Commentary Magazine


Topic: gun control

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

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.

Read More

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. 

Read Less

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.

Read More

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. 

Read Less

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.

Read More

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.

Read Less

The GOP Begins to Find Its Groove

It’s been clear for some time that President Obama’s strategy on sequestration cuts–to speak as if they would unleash the seven plagues from the book of Revelations and, when that didn’t occur, attempt to magnify pain on the American people–has been a failure. The latest evidence of this was late last week when President Obama and congressional Democrats jettisoned their position that they would resolve the issue of furloughed air traffic controllers only in the context of a broader agreement to end all the sequestration cuts.

The House, by a margin of 361-to-41, approved a deal to give the secretary of transportation the financial flexibility to shift hundreds of millions of dollars to the air traffic control system–flexibility that Republicans have insisted on and Mr. Obama originally refused. (The House vote came after the Senate acted.)

Originally, the president and Democrats said they would only replace the sequester cuts with tax increases. They are now, slowly and against their will, embracing the GOP approach of applying cuts in a reasonable and prioritized way. Read More

It’s been clear for some time that President Obama’s strategy on sequestration cuts–to speak as if they would unleash the seven plagues from the book of Revelations and, when that didn’t occur, attempt to magnify pain on the American people–has been a failure. The latest evidence of this was late last week when President Obama and congressional Democrats jettisoned their position that they would resolve the issue of furloughed air traffic controllers only in the context of a broader agreement to end all the sequestration cuts.

The House, by a margin of 361-to-41, approved a deal to give the secretary of transportation the financial flexibility to shift hundreds of millions of dollars to the air traffic control system–flexibility that Republicans have insisted on and Mr. Obama originally refused. (The House vote came after the Senate acted.)

Originally, the president and Democrats said they would only replace the sequester cuts with tax increases. They are now, slowly and against their will, embracing the GOP approach of applying cuts in a reasonable and prioritized way.This development is a vindication for those who argued earlier this year that Republicans should avoid a showdown on raising the debt ceiling, which the GOP would almost certainly have lost, in order to move toward the much stronger ground of sequestration cuts. Republicans have made other wise tactical decisions as well, from Speaker of the House John Boehner insisting that the Senate take up President Obama’s gun control measures first (where those measures died) to Senate Republicans avoiding an ill-considered filibuster on background checks led by Ted Cruz, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul.

Republicans have a long way to go before their party is where it needs to be. But this year they have mostly made the right decisions in the right order. They’ve demonstrated patience and prudently picked their battles. And they now head into May in a stronger position than they were and with the president on the defensive, with many parts of his second-term agenda crippled and with public approval for the Affordable Care Act now down to 35 percent.

It’s too early for Republicans to say happy days are here again. But the worst days may have passed, even as the storm clouds for the president seem to be gathering.

Read Less

The “Next Tamerlan” Doesn’t Care About Background Checks

Riding a wave of media-driven indignation and fueled by polls that showed broad popular support for background checks, gun control advocates are claiming they won’t wait until after the next election to try again to pass another version of the Manchin-Toomey amendment. It’s an open question as to whether their arguments will resonate with the red state Democrats who crossed the aisle to vote with the majority of Republicans against any gun bill, or whether they can persuade some in the GOP caucus to flip. But exploiting the Boston Marathon bombing the same way they’ve relentlessly waved the bloody shirt of the Newtown massacre won’t do the trick.

Guns did play a role in the Tsarnaev brothers’ crimes. And since Tamerlan Tsarnaev had already been placed in the database of the FBI, theoretically a background check on a prospective weapons purchase by him might have triggered an intervention by law enforcement authorities before the tragedy occurred. That’s what motivated Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York to take to the floor of the House on Friday to argue that Boston gives us another reason to pass a background checks law with the inflammatory style we’ve come to expect from the anti-gun crowd:

The pro-gun lobby insists that the next terrorist should still be able to buy all the assault weapons they want and all the 100-round magazines they need, no problem, no background check necessary. And the next terrorist and the next Tamerlan thinks they’re absolutely right.

The problem with Representative Maloney’s argument isn’t just that it’s despicable of her to accuse groups like the National Rifle Association of supporting terror (though that’s a line that probably went down well with most of her Upper East Side constituency), it’s that the facts of the case flatly contradict the pro-gun control narrative. As I wrote last week, the guns the Tsarnaevs used to kill one police officer and wound another did not have legal permits. Neither did their pressure cooker bombs.

Read More

Riding a wave of media-driven indignation and fueled by polls that showed broad popular support for background checks, gun control advocates are claiming they won’t wait until after the next election to try again to pass another version of the Manchin-Toomey amendment. It’s an open question as to whether their arguments will resonate with the red state Democrats who crossed the aisle to vote with the majority of Republicans against any gun bill, or whether they can persuade some in the GOP caucus to flip. But exploiting the Boston Marathon bombing the same way they’ve relentlessly waved the bloody shirt of the Newtown massacre won’t do the trick.

Guns did play a role in the Tsarnaev brothers’ crimes. And since Tamerlan Tsarnaev had already been placed in the database of the FBI, theoretically a background check on a prospective weapons purchase by him might have triggered an intervention by law enforcement authorities before the tragedy occurred. That’s what motivated Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York to take to the floor of the House on Friday to argue that Boston gives us another reason to pass a background checks law with the inflammatory style we’ve come to expect from the anti-gun crowd:

The pro-gun lobby insists that the next terrorist should still be able to buy all the assault weapons they want and all the 100-round magazines they need, no problem, no background check necessary. And the next terrorist and the next Tamerlan thinks they’re absolutely right.

The problem with Representative Maloney’s argument isn’t just that it’s despicable of her to accuse groups like the National Rifle Association of supporting terror (though that’s a line that probably went down well with most of her Upper East Side constituency), it’s that the facts of the case flatly contradict the pro-gun control narrative. As I wrote last week, the guns the Tsarnaevs used to kill one police officer and wound another did not have legal permits. Neither did their pressure cooker bombs.

I happen to think the Manchin-Toomey background check legislation was a reasonable suggestion that would not infringe on Second Amendment rights. If its advocates could have argued that it would prevent another Newtown, it might have passed. But it is also true that it wouldn’t prevent another Boston.

The Marathon bombing is yet another example that proves that criminals generally aren’t prepared to jump through the hoops that a law-abiding citizen is willing to endure. They prefer to either use legal weapons that were procured by those who would not be prevented from purchasing them or illegal guns that no background check or assault weapons ban can prevent from being sold.

The point here is not so much whether background checks are a good idea in principle. It is that claims they will prevent crimes are utterly bogus. Representative Maloney can Mau-Mau the NRA all she likes, but nothing in Manchin-Toomey or even the more stringent versions of the bills Democrats have drafted on guns in the wake of Newtown could have stopped the Tsarnaevs from amassing the arsenal of illegal weapons they used to shoot it out with Boston-area cops. The “next Tamerlan” won’t care about background check laws because—like his predecessor—he will not try to buy a legal gun that can be traced back to him.

Since scoring points aimed at a right-wing piñata with a sound byte that made it onto a local news broadcast (and repeated this morning on MSNBC) was the objective of Maloney’s speech, I’m sure the inaccuracy of her pitch doesn’t bother her much. But what she—and others who share her gun legislation goal—should understand is that the more they flood the airwaves with misleading rhetoric and false arguments the less likely it is that any background check law will ever be passed.

Read Less

The Difference Between Newtown and Boston

One crime was committed by a person motivated by no cause or political interest and driven only by personal demons. Another crime was committed by two people whose actions were clearly driven by their religious and political beliefs. Under these circumstances, which of these terrible tragedies do you think would be considered an incident that could only be properly understood as something that ought to spur the nation to specific political actions?

If you answered the latter, you clearly know nothing about our political culture.

The former is, of course, the Newtown massacre in which a crazed, lone gunman murdered 20 1st-graders and six teachers at a Connecticut elementary school. The latter is the Boston Marathon bombing that took the lives of three spectators and wounded nearly 200, to which the toll of one police officer murdered and another wounded during the manhunt for the terrorists must be added. Though the first was a random act of personal madness and the second was just the latest in a long string of terrorist acts motivated by Islamist hatred for the West and America, there has never been any doubt about which of the two our chattering classes would consider as having undeniable political consequences and which would be treated as an unknowable crime about which intelligent persons ought not to think too deeply.

Read More

One crime was committed by a person motivated by no cause or political interest and driven only by personal demons. Another crime was committed by two people whose actions were clearly driven by their religious and political beliefs. Under these circumstances, which of these terrible tragedies do you think would be considered an incident that could only be properly understood as something that ought to spur the nation to specific political actions?

If you answered the latter, you clearly know nothing about our political culture.

The former is, of course, the Newtown massacre in which a crazed, lone gunman murdered 20 1st-graders and six teachers at a Connecticut elementary school. The latter is the Boston Marathon bombing that took the lives of three spectators and wounded nearly 200, to which the toll of one police officer murdered and another wounded during the manhunt for the terrorists must be added. Though the first was a random act of personal madness and the second was just the latest in a long string of terrorist acts motivated by Islamist hatred for the West and America, there has never been any doubt about which of the two our chattering classes would consider as having undeniable political consequences and which would be treated as an unknowable crime about which intelligent persons ought not to think too deeply.

We can debate the rights and wrongs of restrictions on gun ownership or calls for more background checks. But the desire to use public grief about Newtown to push for passage of these measures was not rooted in any direct connection between the crime and legislation. Yet almost immediately Newtown was treated as an event with obvious political consequences. Indeed, the desire by gun rights advocates to speak of the issue outside of the context of Newtown was treated as both inherently illegitimate and morally obtuse.

But the reaction to Boston has been very different. Once it became apparent that the perpetrators were “white Americans”—in the memorable phrase employed by Salon.com—but could not be connected to the Tea Party, Rush Limbaugh or any other conservative faction or cause, most liberals have taken it as their duty to squelch any effort to draw the sort of conclusions to which they had almost universally rushed when blood was shed in Newtown. Many in our chattering classes who thought it was patently obvious that the actions of a lunatic should be blamed on the weapons he employed in Connecticut seem deathly afraid of what will happen if we discuss the actual motives of the Boston terrorists.

Why?

Because while they consider anything fair game if it can help restrict gun ownership, they are just as eager to avoid any conclusion that might cause Americans to link terrorists with the religious ideology that led them to kill. For them the fear that this will lead to a general wave of prejudice against all Muslims justifies treating a crime that can only be properly understood in the context of the general struggle against radical Islam as if it were as motiveless as Newtown.

In the last week we have been offered all sorts of explanation for the behavior of the Tsarnaev brothers except the obvious answer. Talking heads on MSNBC and elsewhere have condemned any effort to focus on political Islam in spite of the growing body of evidence that points to their faith as being the cause of their decision to commit mayhem. Even a normally sober commentator such as the New York Times’s Frank Bruni sought to downplay the religious angle, preferring to diffuse our outrage as well as our comprehension of the event and the many other attacks carried out by adherents of radical Islam:

Terrorism isn’t a scourge we Americans alone endure, and it’s seldom about any one thing, or any two things.

Our insistence on patterns and commonalities and some kind of understanding assumes coherence to the massacres, rationality. But the difference between the aimless, alienated young men who do not plant bombs or open fire on unsuspecting crowds — which is the vast majority of them — and those who do is less likely to be some discrete radicalization process that we can diagram and eradicate than a dose, sometimes a heavy one, of pure madness. And there’s no easy antidote to that. No amulet against it.

Bruni is right that there’s no magic bullet or counter-terrorist tactic that will ensure terrorists won’t succeed. He’s also right to shoot down, as he rightly does, those on the far left who have sought to “connect the dots” between American foreign policy (Iraq, Afghanistan and support for Israel) and treat them as justified blowback in which Americans are reaping what they have sown. But while such reactions are despicable, they are largely confined to the fever swamps of our national life.

Far more destructive is this mystifying impulse to look away from the war Islamists have been waging on the West for a generation. While the “radicalization process” to which he refers is not uniform, there is a clear pattern here. The roots of the atrocity in Boston are in the beliefs of radical imams who have helped guide young Muslims to violence around the globe.

To point this out is not an indictment of all Muslims, the majority of whom in this country are loyal, hardworking and peaceful citizens. But the myths about a post-9/11 backlash against Muslims that the media has helped foster—and which continue to be unconnected to any actual evidence of a wave of a prejudice or violence—has led to a situation where some think it better to ignore the evidence about the Tsarnaevs or to focus on peripheral details—such as Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s failed boxing career—than to address the real problem. The fear of Islamophobia is so great that it has spawned a different kind of backlash in which any mention of Islam in this context is wrongly treated as an indication of prejudice.

The contrast between the political exploitation of Newtown and the way in which the same media outlets have gone out of their way to avoid drawing the obvious conclusions about Boston could not be greater. In one case, the media helped orchestrate a national discussion in which hyper-emotional rhetoric about the fallen drove a political agenda. In the other, they are seeking to ensure that no conclusions—even those that are self-evident—be drawn under any circumstances.

Gun control advocates claim that new laws—even those seemingly unconnected to the circumstances of Newtown—are worth it if it will save even one life. That’s debatable, but the same venues that have promoted that view seem averse to any discussion of political Islam, even though it is obvious that more intelligence efforts aimed at routing out radical Islamists and scrutiny of venues and websites where they gather might save even more lives. In the universe of the liberal media, promoting fear of future Newtowns is legitimate and even necessary, but thinking about how to stop future terror attacks apparently is not if it leads us to think about the Islamist threat.

Read Less

Gun Control and American “Givenness”

The New York Times reports that gun-control advocates are not dissuaded by their recent failure to get first a gun ban and then a background checks bill passed. They are pressing on with attempts to further regulate gun ownership. As I noted and as the Washington Post explained, Americans basically came to see the Toomey-Manchin bill as representative of the fight to restrict gun ownership, and the attempts by the government to impose such restrictions unnerved them. This bothers supporters of gun control for cultural reasons, and I think it’s worth explaining where gun-rights supporters are coming from.

In February, Timothy Noah wrote a perceptive column about how liberals were no longer always talking about liberal policies in “non-liberal language.” But gun control was an exception. “Hunters are understood to be part of an authentic American majority in a way liberals who don’t shoot guns are not,” Noah wrote. “But this ingrained assumption is no longer true. Busily genuflecting before hunters, liberals have somehow failed to realize that they are a new silent majority.”

Noah’s column was headlined “How Liberals Became ‘Real Americans’,” and the example of gun ownership as the outlier–gun owners are the real “real Americans” no matter how many, or how few, of them there actually are–is instructive. As anyone who has been told by gun control supporters that tyranny is not on the agenda and therefore the Founders’ concern for the right to bear arms is just a bit dated can attest, concern about the slippery slope argument on guns is downright puzzling to the left. But it’s actually much easier to understand than it seems.

Read More

The New York Times reports that gun-control advocates are not dissuaded by their recent failure to get first a gun ban and then a background checks bill passed. They are pressing on with attempts to further regulate gun ownership. As I noted and as the Washington Post explained, Americans basically came to see the Toomey-Manchin bill as representative of the fight to restrict gun ownership, and the attempts by the government to impose such restrictions unnerved them. This bothers supporters of gun control for cultural reasons, and I think it’s worth explaining where gun-rights supporters are coming from.

In February, Timothy Noah wrote a perceptive column about how liberals were no longer always talking about liberal policies in “non-liberal language.” But gun control was an exception. “Hunters are understood to be part of an authentic American majority in a way liberals who don’t shoot guns are not,” Noah wrote. “But this ingrained assumption is no longer true. Busily genuflecting before hunters, liberals have somehow failed to realize that they are a new silent majority.”

Noah’s column was headlined “How Liberals Became ‘Real Americans’,” and the example of gun ownership as the outlier–gun owners are the real “real Americans” no matter how many, or how few, of them there actually are–is instructive. As anyone who has been told by gun control supporters that tyranny is not on the agenda and therefore the Founders’ concern for the right to bear arms is just a bit dated can attest, concern about the slippery slope argument on guns is downright puzzling to the left. But it’s actually much easier to understand than it seems.

Exactly 60 years ago, in the April 1953 issue of COMMENTARY, Daniel J. Boorstin wrote an eloquent essay that sheds light on this issue without actually discussing gun rights. The piece was titled “Our Unspoken National Faith: Why Americans Need No Ideology,” and it was adapted from his then-forthcoming book The Genius of American Politics. The purpose of Boorstin’s essay, as indicated in the title, is to explain why Americans have developed such successful political institutions without a tradition of impressive modern political theorizing. Americans are, Boorstin noted, surprisingly uninterested in political philosophy for a country that has experienced such magnificent political achievement.

Boorstin’s aim is to explain what he calls “givenness,” briefly defined as “the belief that values in America are in some way or other automatically defined: given by certain facts of geography or history peculiar to us.” There are three aspects to American “givenness,” according to Boorstin. First, that our values are a gift from the past; second, that we continue to receive our values as a gift from the present; and third, a belief in the continuity of American history, which helps explain how his first and second parts of “givenness” can coexist. “Our feeling of continuity in our history makes it easy for us to see the Founding Fathers as our contemporaries. It induces us to draw heavily on the materials of our history, but always in a distinctly non-historical frame of mind,” he writes.

We haven’t felt the need to invent mythical American prophets because that’s how we see our Founders. And we haven’t felt the need to develop a uniting political theory because we believe the nation was founded on an already complete theory that we happily accepted. One major reason for this is the recency of our founding. Boorstin calls us “primitivistic” in comparison to Europeans, who–for obvious reasons–don’t see themselves in their earliest settlers.

This explains the left-right divide over constitutional interpretation. Both liberals and conservatives have taken to claiming their constitutional righteousness in terms of its “originalism.” Neither side’s leading judicial theorists, however, tend to argue that it doesn’t matter what the Founders thought at the time. “We are haunted by a fear that capricious changes in theory might imperil our institutions,” Boorstin writes. “This is our kind of conservatism.” Later, he adds: “What need has either party for an explicit political theory where both must be spokesmen of the original American doctrine on which the nation was founded?”

Boorstin admits that the second facet of “givenness” is vague, but it boils down to accepting that our founding value system is being constantly upheld and reinvigorated by the simple experience of American life. And here he quotes Frederick Jackson Turner writing about the idealized American frontierland and how we translate that into our value system. Turner’s quote, in turn, provides some perspective on Noah’s remark about “real Americans”:

The result is that to the frontier the American intellect owes its striking characteristics. That coarseness and strength combined with acuteness and inquisitiveness, that practical inventive turn of mind, quick to find expedients; that masterful grasp of material things, lacking in the artistic but powerful to effect great ends; that restless, nervous energy; that dominant individualism, working for good and for evil, and withal that buoyancy and exuberance which comes with freedom—these are traits of the frontier, or called out elsewhere because of the existence of the frontier.

Indeed, Boorstin notes that we admire not extraordinary men but men “who possessed the commonplace virtues to an extraordinary degree.” The third facet of “givenness,” continuity between the first two, is both a goal and a fact of life–though this, too, has much to do with America’s youth and is probably far from a given if the United States reaches in the future the age that Europe is now. American political convention has an authenticity, Boorstin writes, guided by “the axiom that institutions are not and should not be the grand creations of men toward large ends and outspoken values; rather they are organisms which grow out of the soil in which they are rooted and out of the tradition from which they have sprung.” He concludes:

Our history has fitted us, even against our will, to understand the meaning of conservatism. We have become the exemplars of the continuity of history and of the fruits which came from cultivating institutions suited to a time and place, in continuity with the past.

How this applies, precisely 60 years later, to the gun debate is twofold. First, liberals have been frustrated by the fact that lower population states, in conservative and gun-friendly regions of the country, hold disproportionate sway in the Senate thanks to each state having the same number of senators, and thus votes. But they should also keep in mind that this doesn’t bother others nearly as much because these states, as we see from Turner’s description of the frontier in American consciousness, hold disproportionate sway over much of America’s national and cultural identity. Guns are only part of this, but a recognizable part.

Second, unlike many other policy fights, gun rights have special resonance because the right to bear arms is written explicitly. We can, and do, argue over whose right that is and what arms they may bear, but few rights were so clearly declared to exist or jealously guarded by the Founders as this one. And that helps explain how Americans can simultaneously support universal background checks in theory yet seem to suddenly get cold feet when it is time for Congress to vote. They don’t take it lightly when their rights are on the table. That may be frustrating for lawmakers, but it’s part of the genius of American politics.

Read Less

Triumph of the Slippery Slope Argument on Gun Control?

One of the often-quoted pieces of advice about modern politics is: first you win the argument, then you win the vote. On gun control, President Obama thought he did the former, and assumed he’d then achieve the latter. In reality, he did neither.

Yesterday, I criticized the way Obama conducted the argument over gun control, as well as the excuses some of his supporters made for why his favored gun control bill failed: he’s too nice to threaten, too proud to beg, his government too poor to bribe (a great, if unrelated, argument in favor of austerity, perhaps). And I did so on the grounds that Obama has been overstating, or overestimating, the public support for gun control. Today, the Washington Post reports on its new poll on gun control. Was the country as furious at the failure of the gun bill as the president was? According to the Post:

Read More

One of the often-quoted pieces of advice about modern politics is: first you win the argument, then you win the vote. On gun control, President Obama thought he did the former, and assumed he’d then achieve the latter. In reality, he did neither.

Yesterday, I criticized the way Obama conducted the argument over gun control, as well as the excuses some of his supporters made for why his favored gun control bill failed: he’s too nice to threaten, too proud to beg, his government too poor to bribe (a great, if unrelated, argument in favor of austerity, perhaps). And I did so on the grounds that Obama has been overstating, or overestimating, the public support for gun control. Today, the Washington Post reports on its new poll on gun control. Was the country as furious at the failure of the gun bill as the president was? According to the Post:

Not so much, according to a new Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll. Yes, a plurality (47 percent) describe themselves as either “angry” or “disappointed” about the failure of the gun legislation, but 39 percent call themselves “relieved” or “happy” about what happened. That’s a far cry from the 90-ish percent support that expanding background checks — the centerpiece of the proposed legislation — enjoyed.

And, among those who said they were “very closely” keeping tabs on the vote, the split was even closer; 48 percent said they were angry/disappointed while 47 percent were relieved or happy. (That piece of data is indicative of the passion gap on the issue between those supporting gun rights and those pushing for more restrictions.)

A key argument of the president’s supporters after the bill failed was that this was a case of democracy denied. The president says the country agrees with him, therefore the Congress should vote accordingly. But it turns out to be more complicated than that. Obama was right that background checks had broad support among the general population, but he seems to have lost the argument that those background checks would not be part of either a slippery slope or an extended effort to limit gun rights. As the Post explains:

Viewed broadly, the new Post-Pew poll numbers suggest that, in the end, the Senate vote last week wound up functioning in the minds of most Americans as a sort of stand-in for how they feel about gun rights more generally as opposed to the specifics (background checks in particular) of the legislation.

So, not surprisingly, those who were most angry about the failure of the gun bill were reliably Democratic groups such as those with postgraduate degrees and those living in the Northeast.

Democracy worked, in other words. This should have been obvious, because members of Congress are generally attuned to the opinions and habits of their constituents. That doesn’t mean they never cross those voters, or that they always vote for what the majority of their constituents want in any given case. But if, as Obama had said repeatedly, 90 percent of voters backed the gun legislation, something else would have to have been at play in the minds the senators who voted against it.

Could mere partisanship explain it? Doubtful, since the vote failed to rally key Democrats as well, so there was bipartisan opposition to the bill (just as there was bipartisan support for it). Obama likes to believe that NRA fearmongering was to blame. But if the public was overwhelmingly on one side of the issue, what power would a lobbyist hold over an individual lawmaker by putting the lobby on the wrong side of public opinion?

The answer is, the argument Obama lost was not over limited background checks but on the role of the federal government when it comes to regulating guns. There’s a good reason for this: Obama originally and publicly pushed for a so-called assault weapons ban, but the votes for it weren’t there–not even close. The White House’s response to the failure of the gun ban was not to accept public opinion on it but rather to promise (threaten?) they would be back later for the gun ban, and would not back down. Thus Obama communicated quite clearly to the public that the background checks were, if the president got his way, only the beginning of the administration’s renewed efforts to chip away at gun ownership.

The Post report concludes:

To their credit, the president and his White House tried like hell to emphasize that the proposals in the bill were ones that drew support across party lines. But, their failure to make that case effectively speaks to the entrenched views much of the country holds on guns. The conclusion? Most people simply weren’t really listening to the argument President Obama was trying to make.

That’s only partly true. They were listening to the argument Obama was trying to make in the context of the wider argument he has been making all along. The public and their representatives didn’t ignore the president. On the contrary, they listened carefully, and voted accordingly.

Read Less

The Real Reason Gun Control Failed

Ever since the failure of the gun-control bill, President Obama’s supporters have been wondering how it is that the president could ask for something and not get it. Obama himself seemed fairly surprised by this, if his bizarre and uncomfortable statement after the vote was any indication. He lashed out at the senators who opposed the bill, but those senators were motivated by electoral concerns, which means they were nervous to cross the voters they are supposed to represent, which means the president was really lashing out at the public.

And of course the president fully understood the position of those lawmakers he was demonizing as accomplices to child endangerment. After all, the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut was not the first mass shooting of his presidency; there was one in his first term as well, but the president chose not to muster and release his righteous indignation when he still had to worry about his own re-election. And now he looked at dozens of lawmakers who acted exactly as he did and called them cowards. But today’s New York Times story on the failure of the gun bill has managed to find easily the most ludicrous explanation yet:

Read More

Ever since the failure of the gun-control bill, President Obama’s supporters have been wondering how it is that the president could ask for something and not get it. Obama himself seemed fairly surprised by this, if his bizarre and uncomfortable statement after the vote was any indication. He lashed out at the senators who opposed the bill, but those senators were motivated by electoral concerns, which means they were nervous to cross the voters they are supposed to represent, which means the president was really lashing out at the public.

And of course the president fully understood the position of those lawmakers he was demonizing as accomplices to child endangerment. After all, the horrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut was not the first mass shooting of his presidency; there was one in his first term as well, but the president chose not to muster and release his righteous indignation when he still had to worry about his own re-election. And now he looked at dozens of lawmakers who acted exactly as he did and called them cowards. But today’s New York Times story on the failure of the gun bill has managed to find easily the most ludicrous explanation yet:

Robert Dallek, a historian and biographer of President Lyndon B. Johnson, said Mr. Obama seems “inclined to believe that sweet reason is what you need to use with people in high office.” That contrasts with Johnson’s belief that “what you need to do is to back people up against a wall,” Mr. Dallek said.

“Obama has this more reasoned temperament,” he said. “It may well be that it’s not the prescription for making gains. It raises questions about his powers of persuasion.”

I doubt President Obama was much comforted upon reading that, because he is surely aware that “sweet reason” was the one tool he forgot to employ in his constant demagoguery on gun control. His campaign did not include arguments that the proposals would have prevented the Newtown tragedy, because they would not have. He mostly spent weeks calling people names, interspersed with especially low moments such as when he said this: “What’s more important to you: our children, or an A-grade from the gun lobby?”

Those are the only two choices in the world Obama inhabits. And it is a world devoid of “sweet reason.” Yet it should not be a surprise that Obama’s reaction to the failure of the gun bill was to show contempt for the people; as Kevin Williamson wrote in January, the administration’s obsession with theater over substance is about more than his political agenda:

You may agree 100 percent with the president’s position on gun control, but his stagey histrionics, his endless reliance upon human props, his cheap sloganeering, his emotionally driven hectoring: all of that bespeaks a very deep contempt for his audience, which is the American people. If he really believes that surrounding himself with adorable little tots is a substitute for substantive arguments for well-thought-out policy proposals, he thinks that the people — you people — are a bunch of rubes. Unhappily, 51 percent of the American people are happy to endorse his low view of them. There is something peculiar to political enthusiasts, a phenomenon I observed at both conventions this year: People in political audiences know that they are being manipulated, cynically and professionally — and they enjoy it. Obama’s admirers look up to him because he looks down on them, not in spite of the fact. There is something more at play than the mere admiration of stagecraft.

There sure is. The Times article follows a common theme in Obama’s press coverage: that he really deserves better than the people of this republic. And Obama’s admirers who, as Williamson writes, “look up to him because he looks down on them,” do so because they couldn’t agree more. Liberals look at the federal republic whose checks and balances keep standing in the way of our noble hero-president and wonder why Obama even puts up with us.

The anger at the senators who voted against the gun bill contains the perfect example: Heidi Heitkamp, the Democratic senator from North Dakota. After she provided a crucial vote against the gun bill, Obama’s own former chief of staff, Bill Daley, took to the pages of the Washington Post to make a remarkable demand. In October, he donated to Heitkamp’s Senate campaign, and then she won–and voted against the gun bill. Daley’s op-ed actually opened with the following sentence: “I want my money back.”

Truly amazing. Heitkamp turned out to have far more integrity than Daley imagined when he mailed his check. But that’s the real story of the collapse of the gun bill. After the votes were counted, Politico published a reaction story which contained the following nugget:

“Bribery isn’t what it once was,” said an official with one of the major gun-control groups. “The government has no money. Once upon a time you would throw somebody a post office or a research facility in times like this. Frankly, there’s not a lot of leverage.”

This has much in common, in fact, with how the administration successfully got ObamaCare through Congress. But that was three years ago. It was the president’s first term. Times change. Bribery isn’t what it once was.

Read Less

The Bombs Didn’t Have Permits Either

The latest tidbit from the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing should interest those Americans who have been pondering whether proposed gun control laws would actually deter or stop criminals from obtaining weapons. The Associated Press informs us that the Tsarnaev brothers did not have legal permits for the guns they used in their shootouts with police, when they killed one and wounded another officer:

Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas tells The Associated Press in an interview Sunday that neither Tamerlan Tsarnaev nor his brother Dzhokhar had permission to carry firearms. He says it’s unclear whether either ever applied and the applications aren’t considered public records. But he says the 19-year-old Dzhokhar would have been denied a permit because of his age. Only people 21 or older are allowed gun licenses in Massachusetts.

No doubt we’ll learn more about how the Tsarnaevs got their guns as well as their bomb-making materials in the future as the investigation proceeds, but this makes perfect sense. People who are accumulating an arsenal of weapons to carry out a crime—whether they are habitual criminals and/or gang members or potential terrorists–aren’t limited to licensed gun dealers or even private sellers at gun shows, which would have only been required to perform background checks on purchasers if the Toomey-Manchin bill had passed. It also goes without saying that the pressure cookers and the ball bearings used as shrapnel that the brothers used in their bombs were also not registered with the authorities.

Read More

The latest tidbit from the investigation of the Boston Marathon bombing should interest those Americans who have been pondering whether proposed gun control laws would actually deter or stop criminals from obtaining weapons. The Associated Press informs us that the Tsarnaev brothers did not have legal permits for the guns they used in their shootouts with police, when they killed one and wounded another officer:

Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas tells The Associated Press in an interview Sunday that neither Tamerlan Tsarnaev nor his brother Dzhokhar had permission to carry firearms. He says it’s unclear whether either ever applied and the applications aren’t considered public records. But he says the 19-year-old Dzhokhar would have been denied a permit because of his age. Only people 21 or older are allowed gun licenses in Massachusetts.

No doubt we’ll learn more about how the Tsarnaevs got their guns as well as their bomb-making materials in the future as the investigation proceeds, but this makes perfect sense. People who are accumulating an arsenal of weapons to carry out a crime—whether they are habitual criminals and/or gang members or potential terrorists–aren’t limited to licensed gun dealers or even private sellers at gun shows, which would have only been required to perform background checks on purchasers if the Toomey-Manchin bill had passed. It also goes without saying that the pressure cookers and the ball bearings used as shrapnel that the brothers used in their bombs were also not registered with the authorities.

The draconian gun laws on the books in Massachusetts did nothing to stop the Tsarnaevs from finding the weapons they used to carry out their terrorist attack or their deadly shootouts with police. More gun legislation, even the reasonable Manchin-Toomey attempt to close background check loopholes that would not have violated anyone’s Second Amendment rights, wouldn’t have stopped them from killing Officer Sean Collier, let alone killing three persons and wounded 150 others at the Marathon.

Advocates of gun restrictions tell us that even if they save a single life they are worth it, and that is a powerful argument. But the facts of most criminal cases, be they the mass slaughter in Newtown or the atrocities carried out by the Tsarnaevs in Boston, show that such laws have a minimal impact on violent crime while substantially burdening law-abiding citizens who wish to legally own firearms. To say that is not to argue against all gun restrictions, but it should cause us to put the outrage over the demise of the latest attempt to pass gun control laws in perspective.

The self-righteous anger exhibited by President Obama and the stage-managed use of the families of the Newtown victims is geared to exploit the deep emotions Americans feel about that crime. But the connection between such laws and the prevention of gun violence remains tenuous. Boston shows us once again that criminals will find ways to obtain guns no matter what the laws say. That shouldn’t deter us from seeking to prevent felons and the mentally ill from getting guns, but it ought to cause those politicians inclined to grandstand on the issue to pipe down a bit. Gun laws didn’t stop the Tsarnaevs from getting all the firepower they needed. Nor will it stop the next madman who wants to perpetrate another Newtown. And it’s time to stop pretending that they will.

Read Less

The Age of Hope and Shame

What’s the difference between righteous and self-righteous? Last Wednesday, President Obama stood alongside victims of gun violence and spoke about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey bill, which would have expanded background checks for gun buyers. Obama’s insistence that America has seen “too many tragedies” of late is righteous (“characterized by uprightness or morality,” according to dictionary.com). But he went on to describe a moral split that posited on his side “those who care deeply about preventing more and more gun violence” and on the other, “those who blocked these common-sense steps to help keep our kids safe.” That, and his declaring opponents “shameful,” is self-righteous (“having or showing an exaggerated awareness of one’s own virtuousness or rights”).

There was never an open policy debate after the Sandy Hook shooting. There was only an inarticulate pledge to act. Little wonder nothing will be accomplished. And after Obama’s speech, there would still be no debate. Liberals echoed his self-righteousness through social-media memes. Because nothing says, “I sincerely care” like an infinitely clicked-on Photoshop collage of young victims captioned by a partisan message. 

Read More

What’s the difference between righteous and self-righteous? Last Wednesday, President Obama stood alongside victims of gun violence and spoke about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey bill, which would have expanded background checks for gun buyers. Obama’s insistence that America has seen “too many tragedies” of late is righteous (“characterized by uprightness or morality,” according to dictionary.com). But he went on to describe a moral split that posited on his side “those who care deeply about preventing more and more gun violence” and on the other, “those who blocked these common-sense steps to help keep our kids safe.” That, and his declaring opponents “shameful,” is self-righteous (“having or showing an exaggerated awareness of one’s own virtuousness or rights”).

There was never an open policy debate after the Sandy Hook shooting. There was only an inarticulate pledge to act. Little wonder nothing will be accomplished. And after Obama’s speech, there would still be no debate. Liberals echoed his self-righteousness through social-media memes. Because nothing says, “I sincerely care” like an infinitely clicked-on Photoshop collage of young victims captioned by a partisan message. 

Liberals don’t have an exclusive claim on either child welfare or common sense. And they’re not the only ones who can point to horrifying realities and place blame on policies they don’t like. Take the conservative cause of shrinking the welfare state. It may not lend itself to the easy emotional shorthand of anti-gun legislation, but that’s because few are paying attention. Amid last week’s multiple nightmares, one could have missed a New York Times story headlined “More Children in Greece Are Going Hungry.” Published the same day Obama made his “shame” speech, the report by Liz Alderman describes Greek “children picking through school trash cans for food; needy youngsters asking playmates for leftovers; and an 11-year-old boy, Pantelis Petrakis, bent over with hunger pains.” This is the latest byproduct of the Greek disaster. The Times quotes Dr. Athena Linos, who heads a food-assistance NGO, as saying: “When it comes to food insecurity, Greece has now fallen to the level of some African countries.” Talk about shame.

The Greek collapse is a direct consequence of the unbridled welfare state. The country was brought down by nationalized healthcare, exorbitant pensions, early retirements, a massive public sector, and all the other mathematical impossibilities that progressives mistake for virtue. To paraphrase Margaret Thatcher’s famous line, the Greeks ran out of other people’s money. The danger of the welfare state isn’t theoretical, and there’s a new generation of hungry Greek children to prove it.

Does that mean that those Americans who’ve been calling for the United States to follow the European social model don’t care about hungry children? No, they’re not monsters. Rather, they don’t see the connection between what they advocate and what’s unfolding—between what they think of as “welfare” and what’s actually its opposite. It would be unseemly and offensive, therefore, for leading conservatives to denounce big-spending liberals as shamefully indifferent to child suffering.   

Liberals, on the other hand, must shame their conservative opponents because emotion is nine-tenths of the liberal law, as post-Sandy Hook discussion shows. On the left, intentions dominate. Failed liberal policy could never be justified by a sober consideration of facts.

After the Boston terrorist attack progressives like Salon’s David Sirota “hoped” that the suspect would be a white American. Such musings put liberals on the high road of good intentions. No Islamists meant no “shameful” war against Islamists. But objective facts (outcome) shattered these hopes.

The Obama years are the years of hope and shame. That’s what’s left once you’ve hollowed out the space traditionally occupied by informed debate. Liberals, led by the president, merely hope that gun laws and background checks will stem gun violence. There’s no debating the merits. So when people disagree, it can only be attributed to shameful intentions, not thoughtful misgivings about effectiveness. Liberals hope that expanding the welfare state will do more good for more people. The facts of Europe don’t apply. So when conservatives disagree it’s because they’re shamefully indifferent to human suffering, not concerned about an unsustainable initiative. Obama hopes we’re no longer in a war on terror but engaged in a cleaner-sounding war on al-Qaeda. If you think a recent string of terrorism attempts in America demonstrates otherwise, shame on you. Without self-righteousness liberals have no case.

Read Less

Liberal Incivility and the Gun Debate

As I noted earlier, yesterday’s Senate votes on the Manchin-Toomey amendment as well as other provisions ended the chances that any gun control legislation will pass Congress this year. While Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and California Senator Dianne Feinstein have vowed to keep pushing for assault weapon bans and other proposals that have zero chance of passage, from this point forward the debate will be conducted solely with an eye toward public opinion and next year’s midterm election, not any specific legislation. That means that while some may dismiss yesterday’s bitter post-vote comments by President Obama and other gun control advocates as mere posturing, they are actually quite significant.

Obama, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords and other supporters of various new restrictions were not shy about lambasting the National Rifle Association during the last four months. The Newtown massacre gave the White House an excuse to resurrect gun control as a national issue, yet he was sufficiently interested in attracting the votes of wavering members of Congress that he tended to restrict his demagoguery to the stock villains of the National Rifle Association leadership. But yesterday’s defeat changed all that. The rejection of Manchin-Toomey has set off a wave of almost hysterical denunciations of gun rights advocates from Obama, Giffords and media figures like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski today that has lowered the discourse on the issue to a level that has rarely been seen before. After spending much of the last few years accusing right-wing Tea Party members of incivility that was at the heart of the dysfunction of our political system, liberals have now raised the stakes in this game to a point where dialogue is now impossible.

Read More

As I noted earlier, yesterday’s Senate votes on the Manchin-Toomey amendment as well as other provisions ended the chances that any gun control legislation will pass Congress this year. While Democrats like House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and California Senator Dianne Feinstein have vowed to keep pushing for assault weapon bans and other proposals that have zero chance of passage, from this point forward the debate will be conducted solely with an eye toward public opinion and next year’s midterm election, not any specific legislation. That means that while some may dismiss yesterday’s bitter post-vote comments by President Obama and other gun control advocates as mere posturing, they are actually quite significant.

Obama, former Representative Gabrielle Giffords and other supporters of various new restrictions were not shy about lambasting the National Rifle Association during the last four months. The Newtown massacre gave the White House an excuse to resurrect gun control as a national issue, yet he was sufficiently interested in attracting the votes of wavering members of Congress that he tended to restrict his demagoguery to the stock villains of the National Rifle Association leadership. But yesterday’s defeat changed all that. The rejection of Manchin-Toomey has set off a wave of almost hysterical denunciations of gun rights advocates from Obama, Giffords and media figures like MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski today that has lowered the discourse on the issue to a level that has rarely been seen before. After spending much of the last few years accusing right-wing Tea Party members of incivility that was at the heart of the dysfunction of our political system, liberals have now raised the stakes in this game to a point where dialogue is now impossible.

I think the Toomey-Manchin proposal was a reasonable compromise that Republicans should have embraced, if only because it could have put this issue to rest without compromising Second Amendment rights. But the refusal of many conservatives as well as some Democrats to accept this idea was not entirely the fault of NRA pressure tactics. The reason why so many that care about gun rights thought of Manchin-Toomey as the thin edge of the wedge of an effort to undermine the Second Amendment was because so many liberals made it clear that was their intention. While the NRA may have mischaracterized Manchin-Toomey, there was little doubt most liberal Democrats considered even an assault weapons ban as just the start of their efforts to make it harder to legally own weapons in this country.

One may consider this belief to be mistaken, but what has happened in the last 24 hours is that liberals have decided this issue is no longer one on which reasonable people can disagree. Today, Ms. Giffords published an op-ed in the New York Times in which she framed those who would not support gun legislation as not caring about keeping children safe. One of the Newtown victim family members went on MSNBC and said senators who didn’t vote as she liked didn’t care about those who died in the massacre. MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” hosts Scarborough and Brzezinski, who have used their popular show to campaign non-stop for gun legislation, similarly sought to stigmatize opponents and, as usual, offered no rationale offered for the failure of the bill other than the lack of character by the 46 Senators who opposed it.

There are two points that must be emphasized here.

One is that the language used by these people as well as the president who lashed out at his antagonists as liars and cowards wasn’t merely frustration; it was an effort to demonize opponents. Doing this pretty much puts an end to an effort to conduct dialogue on these issues or to convince people. Confident that they represent the majority, they are now solely intent on branding anyone who opposed these bills as not just wrong, but bad people.

Second is that by employing shooting victims in this manner, the president is actually minimizing their impact on the discussion. So long as the Newtown families or others associated with other such crimes remain above the fray, their status is akin to that of national heroes. But by injecting themselves into what is becoming a nasty partisan argument they have become just another set of talking heads. As Kevin Williamson said of Giffords on National Review’s website today, “being shot in the head by a lunatic does not give one any special grace to pronounce upon public-policy questions.”

That may sound insensitive, but it points out that while she and the Newtown relatives are entitled to a respectful hearing, their story does not give them the right to expect that everyone in the country must agree with their pronouncements on political issues. That is especially true since the great failure of the administration over these past few months was its inability to draw any specific link between any of the measures they proposed and the Newtown tragedy.

The 46 members of the Senate who opposed Manchin-Toomey will not, as Giffords wants, be put into Coventry and shunned by their constituents. Nor, as Scarborough suggested, will they all be defeated when they run for re-election. But the one thing we do know is that this sort of rhetoric has made it even less likely that the country can hold a civil debate on guns. For all of its mistakes, that is one unsettling development that can’t be blamed on the NRA.

Read Less

Obama’s Lear-Like Rage

In a Rose Garden statement in the aftermath of his failure to persuade the Senate to move on any of his gun control proposals, the president raged, Lear-like, against his opponents. It was a rather unpleasant mix–one part petulance and two parts anger.

In the course of his outburst, the president said this:

I’ve heard folks say that having the families of victims lobby for this legislation was somehow misplaced.  “A prop,” somebody called them.  “Emotional blackmail,” some outlet said.  Are they serious?  Do we really think that thousands of families whose lives have been shattered by gun violence don’t have a right to weigh in on this issue?  Do we think their emotions, their loss is not relevant to this debate? So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington. 

Read More

In a Rose Garden statement in the aftermath of his failure to persuade the Senate to move on any of his gun control proposals, the president raged, Lear-like, against his opponents. It was a rather unpleasant mix–one part petulance and two parts anger.

In the course of his outburst, the president said this:

I’ve heard folks say that having the families of victims lobby for this legislation was somehow misplaced.  “A prop,” somebody called them.  “Emotional blackmail,” some outlet said.  Are they serious?  Do we really think that thousands of families whose lives have been shattered by gun violence don’t have a right to weigh in on this issue?  Do we think their emotions, their loss is not relevant to this debate? So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington. 

The unidentified “outlet” who used the phrase “emotional blackmail” was Charles Krauthammer, who on Fox News’s Special Report with Bret Baier said this about the background checks:

The question is: Would it have had any effect on Newtown? If you’re going to make all of these emotional appeals – you’re saying you’re betraying the families — you’ve got to show how if this had been law it would’ve stopped Newtown. It would not have. It’s irrelevant. 
I wouldn’t have objected, I might’ve gone the way of McCain or Toomey on this, but it’s a kind of emotional blackmail as a way of saying, “You have to do it for the children.” Not if there’s no logic in this. And that I think is what’s wrong with the demagoguery that we heard out of the president on this issue.

Krauthammer is once again right and the president is once again wrong. (At some point the president and his White House will discover that it’s not in their interest to get into a debate with Krauthammer. White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer can explain why.)

What Mr. Obama has been attempting to do throughout this gun control debate is to build his case based on a false premise, which is that the laws he’s proposing would have stopped the mass killing in Newtown. The families of the Newtown massacre are being used by the president in an effort to frame the issue this way: If you’re with Obama, you’re on the side of saving innocent children from mass killings–and if you’re against Obama, you have the blood of the children of Newtown on your hands. But it actually does matter if what Obama is proposing would have made any difference when it came to the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. And the fact that it would not have is what makes Obama’s gambit so shameful and disturbing. (I say that as someone who is somewhat sympathetic to the expanded background checks.) 

Mr. Obama’s effort at emotional blackmail has failed, and in bitterly lashing out at those who called him out on his demagoguery, he went some distance toward confirming that he is, in fact, a demagogue. 

Three months into his second term, Mr. Obama is becoming an increasingly bitter and powerless figure. When a man who views himself as a world-historic figure and our Moral Superior commands things to happen and they don’t, it isn’t a pretty sight. See yesterday’s Rose Garden statement for more. 

Read Less

Will Grief and Rage on Guns Help Dems?

At the White House yesterday afternoon, President Obama did not seek to disguise his anger about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks for gun purchases. The stage-managed ceremony, in which the families of the victims of the Newtown massacre were paraded along with former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was intended to fuel a backlash against the 42 Republicans and four Democratic members of the U.S. Senate who voted against the measure. The 46 no votes that prevented the adoption of the amendment were portrayed as the product of cowardice and the malign influence of the National Rifle Association and its allies who had thwarted the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans that polls say support expanded background checks.

The president’s threats—amplified elsewhere in the liberal media—made it clear he thinks the American people would soon rise up and smite the recalcitrant opponents of gun control. The decision of gun rights advocates not to embrace an inoffensive measure like Manchin-Toomey, which would not infringe on the Second Amendment, will help keep this issue alive for the 2014 midterms. We can expect the president to continue trotting out the Newtown families at every opportunity. But now that the Senate has effectively ended any chance of new gun legislation, the question is whether this vote will actually give the president and his party the sort of leverage in the 2014 midterms that could not only change the result on guns but also give Democrats the control of Congress that Obama wants to complete his legacy. Though liberals, anticipating a campaign fueled by rage and grief and funded by billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, think it will and conservatives are assuming it will flop, the answer is a bit more complicated than either side assumes.

Read More

At the White House yesterday afternoon, President Obama did not seek to disguise his anger about the defeat of the Manchin-Toomey amendment on background checks for gun purchases. The stage-managed ceremony, in which the families of the victims of the Newtown massacre were paraded along with former Representative Gabrielle Giffords, was intended to fuel a backlash against the 42 Republicans and four Democratic members of the U.S. Senate who voted against the measure. The 46 no votes that prevented the adoption of the amendment were portrayed as the product of cowardice and the malign influence of the National Rifle Association and its allies who had thwarted the will of the overwhelming majority of Americans that polls say support expanded background checks.

The president’s threats—amplified elsewhere in the liberal media—made it clear he thinks the American people would soon rise up and smite the recalcitrant opponents of gun control. The decision of gun rights advocates not to embrace an inoffensive measure like Manchin-Toomey, which would not infringe on the Second Amendment, will help keep this issue alive for the 2014 midterms. We can expect the president to continue trotting out the Newtown families at every opportunity. But now that the Senate has effectively ended any chance of new gun legislation, the question is whether this vote will actually give the president and his party the sort of leverage in the 2014 midterms that could not only change the result on guns but also give Democrats the control of Congress that Obama wants to complete his legacy. Though liberals, anticipating a campaign fueled by rage and grief and funded by billionaire New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, think it will and conservatives are assuming it will flop, the answer is a bit more complicated than either side assumes.

For all the talk being heard today about the anger of the American people about their will being thwarted by the nefarious maneuverings of the NRA, the news landscape the day after the defeat of the gun bill illustrates the problem with assuming that one issue can dominate the public consciousness. As much as the president and his media cheerleaders would like to assume that a Newtown victims-fueled fury can transform American politics, less than 24 hours later the gun issue is competing with other stories that are more compelling, such as the Boston terror attack and the massive deaths and damage that resulted from the fertilizer factory explosion in Texas. As much as many Americans are still deeply moved by Newtown and most think Manchin-Toomey made sense, the lines on gun issues are still largely drawn on regional and ideological lines that have not budged much in the past few months.

As Josh Kraushaar points out in the National Journal today, the electoral math in 2014 favors gun rights advocates, not President Obama and his allies. With so many Senate Democrats up for re-election in red states where guns remain popular, it’s hard to see how liberals will be able to harness the emotions of Newtown to elect people who will change the numbers on such issues. The fact that the amendment to the bill proposed by Texas Senator John Cornyn about states respecting each other’s concealed carry permits won more bipartisan support than Manchin-Toomey–although it, too, failed–is telling.

Red state Democrats, including the four who opposed Manchin-Toomey, may face primary challenges from the left. But the prospects of those senators being replaced by pro-gun control liberals are virtually non-existent, no matter how much money Bloomberg pours into those races. Nor is it likely that Republicans in the south or west are spending too much time worrying about Democrats beating them by waving the bloody shirt of Newtown.

But Republicans should not be too sanguine about the political landscape next year. They have been underestimating Obama’s appeal for years and next year may be no exception. What the president may be able to do next year in a campaign that will in part be aided by gun-violence victims’ families is to help increase turnout among the Democratic base that might change races in some states and hurt the GOP’s chances of winning back the Senate while holding onto the House.

The right is right to point out that many of the arguments being used by the president on guns are specious. The idea that al-Qaeda terrorists will be enabled to buy guns without background checks is pure baloney. And the premise that the Newtown victim families have the standing to impose their views on guns on the country even if the measures they support would not have made a difference in stopping the murders at the Sandy Hook Elementary School is also unfair.

However, conservatives would do well to get used to seeing those families, as they will be a constant presence on the campaign trail in the next two years. Any assumption that they will not help the president make political hay with his orchestrated rage may prove premature.

Read Less

If Gun Bill Fails, Blame Liberals as Well as the NRA

It may be a little early to write it off completely, but today’s Politico feature on the gun legislation being considered by the Senate leaves readers with the distinct impression that the effort is doomed. With so many Republicans, including a majority of those who voted for cloture that allowed the bill to be considered, lining up to oppose the bipartisan compromise on background checks proposed by Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, its chances of passage are not good. Moreover, even if it somehow squeaks by in the Senate, it now appears that there is no sign that the GOP majority in the House of Representatives is inclined to approve anything, even a bill as moderate as Manchin-Toomey, that falls under the rubric of gun control.

If so, it won’t be long before the postmortems on the push for gun legislation begin in full force and, as the Politico piece indicated, it will be the National Rifle Association and its allies that will be considered the main culprits. The NRA will be happy to take full credit from the mainstream media for Manchin-Toomey’s failure since it reinforces their image as an all-powerful lobby that can intimidate both conservative Republicans and moderate red-state Democrats to back off even the most reasonable proposals. But the reason for their success in rallying opposition to the bill since the Newtown massacre gave a new impetus to this cause may not stem entirely from the group’s ability to convince legislators that opposing their dictates is a ticket to political oblivion. Liberals may believe they can make political hay from what they will brand as Republican obstructionism in next year’s midterm elections. But they should realize that it is their decision to overreach in their calls for weapon bans that has given the NRA all the ammunition it needed to convince many conservatives that the goal of this campaign truly is to undermine the Second Amendment rights that the president claims to have designs on.

Read More

It may be a little early to write it off completely, but today’s Politico feature on the gun legislation being considered by the Senate leaves readers with the distinct impression that the effort is doomed. With so many Republicans, including a majority of those who voted for cloture that allowed the bill to be considered, lining up to oppose the bipartisan compromise on background checks proposed by Senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, its chances of passage are not good. Moreover, even if it somehow squeaks by in the Senate, it now appears that there is no sign that the GOP majority in the House of Representatives is inclined to approve anything, even a bill as moderate as Manchin-Toomey, that falls under the rubric of gun control.

If so, it won’t be long before the postmortems on the push for gun legislation begin in full force and, as the Politico piece indicated, it will be the National Rifle Association and its allies that will be considered the main culprits. The NRA will be happy to take full credit from the mainstream media for Manchin-Toomey’s failure since it reinforces their image as an all-powerful lobby that can intimidate both conservative Republicans and moderate red-state Democrats to back off even the most reasonable proposals. But the reason for their success in rallying opposition to the bill since the Newtown massacre gave a new impetus to this cause may not stem entirely from the group’s ability to convince legislators that opposing their dictates is a ticket to political oblivion. Liberals may believe they can make political hay from what they will brand as Republican obstructionism in next year’s midterm elections. But they should realize that it is their decision to overreach in their calls for weapon bans that has given the NRA all the ammunition it needed to convince many conservatives that the goal of this campaign truly is to undermine the Second Amendment rights that the president claims to have designs on.

As I’ve noted before, the NRA’s dogged opposition to all gun legislation no matter how reasonable, including bills like Manchin-Toomey that in no way restrict gun rights, stems from a belief that any gun bill could serve as the thin edge of the wedge in a liberal campaign to ban guns and ultimately gut the Second Amendment. In this respect they operate in the same manner as NARAL and other pro-abortion groups that will similarly oppose even the most reasonable restrictions on that procedure, even those that smack of infanticide. But the only reason that either the NRA and NARAL are able to get away with this behavior is because they have a better grip on their opponents’ intentions than many in the media give them credit for.

Though President Obama and Vice President Biden swear up and down that they have no intent to interfere with the Second Amendment, the hostility of liberals to America’s gun culture is palpable. Indeed, the focus on “assault weapons”—which gun enthusiasts rightly understand to be a term that has more to do with a weapon’s look than its capabilities—and the lack of any real connection between such proposals with Newtown is a sign that the intent goes farther than stopping criminals or the mentally ill from buying weapons.

The sniping at Toomey-Manchin strikes me as a strategic mistake on the part of gun rights supporters since it would do nothing to impede possession of weapons, nor would it create the national database registry that some fear would be used to take away legal firearms from citizens. Its passage would also take all the air out of the issue for Democrats and effectively prevent them from spending the next year and half claiming the GOP stymied action on the matter.

But try telling most NRA members that senators like Connecticut’s Chris Murphy or Cailfornia’s Dianne Feinstein, or the cheerleaders in the liberal mainstream media, would stop at background checks and they’ll tell you to try and sell them a bridge in Brooklyn.

It may be that had the president not tried to go big with a gun bill, the NRA would have opposed him anyway and might have prevailed. But had the president concentrated his efforts on passing the one element of his package that really has universal support, the ability of the gun lobby to energize its supporters and scare moderate Democrats would have been considerably lessened. It can be argued that a loss on guns is actually preferable to Obama since it will allow him to go on waving the bloody shirt of Newtown until 2015 and beyond. But if his goal was actually to get things done, he and his supporters have undermined their own cause.

The NRA will treat the failure of Manchin-Toomey as yet another triumph in their long history of legislative success. But if they are honest, they should share the credit with the president and the liberals that have done so much to demonize them.

Read Less

The Newtown Families and Democracy

President Obama played his strongest card this weekend in the ongoing struggle over gun control legislation when he had one of the parents of the victims of the Newtown massacre deliver his weekly radio address. Francine Wheeler, the mother of one of the 1st-graders murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December delivered an impassioned plea for Americans to join in support of what she and the White House termed the president’s “common sense” proposals. The speech was both eloquent and deeply moving and, like the effects of some of the lobbying visits to members of the House and the Senate by the Newtown parents, obviously effective.

Suffice it to say that so long as the debate about guns is restricted to one between Ms. Wheeler and, say, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, gun rights advocates haven’t got much of a chance. There is no arguing with grief, especially when it is attached to rather amorphous rhetoric about the issue that simply implores Congress to “do something” about guns.

This is a fact that hasn’t escaped the attention of those who are seeking to oppose the president or even the bipartisan compromise proposal put forward by pro-gun senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, but there is no use complaining about it. The Newtown parents have a right to speak out on this issue and you can’t blame the media for giving them outsized coverage. But those who believe they can count on this factor cowing the NRA or even more moderate opponents of infringements on the Second Amendment into submission should not overestimate the impact that the pure emotion generated by the relatives of the victims will have in the long run. Such passion is powerful but it is not a substitute for reason. Nor can it be sustained indefinitely. That is why people like Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who is puffed in a column this weekend by the New York Times‘s Maureen Dowd saying his goal is to “disenfranchise the N.R.A.,” are not going to succeed.

Read More

President Obama played his strongest card this weekend in the ongoing struggle over gun control legislation when he had one of the parents of the victims of the Newtown massacre deliver his weekly radio address. Francine Wheeler, the mother of one of the 1st-graders murdered at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in December delivered an impassioned plea for Americans to join in support of what she and the White House termed the president’s “common sense” proposals. The speech was both eloquent and deeply moving and, like the effects of some of the lobbying visits to members of the House and the Senate by the Newtown parents, obviously effective.

Suffice it to say that so long as the debate about guns is restricted to one between Ms. Wheeler and, say, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association, gun rights advocates haven’t got much of a chance. There is no arguing with grief, especially when it is attached to rather amorphous rhetoric about the issue that simply implores Congress to “do something” about guns.

This is a fact that hasn’t escaped the attention of those who are seeking to oppose the president or even the bipartisan compromise proposal put forward by pro-gun senators Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey, but there is no use complaining about it. The Newtown parents have a right to speak out on this issue and you can’t blame the media for giving them outsized coverage. But those who believe they can count on this factor cowing the NRA or even more moderate opponents of infringements on the Second Amendment into submission should not overestimate the impact that the pure emotion generated by the relatives of the victims will have in the long run. Such passion is powerful but it is not a substitute for reason. Nor can it be sustained indefinitely. That is why people like Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who is puffed in a column this weekend by the New York Times‘s Maureen Dowd saying his goal is to “disenfranchise the N.R.A.,” are not going to succeed.

Sympathy is a powerful motivating factor in any political discussion and the value of the Newtown victims to the anti-gun forces is that it puts their arguments in a context that cannot be directly refuted. The families of the victims, like the survivors of any horrific event, are, by definition, above reproach and must be heard in respectful silence rather than be subjected to the usual and appropriate back and forth that is par for the course for those speaking on any contentious issue. The fact that they have generally couched their statements in a general manner rather than honing in on specifics and avoided lashing out in rage against groups that oppose gun control has only enhanced their appeal.

The piece by the Times‘s queen of snark will be seized on by opponents of the Manchin-Toomey compromise as one more proof that what is at stake here is not just provisions like background checks at gun shows that can truly be characterized as “common sense” measures but just the first step toward a push toward infringing if not effectively annulling the Second Amendment. Murphy, whom Dowd tells us does not even allow his young children to play with toy guns, is not helping liberals persuade Americans that their long-term goal is not widespread restrictions on legal gun ownership.

This illustrates the left’s problem on guns. It can only succeed in advancing their agenda on guns so long as the bloody shirt of Newtown is being waved. When the tears subside and we catch our collective breath, allowing us to look clearly at what the president has proposed, what more and more Americans are seeing is that proposals about so-called assault weapons and ammunition magazines would do little or nothing to lower the volume of gun violence, let alone avoid another Newtown.

The point about the exploitation of the families of the victims in the gun debate is not that there is anything wrong about their statements, even if they were to inject themselves in an even more direct manner in the controversy. Rather, it is that ours is a system of laws not individuals or sentiment. The checks and balances inherent in the system serve to slow down the pace of legislation, which is something that, as Dowd writes, frustrates the Newtown families. But the genius of our constitutional system is that it is designed specifically to mute the voice of the crowd, especially when it is driven by by emotion such as that which liberals and the Newtown families are seeking to harness.

Public opinion is variable, but the Constitution is strong enough to survive even against the assault of liberal ideologues even when sympathetic victims back them. American democracy gives a fair hearing to those who feel their own experiences in tragedies enables them to speak with authority on the issues. But such feelings, no matter how rooted in tragedy or how much pity they compel across the board from their fellow citizens, cannot transform a weak argument about the law into a strong one. 

Read Less

Pat Toomey and the Zero Sum Gun Game

The Washington Post has an interesting background piece detailing the process by which a hard-core conservative Republican like Pennsylvania’s Senator Pat Toomey became a co-sponsor of a gun legislation compromise. According to the Post, the keys to Toomey’s decision were the relationship he developed with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and the input of a new lobbying group backed by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Toomey appears to have done an intense study of the issues surrounding the push for gun control after the Newtown massacre with the intent of finding a legislative idea that could be seen as a response to the incident that would also protect the rights of gun owners and the Second Amendment. The result was the proposed amendment to the gun bill being proposed by Democrats that will expand background checks for purchases while also limiting the ability of the government to interfere in legitimate exchanges and sales, as well as providing other provisions that would benefit gun owners.

But that hasn’t protected Toomey from a storm of abuse from pro-gun groups as well as some Republicans who have come to see the tussle over guns as one more zero-sum game between the two parties in which the only possible outcome is that one side wins and the other loses. Seen from that perspective, any compromise on guns, no matter how anodyne in nature or insignificant in terms of its impact on Second Amendment rights, must be resisted not just because it might be the first step on a slippery slope toward abolition of gun rights but because it could be considered a victory for President Obama.

I sympathize with those who see the liberal exploitation of Newtown as unscrupulous and agree with their conclusion that none of the possible legislative options on guns—up to and including the ones that Toomey opposes, which seek to ban certain types of rifles or ammunition magazines—will do much to prevent another such atrocity. But the willingness of some partisans to treat even ideas about background checks that polls show have the support of approximately nine of out of 10 Americans as something that must be rejected simply because the president and his liberal backers want it is neither good policy nor good politics.

Read More

The Washington Post has an interesting background piece detailing the process by which a hard-core conservative Republican like Pennsylvania’s Senator Pat Toomey became a co-sponsor of a gun legislation compromise. According to the Post, the keys to Toomey’s decision were the relationship he developed with West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and the input of a new lobbying group backed by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Toomey appears to have done an intense study of the issues surrounding the push for gun control after the Newtown massacre with the intent of finding a legislative idea that could be seen as a response to the incident that would also protect the rights of gun owners and the Second Amendment. The result was the proposed amendment to the gun bill being proposed by Democrats that will expand background checks for purchases while also limiting the ability of the government to interfere in legitimate exchanges and sales, as well as providing other provisions that would benefit gun owners.

But that hasn’t protected Toomey from a storm of abuse from pro-gun groups as well as some Republicans who have come to see the tussle over guns as one more zero-sum game between the two parties in which the only possible outcome is that one side wins and the other loses. Seen from that perspective, any compromise on guns, no matter how anodyne in nature or insignificant in terms of its impact on Second Amendment rights, must be resisted not just because it might be the first step on a slippery slope toward abolition of gun rights but because it could be considered a victory for President Obama.

I sympathize with those who see the liberal exploitation of Newtown as unscrupulous and agree with their conclusion that none of the possible legislative options on guns—up to and including the ones that Toomey opposes, which seek to ban certain types of rifles or ammunition magazines—will do much to prevent another such atrocity. But the willingness of some partisans to treat even ideas about background checks that polls show have the support of approximately nine of out of 10 Americans as something that must be rejected simply because the president and his liberal backers want it is neither good policy nor good politics.

It may well be that the entire discussion about guns in the wake of Newtown can be put down as merely another attempt by politicians to look as if they are doing something about problems that are basically beyond their capacity to address. Events such as Newtown are more the product of mental illness and inadequate security than our gun laws. But there is no denying that after such events the public wants politicians to act as if they are concerned. That usually leads to legislative mischief, and many of the Democratic proposals pushed by the president and Vice President Biden fall into that category as well as not doing much, if anything, to reduce gun violence.

Yet even if we concede that much, the only way one could categorize the Manchin-Toomey proposal as an attack on the Second Amendment is by putting it in a context in which any legislation must be stopped simply because the president and liberals want to pass something. While one can understand the partisan impulse behind such thinking, acting on it isn’t a theory of responsible government. Legislators are justified in trying to stop proposals that undermine liberties even if they are popular. But what Toomey is proposing is merely an attempt to provide a rational response to a national furor that is both constitutional and consistent with the principle of limited government.

It may well be that if Manchin-Toomey is passed—something that is by no means certain even in the Senate, let alone the House of Representatives—that liberals will seek in the future to ban more weapons and ammunition and chip away at the Second Amendment in ways that those who back this proposal will oppose. But the idea that all legislation about guns must be opposed in the same dogged manner that pro-abortion groups fight parental consent or bans on infanticide-like partial birth procedures simply because they fear it will lead to a complete ban on abortion is neither rational nor a path to gaining more support.

When Toomey says he doesn’t think requiring a background check to prevent criminals or the mentally ill from obtaining legal weapons is gun control, he’s right. It’s not. If pro-gun groups can live with existing background checks on purchases in stores, then there’s no reason why they should see similar procedures at gun shows or on the Internet as a threat to their rights. Nor should they be under the impression that opposing such relatively inoffensive measures will expand the ranks of Second Amendment supporters.

Toomey’s conduct in this matter has been consistent with his scrupulous approach to attempts to expand government power. Whether or not his compromise becomes law, Toomey hasn’t done himself any political harm or undermined support for gun rights. But those who think gun rights can be best defended by seeking to spike Toomey-Manchin may discover that stands that are not reasonable and so distant from mainstream opinion aren’t going to help their cause. 

Read Less

Toomey and the Tone Deaf Gun Lobby

Yesterday, Larry Pratt, the head of Gun Owners of America, told CNN that his group would be looking to find a Republican to challenge Senator Pat Toomey in 2016. The group, which is to the right of the National Rifle Association, spoke for some on the right who are angry about Toomey’s decision to join with Democrat Joe Manchin to create a compromise on background checks for gun purchases that would close the gun show loophole while exempting sales or exchanges between family members. The proposed amendment to the legislation that Senate Democrats have presented for debate falls far short of the gun control ideas presented by the administration. But it still goes too far for absolutists who are so afraid of a slippery slope toward abrogation of Second Amendment rights that they are prepared to oppose any bill that so much as mentions guns, even if it doesn’t limit the right to own for those who are neither criminals nor mentally ill.

Toomey is taking plenty of flak for crafting the compromise. The grousing on the far right will only be fed by a Politico story that paints his decision to work with Manchin to moderate the bill up before the Senate as a prudent political decision based on a need to shift a bit to the center for his 2016 re-election race. But any assumption that Toomey’s shift on background checks will endanger his hold on his party’s nomination three years from now is ridiculous. The notion that support for background checks will be enough to fuel a primary challenge to Toomey ignores the fact that it is virtually impossible to get to Toomey’s right on fiscal or social issues as well as his history as the standard-bearer of conservatives against a genuine RINO, the late Arlen Specter.

Rather than an indication that Republicans ought to fear any deviation from the line set by the NRA and its allies, the knee-jerk reaction to Toomey’s move on background checks only reinforces the impression that the gun lobbies really are hopelessly out of touch not only with the general public but with Republicans. As with much of the pro-gun movement’s moves since the Newtown massacre, the attacks on Toomey show a tone deafness that will encourage liberals who think the NRA and company are on the decline.

Read More

Yesterday, Larry Pratt, the head of Gun Owners of America, told CNN that his group would be looking to find a Republican to challenge Senator Pat Toomey in 2016. The group, which is to the right of the National Rifle Association, spoke for some on the right who are angry about Toomey’s decision to join with Democrat Joe Manchin to create a compromise on background checks for gun purchases that would close the gun show loophole while exempting sales or exchanges between family members. The proposed amendment to the legislation that Senate Democrats have presented for debate falls far short of the gun control ideas presented by the administration. But it still goes too far for absolutists who are so afraid of a slippery slope toward abrogation of Second Amendment rights that they are prepared to oppose any bill that so much as mentions guns, even if it doesn’t limit the right to own for those who are neither criminals nor mentally ill.

Toomey is taking plenty of flak for crafting the compromise. The grousing on the far right will only be fed by a Politico story that paints his decision to work with Manchin to moderate the bill up before the Senate as a prudent political decision based on a need to shift a bit to the center for his 2016 re-election race. But any assumption that Toomey’s shift on background checks will endanger his hold on his party’s nomination three years from now is ridiculous. The notion that support for background checks will be enough to fuel a primary challenge to Toomey ignores the fact that it is virtually impossible to get to Toomey’s right on fiscal or social issues as well as his history as the standard-bearer of conservatives against a genuine RINO, the late Arlen Specter.

Rather than an indication that Republicans ought to fear any deviation from the line set by the NRA and its allies, the knee-jerk reaction to Toomey’s move on background checks only reinforces the impression that the gun lobbies really are hopelessly out of touch not only with the general public but with Republicans. As with much of the pro-gun movement’s moves since the Newtown massacre, the attacks on Toomey show a tone deafness that will encourage liberals who think the NRA and company are on the decline.

Opponents of background checks take the position that even bills as anodyne as that proposed by Manchin and Toomey are just the first step toward an eventual push to ban guns. That may be what liberals hope will happen, but the reality of the gun debate is that this compromise is as much as they are getting either now or in the near future.

Rather than being co-opted by a left that is using him as a stalking horse for their desire to gut the Second Amendment, what Toomey has done is to co-opt them. By passing a background check bill, Republicans could defuse an issue that President Obama and the Democrats hope to use against them in 2014 without endangering gun rights.

Moreover, since the only people who will be prevented from obtaining weapons as a result of this law would be criminals and the mentally ill, its hard to argue with Toomey’s assertion that this isn’t really a gun control measure in any meaningful sense of the term.

But by opposing Toomey rather than understanding that this idea is the key to spiking a debate that is trending against them, the NRA and gun rights advocates have become the carbon copy of NARAL and other pro-abortion groups. Just as the NRA will fight even the most reasonable gun proposals, NARAL and their friends are willing to fight to the death to prevent even common sense restrictions on abortion, up to and including infanticide.

I understand that Second Amendment supporters fear that this is the thin edge of the wedge that liberals hope to parlay into future proposals about banning types of weapons or ammunition. But they fail to see that by passing a bill that will not meaningfully restrict gun ownership they can prevent Obama and Biden’s desire for bans from being implemented while also preventing Democrats from claiming they prevented legislation that represents a national consensus on the issue from becoming law.

Toomey won’t have an easy time of it in 2016, when he will be hard-pressed to duplicate his narrow 51-49 percent victory over liberal Democrat Joe Sestak in blue Pennsylvania. But his decision to deviate from the NRA line won’t be an obstacle to his re-nomination or his return to the Senate. More to the point, he is pointing the way for congressional Republicans—many of who don’t have Toomey’s conservative credentials—to find a way out of the trap liberals are setting for them on guns.

Read Less

Will Liberals Torpedo the Background Check Compromise?

Has common sense prevailed on gun legislation in Washington? That’s one way to look at the compromise proposal on background checks on gun purchases that is being announced today by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey. The pair, a moderate conservative Democrat and a hard-line fiscal and social conservative Republican, bridge the gap between the two parties and have probably arrived at the only gun measure that has a prayer of passage. Whatever else it will achieve, the plan will almost certainly end any hope of a filibuster of gun legislation in the Senate that had been threatened by Marco Rubio and a dozen other members of the GOP.

The announcement will leave us with three questions.

The first is whether Manchin and Toomey have come up with an amendment to the gun bill that is reasonable. The second is whether it will pass the House of Representatives. But the third, and more interesting, point is whether this is the end or the beginning of a long campaign of efforts by gun control advocates to restrict Second Amendment rights. It is on the answer to that question that reaction from conservatives will hinge. If, rather than seeing this an effort to conclude a divisive debate with something most people can live with, the House Republican caucus believes the expansion of background checks is the thin edge of the wedge in a long-term liberal plan to ban guns, Manchin and Toomey will have achieved nothing.

Read More

Has common sense prevailed on gun legislation in Washington? That’s one way to look at the compromise proposal on background checks on gun purchases that is being announced today by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey. The pair, a moderate conservative Democrat and a hard-line fiscal and social conservative Republican, bridge the gap between the two parties and have probably arrived at the only gun measure that has a prayer of passage. Whatever else it will achieve, the plan will almost certainly end any hope of a filibuster of gun legislation in the Senate that had been threatened by Marco Rubio and a dozen other members of the GOP.

The announcement will leave us with three questions.

The first is whether Manchin and Toomey have come up with an amendment to the gun bill that is reasonable. The second is whether it will pass the House of Representatives. But the third, and more interesting, point is whether this is the end or the beginning of a long campaign of efforts by gun control advocates to restrict Second Amendment rights. It is on the answer to that question that reaction from conservatives will hinge. If, rather than seeing this an effort to conclude a divisive debate with something most people can live with, the House Republican caucus believes the expansion of background checks is the thin edge of the wedge in a long-term liberal plan to ban guns, Manchin and Toomey will have achieved nothing.

As to the nature of the Manchin-Toomey proposal, their agreement to expand background checks to gun shows is bound to strike everyone but the leadership of the National Rifle Association as fairly reasonable. It’s not just that polls show overwhelming support for the idea. If you think existing background checks on the purchasers of firearms in gun stores are a sensible precaution, then having them cover sales at gun shows is only logical. As long as this exempts sales or exchanges of guns between family members, it’s hard to argue that such a measure would be too burdensome or be an infringement of Second Amendment rights.

Can such a measure pass Congress? That’s far from clear. Assuming that the liberals who run the Senate have the sense to embrace the Manchin-Toomey amendment, it should get through the upper body. Having a solid conservative like Toomey be the sponsor will help persuade some in the House GOP caucus to put aside their fears about any gun bill. If even a sizeable minority of House Republicans embrace it, that should be enough to allow its passage with solid Democratic support.

But that will hinge on the answer to the third question.

Some on the right are echoing the NRA in opposing any bill that will mean more record keeping about gun ownership, even if it is aimed at preventing criminals and the mentally ill from obtaining weapons. They do so not because they want such persons to get guns, but because they think any registry of weapons or gun ownership is the first step toward a government ban of all weapons–notwithstanding the incessant disclaimers from President Obama and other liberals about their support for the Second Amendment and their promises about not taking away anyone’s guns.

Those fears may sometimes be expressed in a manner that sounds unreasonable, but anyone who has been listening to liberals talk about guns for the last few decades understands that banning guns is exactly what many if not most of them really would like to do if they could. The fact that almost all of the gun proposals put forward by the administration in the wake of the Newtown massacre would have done nothing to prevent that tragedy only feeds the suspicion that it has been exploited to advance a left-wing agenda that will trash gun rights.

The Manchin-Toomey compromise is good politics for both parties, in that it will allow President Obama to tell his base that he achieved something on guns while giving Republicans the opportunity to pass a bill that could take a liberal talking point out of circulation without actually infringing on the Second Amendment. But if liberals trumpet background checks as the beginning of a new struggle to ban guns rather than an end in itself, it will be extremely difficult to persuade more House Republicans to support it. It remains to be seen whether the left will allow Manchin and Toomey to allay the fears of the right or will instead torpedo it in order to keep waving the bloody shirt of Newtown in 2014.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.