As he has in the past when tragedy struck, President Obama didn’t wait to hear the facts about the horrific shooting at an Oregon community college before launching into a tirade aimed at advocates of gun rights. The president strode into the White House briefing room to make the following statement: “I’d ask the American people to think about how they can get our government to change these laws, and to save these lives and let these people grow up.” He also said his critics would accuse him of wanting to “politicize” the issue but followed that by claiming that this was something “we should politicize.” Of course, the president had no idea whether the 26-year-old man who committed this massacre had obtained his weapons in a manner that might have been prevented by a change in the laws. Indeed, in previous instances where he made such a call after a shooting, it turned out that the stricter restrictions on gun sales he advocates wouldn’t have stopped the slaughter. Faced with another shocking crime, his priority was, regardless of the facts, to establish a scapegoat for the Oregon shooting in the form of the National Rifle Association and its supporters.
But even as the nation began to mourn the ten persons who had been slain, we did know that the shooter was singling out Christians at Umpqua Community College for murder. So perhaps instead of recycling the same tired rhetoric about guns, we could be talking about the way many Christians have been demonized in the media for their beliefs. Surely had the shooter singled out some other group more favored by pop culture or liberal sensibilities this might have been the lead and even the focus of a presidential statement. But instead, Obama and his cheering section in the liberal media immediately sought to use the incident to ride their favorite gun control hobbyhorse. In the absence of proof to the contrary, we also already know that it’s unlikely that a person bent on mass murder would or could be deterred or even stopped by new gun laws.
Let’s concede that the question of mass shootings is something that ought to trouble all Americans. Such massacres do appear to be more statistically likely to happen in the United States than other nations. Moreover, the availability of legal guns makes it easier for such slaughter to occur. But as much as we share the president’s frustration about these horrors, it is still incumbent on him to connect the dots between these crimes and his proposed solutions that he trots out in knee-jerk fashion any chance he gets. Yet that is something that he does not even try to do, relying instead on the notion that if a gun was involved, the fault must be the existing gun laws rather than the insanity, criminality, or prejudice of the criminal.
But as I noted last month after the shooting of two journalists in Virginia set off similar complaints about guns, most of the arguments on the subject are thoroughly disingenuous. The divide here is as much cultural as it is political since support for gun rights is as much a function of lifestyles as it is ideology. But here is a possible way to make gun violence more likely and that would be to “change the laws” to ban the legal ownership of guns. Which is to say the law they need to change is the Second Amendment to the Constitution that guarantees citizens the right to bear arms. Other nations severely restrict gun ownership but the United States is different. This is a source of great frustration to liberals but their leaders, like President Obama, refuse to say that’s what they want and, instead, insist they want to protect law-abiding gun owners. But since criminals don’t obey the laws, the only people who are inconvenienced or, as is the case in states and cities with onerous restrictions on gun ownership, prevented from legally possessing a gun, are honest citizens. Nor are the insane without a record of previous violence likely to be stopped by new regulations. Those, like the president, who don’t hesitate from asserting that changed laws would stop gun violence, ought to be more honest about their intentions. And if they are not prepared to come out and call for a change in the Constitution, they should stop pretending that marginal rule changes about gun sales would do a thing to prevent these incidents.
Yet one must also wonder why the singling out of Christians by the shooter isn’t getting more notice. In the past when possible political motives were seen as possibly inciting such crimes — such as the attack on Representative Gabrielle Giffords — we heard a great deal about how political incivility might have incited the crime. I doubt that anyone will be blaming what happened in Oregon on the piling on of religious Christians by our popular culture and others who are shocked that some Americans opposed gay marriage. Nor should we engage in that kind of scapegoating. But that should remind us that the knee-jerk attacks on the NRA are about politics, not a genuine concern for the victims or a logical argument about preventing further such incidents.
Whatever one’s opinions about the Second Amendment or the availability of legal firearms, Thursday afternoon should have been a time for sober reflection and mourning, not more political grandstanding at the White House.