After the horrific mass shooting at a community college in Oregon, President Obama made an impassioned case that gun violence is “something we should politicize”—and why should this be any different:
This is a political choice that we make, to allow this to happen every few months in America. We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.
Everything in that statement is wrong. What happened in Oregon is tragic, and the nation should comfort families and look for reasonable and practical ways to stem violence, but there is only one murderer. Now, if government somehow bolstered, endorsed, or “allowed” the actions of Chris Harper-Mercer—as they might, say, the death of 10,000-plus viable babies each year or the civilian deaths that occur during an American drone action—a person could plausibly argue that we are collectively answerable as a nation.
Then again, when the president asserts Americans are collectively answerable, what he really suggests—according to his own broader argument—is that conservatives who’ve blocked his gun-control legislation are wholly responsible. The problem with that contention, outside of the obvious fact that Republicans never condone the use of guns for illegal violence (in fact, these rampages hurt their cause more than anything) is that Democrats haven’t offered a single bill or idea (short of confiscation) that would impede any of the mass shootings, or overall gun violence. This is not a political choice, because it’s likely there is no available political answer.
For the liberal, every societal problem has a state-issued remedy waiting to be administered over the objections of a reactionary Republican. But just because you have a tremendous amount of emotion and frustration built up around a certain cause doesn’t make your favored legislation any more practical, effective or realistic. It doesn’t change the fact that owning a gun is a civil right, that the preponderance of owners are not criminals, or that there are 300 million guns out there.
And if it’s a political argument you’re offering—and when hasn’t it been?—you’ll need more than the vacuousness of the “this is bad and so we have to do something.” That’s because anti-gun types are never able to answer a simple question: what law would you pass that could stop these shootings?
Many liberals see the Second Amendment as tragically misinterpreted or useless and guns as abhorrent, so they do not believe any legislative imposition is a tradeoff—even an ineffective law. Many conservatives view guns as a civil right, so this an unacceptable tradeoff. Some don’t even view mass shooting as primarily a gun problem. Now, that doesn’t mean guns have nothing to do with it, as Ramesh Ponnuru puts it well responding to a Slate piece:
… one can simultaneously believe that the high volume of firearms contributes to our high homicide rate and that these laws aren’t good ideas. It’s actually pretty easy to believe both of these things at once, since none of the regulations at issue would do much at all to reduce our high volume of firearms.
But despite all the administration’s fearmongering, and as horrifying as any shooting is, gun violence has precipitously declined over the decades without any meaningful federal law being enacted. This likely tells us there are a number of other social currents driving this kind violence. The Left believes the number of guns is at fault, rather than social ills—since no person can be evil, only a victim. So the debate takes on the same old contours, and we focus on firearms and nothing else. That kind of political debate only makes it less likely that anything good will happen.
When we politicize a tragedy, it is immediately sucked into a broader ideological conflict. Then the conservative (at least when out of power) will see (I believe, rightfully) an intrusive agenda that is a perpetual slippery slope. (Can you blame them when they hear: No, we don’t want confiscation, but look at Australia did! We don’t want confiscation, but isn’t that Second Amendment interpretation so stupid!?) Trust me, it’s not unreasonable to treat liberal policies as if they have a tendency for mission creep and unwieldy expansion.