The gun control legislation that President Obama put forth in the immediate aftermath of the Sandy Hook tragedy has foundered in the Senate. Before everyone rushes to blame (or credit, as may be the case) Republicans, keep in mind that the Senate is 55-45 Democratic, and the key component of Obama’s plan—an assault weapons ban—was pulled by no less than Majority Leader Harry Reid himself.
The question of why Congress can’t pass reasonable gun legislation has a multitude of answers—but I would suggest that at least one answer involves looking at the tactics, mindset and notable omissions by the political Left, including the president himself.
Let’s begin with the tactics—while Barack Obama is hardly the first political leader to exploit public emotions after a tragedy, the decision to shove gun legislation down the nation’s throat immediately after Sandy Hook smacks of bullying. A liberal can reasonably counter that it’s no different than George W. Bush jamming the Patriot Act through Congress in the aftermath of 9/11 and they would be correct. It’s worth noting that in Bush’s memoirs Decision Points, he said he regrets not the legislation itself, but allowing it to be termed the “Patriot Act”, because it unfairly maligned the patriotism of legislators who opposed its provisions. In short, Bush regretted a contribution to an atmosphere of political bullying. Is similar repentance in Obama’s future?
Now let’s go to a mindset that goes well beyond the president. The vast majority of Americans—myself included—do not see owning an assault weapon as necessary for hunting or protecting one’s family, nor do we see it is intrinsic to the Second Amendment. But the mindset of the anti-gun crowd is such that their reaction to every firearms-related crime is exactly the same, regardless of whether it’s a handgun or an assault weapon. This unwillingness to distinguish between the two—between one weapon that truly is necessary to protect one’s self and another that is not—makes the NRA’s charge of an ultimate conspiracy aimed at gun confiscation quite realistic.
Finally, let’s come to the omission, one that was touched on by Campbell Brown in The Wall Street Journal. It’s the unwillingness of the Left in general and the president in particular to go anywhere near the issues of violence in video games and in Hollywood. We know for a fact that Newtown killer Adam Lanza fed his mind a steady diet of violent video games. We know that as sure as we know that he used an assault weapon. Would stiffer regulation of what appears on video games, along with our TV screens and in the theatres be able to reduce violence? I don’t know, but there’s equal uncertainty about whether an assault weapons ban will work, and that hasn’t stopped Obama from pushing on that front.
What this smacks of is political opportunism. Democratic presidents get their backing from Hollywood, while Republicans are backed by the gun industry. Standing up to the other party’s heavyweights is hardly an act of political courage. Opening up a real conversation that involved all facets of gun violence, regardless of whose cages were rattled would be. Obama didn’t act any differently than any other politician of any ideological stripe would have in only targeting his adversary, but that’s hardly a compliment.
I’d like to be more enthusiastic in backing some of the gun control measures that are reasonable and common-sense oriented. Cardinal Dolan in New York, hardly an apologist for the Administration, has been supportive. There’s no reason not have a background check in place—while we can’t expect laws to work in keeping guns away from criminals, we can reasonably expect to keep them out of the hands of the mentally ill, and a background check would go a long way towards that. Even in the current political climate, I would like to see the background check pass. It’s the assault weapons ban where the problems of tactics, mindset and omission give me pause. In an ideal world, I’d be for the ban. But until the debate starts getting conducted on fairer ground and all causes of violence explored, I’ll have to pass.
Maybe when gun control advocates lament an “enthusiasm gap” when it comes to public opinion on these issues, they might examine their own role in creating that gap. I just hesitate to get on board with them, even when there should be room for agreement.