Commentary Magazine


Topic: gun control

Too British for the New York Times

Yesterday the New York Times’s David Carr scooped the story that Piers Morgan will be dropped from CNN’s 9 p.m. time slot. Morgan seemed–at least as far as his discussion with Carr went–to be taking the news in stride. “It’s been a painful period and lately we have taken a bath in the ratings,” he told Carr, adding that he’ll stay at CNN and has been in discussions with the network over a better use of his time.

No one seems to be surprised, least of all Morgan. But his departure is something that he, CNN, and Carr appear to be getting all wrong. So while CNN may think it’s learning important lessons from its Piers Morgan experiment, it may be learning the wrong ones. Both Carr and Morgan made much of the latter’s accent. He’s not from here, you know. But if anyone thinks Morgan’s ratings suffered because he’s British, they certainly haven’t been paying attention. Here’s Carr:

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Yesterday the New York Times’s David Carr scooped the story that Piers Morgan will be dropped from CNN’s 9 p.m. time slot. Morgan seemed–at least as far as his discussion with Carr went–to be taking the news in stride. “It’s been a painful period and lately we have taken a bath in the ratings,” he told Carr, adding that he’ll stay at CNN and has been in discussions with the network over a better use of his time.

No one seems to be surprised, least of all Morgan. But his departure is something that he, CNN, and Carr appear to be getting all wrong. So while CNN may think it’s learning important lessons from its Piers Morgan experiment, it may be learning the wrong ones. Both Carr and Morgan made much of the latter’s accent. He’s not from here, you know. But if anyone thinks Morgan’s ratings suffered because he’s British, they certainly haven’t been paying attention. Here’s Carr:

It’s been an unhappy collision between a British television personality who refuses to assimilate — the only football he cares about is round and his lectures on guns were rife with contempt — and a CNN audience that is intrinsically provincial. After all, the people who tune into a cable news network are, by their nature, deeply interested in America.

CNN’s president, Jeffrey Zucker, has other problems, but none bigger than Mr. Morgan and his plum 9 p.m. time slot. Mr. Morgan said last week that he and Mr. Zucker had been talking about the show’s failure to connect and had decided to pull the plug, probably in March.

Crossing an ocean for a replacement for Larry King, who had ratings problems of his own near the end, was probably not a great idea to begin with. For a cable news station like CNN, major stories are like oxygen. When something important or scary happens in America, many of us have an immediate reflex to turn on CNN. When I find Mr. Morgan telling me what it all means, I have a similar reflex to dismiss what he is saying. It is difficult for him to speak credibly on significant American events because, after all, he just got here.

It would be astronomically bad advice for CNN to absorb this nativist lesson. In reality, the problem with Piers Morgan was twofold: first, he opined on complicated issues without the slightest–and I mean the slightest–understanding of them, and second, he mostly called his guests names when they endeavored to explain those subjects to him.

There is probably no better or more concise example of the former than the following tweet, sent out by Morgan after one of the stars of Duck Dynasty said something he didn’t like:

Just as the 2nd Amendment shouldn’t protect assault rifle devotees, so the 1st Amendment shouldn’t protect vile bigots. #PhilRobertson

There isn’t anything in that sentence that makes a modicum of sense. Obviously, the First Amendment “protects” people who disagree on the issue of same-sex marriage with overheated talk-show hosts. The First Amendment protects even speech that is unpopular in Manhattan television studios (go figure!). Also, because Morgan was upset by a musing on the Christian understanding of sin, he was suggesting, as United Liberty’s Jason Pye pointed out, that perhaps the Bible isn’t protected by the First Amendment. Ponder that thought for a moment, and you start to understand why Morgan had trouble keeping his audience.

But the first part of Morgan’s statement is also typical of his style. I’m not sure exactly what constitutes an “assault rifle devotee,” and I suspect neither does Morgan. As National Review’s Charles Cooke (who also has a British accent, defying Carr’s stereotype) has pointed out:

We can argue all day about the silly “assault weapon” term, but “assault rifle” actually has a meaning. An “assault rifle” means that the rifle can be switched between safe (off, in layman’s terms), semi-automatic, and automatic fire. Weapons such as these are heavily regulated under federal law, have never been used by a civilian to murder anybody, and are strictly illegal in California. The definition of “assault rifle” is not controversial.

The terms one uses in such debates are important, especially where the law is concerned. Morgan never seemed interested in such details, because he never seemed interested in the subjects at all. He was given plenty of time to engage seriously in the issues at hand. He didn’t want to. He wanted to yell at people. That’s his right–and it’s CNN’s right to pay him to do so. The experiment failed because he refused to recognize the rights of others and the act got old, fast. Just as it would have without an accent.

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Charlie Crist’s Identity Crisis

Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat, is Florida’s version of Michael Bloomberg without the money or sense of humor. Or, it turns out, the consistency or coherence. Bloomberg didn’t have to modulate his positions to switch parties. He ran as a liberal Republican in a city that elects liberal Republicans. He didn’t become more enthusiastic toward big government when he switched out of the Republican Party; he was always a nanny-stater, and merely no longer needed the GOP tag to get elected.

But Crist makes no pretensions toward principle. What does he believe? Who wants to know–and is this person registered to vote? As such, Crist has been changing his political positions to run as a Democrat, and this weekend he went on Bill Maher’s television show to further liberate himself from the burdens of his old self. I use the term “liberate” because of the specific terminology Crist employed:

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Charlie Crist, the Republican-turned-Independent-turned-Democrat, is Florida’s version of Michael Bloomberg without the money or sense of humor. Or, it turns out, the consistency or coherence. Bloomberg didn’t have to modulate his positions to switch parties. He ran as a liberal Republican in a city that elects liberal Republicans. He didn’t become more enthusiastic toward big government when he switched out of the Republican Party; he was always a nanny-stater, and merely no longer needed the GOP tag to get elected.

But Crist makes no pretensions toward principle. What does he believe? Who wants to know–and is this person registered to vote? As such, Crist has been changing his political positions to run as a Democrat, and this weekend he went on Bill Maher’s television show to further liberate himself from the burdens of his old self. I use the term “liberate” because of the specific terminology Crist employed:

Former Gov. Charlie Crist announced Friday night he supports ending the American embargo with communist Cuba. Republicans quickly pounced on Crist for switching his position on the issue.

Crist appeared on Bill Maher’s show on HBO on Friday night and called for ending the embargo and his campaign released a statement on his position.

“The embargo has done nothing in more than 50 years to change the regime in Cuba,” Crist said. “If we want to bring democracy to Cuba, we need to encourage American values and investment there, not block ourselves out and cede influence to China. It will take time, and we must do it in a way where American investment helps people, not the dictatorship. But the reality is that no state’s economy is hurt more by America’s Cuba policies than Florida. Changing these policies to allow Florida’s farmers, manufacturers, and construction industry to sell goods and services in Cuba would boost Florida’s economy and help businesses create more jobs in our state.”

Crist agreed with Maher’s assessment that a “small Cuban community” in South Florida had “held hostage” America’s Cuba policies. Maher said Florida politicians needed to “stand up to” the “small Cuban community” and, once again, Crist agreed. “I think they need to,” Crist told Maher.

Crist seems to think of himself as one of those “held hostage” by his beloved state’s Cuban community. Crist’s reversals are numerous. He actually is quite reminiscent of the fictional newsman Ron Burgundy, whose downfall comes when his rival is told how to sabotage him: “Ron Burgundy will read anything that is put on that TelePrompTer. And when I say anything, I mean anything.”

Charlie Crist will read anything that is put on that TelePrompTer. And since he’s gunning for votes–sorry, I shouldn’t say gunning, since Crist has renounced his previous support for gun rights–from Democrats, he’ll happily go on television and accuse Florida’s Cubans of holding the country hostage. (Before you get offended, remember: he probably doesn’t actually believe it. You can tell, because he said it.)

But Crist accidentally said something useful the other night–but not for the reasons he might think–in the course of reading whatever script he was handed for Piers Morgan’s show:

“I think I’ll quote Jeb Bush. He said it better than I ever could. Today’s Republican Party, at least the leadership, is perceived as being anti-women, anti-minority, anti-immigrant, anti-education, anti-gay couples, anti-environment,” Crist said Wednesday on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Live.”

It’s useful not for its wisdom, of which the statement is completely devoid. It’s useful as a reminder to Republicans and conservatives that they will all be portrayed as extreme–whether they’re establishment or insurgent. And it’s worth keeping in mind as they read stories like today’s in the New York Times on the “establishment strikes back” narrative. The headline is “Chastened G.O.P. Tries to Foil Insurgents at Primary Level,” but in fact that’s not quite it.

Its thesis is a bit more nuanced, and it’s encapsulated in this sentence from the story:

The Republican Party establishment, chastened by the realization that a string of unpredictable and unseasoned candidates cost them seats in Congress two elections in a row, is trying to head off potential political hazards wherever it can this year.

The party is trying to avoid “hazards,” not conservatives–and that’s important. The story of course mentions the infamous Todd Akin. But as the article makes clear, Republican groups are not out to defend perpetual incumbency so much as keeping the seat in the Republican column.

Inasmuch as the right is in danger of losing seats it should otherwise win, it’s generally in such danger because of bad candidates, not bad policies. And Charlie Crist happens to be a perfect example. Crist was once the establishment candidate trying to ward off an “insurgent” challenge from Tea Party voters. That challenger was Marco Rubio. Who would the GOP rather have representing its principles in Congress right now, Rubio or Crist? To ask the question is to answer it.

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Cuomo’s Version of Liberal Tolerance

There’s no sign that Hillary Clinton will forgo a run for a Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 that appears to be hers for the asking. But should she pass, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will likely be one of the main contenders. As such, he has spent the last year shoring up his left flank by departing from the moderate policies that he ran on in 2010 and that characterized his first two years in office. But Cuomo’s pivot left has now escalated to the point where he not only wishes to impose liberal ideas on a blue state apparently all too eager to accept such dictates but to make it clear that those who oppose him are no longer welcome to stay.

That was the upshot of a remarkable rant by Cuomo on a public radio station in Albany. As the Albany Times Union reported, in the course of an angry critique of the national Republican Party and as well as New Yorkers who oppose his SAFE Act—a draconian gun-control bill railroaded through the New York legislature not long after the Newtown massacre—Cuomo said the following:

You’re seeing that play out in New York. … The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act — it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.

Cuomo’s astonishing statement may please a suddenly ascendant left wing of the Democratic Party that is now feeling its strength after the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City and thinking about how it could influence the 2016 Democratic race. But it also demonstrates a disturbing degree of intolerance that illustrates the general rule of thumb, that conservatives believe liberals to be wrong and liberals think conservatives are evil. While this will endear Cuomo with his party’s base, it may come back to haunt him if he ever gets the chance to campaign on the national stage.

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There’s no sign that Hillary Clinton will forgo a run for a Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 that appears to be hers for the asking. But should she pass, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will likely be one of the main contenders. As such, he has spent the last year shoring up his left flank by departing from the moderate policies that he ran on in 2010 and that characterized his first two years in office. But Cuomo’s pivot left has now escalated to the point where he not only wishes to impose liberal ideas on a blue state apparently all too eager to accept such dictates but to make it clear that those who oppose him are no longer welcome to stay.

That was the upshot of a remarkable rant by Cuomo on a public radio station in Albany. As the Albany Times Union reported, in the course of an angry critique of the national Republican Party and as well as New Yorkers who oppose his SAFE Act—a draconian gun-control bill railroaded through the New York legislature not long after the Newtown massacre—Cuomo said the following:

You’re seeing that play out in New York. … The Republican Party candidates are running against the SAFE Act — it was voted for by moderate Republicans who run the Senate! Their problem is not me and the Democrats; their problem is themselves. Who are they? Are they these extreme conservatives who are right-to-life, pro-assault-weapon, anti-gay? Is that who they are? Because if that’s who they are and they’re the extreme conservatives, they have no place in the state of New York, because that’s not who New Yorkers are.

Cuomo’s astonishing statement may please a suddenly ascendant left wing of the Democratic Party that is now feeling its strength after the election of Bill de Blasio as mayor of New York City and thinking about how it could influence the 2016 Democratic race. But it also demonstrates a disturbing degree of intolerance that illustrates the general rule of thumb, that conservatives believe liberals to be wrong and liberals think conservatives are evil. While this will endear Cuomo with his party’s base, it may come back to haunt him if he ever gets the chance to campaign on the national stage.

Cuomo’s reference to abortion opponents is especially interesting in the way it seeks to declare them not only out of the political mainstream in New York (which is undoubtedly true) but also worthy of being driven out of the Empire State. As Kathryn Jean Lopez noted in National Review on Friday, the governor’s rant demonstrates the distance both the Democratic Party and the Cuomo family have traveled in the last 30 years. As Lopez writes, in 1984, one of Cuomo’s predecessors as governor of New York—his father Mario—famously articulated a nuanced position in which he restated his personal opposition to abortion while defending its legality and public funding.

This same intolerance is made manifest in the federal ObamaCare mandate that seeks to force Catholic charity groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor pay for abortion drugs and contraception for its employees. That is a far cry from Mario Cuomo’s attempt to build a wall between private opposition to abortion and a public right to it. The Democrats of Barack Obama and Andrew Cuomo will now brook no opposition to their dictates or, in Cuomo’s case, even allow opponents to reside in “his” state.

However, the spark for Cuomo’s anger—opposition to the gun bill he promulgated in his State of the State last year and then rammed through the legislature inside of a day as a sop to public anguish about Newtown—also demonstrates the incoherence of this new extreme liberalism. The SAFE act imposed new bans on assault weapons, gun magazines, and imposed even broader rules for background checks for legal gun purchases. But in the year since it was passed, it has gone largely unenforced since it has sown almost universal confusion among law-enforcement personnel and gun venders and owners who are unsure what is and what is not rendered illegal by the vague language in the sloppily-drafted legislation Cuomo championed.

One needn’t be an opponent of legalized abortion or a member of the National Rifle Association to understand the dangers of this sort of rhetoric and a legislative agenda driven by such sentiments. Liberals have spent the past few years posing as the champions of tolerance while denouncing the Tea Party and conservative Republicans as extremists. But now that the left wing of the Democratic Party has taken back the reins of the party from more centrist forces—or in Cuomo’s case, a former moderate has put his finger in the wind and changed his direction accordingly—the same dynamic could undermine their attempts to win national elections. Just as the GOP must worry about letting its most extreme elements dictate policy and candidates, Democrats should think twice about the spectacle of one of their leading lights going so far as to tell opponents of abortion and gun control to leave New York. If Clinton passes on the presidency and Cuomo makes a run for the White House, that intolerant line won’t be forgotten.

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Guns, Hollywood Hypocrisy, and the NRA

More than 13 months after the Newtown massacre, gun control remains at the top of the liberal agenda. But resistance to more restrictions on gun ownership or more intrusive procedures has frustrated this campaign despite the best efforts of President Obama and the mainstream media. Indeed, as I wrote last month, polls now show even greater opposition to tougher gun laws than existed a year ago. Much of the resistance comes from a public smart enough to understand that the laws the president wants to pass wouldn’t have prevented Newtown. Moreover, many Americans simply don’t trust liberals when they say they just want commonsense laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the insane. Though the president and other liberals say they don’t want to take your gun away, the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups have seen their membership rise in the last 13 months because a lot of people think that is exactly what he wants to do. Of course, he also promised that you could keep your doctor too.

More ammunition for those who hold that view was provided this week by one of the president’s leading fundraisers: Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Speaking on the Howard Stern radio show, Weinstein launched into a tirade about his opposition to legal gun ownership and said he was planning to make a movie with actress Meryl Streep about the gun issue that would make the NRA “wish they weren’t alive after I’m done with them.” Weinstein also said, “I don’t think we need guns in this country, and I hate it, and I think the NRA is a disaster area.”

While taking seriously anything said by anyone in the movie business  in a political context is probably a mistake, this snippet at least provides a fair representation of the core beliefs of the president and his major supporters. But more than that, since the glorification of gun mania in pop culture is widely believed to be one of the most significant reasons why our country is home to so many weapons-related crimes, when the producer of some of the most violent movies in our history speaks out against guns, it gives new meaning to the word hypocrisy.

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More than 13 months after the Newtown massacre, gun control remains at the top of the liberal agenda. But resistance to more restrictions on gun ownership or more intrusive procedures has frustrated this campaign despite the best efforts of President Obama and the mainstream media. Indeed, as I wrote last month, polls now show even greater opposition to tougher gun laws than existed a year ago. Much of the resistance comes from a public smart enough to understand that the laws the president wants to pass wouldn’t have prevented Newtown. Moreover, many Americans simply don’t trust liberals when they say they just want commonsense laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the insane. Though the president and other liberals say they don’t want to take your gun away, the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights groups have seen their membership rise in the last 13 months because a lot of people think that is exactly what he wants to do. Of course, he also promised that you could keep your doctor too.

More ammunition for those who hold that view was provided this week by one of the president’s leading fundraisers: Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. Speaking on the Howard Stern radio show, Weinstein launched into a tirade about his opposition to legal gun ownership and said he was planning to make a movie with actress Meryl Streep about the gun issue that would make the NRA “wish they weren’t alive after I’m done with them.” Weinstein also said, “I don’t think we need guns in this country, and I hate it, and I think the NRA is a disaster area.”

While taking seriously anything said by anyone in the movie business  in a political context is probably a mistake, this snippet at least provides a fair representation of the core beliefs of the president and his major supporters. But more than that, since the glorification of gun mania in pop culture is widely believed to be one of the most significant reasons why our country is home to so many weapons-related crimes, when the producer of some of the most violent movies in our history speaks out against guns, it gives new meaning to the word hypocrisy.

As the Washington Examiner points out, Weinstein has done as much, if not more, than anyone to coarsen American popular culture and to fill screens with blazing guns shredding the bodies of victims. Whatever you think about the NRA, the man who brought us such movies as Django Unchained, Inglorious Bastards, Pulp Fiction, and such classics of the cinema as Rambo 4, Grindhouse, Sin City, and the immortal Piranha 3DD is in no position to pose as a critic of America’s gun culture.

But the problem here goes far deeper than the predictable hypocrisy of wealthy Hollywood liberals. Anyone who tries to sell a skeptical public on the notion that liberals don’t want to abrogate their Second Amendment rights must deal with the fact that Americans know very well that people like Weinstein and his political hero Obama want to do exactly that, in spite of the president’s disclaimers. It might be possible to pass more sensible background-checks laws if so many voters didn’t believe, as does the NRA, that they would just be the thin edge of the wedge assaulting the Second Amendment.

It’s also worth noting that one of the things Weinstein was discussing on the Stern show was a project he was working on about a film depicting Jews resisting the Nazis during the Holocaust. When the libertarian-minded Stern asked Weinstein whether it was inconsistent to make a movie about people using guns, the movie mogul replied that such conduct was justified in the context of the Nazis’ genocidal plans. He’s right about that. But while fears that liberals are planning to take away private guns in order to facilitate a totalitarian state are absurd, Weinstein and others who share his prejudices should understand the purpose of the Second Amendment was to preserve the ability of the American people to defend themselves against a tyrannical government. While that may seem far-fetched today in an era when individuals with rifles or pistols pose little threat to modern states, the principle is unchanged.

Weinstein’s threats that he will undermine the NRA with his new film aren’t likely to worry the group. Left-coast liberals have every right to use their money to advance causes and candidates they support. But so do the five million members of the NRA, as well as other Americans who, while not gun owners themselves, support its positions. As we have seen in the last year, grass roots support for the rights of gun owners has repeatedly trumped big-money campaigns funded by people such as former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others who agree with Weinstein. As long as the political left and its Hollywood ATM machines keep showing their contempt for the Constitution, the NRA has little to fear from Harvey Weinstein or Meryl Streep. 

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Sheriffs Think Gun Laws Are Waste of Time

One of the leading talking points for those advocating more gun laws has been the support many such measures have gotten from law enforcement personnel. As a rule, police officers generally prefer working in environments where the populace is unarmed. That’s understandable since, at least in theory, fewer guns ought to make it safer for cops to do their jobs. But just as the consensus about the need for more gun control in urban sectors breaks down once you leave the suburbs and head into the exurbs and rural areas, the same might be said about peacekeepers. As the New York Times reports today in a front-page feature, a growing number of county sheriffs are not only saying they think the latest wave of state laws passed in the wake of last year’s Newtown massacre are wrongheaded or unnecessary. They’re also saying they won’t enforce them because they are unconstitutional or a waste of time.

This is happening not only in rural Colorado, which has become the cutting edge of the gun debate, but also in upstate New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo made new laws restricting firearms and ammunition magazines a priority in 2013 as well as in Florida and California. The trend stems in part from pro-gun sentiment. But just as important to the discussion is the notion that outside of cities, laws whose sole aim is to make it harder to legally possess weapons are seen as vague, unenforceable, and burden already overworked law enforcement officials with busywork. Many sheriffs simply say they’ve had enough and even if their attempts to nullify legislation on constitutional grounds are unlikely to succeed, their protests illustrate the growing discontent about legislation that is out of touch with the culture of rural America.

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One of the leading talking points for those advocating more gun laws has been the support many such measures have gotten from law enforcement personnel. As a rule, police officers generally prefer working in environments where the populace is unarmed. That’s understandable since, at least in theory, fewer guns ought to make it safer for cops to do their jobs. But just as the consensus about the need for more gun control in urban sectors breaks down once you leave the suburbs and head into the exurbs and rural areas, the same might be said about peacekeepers. As the New York Times reports today in a front-page feature, a growing number of county sheriffs are not only saying they think the latest wave of state laws passed in the wake of last year’s Newtown massacre are wrongheaded or unnecessary. They’re also saying they won’t enforce them because they are unconstitutional or a waste of time.

This is happening not only in rural Colorado, which has become the cutting edge of the gun debate, but also in upstate New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo made new laws restricting firearms and ammunition magazines a priority in 2013 as well as in Florida and California. The trend stems in part from pro-gun sentiment. But just as important to the discussion is the notion that outside of cities, laws whose sole aim is to make it harder to legally possess weapons are seen as vague, unenforceable, and burden already overworked law enforcement officials with busywork. Many sheriffs simply say they’ve had enough and even if their attempts to nullify legislation on constitutional grounds are unlikely to succeed, their protests illustrate the growing discontent about legislation that is out of touch with the culture of rural America.

It should first be admitted that lawsuits filed by sheriffs challenging new gun laws on constitutional grounds are stunts, rather than a serious legal argument. County sheriffs have no more right to refuse to enforce gun laws passed by their states because they say they violate the Second Amendment than the mayors and city councils of those municipalities that have publicly stated they won’t enforce immigration laws have to act in that manner. Being a sheriff or a mayor doesn’t give you the right to assume the role of the Supreme Court when it comes to determining the constitutionality of legislation, whether it is passed by a state or the federal government. Selective enforcement of the law is itself a violation of due process and those law enforcement officials that play this game are undermining their own credibility. They may not like gun laws any more than liberal legislators in the People’s Republic of Berkley, California like immigration regulations, or the administration when it comes to immigration or parts of their own ObamaCare law they find inconvenient, but they are just as obligated to see to it that the law isn’t mocked.

But the sheriffs are on much firmer ground when they note that much of the new gun legislation–and especially those measures that were rushed through some legislatures after Newtown as liberals sought to capitalize on public outrage over that atrocity–were more of a nuisance than a deterrent to gun crimes. Background checks for individuals selling their guns and high-capacity magazines makes sense to city dwellers who may not even know anyone who owns a gun for hunting or target shooting. But they are seen as irrelevant to the real problems of much of the country. As the Times points out:

Even Sheriff W. Pete Palmer of Chaffee County, one of the seven sheriffs who declined to join the federal lawsuit because he felt duty-bound to carry out the laws, said he was unlikely to aggressively enforce them. He said enforcement poses “huge practical difficulties,” and besides, he has neither the resources nor the pressure from his constituents to make active enforcement a high priority. Violations of the laws are misdemeanors.

“All law enforcement agencies consider the community standards — what is it that our community wishes us to focus on — and I can tell you our community is not worried one whit about background checks or high-capacity magazines,” he said.

The fact that such laws wouldn’t have prevented Newtown or most other high-profile acts of gun violence further undermines support for them among non-city dwellers. Thus, while sheriffs who have joined lawsuits against these laws have no right to say they will try to unilaterally nullify legislation on the basis of their own sketchy legal expertise, it may very well fall within their competence to declare such gun laws to be the moral equivalent of obsolete statutes criminalizing spitting on the sidewalk that are routinely ignored by city cops.

The problem here isn’t a gun lobby like the National Rifle Association that liberals like to demonize or out-of-control local officials as it is laws that are simply out of touch with the needs of much of the country. This goes to the heart of the debate about guns. Were liberals able to prove that burdening legal gun owners would substantially decrease gun violence they might have a leg to stand on in states like Colorado or upstate New York when it came to enforcing new pieces of legislation. But since they can’t, gun owners and sheriffs who sympathize with them consider the point of the exercise to take away their constitutional rights rather than a reasonable effort aimed at making for a safer society. That is why a year after Newtown support for more gun laws is no greater today than it was before that incident.

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Another NY Times Misfire on Gun Rights

In the lead-up to the high-stakes 2010 Senate election between Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican challenger Sharron Angle, a curious drama unfolded within the National Rifle Association. The NRA was, reportedly, considering endorsing Reid, incurring pushback from its conservative-leaning membership. Why would the NRA endorse a Democrat, even one more friendly to gun rights than most Democrats? Because, the logic went, a Reid loss coupled with the Democrats holding the Senate could elevate Chuck Schumer to lead the Senate.

Schumer is not just anti-gun, but the worst kind of anti-gun extremist: an East Coast liberal elitist who doesn’t know anything about guns or gun culture but hates them anyway. This propensity by Schumer to allow ignorance and prejudice to set his legislative agenda made the NRA understandably nervous. The NRA eventually chose to stay neutral in the race. This episode is worth keeping in mind when reading the New York Times Magazine’s lengthy article recreating the failure of the Manchin-Toomey gun-control legislation earlier this year. The bill was aimed at beefing up background checks amid the “do-something” rush of activity following the Newtown massacre.

The effort was almost torpedoed by Schumer immediately; the tragic news of the shooting gave Schumer the opportunity he craved to punish law-abiding gun owners–people who, according to Schumer, only existed in theory anyway. As the Times reports:

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In the lead-up to the high-stakes 2010 Senate election between Democratic Majority Leader Harry Reid and his Republican challenger Sharron Angle, a curious drama unfolded within the National Rifle Association. The NRA was, reportedly, considering endorsing Reid, incurring pushback from its conservative-leaning membership. Why would the NRA endorse a Democrat, even one more friendly to gun rights than most Democrats? Because, the logic went, a Reid loss coupled with the Democrats holding the Senate could elevate Chuck Schumer to lead the Senate.

Schumer is not just anti-gun, but the worst kind of anti-gun extremist: an East Coast liberal elitist who doesn’t know anything about guns or gun culture but hates them anyway. This propensity by Schumer to allow ignorance and prejudice to set his legislative agenda made the NRA understandably nervous. The NRA eventually chose to stay neutral in the race. This episode is worth keeping in mind when reading the New York Times Magazine’s lengthy article recreating the failure of the Manchin-Toomey gun-control legislation earlier this year. The bill was aimed at beefing up background checks amid the “do-something” rush of activity following the Newtown massacre.

The effort was almost torpedoed by Schumer immediately; the tragic news of the shooting gave Schumer the opportunity he craved to punish law-abiding gun owners–people who, according to Schumer, only existed in theory anyway. As the Times reports:

Joe Manchin shared the concern that the Democrats who were leading the charge on gun legislation didn’t understand how deeply people care about guns and needed to if they were ever to get anything passed. By January the universal background-checks legislation was being spearheaded in the Senate by Charles Schumer, a liberal from New York City. “Joe, I didn’t know anybody who owned a gun when I grew up,” Schumer said to Manchin, who replied, “Chuck, I didn’t know anybody who didn’t own a gun.” Schumer’s bill contained no provisions that might attract the support of gun owners, a fatal omission in Manchin’s view. “The bill Chuck Schumer dropped was one that I didn’t think anyone from a gun state would or should support,” Manchin told me. “So I reached out to the N.R.A. and said, ‘Let’s have an alternative.’ ”

That is, the Democratic effort on a major issue was being led by a man who was proud of his total lack of knowledge about the issue. It’s unclear whether Schumer realized his bill would never pass and therefore just wanted an opportunity to grandstand, or just wasn’t capable of leading a serious legislative effort. Manchin ended up nearly saving the effort by getting actual gun owners and experts involved, and crafting a quite reasonable bill that combined modest increases in restrictions in areas that arguably needed them with additional protections for gun rights.

In the end, the bill still didn’t quite make it, but it’s instructive to look at why that happened. Robert Draper, the author of the Times piece, says anti-gun activists must learn to better “break down the barriers of fear and mistrust from which the N.R.A. derives much of its power.” He then says this:

Yet even as the votes in the chambers still favor the N.R.A., gun-control advocates have some cause for optimism. Time does not seem to be on the N.R.A.’s side. According to data compiled by the nonpartisan National Opinion Research Center, between 1977 and 2012 the percentage of American households possessing one or more guns declined by 36 percent. That decline should not be surprising. Tom W. Smith, director of the research center, says: “There are two main reasons, if you ask people, why they have firearms: hunting and personal protection. Now, from external sources like the federal Fish and Wildlife Service, we know the proportion of adults who hunt has declined over the decades. And since the ‘90s, the crime rate has fallen. So the two main reasons people might want to have a gun have both decreased.”

On the issue of “fear and mistrust,” Draper throughout the article seems to ignore his own reporting. He notes, for example, that Anita Dunn spoke to a gathering of anti-gun Democrats and kept using “the R-word,” registration. This makes gun owners fear–wrongly according to Democrats–that the goal is to keep a registry of firearms owners to better confiscate them when the time comes. But as J.D. Tuccille recently pointed out at Reason, gun owners have been receiving confiscation notices from state government officials even as such moves are dismissed by lawmakers. “The problem for gun control advocates,” Tuccille writes, “is that they keep promising that no way will registration lead to confiscation of firearms, even as it does just that.”

And on Draper’s claim that time isn’t on the NRA’s side, it’s worth looking at the polling. It’s true that gun ownership rates have dropped, but that in no way means support for gun owners will drop. Here is Gallup’s detailed, long-term trend polling on gun rights, the most recent of which was taken in early October. It finds that household gun possession is at its lowest point since 1999. And yet, support for making gun-sale laws “more strict” is nearly twenty points lower than it was twenty years ago, and nearly thirty points lower than in 1990.

Support for a handgun ban has been dropping for decades, from 60 percent in 1959 to 25 percent today. The Gallup polling shows broad support for the expansion of background checks in the Manchin-Toomey legislation–regulation initially supported by the NRA as well. But when asked for some reasons respondents didn’t want the legislation to pass, 40 percent named Second Amendment rights.

The fact is, Americans take their constitutional rights quite seriously, even when they don’t directly impact them. Schumer and Co. seem to think rights of which they don’t avail themselves are irrelevant. It is to the American public’s great credit that they disagree.

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Why Newtown Didn’t Lead to Gun Control

Today’s release of the 9-1-1 tapes from the Newtown massacre has caused America to relive the horror of the awful day on which a mad gunman killed 20 first-graders and six staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. This has prompted a spirited debate in the media about the wisdom of broadcasting these tapes and news organizations have differed in their decisions. Count me as being on the side of those who chose not to expose the public to the tapes since they add little if anything to our understanding of the event and only serve as a form of crime porn to titillate viewers. But the main question members of the liberal mainstream media are asking today is the same one they will be posing in 10 days when we get to the first anniversary: why didn’t the disgust Americans felt at this atrocity lead to the enactment of stricter gun-control laws? But while they wonder how it is possible that the liberal media offensive didn’t buffalo politicians last winter, they’re even more perplexed as to why Newtown didn’t change public opinion on the issue. Indeed, as a new CNN/ORC poll reveals, a majority of Americans today oppose stricter gun-control laws.

The CNN poll shows that last January, at the height of the media offensive—and after President Obama decided to make the issue the centerpiece of his second-term legislative agenda—on behalf of gun control, 55 percent of the public backed tougher gun-control laws. The new poll shows that number down to 49 percent. This has to shock liberal pundits and journalists who have been operating under the assumption since Newtown that only a crazed minority of gun nuts and NRA members were opposed to the president’s gun agenda.

But the answer to their question isn’t much of a mystery. The majority of Americans understand not only that more legislation won’t stop lunatics from shooting people with legal or illegal guns, but they also don’t trust the government to enforce stricter laws fairly or to respect the constitutional rights of gun owners.

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Today’s release of the 9-1-1 tapes from the Newtown massacre has caused America to relive the horror of the awful day on which a mad gunman killed 20 first-graders and six staff members at the Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012. This has prompted a spirited debate in the media about the wisdom of broadcasting these tapes and news organizations have differed in their decisions. Count me as being on the side of those who chose not to expose the public to the tapes since they add little if anything to our understanding of the event and only serve as a form of crime porn to titillate viewers. But the main question members of the liberal mainstream media are asking today is the same one they will be posing in 10 days when we get to the first anniversary: why didn’t the disgust Americans felt at this atrocity lead to the enactment of stricter gun-control laws? But while they wonder how it is possible that the liberal media offensive didn’t buffalo politicians last winter, they’re even more perplexed as to why Newtown didn’t change public opinion on the issue. Indeed, as a new CNN/ORC poll reveals, a majority of Americans today oppose stricter gun-control laws.

The CNN poll shows that last January, at the height of the media offensive—and after President Obama decided to make the issue the centerpiece of his second-term legislative agenda—on behalf of gun control, 55 percent of the public backed tougher gun-control laws. The new poll shows that number down to 49 percent. This has to shock liberal pundits and journalists who have been operating under the assumption since Newtown that only a crazed minority of gun nuts and NRA members were opposed to the president’s gun agenda.

But the answer to their question isn’t much of a mystery. The majority of Americans understand not only that more legislation won’t stop lunatics from shooting people with legal or illegal guns, but they also don’t trust the government to enforce stricter laws fairly or to respect the constitutional rights of gun owners.

Liberals counted on a wave of emotion in the wake of Newtown to help bulldoze both Congress and the public into adopting their long-cherished dream to restrict gun ownership and make it more difficult to legally purchase weapons. In the first weeks after the massacre, they seemed to be right and polls reflected a surge in support for more gun laws. But after the nation started to look at the facts, the numbers changed. As CNN writes on their website:

The survey indicates that the intensity of opinion on the issue of gun control, once an advantage for gun control advocates, no longer benefits either side. In January 37% of all Americans strongly favored stricter gun laws, with 27% strongly opposed to them. Now that 10-point difference has completely disappeared, with the number who strongly oppose and strongly favor stricter gun control at essentially the same level.

Though the president and many in the media did their best to exploit the bloodshed, once it became apparent that the remedies proposed by the president had nothing to do with the crime, their momentum was stalled. No amount of rhetorical excess from President Obama or the pundits could cover up the fact that even if every item on his gun-control laundry list had been passed prior to the shooting, none of them would have prevented Adam Lanza from stealing weapons from his mother before killing her and then heading to the school where he committied senseless slaughter.

It is true that support for some measures like increased background checks and closing gun show sales loopholes do have strong support. But even there, resistance to those laws is fed by a sense that the liberals who claim they have no interest in taking anyone’s guns away aren’t telling the truth. As a Rasmussen poll conducted in September showed, 62 percent of those polled don’t think government can be trusted to enforce the laws fairly and 71 percent said it wasn’t possible for new laws to stop future Newtowns from occurring. A subsequent Rasmussen poll showed even more support for enforcing existing laws rather than trying new ones. The focus on so-called assault weapons was also quickly revealed to be more about cosmetics than firepower, further reducing the credibility of gun-control advocates.

The bottom line is that contrary to the expectations of liberals, the American people aren’t stupid. They understand that ideas like resurrecting assault-weapon bans and even more reasonable measures like background checks are items on the liberal legislative wish list, not an authentic response to a problem. While gun crimes are abhorrent, there is little reason to believe the liberal gun project will prevent them. All they will accomplish is to make it harder for law-abiding citizens to own guns. That’s why support for such laws is far lower today than it was 20 years ago when the Brady Bill passed.

More mental health initiatives may do something to stop the Adam Lanzas of the world from killing innocents, but the sense prevails that the push for gun control has more to do with a long-term war on the Second Amendment. That is why although Americans remain scarred by their memories of Newtown, they are even less likely to back liberal gun-control efforts than they were in the aftermath of the crime. Once emotion subsided, reason prevailed.

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Turkey with a Side of Propaganda

In 2007, with the fall holidays approaching, the Star-Ledger published a guide on how to handle uninvited guests. Do you tell the guest to get lost? How do you moderate their inappropriate behavior without making a scene? How do you adjust seating arrangements? Fortunately, you aren’t always obligated to confront the uninvited guest directly if someone else is responsible for bringing them to the party. According to one “conflict” expert quoted by the paper: “You find a way of saying, ‘The person who showed up is a jerk, how did you meet this person?’ You deal with it indirectly.”

The question the article didn’t address, but which many Americans may soon be wondering, is: what if it’s the president of the United States? Or the mayor of New York City? Though you may not have invited Barack Obama or Michael Bloomberg to your family holiday gatherings, they would like to be a presence at your table nonetheless. The president’s intrusion into your private family gatherings is due to, of course, ObamaCare. The health-care reform law is not only still broadly unpopular, but due to its disastrous rollout it’s also not getting much help from the media.

I wrote earlier this week about the limits of the administration’s ObamaCare propaganda efforts, but its supporters are poised to get more creative–and obnoxious. A portion of the website BarackObama.com has been set aside for what it is calling “Health Care for the Holidays.” It begins with a typically unfunny (the administration’s famous lack of a sense of humor really hamstrings such efforts) video depicting parents having “the talk” with their wayward son.

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In 2007, with the fall holidays approaching, the Star-Ledger published a guide on how to handle uninvited guests. Do you tell the guest to get lost? How do you moderate their inappropriate behavior without making a scene? How do you adjust seating arrangements? Fortunately, you aren’t always obligated to confront the uninvited guest directly if someone else is responsible for bringing them to the party. According to one “conflict” expert quoted by the paper: “You find a way of saying, ‘The person who showed up is a jerk, how did you meet this person?’ You deal with it indirectly.”

The question the article didn’t address, but which many Americans may soon be wondering, is: what if it’s the president of the United States? Or the mayor of New York City? Though you may not have invited Barack Obama or Michael Bloomberg to your family holiday gatherings, they would like to be a presence at your table nonetheless. The president’s intrusion into your private family gatherings is due to, of course, ObamaCare. The health-care reform law is not only still broadly unpopular, but due to its disastrous rollout it’s also not getting much help from the media.

I wrote earlier this week about the limits of the administration’s ObamaCare propaganda efforts, but its supporters are poised to get more creative–and obnoxious. A portion of the website BarackObama.com has been set aside for what it is calling “Health Care for the Holidays.” It begins with a typically unfunny (the administration’s famous lack of a sense of humor really hamstrings such efforts) video depicting parents having “the talk” with their wayward son.

The talk is about health insurance. The son seems to be old enough to be off his parents’ insurance plans but young and healthy enough to be exactly the kind of insurance consumer ObamaCare desperately needs to succeed in order to subsidize others. The video runs above the following tagline:

This holiday season, millions of Americans have a chance to get quality, affordable health insurance—many for the first time. If you have family members who are uninsured, you can play a big part in helping them find coverage that works for them. It might not always seem like it, but your family listens to you. So have the talk.

That is followed by the four steps to having the talk. The first is “Send a packing list”–tell your relatives that if they want to come home for the holidays, they really ought to bring their latest W-2 IRS form. Step two is “Planning Your Health Care Talk,” including the exhortation to “Be persistent.” Don’t take no for an answer, because coming from the government that message is never creepy or coercive.

The third step is “Conversation Tips.” Here is how the website instructs you to badger your family members into submission:

Start by asking: “Have you thought about signing up for health insurance on the new marketplace?”

Offer to walk them through it: “Would you like to take some time with me to sign up right now?”

Ask them to make a plan, and commit to it: “When do you plan on signing up?”

Don’t forget to follow up: “Have you signed up yet?”

No pressure, of course. And the final step is for the state’s dedicated servant: “Pledge to have the talk,” written above a form for you–the distinguished ambassador from the Ministry of the Best Interests of the People–to fill out to promise to use your time with your family to read the government’s talking points to them.

Though he cannot match that mobilization of resources, Michael Bloomberg wants in on the action. If you’re already planning to hector your family about the virtues of the benevolent state’s brave new programs, you might as well go all-in. The Washington Examiner reports:

Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the liberal gun control group bankrolled by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, has sent out gun control talking points for supporters as they approach their friends and relatives.

“Everyone has friends and relatives with strong opinions and shaky facts,” the email informs supporters. “You can help set the table straight — all you need is this simple guide to Talking Turkey about guns!”

If you really want to give your family a memorable holiday season, give the gift of government-programmed self-righteousness. They won’t forget it. Because you won’t let them.

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Don’t Let Technocrats Set the Terms of the ObamaCare Debate

Now that the utterly disastrous rollout of ObamaCare has outlasted the government shutdown, it’s the Democrats’ turn for some unflattering time in the media spotlight. But the conservative reaction to the ObamaCare belly flop risks letting Democrats shift the conversation onto more favorable terrain, and demonstrates the extent to which some big-government victories cannot be completely rolled back.

Conservatives have noted that ObamaCare’s early failures are indicative of a broader failure of the technocratic approach to governing. This is undoubtedly true, but I don’t expect this argument to lead where many conservatives think it leads. The federal government has failed in the past and will fail again–the latter point being key. The government will at some point get the chance to attempt a massive top-down reform that centralizes power in the hands of well-meaning but completely incompetent technocrats because of the simple reality of modern American politics.

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Now that the utterly disastrous rollout of ObamaCare has outlasted the government shutdown, it’s the Democrats’ turn for some unflattering time in the media spotlight. But the conservative reaction to the ObamaCare belly flop risks letting Democrats shift the conversation onto more favorable terrain, and demonstrates the extent to which some big-government victories cannot be completely rolled back.

Conservatives have noted that ObamaCare’s early failures are indicative of a broader failure of the technocratic approach to governing. This is undoubtedly true, but I don’t expect this argument to lead where many conservatives think it leads. The federal government has failed in the past and will fail again–the latter point being key. The government will at some point get the chance to attempt a massive top-down reform that centralizes power in the hands of well-meaning but completely incompetent technocrats because of the simple reality of modern American politics.

The inadvisability of the expansion of the welfare state was clear before ObamaCare became law. But it was enacted anyway because Democrats had enough votes in Congress to approve it, and because Democrats held the White House, thus preventing a veto. Give the technocrats some credit: they may not be able to build a website (in 2013!), but they can do basic math. They also know that voters don’t like to give up entitlements, no matter the condition of the federal budget or the efficacy of the programs.

Medicaid is a perfect example of the latter, because studies show its beneficiaries are better off without it, health-wise. Medicaid also has some relevance to the ObamaCare debate because that failed program is a key component of this new one: ObamaCare expands insurance in part by expanding Medicaid. We have the data on Medicaid, yet we also got ObamaCare. Why? Because the people to whom it is possible to discredit big-government technocracy are not elected Democrats.

Now, it’s true that the discrediting of left-liberal technocrats can prevent a recurrence of federal power grabs in the near term, not least by capitalizing on the initial voter opposition to the expansion of the welfare state before it’s too late to kick the habit of the latest entitlement and thus turn Democrats out of office in favor of non-Democrats. But how is that working for the GOP these days? ObamaCare has been unpopular all along, yet its namesake president was reelected and the Democrats held the Senate.

Ross Douthat gets at this reality in his insightful Sunday column, but only hints at the underlying dynamic. He writes that if the ObamaCare web portal doesn’t get fixed and the individual mandate must be delayed, the much-feared “death spiral,” in which only the least healthy–and thus most expensive–sign up for insurance, causing the system’s financial collapse, could ensue. If that happens, Douthat writes, “there will be a lot of schadenfreude on the right at the spectacle of technocratic failure. But the wreck of the exchanges may actually be worse for conservative policy objectives than a more successful rollout would have been.” The reason for that is:

In that scenario, the Democratic Party would probably end up pushing, not for the pipe dream of true single payer, but for a further bottom-up/top-down socialization, in which Medicare is offered to 55- to 65-year-olds and Medicaid is eventually expanded even more.

Meanwhile, the task for serious conservative reformers — already not the most politically effective bunch — might actually become harder, because they would have to explain how their plan to build an effective, exchange-based marketplace differed from the Obama White House’s exchange fiasco.

Implicit in this explanation is the partisan divide. Douthat, a conservative reformer himself, worries that health-care technocrats will be discredited–on the right. This goes back to my earlier point: big-government technocracy can only be discredited among one of the country’s two major political parties today. That doesn’t mean it will be discredited completely on the right. Mitt Romney was, after all, the party’s presidential nominee a year ago.

So Douthat is left with what strikes me as an unbelievably depressing conclusion:

So while Republican politicians may be salivating over a potential Obamacare crisis, the conservative policy thinkers I know are not. They’re hoping, as I’m hoping, that this isn’t as bad as it looks. The chance to say “I told you so” is always nice, but not if the price is a potentially irrecoverable disaster.

That boils down to: the Democrats are in the process of at least partially ruining a major American industry; if the project goes off the rails, the Democrats will in all likelihood completely destroy the industry.

And herein lies the admittedly modest victory of ObamaCare, and the left more generally. The core argument against ObamaCare was not that it would fail, but that it was unconstitutional. Even John Roberts seemed to agree, otherwise he would have had no reason to take the objectionable step of rewriting the law from the bench in order to uphold its legality.

And what did Americans discover about ObamaCare long before the fact that its web design seemed to be sketched by crayon on a placemat? They found out that it mandated contraception coverage, yet another violation of Americans’ constitutional rights. Is the argument against the birth-control mandate that it is too expensive? Perhaps that argument can be made, but it is obviously not the real issue. The real issue is that it is a brazen violation of the First Amendment.

To be sure, ObamaCare is also unlikely to be a success, though that of course depends on the metric used make such a judgment. But the birth-control mandate is quite likely to be “successful,” in that it will do exactly what Democrats designed it to do and put the government in the bedroom of every American so that it can pay for what transpires therein. And in that case, its very success is the reason to argue against it: the law tramples on basic American rights.

There is, certainly, something attractive about arguing against technocracy based on numbers instead of principles. The media doesn’t take seriously the principled arguments because the American left thinks the basis for the Bill of Rights is inoperable and inherently ridiculous. When Breitbart’s Ben Shapiro debated CNN’s Piers Morgan on gun control, Shapiro posited that the Founders believed the individual right to bear arms was a guard against tyranny. CNN’s website offers this recounting of part of the exchange:

“They need them for the prospective possibility of resistance to tyranny,” he explained.

“Where do you expect the tyranny to come from?” wondered Morgan.

“It could come from the United States,” came Shapiro’s answer.

“Do you understand how absurd you sound?” asked the host.

It is quite true that the Founders envisioned constitutional rights as a bulwark against the rise of a tyrannical government. But the left seems to believe that those rights don’t go into force until tyranny is imminent; therefore, any suggestion that we do something because the Constitution advises it is itself an accusation that the government is already casting the shadow of tyranny over the republic.

Conservatives can and should argue that the technocratic impulses of the left lead to bad policy. They plainly do. And the right’s options may be limited now that ObamaCare has survived the individual mandate’s Supreme Court challenge. But conservatives will be making a mistake if they decry technocrats yet allow them to set the boundaries of political debate.

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Gun Control and the Left’s Search for Psychic Satisfaction

A CNN report on the awful massacre that occurred at the Washington Navy Yard yesterday was extremely telling. According to the story:

[Federal law enforcement] sources, who have detailed knowledge of the investigation, cautioned that initial information that an AR-15 was used in the shootings may have been incorrect. It is believed that Alexis had rented an AR-15, but returned it before Monday morning’s shootings. Authorities are still investigating precisely how many weapons Alexis had access to and when.

Regardless, the massacre pushed the AR-15 back into the gun-control debate. The weapon has been used in several other rampages that shocked the nation [emphasis added].

Now why is this particular story revealing? Because it focuses almost entirely on the AR-15–which was originally thought to be a weapon used in the massacre. But the FBI is now telling CNN that, in fact, an AR-15 was not used. Which is why the use of the adverb “regardless” is so delicious.

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A CNN report on the awful massacre that occurred at the Washington Navy Yard yesterday was extremely telling. According to the story:

[Federal law enforcement] sources, who have detailed knowledge of the investigation, cautioned that initial information that an AR-15 was used in the shootings may have been incorrect. It is believed that Alexis had rented an AR-15, but returned it before Monday morning’s shootings. Authorities are still investigating precisely how many weapons Alexis had access to and when.

Regardless, the massacre pushed the AR-15 back into the gun-control debate. The weapon has been used in several other rampages that shocked the nation [emphasis added].

Now why is this particular story revealing? Because it focuses almost entirely on the AR-15–which was originally thought to be a weapon used in the massacre. But the FBI is now telling CNN that, in fact, an AR-15 was not used. Which is why the use of the adverb “regardless” is so delicious.

The massacre pushed the AR-15 back into the gun control debate–regardless of the fact that the AR-15 had nothing to do with the shooting. No matter. It could have been used. And clearly for many liberals, they wish it had been used. The fact that it wasn’t, while inconvenient, certainly isn’t enough to derail the left’s ideological agenda. 

Now it may well be that gun-control laws simply don’t work. (For the record, I’m open to gun-control measures, if they prove to be efficacious rather than merely symbolic.) That’s certainly the case when it comes to the assault-weapons ban Congress enacted in 1994–and several studies (which I have written about here) have found that that the evidence is insufficient to determine whether firearms laws are effective.

Regardless (there’s that word again), liberals want to pretend gun-control laws are effective. Because here’s what you need to understand. For some on the left, this debate isn’t about what works; it’s about moral preening. It’s about an issue that fits into their ideological template. It’s about speaking out on an issue that creates for them psychic satisfaction and existential meaning (see CNN’s Piers Morgan’s obsession with gun control for more). This necessarily involves epistemological closure. But that’s apparently a small price for them to pay.

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Three Reasons Why This Isn’t Another Gun-Control Moment

Yesterday’s mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard by a lone gunman shocked the nation. Investigators are beginning to try to piece together the answers as to why accused shooter Aaron Alexis murdered 12 people in cold blood as well as how a person that apparently had a history of run-ins with the law and mental-health problems could have gotten a job with a subcontractor for the Navy. This latest instance of gun violence also raises questions about why these incidents are becoming something we’ve come to see as regular occurrences (this is the third in the last year). Indeed, who couldn’t but sympathize with Dr. Janis Orlowski, the head of the trauma center that treated the victims, when she pleaded for an end to these atrocities:

“There’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate,” she said, adding that ”I would like you to put my trauma center out of business. I really would. I would like to not be an expert on gunshots.” She added: “Let’s get rid of this. This is not America.” 

But while some will interpret this statement as a call for more gun control, it’s not likely the Navy Yard murders will lead to a new legislative push on the issue. Last December’s mass shooting of first graders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut may have been the impetus for what promised at the time to be the signature issue of President Obama’s second term. But nine months later, the administration may have learned that there are limited returns from exploiting such tragedies. Here are three reasons why this won’t be the start of another gun-control moment.

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Yesterday’s mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard by a lone gunman shocked the nation. Investigators are beginning to try to piece together the answers as to why accused shooter Aaron Alexis murdered 12 people in cold blood as well as how a person that apparently had a history of run-ins with the law and mental-health problems could have gotten a job with a subcontractor for the Navy. This latest instance of gun violence also raises questions about why these incidents are becoming something we’ve come to see as regular occurrences (this is the third in the last year). Indeed, who couldn’t but sympathize with Dr. Janis Orlowski, the head of the trauma center that treated the victims, when she pleaded for an end to these atrocities:

“There’s something evil in our society that we as Americans have to work to try and eradicate,” she said, adding that ”I would like you to put my trauma center out of business. I really would. I would like to not be an expert on gunshots.” She added: “Let’s get rid of this. This is not America.” 

But while some will interpret this statement as a call for more gun control, it’s not likely the Navy Yard murders will lead to a new legislative push on the issue. Last December’s mass shooting of first graders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut may have been the impetus for what promised at the time to be the signature issue of President Obama’s second term. But nine months later, the administration may have learned that there are limited returns from exploiting such tragedies. Here are three reasons why this won’t be the start of another gun-control moment.

First is that the frequency of these incidents (even if they are a tiny fraction of all gun deaths) makes it harder to exploit the emotion they evoke for political purposes. The post-Newtown gun furor was partly the function of shock over the senseless deaths of small children and the grief of the parents and relatives. The Washington victims deserve the same sympathy as other victims, but the opening for mindless emotionalism in which all rational arguments about the virtues and defects about potential legislation are ignored isn’t as great here.

Mass shootings such as these deserve our attention, but their use as launching pads for politicized campaigns is a matter of diminishing returns. Having asked us to put aside reasoned debate about gun rights in the name of grief over Newtown, it’s difficult for even as skilled a speechmaker as President Obama to endlessly play the same game.

Second, the political class and even the media that relentlessly promoted the memory of Newtown as an unanswerable argument for restrictions on gun ownership understand that it didn’t work. While a majority of Americans favor minimal measures such as background checks, the resistance to such proposals stems from the fact that, disclaimers notwithstanding, it isn’t hard to imagine that these ideas are merely the first step toward more restrictive measures that few outside of the left support. Not even a full-court press on the part of the administration and the media was able to convince Congress to budge on guns last winter and spring. Though the National Rifle Association took a beating last December for an inept response to Newtown, the gang tackle of the liberal establishment on the group only helped it. The NRA’s membership went up, as did contributions in the wake of attacks on it after Newtown.

The recall elections in Colorado will also play a large role in dampening the enthusiasm of liberals for another tilt with the NRA. Despite an advantage in fundraising thanks to outside forces like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun group, two Colorado state senators were thrown out of office in special elections held this month over their votes for new gun laws. While national Democrats have tried to obfuscate the results with transparently false charges about voter suppression, the facts on the ground told a different story. Pro-gun groups showed they could mobilize their members and sympathizers and turn them out to vote. When push came to shove, rather than being the paper tiger the press made them out to be or merely the plaything of gun manufacturers, the NRA proved again they were something that no liberal group can claim to be: a grass roots movement with enormous popular support.

Third and perhaps most important is the gap between post-Newtown rhetoric and the reality of gun laws. It’s one thing to ask people to be outraged about these incidents. They are awful and we should be upset about them. But it’s quite another to connect them to proposed laws that almost certainly wouldn’t prevent their recurrence. The American people can be manipulated but they are not stupid. Despite the emotional speeches in which victim families were used as presidential props, it quickly became apparent that nothing proposed by President Obama would have prevented the Sandy Hook killings. The same will be true if some liberals attempt to repeat the trick after Washington. The focus on guns rather than mental health—the one factor that is common to all of these incidents—just doesn’t make sense to most Americans.

Efforts to ban guns or otherwise restrict or annul Second Amendment rights will continue. So will more reasoned attempts to deal with the mental-health aspect of a tragedy that is consistently underplayed. But the ability of President Obama to exploit mass killings was shown after Newtown to be a factor with a limited shelf life. Having failed after that heart-rending incident, it’s not likely he’ll squander what little political capital he has left on a rerun of that gambit.

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The Gun Control Moment Passes

It seems a lot longer ago than just eight months. Back on January 16 of this year, President Obama sounded what was intended to be the keynote of his second term by saying that he intended to introduce a raft of legislative proposals intended to tighten controls of gun ownership. With the memory of the slaughter of little children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School by a mad lone gunman fresh in the minds of the new Congress, some believed he would succeed in not only getting gun-control bills passed but also in routing the National Rifle Association in such a manner as to break their hold on Washington power forever. With new anti-gun groups led by billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords spending big bucks to promote the issue, the NRA’s days were supposed to be numbered. But in the intervening months, the groundswell of passion on behalf of background-checks laws and other measures turned out to be nothing more than a figment of the imagination of the liberal mainstream media that relentlessly backed Obama’s play on guns.

Any lingering doubt that the gun-control moment has passed was removed last night when two Democratic state senators in Colorado were removed from office by a recall vote because of their support for new gun legislation. Despite benefiting from the infusion of more than $3 million in outside contributions from anti-gun groups, including $300,000 from Bloomberg, the pair—State Senate President John Morse and Angela Giron—was beaten by Republicans in the recall vote. What’s more, though the two Democrats were the focus of fierce opposition by the NRA, as I noted when I first wrote about these races back in July, the Democrats had a clear financial advantage in the race. The guns-rights lobby’s only advantage was in being able to mobilize a grass-roots movement.

Liberals are attempting to spin their defeat as the result of local politics and resentment about the interference of New York’s champion of nanny-state regulations in Colorado. But they’re fooling no one. Like the battle to get the U.S. Senate to pass even a watered-down version of a background checks proposal, the recall vote was a test of will between the NRA and the anti-gun movement and the former won hands down. Though terrible events like Newtown shock the nation and polls show majorities back some regulatory measures, the notion that support for Second Amendment rights has waned is simply untrue.

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It seems a lot longer ago than just eight months. Back on January 16 of this year, President Obama sounded what was intended to be the keynote of his second term by saying that he intended to introduce a raft of legislative proposals intended to tighten controls of gun ownership. With the memory of the slaughter of little children at the Sandy Hook Elementary School by a mad lone gunman fresh in the minds of the new Congress, some believed he would succeed in not only getting gun-control bills passed but also in routing the National Rifle Association in such a manner as to break their hold on Washington power forever. With new anti-gun groups led by billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords spending big bucks to promote the issue, the NRA’s days were supposed to be numbered. But in the intervening months, the groundswell of passion on behalf of background-checks laws and other measures turned out to be nothing more than a figment of the imagination of the liberal mainstream media that relentlessly backed Obama’s play on guns.

Any lingering doubt that the gun-control moment has passed was removed last night when two Democratic state senators in Colorado were removed from office by a recall vote because of their support for new gun legislation. Despite benefiting from the infusion of more than $3 million in outside contributions from anti-gun groups, including $300,000 from Bloomberg, the pair—State Senate President John Morse and Angela Giron—was beaten by Republicans in the recall vote. What’s more, though the two Democrats were the focus of fierce opposition by the NRA, as I noted when I first wrote about these races back in July, the Democrats had a clear financial advantage in the race. The guns-rights lobby’s only advantage was in being able to mobilize a grass-roots movement.

Liberals are attempting to spin their defeat as the result of local politics and resentment about the interference of New York’s champion of nanny-state regulations in Colorado. But they’re fooling no one. Like the battle to get the U.S. Senate to pass even a watered-down version of a background checks proposal, the recall vote was a test of will between the NRA and the anti-gun movement and the former won hands down. Though terrible events like Newtown shock the nation and polls show majorities back some regulatory measures, the notion that support for Second Amendment rights has waned is simply untrue.

While the power shift in the Colorado legislature isn’t enough to force a repeal of the bills Morse helped force down the legislature’s throat last winter, the symbolic value of the defeat suffered by anti-gun groups will resonate throughout the country.

That’s something liberals, especially those in the media who embraced this issue wholeheartedly last winter, are finding it hard to accept. Though the president has since moved onto other disasters—a spring of scandals and the Syria debacle—his failure on gun legislation represents a fundamental misreading of America’s political culture on the part of most liberals. They assumed that grief over Newtown had changed public opinion about guns. That perception was reinforced by the NRA’s initial ham-handed response to the incident and the newly reelected president’s decision to ruthlessly exploit Sandy Hook and the families of the victims in order to pressure Congress to give him what he wanted.

But no matter how often he waved the bloody shirt of Newtown in order to shame members of the House and Senate into passing laws that would have done nothing to avert that massacre, there was no real appetite in either chamber for his proposals.

While the NRA took its lumps in the months after Newtown, the group actually experienced a surge in membership and support that more than compensated for the drubbing they got in the mainstream press. Though liberals, including the president, falsely asserted that NRA support was merely the function of donations from gun manufacturers, it remained something that the anti-gun groups were not: a genuine grass-roots organization that could generate intense activity from its members when they were called upon.

That’s why the Colorado votes were so important. They showed that even when outgunned by outside money, gun-rights advocates have an ace in the hole that Bloomberg can’t match: passionate supporters on the ground who can turn out and vote.

I doubt we’ve heard the last of Obama and his liberal supporters on this issue. They will return to it, as they always do, anytime a crime that can generate unthinking outrage about guns is committed. But media hype is never a match for a public determined not be stripped of their constitutional rights. The anti-gun tide that was supposed to sweep away the NRA has instead swept away two Democrats. Don’t bet that they will be the last to lose their seats because they believed Obama when he said the NRA was whipped.

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The Myth of Big Money and Gun Control

One of the chief talking points of liberals who have denounced National Rifle Association’s stand against President Obama’s efforts to pass more gun control laws has been to claim that the opposition has been mainly a function of the malign influence of money on politics. Their argument is to assert that the NRA’s influence is more a function of the large contributions gun manufacturers lavish on the group rather than the donations and the political fervor of its members. Following this playbook, the liberal mainstream media has consistently portrayed the efforts of those seeking to increase the regulation of gun ownership as the poor David fighting the wealthy NRA Goliath. Much of this narrative was undermined by the intervention in the debate by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has invested many millions in the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group whose purpose it is to combat the NRA in local political races. But a story in yesterday’s New York Times illustrates how much of a myth is the notion that gun rights advocates are a function of big business while their opponents are the expression of a grass roots movement.

The piece depicts the struggle to recall two Democratic members of the Colorado legislature that voted for what the paper called “some of the strictest gun control measures in the country” passed last year. State Senators John Morse and Angela Giron are portrayed as writing a new chapter in the annals of courage for standing up to the NRA as anger over their decision has fueled a push to evict them from office that both sides in this political battle see as sending a message to politicians who might vote for gun legislation. But the narrative of victimization for the pair is undermined by two key paragraphs that are buried at the bottom of the story:

Ms. Giron has support from powerful Democrats — including Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who has campaigned for her — and there is a political action committee supporting her. The PAC has hired a staff member from President Obama’s re-election campaign, Chris Shallow, who handled field operations in North Carolina for the Obama campaign.

Ms. Giron and Mr. Morse are raising and spending far more than their opponents. Ms. Giron’s supporters have raised more than $87,000 and Mr. Morse’s more than $153,000, according to campaign disclosures. Each campaign has received thousands from progressive groups in Colorado and $35,000 apiece from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington group that supports liberal and environmental causes, and $3,500 each from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

In other words, big moneyed interests are fighting the battle over guns–but the side with deep pockets isn’t the one attempting to uphold the Second Amendment.

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One of the chief talking points of liberals who have denounced National Rifle Association’s stand against President Obama’s efforts to pass more gun control laws has been to claim that the opposition has been mainly a function of the malign influence of money on politics. Their argument is to assert that the NRA’s influence is more a function of the large contributions gun manufacturers lavish on the group rather than the donations and the political fervor of its members. Following this playbook, the liberal mainstream media has consistently portrayed the efforts of those seeking to increase the regulation of gun ownership as the poor David fighting the wealthy NRA Goliath. Much of this narrative was undermined by the intervention in the debate by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has invested many millions in the Mayors Against Illegal Guns group whose purpose it is to combat the NRA in local political races. But a story in yesterday’s New York Times illustrates how much of a myth is the notion that gun rights advocates are a function of big business while their opponents are the expression of a grass roots movement.

The piece depicts the struggle to recall two Democratic members of the Colorado legislature that voted for what the paper called “some of the strictest gun control measures in the country” passed last year. State Senators John Morse and Angela Giron are portrayed as writing a new chapter in the annals of courage for standing up to the NRA as anger over their decision has fueled a push to evict them from office that both sides in this political battle see as sending a message to politicians who might vote for gun legislation. But the narrative of victimization for the pair is undermined by two key paragraphs that are buried at the bottom of the story:

Ms. Giron has support from powerful Democrats — including Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who has campaigned for her — and there is a political action committee supporting her. The PAC has hired a staff member from President Obama’s re-election campaign, Chris Shallow, who handled field operations in North Carolina for the Obama campaign.

Ms. Giron and Mr. Morse are raising and spending far more than their opponents. Ms. Giron’s supporters have raised more than $87,000 and Mr. Morse’s more than $153,000, according to campaign disclosures. Each campaign has received thousands from progressive groups in Colorado and $35,000 apiece from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington group that supports liberal and environmental causes, and $3,500 each from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

In other words, big moneyed interests are fighting the battle over guns–but the side with deep pockets isn’t the one attempting to uphold the Second Amendment.

Far from illustrating how a small group is manipulating the debate about gun legislation in order to frustrate the liberal post-Newtown massacre push, what the Times has done is to remind us that the real struggle here is between big liberal money and small town activists who want to protect their rights:

In Colorado Springs, supporters of the recall set up a political action committee, the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, and started printing bumper stickers, hiring paid signature-gatherers and taking donations. They have collected $19,750 to date, including $250 in ammunition that was donated as door prizes for volunteers. The vast majority of contributions have come from donors around Colorado Springs … In Pueblo, Mr. Head took a hiatus from his job fixing water heaters, borrowed $4,000 from his grandmother and set to gathering the 11,000 signatures needed for a referendum on Ms. Giron.

There is a good argument to be made that the recalls are unnecessary and a waste of time and money no matter which side you are on. Morse is, after all, retiring next year and Giron was scheduled to face the voters again next year anyway. One can also claim that the measures the pair voted for—more background checks and limits on magazine size—are not unreasonable.

But the lesson here is not so much on the merits of the gun debate as it is on the falsity of the idea that the gun rights lobby is the 800-pound gorilla in the struggle. If anything, it is obvious that liberals are as much, if not more, capable of mobilizing financial resources to get their way on gun restrictions and far less dependent on grass roots activism than the pro-gun forces. No matter who wins in the recall votes scheduled for September, this campaign has undermined the liberal talking point about big money and guns. What it has also done is to show that efforts to impress upon legislators that they must listen to voters is one that works as much if not more to buttress the NRA’s position as it does that of Bloomberg.

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Is Bloomberg a Lobbyist or a Mayor?

Over the last several weeks NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun lobbying efforts have come under the microscope. After the shootings in Sandy Hook, Bloomberg started the 501(c)(4) Mayors Against Illegal Guns Action Fund. One would think that given the resources at the disposal at the super-rich Bloomberg, the group could and would operate independent of the city and its already thinly stretched resources. The fact that it should be financially self-sufficient for the optics alone should’ve been clear to the mayor and his staff. This week, unfortunately for Bloomberg, it became clear how the group has invested city resources into the one-man crusade against guns as far away as Nevada. The New York Post reports on a lobbying trip a city employee recently made:

Mayor Bloomberg is spending city cash and resources on his pet project to toughen US gun laws through his national organization, The Post has learned.

City employee Christopher Kocher was sent to Nevada as a representative of Mayors Against Illegal Guns to lobby for a bill that enforces background checks on all firearm sales in that state.

But Kocher, who works as a special counsel to the mayor’s office, apparently didn’t want his role to be known and scrubbed his City Hall e-mail address from the state of Nevada lobbying-registration Web site early this month.

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Over the last several weeks NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s anti-gun lobbying efforts have come under the microscope. After the shootings in Sandy Hook, Bloomberg started the 501(c)(4) Mayors Against Illegal Guns Action Fund. One would think that given the resources at the disposal at the super-rich Bloomberg, the group could and would operate independent of the city and its already thinly stretched resources. The fact that it should be financially self-sufficient for the optics alone should’ve been clear to the mayor and his staff. This week, unfortunately for Bloomberg, it became clear how the group has invested city resources into the one-man crusade against guns as far away as Nevada. The New York Post reports on a lobbying trip a city employee recently made:

Mayor Bloomberg is spending city cash and resources on his pet project to toughen US gun laws through his national organization, The Post has learned.

City employee Christopher Kocher was sent to Nevada as a representative of Mayors Against Illegal Guns to lobby for a bill that enforces background checks on all firearm sales in that state.

But Kocher, who works as a special counsel to the mayor’s office, apparently didn’t want his role to be known and scrubbed his City Hall e-mail address from the state of Nevada lobbying-registration Web site early this month.

The trip, and the earlier revelation that the city’s own Web hosting services were used by the group, raised eyebrows. Bloomberg’s staff have claimed that the group’s activities, even in Nevada, impact New Yorkers, thus justifying the expense with their tax dollars. It wasn’t always this way. In 2011 Fred Siegel and Sol Stern wrote for our magazine about how Bloomberg had used his private largess to wield unprecedented political power in the city:

Bloomberg [has] spent tens of millions of dollars annually between elections to make sure that not too many influential New Yorkers would risk criticizing him. Mayor Bloomberg’s predecessors, from Ed Koch to Rudy Giuliani, had also been tempted, and had at times given into the temptation, to use the power of incumbency and control of taxpayer funds to reward allies and punish enemies. The difference is that Bloomberg was able to channel his private philanthropic giving each year to hundreds of the city’s arts and social-service groups with the reasonable expectation that the gratitude these groups felt to their patron would extend to their patron’s political causes. At the very least, it would make the groups and their influential boards of trustees think twice before criticizing the mayor’s policies.

At an event last week the group held a rally where the names of victims of gun violence were read in solemn remembrance. Famously, or perhaps infamously would be the better word, the name of Tamerlan Tsarnaev, a bomber in the Boston Marathon attack, was read. The group later claimed that the name found its way on the list thanks to a list found on the Salon website. Considering Tsarnaev was on his way to bomb Times Square when he was, thankfully, shot dead by the Boston Police Department, is a fact that someone on the group’s staff should have been aware of.

This isn’t the first time Bloomberg has used city resources to pay for his own pet projects. In his campaign against sugary drinks, advertisements on the subway have been ever present, and recently sponsored tweets were even purchased by the city warning about the dangers of juice. If the mayor cared to be careful with New Yorkers’ money he would be best advised to store it away for a rainy day.

That rainy day might come soon, as a pending $40 million lawsuit by the family of a young girl was recently filed. While the mayor was spending his energies campaigning against guns and telling New Yorkers what to eat, he was also forcing the implementation of a deeply flawed 9-1-1 system. The pending lawsuit involves the death of a young girl who died while waiting for medical attention after Bloomberg’s newly installed multimillion dollar system crashed inexplicably for several minutes just days after its launch. Instead of sending city staffers to Nevada, there are more than a few problems the Bloomberg administration could and should be addressing that are much more immediate to the health and wellbeing of New Yorkers much closer to home.

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Policing Succeeds Where Gun Control Fails

When it comes to preventing gun violence, there are two avenues to pursue: target legal gun owners or the criminals those gun owners are trying to protect their families from. In January, NPR ran a program segment that perfectly captured this dichotomy, titled “Chicago’s Gun Ban Fails To Prevent Murders,” about the Windy City’s skyrocketing violence. In its description of the segment, NPR included this: “We discussed police focus on ‘hot spots,’ and the dissolution of gangs. But listeners asked: What about gun bans?”

The title of the program gives it away, but restrictions on gun ownership–of which Chicago had some of the toughest–failed utterly to stop the bleeding. But what about the other side of that coin? What if, in other words, rather than targeting legal gun owners interested in protecting themselves, the city attempted to fulfill its responsibility to protect them? What if, instead of succumbing to the inevitability of murder in certain city neighborhoods and thus following the inexcusable liberal tendency to concretize urban inequality, the city aimed to restore the dignity of American life to every street corner of Chicago?

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When it comes to preventing gun violence, there are two avenues to pursue: target legal gun owners or the criminals those gun owners are trying to protect their families from. In January, NPR ran a program segment that perfectly captured this dichotomy, titled “Chicago’s Gun Ban Fails To Prevent Murders,” about the Windy City’s skyrocketing violence. In its description of the segment, NPR included this: “We discussed police focus on ‘hot spots,’ and the dissolution of gangs. But listeners asked: What about gun bans?”

The title of the program gives it away, but restrictions on gun ownership–of which Chicago had some of the toughest–failed utterly to stop the bleeding. But what about the other side of that coin? What if, in other words, rather than targeting legal gun owners interested in protecting themselves, the city attempted to fulfill its responsibility to protect them? What if, instead of succumbing to the inevitability of murder in certain city neighborhoods and thus following the inexcusable liberal tendency to concretize urban inequality, the city aimed to restore the dignity of American life to every street corner of Chicago?

“I said the most fundamental of civil rights is the guarantee that government can give you a reasonable degree of safety,” former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani once said in a speech looking back on the police reform he instituted that saved a city. “The fact is that all the civil rights that we posses–the right to travel, interstate commerce, the right to a public education–all of those rights are essentially meaningless if you are afraid to exercise those rights.”

That gives you an idea of what it has been like in some parts of Chicago, where parents are afraid to let their children go outside to play or are concerned there is literally no safe route for their children to take to get to school. Wealthier neighborhoods don’t have the same worries, so Chicago is effectively two cities: one to which the city is able to provide the dignity of life in the free world, and one in which that city provision is an absent luxury. It should go without saying, but apparently it doesn’t: legal handguns are not the cause of this.

What Giuliani did was to revamp the city’s police force through the use of the data-driven CompStat system and by reorienting itself toward preventing, instead of simply solving, violent crimes. Giuliani gave poorer neighborhoods back their dignity, and now, reports the New York Times, that attitude is being imported with success to Chicago by a desperate Mayor Rahm Emanuel:

So far in 2013, Chicago homicides, which outnumbered slayings in the larger cities of New York and Los Angeles last year, are down 34 percent from the same period in 2012. As of Sunday night, 146 people had been killed in Chicago, the nation’s third-largest city — 76 fewer than in the same stretch in 2012 and 16 fewer than in 2011, a year that was among the lowest for homicides during the same period in 50 years.

In recent months, as many as 400 officers a day, working overtime, have been dispatched to just 20 small zones deemed the city’s most dangerous. The police say they are tamping down retaliatory shootings between gang factions by using a comprehensive analysis of the city’s tens of thousands of suspected gang members, the turf they claim and their rivalries. The police also are focusing on more than 400 people they have identified as having associations that make them the most likely to be involved in a murder, as a victim or an offender.

And where did this policing transformation come from? As Time magazine noted in its cover story on Emanuel’s mayoralty:

On taking office, Emanuel moved quickly to hire a new superintendent of police. He picked Newark, N.J., police commissioner Garry McCarthy, a Bronx-born veteran of the New York City police and a disciple of the law-enforcement guru William Bratton. As the officer in charge of New York’s CompStat system of data-driven policing for seven years, McCarthy was revolutionary to the core, but with the streetwise demeanor of a beat cop.

Emanuel imported the training, strategy, and even attitude that worked to such effect in New York. Emanuel doesn’t like to highlight the fact that what works contradicts his typically obnoxious grandstanding on gun bans and his support for the very gun restrictions that failed so miserably in his own city. But it’s a start.

It’s also important to note that the jury is still out on whether Chicago can maintain these positive trends. The increased police patrols are expensive–the Times says the city is already closing in on its annual budget outlays for police overtime. Some worry that the bad weather has kept people off the streets and that upon their return crime will join them. Others object that last year’s crime numbers were too high to use as a fair baseline for comparison.

Additionally, the city still needs expanded emergency medical care facilities in areas close enough to violent neighborhoods to save lives. But the numbers don’t lie: there is a notable improvement that can’t be explained away by the weather. (It rained last year too.) And the fact that the program is still in its early stages is reason to be optimistic about further improvement. And there’s another metric: Emanuel was approached by a mother who said she was beginning to feel comfortable letting her child walk to school. Emanuel told the Times: “That to me is the biggest, most important, most significant measure — that a mother feels comfortable and confident enough where she didn’t in past years to have her child walk to school.”

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Dem Majority in Greater Peril Than the NRA

There’s no doubt liberals will read the cover story of the latest issue of The New Republic with delight. The piece, titled “This is How the NRA Ends” by Alec MacGillis, claims the failure of Congress to pass any gun control measures this year despite the way advocates were able to successfully exploit the Newtown massacre was misleading. The article is filled with breathless accounts of how families of gun violence victims and other activists have joined forces to create what the magazine terms a viable grass roots rival to the National Rifle Association.

TNR predicts the pressure these groups are exerting as well as the financial clout of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Super Pac — which is already spending big on ads criticizing those senators that opposed the Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks for gun purchases — has permanently altered the equation on the issue. Not only does the piece predict that another background checks bill will eventually succeed in this session of Congress but seems to predict that this alleged sea change will expose NRA’s vaunted influence as being based on an illusion.

But the problem with this thesis is easily exposed in Michael Scherer’s TIME magazine column on Bloomberg’s targeting of the four Democrats who opposed Manchin-Toomey. Democrats like Mark Prior of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska are in the mayor’s well funded cross-hairs right now but the impact of this campaign won’t win any new votes for background checks or the more far-reaching proposals to ban various types of weapons that the gun control movement will try to implement if that more moderate measure is ever passed. As Scherer rightly points out, attempts to replace those senators with Democrats who will promise to vote for restrictions will only result in victories for the Republicans in November 2014 that could tip the balance in the Senate back to the GOP. If anything, the long-term impact of Bloomberg’s efforts will make gun legislation even less likely to pass in the future.

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There’s no doubt liberals will read the cover story of the latest issue of The New Republic with delight. The piece, titled “This is How the NRA Ends” by Alec MacGillis, claims the failure of Congress to pass any gun control measures this year despite the way advocates were able to successfully exploit the Newtown massacre was misleading. The article is filled with breathless accounts of how families of gun violence victims and other activists have joined forces to create what the magazine terms a viable grass roots rival to the National Rifle Association.

TNR predicts the pressure these groups are exerting as well as the financial clout of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Super Pac — which is already spending big on ads criticizing those senators that opposed the Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks for gun purchases — has permanently altered the equation on the issue. Not only does the piece predict that another background checks bill will eventually succeed in this session of Congress but seems to predict that this alleged sea change will expose NRA’s vaunted influence as being based on an illusion.

But the problem with this thesis is easily exposed in Michael Scherer’s TIME magazine column on Bloomberg’s targeting of the four Democrats who opposed Manchin-Toomey. Democrats like Mark Prior of Arkansas and Mark Begich of Alaska are in the mayor’s well funded cross-hairs right now but the impact of this campaign won’t win any new votes for background checks or the more far-reaching proposals to ban various types of weapons that the gun control movement will try to implement if that more moderate measure is ever passed. As Scherer rightly points out, attempts to replace those senators with Democrats who will promise to vote for restrictions will only result in victories for the Republicans in November 2014 that could tip the balance in the Senate back to the GOP. If anything, the long-term impact of Bloomberg’s efforts will make gun legislation even less likely to pass in the future.

Unlike President Obama and other Democrats who have hoped to use the revived interest in gun control after Newtown to help their party, Bloomberg’s targeting of Prior and Begich is in line with his non-partisan approach. But by attacking pro-gun Democrats in red states while also taking potshots at Republicans in blue states like New Hampshire’s Kelly Ayotte, Bloomberg is setting the president’s party up for a fall.

MacGillis is right to point out that the gun control boomlet isn’t to be dismissed altogether. The joint effort by pro-gun senators like Democrat Joe Manchin and Republican Pat Toomey did get closer to victory than any other gun measure has in more than a decade. Moreover, their efforts, along with the group organized by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, which is also geared toward a moderate pro-gun ownership audience, does give the gun control movement a much broader appeal than the liberal base that has always backed these ideas.

It should also be stipulated that the NRA hasn’t exactly covered itself with glory these past six months. Though its membership numbers have soared and it succeeded in stopping every gun control measure that came up for a vote, it came across as insensitive after Newtown. By failing to embrace an inoffensive measure like that of Manchin-Toomey, it lost an opportunity to defuse the pro-gun fervor with something that would have done nothing to endanger Second Amendment rights.

All that and the willingness of some of the Newtown victim families to be used by the gun control movement in a shamelessly emotional manner will not allow the issue to be pigeonholed. It is possible that they will yet triumph either later this year or sometime next year when another such background checks proposal will make it to the floor for another vote. But Bloomberg’s calling Democrats like Pryor out actually makes this less likely since a reversal would allow opponents to brand him as a senator that takes orders from New York’s City Hall, something that would doom him in 2014.

But the point about this struggle is not whether an anodyne measure like Manchin-Toomey is ever signed into law. Rather it is the next round of gun control — whether aimed at so-called assault weapons or other types of guns — that will be the controlling factor in the debate.

The NRA succeeded in stopping Manchin-Toomey in large measure because even its supporters couldn’t claim that it would have prevented the tragedy in Newtown. Many pro-gun voters and their representatives in Washington also understand that the bland assurances about protecting the Second Amendment they have received from the president are simply not credible. They know liberals want more far reaching measures and will never be satisfied with merely increasing background checks. That will ensure their own not inconsiderable fundraising and activism will continue to be intense. Contrary to MacGillis’ analysis that means members of Congress will continue to view its power as real.

Moreover, the electoral math of 2014 makes it hard to see how anyone would look at the upcoming matches in the Senate and the House and foresee the imminent demise of the NRA’s influence. At the very least, a re-energized Republican base angered by the Obama administration’s scandals will enable the GOP to hold its own next year. But without few if any vulnerable Republicans up for re-election (including Ayotte who will face the voters in 2016) and a plethora of incumbent Democrats on the ballot, a GOP majority isn’t out of the question. Indeed, Prior and Begich (who was elected in 2008 in a fluke caused by the now discredited federal prosecution of the late Ted Stevens) are vulnerable to a liberal challenge in a Democratic primary but they might be strengthened in a general election by Bloomberg’s labeling them as cats’ paws of the NRA.

For all of its mistakes and the increased strengths of its foes, the NRA isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, the more its liberal opponents seek to expand their reach into pro-gun states, the more likely it is that it will continue to ensure that the pro-gun rights faction in Congress has enough votes to block the liberal agenda on guns.

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Beck Crosses the Line Again

The dynamic in contemporary American political warfare tends to treat any offenses by those figures that we consider to be on “our side” on many of the great issues of the day as insignificant while treating those of our opponents as earth-shaking crimes. There are conservatives who may overcompensate for this by joining in the liberal demonization of some of the left’s favorite targets, but that kind of disappointing appeal for the respect of the mainstream media ought not prevent us from holding the right accountable for bad behavior.

That’s why Glenn Beck’s appearance at last weekend’s National Rifle Association convention is the sort of thing that cannot go without comment here. In his remarks to the conclave, Beck denounced New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for financing campaigns against politicians who defend Second Amendment rights. Placing it in the context of Bloomberg’s nanny state style of governing New York, which has led to soda bans as well as a myriad of other measures designed to tell people how to live, Beck put forward a critique of the mayor that rightly painted him as an opponent of individual liberty. But then, as he has often done in the past, Beck went too far.

It wasn’t enough for Beck to depict Bloomberg as a nanny state petty dictator. Instead, he spoke in front of a large backdrop that photo-shopped Bloomberg’s face into what appears to be a famous photo of Adolf Hitler with his arm extended in the infamous Nazi salute. This is more than merely unacceptable political commentary. It is an offense that diminishes the horror of the Holocaust and casts a dark light on both Beck and those who thought his little joke was funny.

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The dynamic in contemporary American political warfare tends to treat any offenses by those figures that we consider to be on “our side” on many of the great issues of the day as insignificant while treating those of our opponents as earth-shaking crimes. There are conservatives who may overcompensate for this by joining in the liberal demonization of some of the left’s favorite targets, but that kind of disappointing appeal for the respect of the mainstream media ought not prevent us from holding the right accountable for bad behavior.

That’s why Glenn Beck’s appearance at last weekend’s National Rifle Association convention is the sort of thing that cannot go without comment here. In his remarks to the conclave, Beck denounced New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg for financing campaigns against politicians who defend Second Amendment rights. Placing it in the context of Bloomberg’s nanny state style of governing New York, which has led to soda bans as well as a myriad of other measures designed to tell people how to live, Beck put forward a critique of the mayor that rightly painted him as an opponent of individual liberty. But then, as he has often done in the past, Beck went too far.

It wasn’t enough for Beck to depict Bloomberg as a nanny state petty dictator. Instead, he spoke in front of a large backdrop that photo-shopped Bloomberg’s face into what appears to be a famous photo of Adolf Hitler with his arm extended in the infamous Nazi salute. This is more than merely unacceptable political commentary. It is an offense that diminishes the horror of the Holocaust and casts a dark light on both Beck and those who thought his little joke was funny.

In writing this, I can already hear the complaints of conservatives who will say those of us who oppose Bloomberg’s politics should not attack Beck since that undermines the cause of defending gun rights as well as the cause of liberty that Beck said in his remarks was his sole motivation. But anyone who doesn’t understand the difference between an anti-Semitic mass murderer and a liberal American Jew need not bother deluging my email inbox with their pointless criticisms. Calling liberals Nazis doesn’t hurt liberalism. It hurts conservatives. Making such comparisons is not just a manifestation of a lack of good taste or an unwillingness to treat the Holocaust as a singular historic event. Resorting to attempts to delegitimize the other side is a sign of an inability to make reasoned arguments.

It should be stipulated, as Ron Kampeas noted at his JTA blog yesterday, that this is not the first time Beck has crossed the line when it comes to the Holocaust. As I wrote here in November 2010, his attack on leftist financier George Soros as a Nazi collaborator was just as inappropriate. Soros is a scoundrel, but Beck had no business pontificating about what a teenaged Jewish boy trapped in Nazi-ruled Hungary might have done. Similarly, Beck mischaracterized Soros’s efforts to undermine Communist governments when he was one of the good guys in that struggle.

As I wrote then:

Political commentary that reduces every person and every thing to pure black and white may be entertaining, but it is often misleading. There is much to criticize about George Soros’s career, and his current political activities are troubling. But Beck’s denunciation of him is marred by ignorance and offensive innuendo. Instead of providing sharp insight into a shady character, all Beck has done is further muddy the waters and undermine his own credibility as a commentator.

By depicting Bloomberg as a Nazi, he has repeated that offense. And the fact that he is generally on the same side on many issues as me and is a warm supporter of Israel doesn’t render him exempt from the criticism he richly deserves about this.

As for those who will dismiss this as just a joke, I’m afraid I have to point out there are some topics that just aren’t funny. It is an axiom of political combat that the first person to call someone a Nazi always loses. Call Bloomberg what you like, but to portray him as a Nazi simply crosses a line that no responsible person should even approach. That Beck finds it impossible to engage in political debate without behaving in this manner tells us all we need to know about him.

Beck owes Bloomberg an apology. So does the NRA. Just as important, they owe supporters of Second Amendment rights an apology for debasing the debate and undermining their cause in this manner.

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The NRA and the Intensity Gap

Liberal commentators are expressing horror about the celebratory tone of the speeches heard this past weekend at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association. The NRA wasn’t shy about declaring victory in its struggle to thwart the Obama administration’s efforts to pass a raft of new gun laws, even stopping the most moderate Manchin-Toomey expansion of background checks. But what’s really interesting about the commentary about the NRA love-in with opponents of gun laws like Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin isn’t so much the anger about the group’s triumph as it is in the blind confidence on the left that the group’s days of political success are numbered.

Anyone who listened to most of those commenting on the NRA gathering on the news talk shows in recent days knows that among liberals there is a conviction that what happened in the last month, when Democrats joined with the majority of Republicans to stop Manchin-Toomey and every other proposed gun law, including those that would have imposed far greater restrictions on firearm ownership, won’t be repeated in the future. They believe anger from the voters who presumably make up the large majorities that polls say back universal background checks, fueled by emotional appeals from the Newtown victim families and funded by billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will change the political equation next year.

But while one should never underestimate the power of the sort of “bloody shirt” politics that Newtown has produced as well as the impact of Bloomberg’s cash, the NRA convention should have reminded us that single-issue politics is always a function of the intensity gap that have always decided votes on gun control.

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Liberal commentators are expressing horror about the celebratory tone of the speeches heard this past weekend at the annual convention of the National Rifle Association. The NRA wasn’t shy about declaring victory in its struggle to thwart the Obama administration’s efforts to pass a raft of new gun laws, even stopping the most moderate Manchin-Toomey expansion of background checks. But what’s really interesting about the commentary about the NRA love-in with opponents of gun laws like Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin isn’t so much the anger about the group’s triumph as it is in the blind confidence on the left that the group’s days of political success are numbered.

Anyone who listened to most of those commenting on the NRA gathering on the news talk shows in recent days knows that among liberals there is a conviction that what happened in the last month, when Democrats joined with the majority of Republicans to stop Manchin-Toomey and every other proposed gun law, including those that would have imposed far greater restrictions on firearm ownership, won’t be repeated in the future. They believe anger from the voters who presumably make up the large majorities that polls say back universal background checks, fueled by emotional appeals from the Newtown victim families and funded by billionaire New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, will change the political equation next year.

But while one should never underestimate the power of the sort of “bloody shirt” politics that Newtown has produced as well as the impact of Bloomberg’s cash, the NRA convention should have reminded us that single-issue politics is always a function of the intensity gap that have always decided votes on gun control.

Liberal pundits can talk all they want about the polls that show 90 percent of Americans backing background checks, but the vast majority of voters are influenced by a multiplicity of issues in any election. A politician who can be portrayed as outside the mainstream is always going to be in trouble. But the point about hot-button issues like guns is that most of the votes that are cast on it are not in the mushy middle, where most Americans reside, but on the margins, where the fervor is primarily to be found among those who treat anything that can be conceivably interpreted as an infringement on gun rights as what will determine how they cast their ballot.

Thus, it is no surprise to learn that in the months since Newtown, NRA membership has gone through the roof, with their numbers expanding from four to five million strong. The president and other gun-control advocates can pretend that the group is merely the political arm of the firearms industry, but any organization that can count five million dues-paying members must be considered formidable no matter what they were advocating.

The growth of the NRA seems counterintuitive to liberals who believe Newtown and any other instance of gun violence proves that more legislation is needed to curb the availability of weapons. But what they are finding is that the more they scream about the need for gun control, the more people who like guns are flocking to stores to buy them and signing up for the NRA. And unlike the overwhelming majority of those who tell pollsters they like Manchin-Toomey, these NRA members can be counted on to keep the group’s “stand and fight” slogan in mind in the voting booth.

A Bloomberg-funded push against a northeastern Republican like Kelly Ayotte and the continued stalking of her by gun violence victim family members might make a difference in her re-election race in 2016. But the majority of those up in 2014, including red-state Democrats, are probably still more afraid of the NRA than they are of the New York mayor.

Though the NRA has made plenty of mistakes in the past few months, none of them has diminished the intensity of those who see any compromise on the issue as the thin edge of the wedge of the movement toward the banning of legal weapons. For that, they can thank Obama and Bloomberg.

Part of the problem here is that no matter how reasonable background checks might be (and I happen to agree that Manchin-Toomey was reasonable and in no way should be construed as an infringement on the Second Amendment), there was no clear connection between outrage about Newtown and the proposals put forward in Congress. As much as liberals thought that tragedy was a game-changer, it didn’t convince anybody who cared about gun rights to change their minds. Nor did it create a huge, vocal single-issue constituency for gun control that would have the potential to frighten politicians away from the NRA. Indeed, as I wrote last week, the president’s effort to exploit the emotions of the country seems only to have inspired more fervent opposition because they see Manchin-Toomey as a stalking horse for the broader liberal measures that will surely follow if it is passed.

While it is possible they can create an answer to the NRA in the way that abortion-rights defenders have done so in response to the pro-life movement, it’s not clear this will make much of a difference in states where guns are popular. Unless and until Democrats (who were conspicuous by their absence from the roster of NRA speakers) can demonstrate that their anti-gun crusade can produce the same kind of intensity that gun rights advocates can count on, this won’t change. 

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Ted Cruz and the Politics of Imprudence

The Wall Street Journal published an editorial responding to claims made by Republican Senator Ted Cruz. The editorial is worth reading for a couple of reasons.

The first is that it offers a useful correction to Senator Cruz’s effort to rewrite history when it comes to his role in the recent gun-control debate. The issue at hand is that Cruz, along with Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul, wanted to filibuster a bill expanding background checks rather than allow it to come to a vote. The Journal rightly criticized this tactic as self-destructive, since it would allow Democrats to portray Republicans as obstructionists for blocking Senate debate and a vote. Fortunately, the gambit by Cruz & Company failed. The measure was voted on and it went down to defeat. Yet Cruz, in a speech to FreedomWorks, “now wants to take credit for that victory when he opposed the strategy that led to it,” in the words of the Journal.

This is foolish on several fronts, not the least of which is that Cruz’s assertion is so easy to disprove.

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The Wall Street Journal published an editorial responding to claims made by Republican Senator Ted Cruz. The editorial is worth reading for a couple of reasons.

The first is that it offers a useful correction to Senator Cruz’s effort to rewrite history when it comes to his role in the recent gun-control debate. The issue at hand is that Cruz, along with Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul, wanted to filibuster a bill expanding background checks rather than allow it to come to a vote. The Journal rightly criticized this tactic as self-destructive, since it would allow Democrats to portray Republicans as obstructionists for blocking Senate debate and a vote. Fortunately, the gambit by Cruz & Company failed. The measure was voted on and it went down to defeat. Yet Cruz, in a speech to FreedomWorks, “now wants to take credit for that victory when he opposed the strategy that led to it,” in the words of the Journal.

This is foolish on several fronts, not the least of which is that Cruz’s assertion is so easy to disprove.

But this episode touches on a deeper matter, which is the habit some on the right have of confusing principled convictions with self-destructive tactics. Rather than selectively picking the ground on which to fight, they seem to relish brinksmanship and conflict, even if they lose those confrontations legislatively and in the court of public opinion. But what makes this whole thing slightly bizarre is that in the process the self-styled purists accuse those who oppose them as being (in Cruz’s elegant description) “a bunch of squishes.”

It takes a person of unusual ideological brittleness to mock those who are intelligent enough not to join a lawmaker and his colleagues in their version of Pickett’s Charge. The issue here isn’t who is more principled, since it’s not particularly principled to lose in a manner that sets back one’s cause. The issue is who is wiser. (Kimberley Strassel dismantles Senator Cruz’s claims in her most recent Potomac Watch column.)

Senator Cruz calls himself a conservative. So are many on the right who disagree with his tactics. Mr. Cruz might also want to introduce himself to an ancient and conservative virtue, prudence. The Lincoln biographer Allen Guelzo wrote a short essay in 2006 on “The Prudence of Abraham Lincoln,” in which he said this about America’s greatest president (and America’s greatest Republican):

Lincoln insisted that he “regarded prudence in all respect as one of the cardinal virtues,” and he hoped, as president, that “it will appear that we have practiced prudence” in the management of public affairs. Even in the midst of the Civil War, he promised that the war would be carried forward “consistently with the prudence…which ought always to regulate the public service,” and without allowing it to degenerate “into a violent and remorseless revolutionary struggle.” Lincoln had little notion that, over the course of a hundred and fifty years, this commitment to prudence would become a source of condemnation rather than approval.

For some, prudence is still a source of condemnation rather than approval. It was unwise then; and it’s unwise now. 

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Stalking Kelly Ayotte and Common Sense

The video of a relative of a victim of the Newtown massacre confronting Senator Kelly Ayotte at a New Hampshire town hall meeting has been all over the cable news channels, as the effort to shame those who opposed efforts to expand background checks for gun purchases escalated this week. Other objects of the increasingly aggressive gun-control lobby like Arizona Senator Jeff Flake have also been subjected to attempts by gun violence victims’ relatives to embarrass him for voting against the Manchin-Toomey amendment. But if these supporters of gun-control bills are really interested in getting something passed, they should listen to one of the measure’s co-sponsors.

Senator Pat Toomey made headlines for saying yesterday that he believed Republicans shied away from his legislation in large part because they were disinclined to support anything that President Obama wanted. This is being interpreted as proof that a) Republicans are obstructionists who are the main reason why Congress is dysfunctional and b) the gun bill was stopped out of sheer malice rather than on the merits.

But if you read what he actually said to his hometown paper, the Allentown Call-Chronicle, you’ll find he said something very different from the spin that has been put on his comments by liberals looking to exploit the gun issue:

Toomey asserted that the passionate minority who railed against the measure simply didn’t trust putting more authority over guns in the hands of the Obama administration.

“I would suggest the administration brought this on themselves. I think the president ran his re-election campaign in a divisive way. He divided Americans. He was using resentment of some Americans toward others to generate support for himself. That was very divisive, that has consequences, that lingers,” Toomey said over breakfast in the Senate member’s only dining room.

“I understand why people have some apprehension about this administration. I don’t agree with the conclusion as it applies to my [background checks] amendment, but I understand where the emotion comes from.”

Toomey is right about what happened among Republicans. Advocates of more gun control can cite the huge majorities polls show backing background checks, but the more they rely on demagogic attempts to smear their opponents as being somehow responsible for tragedies like Newtown, the less likely they will be to persuade many Republicans to join their ranks.

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The video of a relative of a victim of the Newtown massacre confronting Senator Kelly Ayotte at a New Hampshire town hall meeting has been all over the cable news channels, as the effort to shame those who opposed efforts to expand background checks for gun purchases escalated this week. Other objects of the increasingly aggressive gun-control lobby like Arizona Senator Jeff Flake have also been subjected to attempts by gun violence victims’ relatives to embarrass him for voting against the Manchin-Toomey amendment. But if these supporters of gun-control bills are really interested in getting something passed, they should listen to one of the measure’s co-sponsors.

Senator Pat Toomey made headlines for saying yesterday that he believed Republicans shied away from his legislation in large part because they were disinclined to support anything that President Obama wanted. This is being interpreted as proof that a) Republicans are obstructionists who are the main reason why Congress is dysfunctional and b) the gun bill was stopped out of sheer malice rather than on the merits.

But if you read what he actually said to his hometown paper, the Allentown Call-Chronicle, you’ll find he said something very different from the spin that has been put on his comments by liberals looking to exploit the gun issue:

Toomey asserted that the passionate minority who railed against the measure simply didn’t trust putting more authority over guns in the hands of the Obama administration.

“I would suggest the administration brought this on themselves. I think the president ran his re-election campaign in a divisive way. He divided Americans. He was using resentment of some Americans toward others to generate support for himself. That was very divisive, that has consequences, that lingers,” Toomey said over breakfast in the Senate member’s only dining room.

“I understand why people have some apprehension about this administration. I don’t agree with the conclusion as it applies to my [background checks] amendment, but I understand where the emotion comes from.”

Toomey is right about what happened among Republicans. Advocates of more gun control can cite the huge majorities polls show backing background checks, but the more they rely on demagogic attempts to smear their opponents as being somehow responsible for tragedies like Newtown, the less likely they will be to persuade many Republicans to join their ranks.

The stalking of Ayotte and other opponents of Manchin-Toomey makes great video but it does nothing to advance the debate on these issues in a way that can persuade people that more background checks will actually lessen the toll of gun violence. The confrontation with Erica Laffey, whose mother was killed by the Newtown shooter, was intended to embarrass the senator. But few of the talking heads on the cable news shows crowing over Ayotte’s poor polling numbers since the gun vote were willing to admit that what she said to Laffey about Newtown having nothing to do with background checks was completely correct. Republicans see this disconnect as yet more evidence that the president and his party are simply interested in expanding government power and not actually doing something about a problem that may have far more to do with mental health than making it harder for guns to be legally obtained.

We shouldn’t doubt the willingness or the ability of liberal advocacy groups like the one organized by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords or the one funded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to go on assailing Ayotte, Flake or any of the other senators who voted no on Manchin-Toomey. As the only Northeastern senator to vote against the amendment, Ayotte is particularly vulnerable, though with three years to go until she faces the voters, it’s a little premature for opponents to be predicting her demise. She’s a popular figure who has faced her critics courageously. Liberals who think this issue alone will sink her are probably underestimating the intelligence of the voters.

But if the issue at stake here is not a partisan one but rather one about what the president continues to insist is “common sense legislation,” it might be smarter for everyone on his side of the divide to stop waving the bloody shirt of Newtown and start talking with Republicans about allaying their concerns about national registries of guns and giving up attempts to chip away at Second Amendment rights.

As Toomey rightly pointed out, the president has done everything in his power to polarize this and other issues to the point where he has made it extremely difficult for Republicans to trust him. The same point applies to other Democrats like New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, who made the astounding claim this past week that the lack of background checks made it easier for terrorists like the Tsarnaev brothers in spite of the fact that the guns used by the Boston Marathon bombers were not legally obtained.

Toomey has good reason to be frustrated over the failure of a measure that would not have infringed on gun rights. But the problem here is that both parties are playing partisan politics on gun issues in the aftermath of Newtown, not just the Republicans. So long as the argument for background checks or any other gun-control measure is framed in purely emotional terms that cannot establish any link between the law and atrocities like Newtown, these laws will continue to fail to attract Republican support. It is yet to be seen whether Democrats who think this will help them win the 2014 midterm elections are right. Laffey and some of the other Newtown families have every right to our sympathy and to roam the countryside in search of politicians to lobby as much as they like. But if Democrats are really interested in getting another version of Manchin-Toomey passed, they need to lower their voices and start negotiating with Republicans rather than stalking them.

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