Riding a wave of media-driven indignation and fueled by polls that showed broad popular support for background checks, gun control advocates are claiming they won’t wait until after the next election to try again to pass another version of the Manchin-Toomey amendment. It’s an open question as to whether their arguments will resonate with the red state Democrats who crossed the aisle to vote with the majority of Republicans against any gun bill, or whether they can persuade some in the GOP caucus to flip. But exploiting the Boston Marathon bombing the same way they’ve relentlessly waved the bloody shirt of the Newtown massacre won’t do the trick.
Guns did play a role in the Tsarnaev brothers’ crimes. And since Tamerlan Tsarnaev had already been placed in the database of the FBI, theoretically a background check on a prospective weapons purchase by him might have triggered an intervention by law enforcement authorities before the tragedy occurred. That’s what motivated Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York to take to the floor of the House on Friday to argue that Boston gives us another reason to pass a background checks law with the inflammatory style we’ve come to expect from the anti-gun crowd:
The pro-gun lobby insists that the next terrorist should still be able to buy all the assault weapons they want and all the 100-round magazines they need, no problem, no background check necessary. And the next terrorist and the next Tamerlan thinks they’re absolutely right.
The problem with Representative Maloney’s argument isn’t just that it’s despicable of her to accuse groups like the National Rifle Association of supporting terror (though that’s a line that probably went down well with most of her Upper East Side constituency), it’s that the facts of the case flatly contradict the pro-gun control narrative. As I wrote last week, the guns the Tsarnaevs used to kill one police officer and wound another did not have legal permits. Neither did their pressure cooker bombs.
I happen to think the Manchin-Toomey background check legislation was a reasonable suggestion that would not infringe on Second Amendment rights. If its advocates could have argued that it would prevent another Newtown, it might have passed. But it is also true that it wouldn’t prevent another Boston.
The Marathon bombing is yet another example that proves that criminals generally aren’t prepared to jump through the hoops that a law-abiding citizen is willing to endure. They prefer to either use legal weapons that were procured by those who would not be prevented from purchasing them or illegal guns that no background check or assault weapons ban can prevent from being sold.
The point here is not so much whether background checks are a good idea in principle. It is that claims they will prevent crimes are utterly bogus. Representative Maloney can Mau-Mau the NRA all she likes, but nothing in Manchin-Toomey or even the more stringent versions of the bills Democrats have drafted on guns in the wake of Newtown could have stopped the Tsarnaevs from amassing the arsenal of illegal weapons they used to shoot it out with Boston-area cops. The “next Tamerlan” won’t care about background check laws because—like his predecessor—he will not try to buy a legal gun that can be traced back to him.
Since scoring points aimed at a right-wing piñata with a sound byte that made it onto a local news broadcast (and repeated this morning on MSNBC) was the objective of Maloney’s speech, I’m sure the inaccuracy of her pitch doesn’t bother her much. But what she—and others who share her gun legislation goal—should understand is that the more they flood the airwaves with misleading rhetoric and false arguments the less likely it is that any background check law will ever be passed.