While congressional Democrats begin debating legislation that would ban so-called assault weapons, it’s reasonable to ask whether any such ban would substantially – or even marginally – reduce the number and extent of gun-related deaths in the country.

According to the Cato Institute’s Trevor Burrus, the problem lies not in firearms that “scare [California Sen.] Diane Feinstein,” but in the hard facts that “gun deaths in America are primarily young Black men who are victims of homicides and men between 25–64 who commit suicide,” most often with handguns.

How to address those issues? Burrus says the first step is ending the drug war:

…which has failed and been a disaster by every conceivable metric. While ending the drug war wouldn’t end street gangs, it would significantly cut back on their reach and the activities that make them profitable. More importantly, the drug war has devastated inner cities by causing havoc in schools, families, and communities. It will take a long time to recover but stopping the madness of drug prohibition is a necessary first step.

Preventing suicides is far more complex. Burrus notes:

Finding the balance between helping and scaring away potential gun‐​suicide victims will not be easy. But we do know that offering compassionate help and support is usually the most effective way to avert these tragedies, and for good reason that is where suicide prevention experts and organizations focus their efforts.

“Mass shooters get the attention,” Burrus writes, “but the biggest issues are behind the headlines.”