If patriotism is, as Samuel Johnson claimed, the last refuge of a scoundrel, then children are the first. Before laying out his proposals for expanding limits on gun ownership, Obama surrounded himself with Sandy Hook Elementary children, even reading from letters written by them, letters which curiously pleaded for gun control measures sounding quite similar to those proposed by gun control advocates. (The similarities must be coincidental; surely no adults coached the kids in what the letters should say; surely everything written arose sua sponte from their pure, unfiltered hearts.)
With the possible exception of fawning over the sacrifices of the “troops”, there is no more potent a political ploy than to wrap a cause around doing something for “the children”. Obama did so literally today, surrounding himself on the podium with some of the students who had written letters, and some of the parents of children who were killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre. Obama’s not letting the crisis go to waste, though there is no crisis, and nothing of what he proposed would have mattered one lick in preventing the tragedy at Sandy Hook.
Registering guns; closing loopholes that allowed unlicensed dealers to sell guns without a background check; limiting the size of magazines; funding studies of gun violence, etc.–none of it will prevent another Sandy Hook. It is the essence of form over substance. Just as I observed in the previous post, Sandy Hook is a hard case so any law arising from it will be bad. And what has thus far been proposed is mealy-mouthed nothingness; it is kowtowing to the anti-gun lobby, pretentiously pretending that throwing a bit more bureaucracy at a matter not directly implicated in the shootings will keep the children safe. Only the limitation on magazine size might have somewhat quelled the killer’s wrath–at the proposed limit of ten rounds per magazine, he would likely have needed to stop killing to change magazines more frequently than he did, which might have provided him a moment to pause and reflect, which might have compelled him to cease his murderous rampage. If you believe in Santa Claus.
A delicious irony was dished up by Jay Carney, Obama’s Chief of Staff, who protested on the President’s behalf against an NRA advertisement which pointed out that the President’s children are protected by Secret Service Agents carrying guns. Carney said, “Most Americans agree that a president’s children should not be used as pawns in a political fight” as President Obama was literally using other people’s kids as pawns, surrounding himself with them (except that they were kids of a non-presidential lineage), when announcing his gun control proposals.
Here’s the thing: Nobody needs to own a military-style assault rifle. Nobody needs a thirty round clip. If people actually needed these type things to protect themselves, no government program to ban them would be effective, as the government would have by then effectively lost its monopoly on the use of force, a condition precedent to it having any shred of legitimacy. It is often lost in the hyperbole on protecting Second Amendment rights that at the time of its passage, there would have been no way for the United States to have done anything other than allow its citizenry the right to keep and bear arms. In a mostly rural country rapidly expanding westward into wilderness at the time, it could not have prevented them carrying along their muskets had it tried.
Things are different now. The percentage of the population living in urban environments is roughly now what the percent living in rural environments was at the time of the passage of the Second Amendment. Guns are generally more useful and less dangerous in a rural environment than in urban environs. Urbanites overwhelmingly seek strict regulations governing gun ownership and usage; the suburbs and rural areas, not so much. Maybe the gun control debate reveals a bit of why the country has become borderline ungovernable. With such a disparate and varied set of geography, and the variety of lifestyles promulgated thereby, perhaps the possibility of finding common ground on every little matter touching the heart is nigh well impossible.
The gun control debate echoes the conflict that ripped the Union asunder a hundred and fifty years ago. The North was far more urban and industrialized at the time than was the South. The North could better see and understand the benefits that might accrue when a bit of freedom at the local level was bargained for a bit more powerful and more uniform bureaucracy at the center. The South held tight to its guns and religion and feudal way of life, seeking exit from the Union when it became clear that the slavery forming the foundation of its feudalism would ultimately be abolished. Lincoln wrapped his cause of preserving the Union in the flag of eliminating slavery. Obama has wrapped his cause of imposing strict gun restrictions in the flag of protecting “the children” In both instances, the flags are subterfuge. Lincoln wanted to preserve the Union, by whatever means it took; eliminating slavery was (eventually) the cause with which he sold his compulsion. Obama wants to deliver a prize to his urban, liberal constituency. He knows full well nothing he is proposing would have prevented Sandy Hook (just as Lincoln knew Emancipation would create more problems than it would solve, which is why he waited until two years into the War to propose it), but knows the base of his political power expects him not to waste the opportunity.
Lincoln had a more legitimate cause. Every thoughtful human innately understands that slavery is evil. But not so many understand that guns are necessarily evil, because they aren’t. The evil of a gun is in the one possessing it. Guns can be very useful aids to survival. Obama will have less success not letting this crisis go to waste than Lincoln had during the Civil War.