Using tragedy to push gun control
The post-Aurora willingness of The New York Times, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and liberal politicians to exploit a tragedy to advance their policy agendas was predictable, but shameful.
The initial New York Times story on the tragedy was headlined “Gunman kills 12 in Colorado, reviving gun debate.” The most important aspect of what happened was apparently not the body count, but the opportunity the shooting would give The Times and others within the liberal community to once again raise the “need” for more gun control.
ABC’s Brian Ross jumped in early to finger The Tea Party. Upon learning the police had arrested a James Holmes, Ross or one of his assistants searched Tea Party internet sites for a James Holmes and actually found someone with that name on a Colorado site. No further checking seemed necessary. Ross went on air to breathlessly report that the James Ross who shot up the Aurora, Colorado theater was “a tea partier.”
We all know now that Ross had the wrong man. The Holmes Ross accused was a fifty-something Tea Party activist, not the twenty-four-year-old arrested outside the Aurora theater dressed as the Joker.
Why upon hearing of the shooting did Ross immediately start searching Tea Party sites for the perpetrator? The answer is simple enough:
Where else would a member of the media elite who actually believes in his bones that the Tea Party is racist, evil and dangerous look?
Ross looked to blame the Tea Party for the same reason liberals tried to blame the Tea Party or “right wing extremists” for the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabriel Gifford last year or the assassination of President Kennedy nearly sixty years ago.
In each case, liberals almost reflexively point the finger at those who don’t share their political or ideological predispositions — without any evidence — and in each case they have been wrong. Likewise in each case they demand policy “solutions” that fit their predilections.
The same thing happened in Florida following the death of Travon Martin. Liberals were absolutely convinced with no evidence whatever that Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law enabled, allowed or even encouraged George Zimmerman to stalk and fatally shoot Martin. A New York Times reporter who had to have known better denounced the NRA for supporting laws that make it “legal to shoot someone you sort of suspect may intend to hurt you,” and hoped that the Martin shooting would lead to the rapid repeal of such laws across the country.
As the facts came out it became increasingly clear that none of these commentators had any idea of what actually happened, but that whoever’s version of the incident one accepted, Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law simply wasn’t involved. Once it became clear that the case couldn’t be used as a pretext for new restrictive gun control laws or a reason to repeal Florida’s law, the case vanished from the front pages and liberals began looking for a new tragedy to exploit.
The same thing happened in the wake of the Aurora tragedy. When the mainstream media and liberal politicians couldn’t connect the shooter to The Tea Party, they turned their sights to the National Rifle Association and Colorado’s “lax” gun laws that allowed a possibly deranged James Holmes to purchase firearms and ammunition. New York’s Mayor Bloomberg was predictably outraged and suggested that police in Colorado and elsewhere go on strike until more restrictive gun laws are adopted. New Jersey’s Senator Frank Lautenberg re-introduced his bill banning the sale of magazines that hold more than ten cartridges; California Senator Diane Feinstein urged the reinstitution of the Clinton era “assault weapons” ban; and others insisted that it was time to close the so-called “Gun Show Loophole” or demanded rules that would ban anyone who has ever sought psychological or psychiatric counseling from buying firearms.
The fact that James Holmes didn’t buy his guns at a gun show or from a private party was ignored. Holmes bought his guns from Gander Mountain and Bass Pro Shops, sporting good and firearms retailers with first-rate reputations. He passed the required federal background check at each store because there was nothing on his record to disqualify him. He was not a felon; the only run-in he’d ever had with police was for a minor traffic violation. He had never been adjudicated mentally incompetent nor had any negatives on record.
Holmes bought his ammunition over the internet leading some to argue that if he had had to look a live human being in the eye to purchase his ammunition, the sale might not have been made because whoever he was buying it from might have seen how troubled he was and refused to sell him what he wanted. When Holmes bought his firearms in person, however, his appearance didn’t send any warning signals to the clerks who waited on him and most of his neighbors, university colleagues and friends were shocked to learn he was the shooter. Mail order sales of ammunition was legalized in the eighties after government officials testified that the ban on such sales that had been in place since the late sixties served no law enforcement purpose and had no impact one way or the other on the violent crime rate.
The President and many others seem to believe that bringing back the Clinton assault weapons ban would have prevented what happened in Colorado. It is true that the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle Holmes carried that night would not have been available to him, but that doesn’t prove the crime could have been avoided. Senator Feinstein calls the AR-15 a “weapon of war” which, like other semi-automatic “assault” rifles is “only used to kill people in close combat.” The assertion is absurd. The AR-15 is the best-selling long gun in the country today providing a sophisticated platform to competitive shooters and sportsmen. It is not the fully automatic weapon its critics consciously try to mislead the uninformed to believe, but mechanically identical to other semi-automatic rifles and shotguns used by millions of Americans.
Holmes didn’t have to buy an AR-15. He could easily have purchased any one of a dozen rifles cosmetically different but functionally identical to the gun he actually used. Given his mania no one believes that he wouldn’t have done just that. The original Clinton ban was allowed to expire in large measure because it had absolutely no impact on crime rates and merely prevented Americans from buying firearms that some in Congress thought ugly.
It is sometimes difficult to separate evil from madness, but many feel that if we had some way to identify troubled individuals and keep them from getting their hands on guns, explosives and the like before they are formally adjudicated as incompetent, we could prevent tragedies like Aurora. That is conceptually true, but targeting people who haven’t done anything wrong or who simply exhibit characteristics that could conceivably make them a risk to themselves or society at some future date is fraught with danger.
During the Clinton Administration there was an attempt by simple fiat to deny veterans their Second Amendment rights for life if they had sought counseling for Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome or other psychological problems. Congress balked and the attempt failed. The NRA and most Second Amendment supporters believe that a citizen’s right to own a gun should not and cannot be legally cancelled by bureaucratic fiat. At the same time, the NRA has urged that in cases where there has been an actual adjudication of mental incompetence or of a condition that could make an individual a danger to others and therefore ineligible to buy a firearm, that information should be part of the background check that all who purchase firearms from gun dealers must pass.
In the wake of the Aurora shooting, many have urged that there must be ways to actually identify potential mass murderers before they act. Seeing into the future would be nice, but looking back after the fact and suggesting that the actions of someone like James Holmes should have signaled to those around him that he was going to start killing people at a theater isn’t very helpful. President Obama has suggested that he will support tightening up the background checks required to purchase firearms to screen for such people, but what exactly does that mean?
It is easy to go too far. A Wall Street Journal writer observed after the Aurora incident that the government has the power to screen virtually all communications and transactions nationwide and to produce algorithms that identify people who fit the profile of one who might be a danger, and then deny such people access to firearms. Whether that is even possible or constitutional is questionable, but citizens should be leery of such profiling regardless.
The sort of profile the Department of Homeland Security and liberal politicians might suggest is frightening. DHS spent $12 million to get an outfit called “The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism” to produce a report titled “Hot Spots of Terrorism and Other Crimes in the United States.” The report includes warning signs based on an analysis of past events that might be useful in helping law enforcement officials identify individuals and groups that could pose a danger to society. Anyone who takes the report seriously would be suspicious of people who believe “their way of life is under attack,” those who exhibit “fiercely nationalistic” attitudes, are “anti-global,” “reverent of individual liberty,” or “suspicious of centralized federal authority.”
The FBI asserts that anyone who purchases food in bulk or is fond of paying for things like coffee with cash might be worthy of greater scrutiny. Other government agencies suggest that libertarians, Ron Paul supporters, people who buy gold or fly the US flag are suspicious. Add to this people who own or buy guns, hunting licenses or ammunition; people who belong to gun clubs or subscribe to firearms magazines and you’ve got a profile that might well include a maniac or two along with tens of millions of perfectly innocent citizens … but very few liberals.
Liberals like to claim that it is impossible to have a serious conversation in this country about the gun control measures they seek because the National Rifle Association has made politicians afraid to raise the issue. Nothing could be further from the truth. The debate over guns, gun control and the meaning of the Second Amendment has raged in this country for decades with liberals blaming guns rather than the criminals who misuse them for violent crime. The public has listened to and rejected this reasoning and something of a consensus has emerged. The problem for liberals is that it isn’t a consensus they like.
The impression liberals like to project is that most Americans really agree with them, but that a small band of extremists represented by the NRA have been able to stifle debate and cow politicians into ignoring the wishes of the majority. Nothing could be further from the truth. The NRA’s four million members are but a small portion of the gun owners we represent and who look to us to represent their interests. Polls have shown that as many as twenty million Americans see themselves as part of the NRA and that thirty million look to the NRA for leadership and guidance on issues affecting their Second Amendment rights.
A recent national poll asked respondents whether they live in a “gun owning household” or a “non-gun owning household.” A majority of all households in this country headed by men or women over thirty years of age are gun-owning households and the poll demonstrated that these people care about the issues that motivate NRA members. They are Republicans, Independents and Democrats, small business owners, farmers, housewives and single mothers. Gun owners represent a strong cross section of America and they both care about the 2nd Amendment and vote.
Politicians who take gun owners’ feelings and concerns into consideration are doing their job by actually representing the men and women who elect them. Liberals may not like it, but that is the way a representative democracy such as ours is supposed to operate.
In the sixties and seventies, liberals seemed to be winning public support for the assertion that registering or actually banning firearms ownership would reduce violent crime. Over time logic and empirical evidence persuaded Americans that disarming law abiding citizens and thus denying them their Second Amendment rights wouldn’t keep guns out of the hands of criminals and would lead to more rather than less violent crime.
Facts can be ignored by true believers, but make a difference to those who decide what works and what doesn’t. Millions more Americans own firearms today than in the sixties and seventies when these arguments were being made and yet violent crime has decreased rather than increased. What’s worse for the Michael Bloombergs of the world is the undeniable fact that many of the jurisdictions with the highest violent crime rates have the stiffest anti-firearms laws in the nation. None of this has been lost on the public.
When state after state adopted laws allowing concealed carry, liberal politicians predicted gun fights at the scenes of traffic accidents and in bars or anywhere else where men and women disagree and tempers rise. It hasn’t happened. In every jurisdiction that has adopted concealed carry violent crime has fallen rather than risen and the most dangerous thing to be found in the nations bars and taverns remains what is poured by the bartender.
The media and firearms critics highlight examples of violence involving firearms, but ignore studies that show that somewhere between 850,000 and two million times a year a robbery, assault or rape is thwarted because an intended victim or someone who sees what’s about to happen has access to a firearm.
As a result, more Americans today support firearms freedom than at any time in recent history. Americans are not in favor of an assault weapons ban, they aren’t afraid of gun shows attended by millions of their fellow citizens every year, and they flatly reject the idea that we would be better off in a country in which only predators and criminals are armed.
Colorado’s Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper got it right when he told ABC’s “This Week” shortly after the Aurora tragedy that focusing on guns won’t solve the problem. “Even if you didn’t have access to guns, this guy was diabolical. He would have found explosives. He would have found something else … He would have done something to create this horror.”
The editors of The New York Times and other liberals would use the Aurora tragedy to reopen a debate they lost the first time around to see if they could win if given another chance. The very real tragedy was compounded when very little ink was left to honor the lives lost. These editors are a little like the kid who loses a coin toss, turns to the winner and asks “Two out of three?”