Commentary Magazine


The Point of Obama’s Gun Tour

With President Obama heading out on the road today for another campaign stop to promote his gun control package, thanks go, as they often have in the past, to Vice President Biden for helping to put the issue in perspective with some unscripted candor. The tenor of the discussion about the proposals has, since the president first unveiled them last month, been largely emotional as it seeks to tap into the universal horror felt by Americans about the Newtown shooting. But Biden made it clear that any thought that the White House’s advocacy on guns was geared to prevent a recurrence of that massacre is something between a fib and a forlorn hope. Speaking Thursday at the Capitol, Biden told reporters the following:

Nothing we are going to do is fundamentally going to alter or eliminate the possibility of another mass shooting or guarantee that we will bring gun deaths down.

This is both fair and honest. But it also raises an important question. If the new measures, even the parts of the package, like universal background checks on gun sales, that most Americans view as both reasonable and appropriate, are not going to “bring gun deaths down,” then why are we being asked to support them and told that opponents of this legislation are extremists who don’t care about the children who were gunned down in Newtown? And it is exactly the answer to that question that makes some people regard the assurances coming from the administration of their unswerving support of the Second Amendment as being disingenuous.

The president and the vice president both say they view the proposed legislation about assault weapons and ammunition as well as background checks as a necessary response to Newtown. Yet, almost in the same breath they are forced to admit that none of it would have prevented the tragedy had it already been in place. Nor would it do much, if anything, to prevent other forms of gun violence.

To concede that point is not to render all forms of gun control as being beyond the pale. The state has the right to regulate the sale of guns in a manner consistent with public safety (for instance, private ownership of machine guns has always been illegal) and actions that would make it harder for criminals or the insane to get such weapons is not likely to be opposed by most Americans. Yet the insistence on making it harder for law-abiding individuals to buy and own guns has always been motivated more by an ideological prejudice against gun ownership on the left more than by a rational response to Newtown or any other outrageous crime.

The president and his supporters continually assure us that any further attempt to limit the right to own guns is off the table and prevented by the Second Amendment. Yet the lack of a rationale for the post-Newtown legislation leads many to not unreasonably conclude that the incident was merely the excuse that liberals are using to resurrect old proposals that have always been motivated by anti-gun sentiment.

Though there is nothing unreasonable about limits on certain types of military-style weapons or ammunition, so long as these proposals are unconnected to any plausible hope of saving lives it is quite reasonable to think that once these restrictions are made law, they will be followed by other more draconian bills that are also not tethered to a measurable goal. Under those circumstances, it will be harder to deny that what is going on is a campaign to steadily erode Second Amendment rights, not a way to stop another Newtown from happening. So long as the administration cannot assert that their gun package will actually make the country safer, it is hardly paranoid for gun rights advocates to think this is merely the thin edge of the wedge of a legislative campaign that will ultimately lead to something that will infringe on the constitutional rights of Americans.