The president’s townhall and New York Times op-ed piece illustrate his slipperiness.
1. The mass shooting bait and switch. As he did in his speech on Tuesday, Obama last night repeatedly invoked mass shootings to justify policies that would not have prevented them. He presented “sensible background checks” as a way to make sure that families “don’t have to go through what the families at Newtown or San Bernardino or Charleston went through.” But in those and the other recent mass shootings—as the surprisingly skeptical moderator, Anderson Cooper, pointed out—”none of the guns were purchased from an unlicensed dealer.” That means background checks were performed and demonstrably did not stop the shootings. Obama himself conceded that “the young man who killed those kids in Newtown, he didn’t have a criminal record, and so we didn’t know ahead of time, necessarily, that he was going to do something like that.” Given this reality, offering background checks as a solution to mass shootings is patently dishonest.
2. The argument from emotion. As I noted on Wednesday, Obama’s policy proposals are all about showing that his heart is in the right place, which is why he so easily shrugs off questions about whether they would actually work. The implication is that people who oppose his proposals simply do not care, or at least do not care enough. In his New York Times essay, he appeals to “the vast majority of responsible gun owners” who “support common-sense gun safety” because they “grieve with us after every mass shooting.” You either grieve with us, or you’re against us. If you feel bad about murdered children, you have no choice but to support Obama’s gun control agenda. A CNN survey suggests that focusing on intentions rather than results can be an effective strategy: While “67% of those asked [said] they favor the changes” Obama unveiled this week, “57% of those polled also said that the measures would not be effective in reducing the number of people killed by guns.”
3. The false crisis. “The epidemic of gun violence in our country is a crisis,” Obama declares in the opening line of his op-ed piece. But as he was forced to admit at the townhall, the murder rate in this country has reached historically low levels after declining for years. “Every year,” he writes, “more than 30,000 Americans have their lives cut short by guns.” But as he mentioned during the townhall, two-thirds of the “30,000 deaths due to gun violence” are suicides. If the “gun violence” problem consists mainly of people taking their own lives, why does Obama keep talking about mass shootings, which account for a tiny percentage of homicides and an even smaller share of gun-related deaths? Presumably because they are scary and get a lot of attention. Yet the gun control solutions he proposes have nothing to do with mass shootings and little to do with preventing suicides, except to the extent that people who kill themselves have previously undergone court-ordered psychiatric treatment.
4. Cost blindness. In the Times, referring to the gun-related “executive actions” he announced on Tuesday, Obama says, “These actions won’t prevent every act of violence, or save every life—but if even one life is spared, they will be well worth the effort.” This formulation completely overlooks the other side of the ledger, which includes not just the dollars spent (money that potentially could save more lives if it were spent on something else) but the burdens imposed on law-abiding gun owners and on Americans unjustly deprived of their constitutional rights by expanded background checks.
5. Skepticism of armed self-defense. “I respect people who want a gun for self-protection,” Obama claimed during the townhall, but that clearly is not true. Later, in response to a rape victim who keeps a gun at home to protect herself and her family, he questioned the value of keeping a gun at home to protect yourself and your family. “There are always questions as to whether or not having a firearm in the home protects you from that kind of violence,” he said, warning that “there’s always the possibility that that firearm in a home leads to a tragic accident.” He conceded that “there are times where somebody who has a weapon has been able to protect themselves and scare off an intruder or an assailant” but claimed “what is more often the case is that they may not have been able to protect themselves, but they end up being the victim of the weapon that they purchased themselves.” On balance, in other words, owning a gun for self-protection—a right at the core of the Second Amendment, as recognized by the Supreme Court—is a bad idea, and you’re deluding yourself if you think otherwise.
6. Support for gun bans. Obama supported Chicago’s handgun ban, which was overturned by the Supreme Court in 2010, and claimed it was consistent with the Second Amendment. He favors a new, broader federal ban on so-called assault weapons, although he does not seem to know what they are. Last night he said the Newtown massacre would have been less lethal if its perpetrator had not been able to obtain “a semiautomatic,” an observation that suggests he joins New York Times columnist Gail Collins in supporting a ban on a category of firearms that includes many hunting rifles and almost all modern handguns aside from revolvers (which Collins claims “are totally inappropriate for either hunting or home defense”). And as Cooper pointed out, Obama admires Australian-style gun control, which features mass confiscation of guns and tight restrictions that would be clearly unconstitutional in this country.