." Even if we eliminated drunk driving tomorrow, the level of danger would still be unacceptably high.
So it is indeed the case the importance of gun control pales in comparison to that of doing something to make driving safer.
I would like to point out, though, as I have before, that conservatives and libertarians tend to vastly overestimate the enthusiasm for gun control on the left. Frankly, it strikes me as more or less a dead issue. The most popular figure in the left wing of the Democratic Party is Howard Dean, was endorsed by the NRA eight times, and it wasn't even an issue in the primaries.
Perception, of course, does not always reflect reality, though, and the fact is that for many, many people the Democrats are perceived as wanting to take away their guns. This, in my opinion, is hurting the Democrats enormously; more than abortion, more than gay marriage, more than any of those 'social' issues, the gun issue is causing Dems to lose among what could be a core constituency: rural, white males.
I am of course not from the American South, so it took me a while to understand this. And most liberals still don't realize that red-staters love their guns. Guns are a big fucking deal to them. The GOP has managed to convince them that the Democrats want to take their guns away, and as long as they believe that, they will never vote Democratic.
The priority for the Democratic Party ought to be to change public perception about this issue. It is the single thing they could do that would most improve their chances for '08 ('06 is probably too soon for this to happen). This isn't solely a PR issue (although it is largely that)--it means laying off on gun control legislation as well. But such legislation is an ineffective way to fight crime anyway, as it leaves the root cause of crime untouched. So it's not like they would be sacrificing the safety of citizens to score political points.
My prediction: if Democrats can convince rural voters that they have no intention of taking their guns, or of regulating them any further, they will take the White House in 2008.
A big 'if', I realize.