Saturday afternoon I began to write a response to The New York Times’s page-one editorial, “End the Gun Epidemic in America.” It had many of us worried.
None fear, or should fear, the NYT’s editorial persuasive power. The last time the NYT put an editorial on its front page, it was to lament the nomination of Warren G. Harding, who went on to one of the top five landslide victories in U.S. history. And this current offering is so rhetorically loaded with shame at its opponents and complete ignorance about what motivates them that it will not change minds, at least not in the way the editorial board hopes. The first linkable reaction I saw on this effect came from Roger Simon. He was not an outlier.
It is not effectiveness but what the editorial signals about elite and current government viewpoints that has people concerned. The government and Manhattan intelligentsia look set to act against the right to keep and bear arms, a very ominous development in already trying times.
A U.S. Gun Grab Is Impossible
That was how my planned piece began. I then laid out how the Obama administration might go about reducing gun ownership. I looked at voluntary surrender and registry options. Assuming for the sake of argument that Congress would pass any such legislation (Sen. Dianne Feinstein tried in 2013, if you recall) I could not conceive of a plan that would be more “successful” than the Canadian or Australian programs. Too few citizens would comply.
I looked at coercion options, such as a sin tax on ownership or a hefty tax for any owners refusing to register or turn over certain weapons. All of this would be challenged as an unconstitutional tax on an inherent right, especially coming right after the Internal Revenue Service audit moratorium while it was investigated for targeting organizations for their political views. Furthermore, the agency would need a huge chunk of money to hire enough auditors to make the plan look less like a failure than say, Cash for Clunkers. (Remember that bit of governmental brilliance?)
Finally, I looked at search and seizure options using federal enforcement agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the U.S. Marshal Service, the Secret Service, a federalized National Guard, and the Department of Homeland Security. Even if Obama saw everything break the government’s way on executive order challenges and cooperative state and local officials—all highly improbable—these agencies combined do not have enough people to do the job. We are simply too many, too spread out, and too motivated to defend our right to keep and bear arms.
In short, a gun grab in the United States is impossible. And based on Obama’s Oval Office speech last night, he seems to have finally figured that out.
The Speech Was an Utter Failure
Obama’s speech was a collapse. It had no teeth. It offered no comfort. It was full of policy blunders. And his delivery was soft—not comforting, but resigned.
On terrorism, Obama didn’t really say anything other than—finally—admitting that many of the shootings during his tenure were not tragedies, but terrorist attacks. The rest was vague phrases about how we’ve been working tirelessly to combat terrorist organizations.
We will “continue to” do the things we’ve been doing. Because those things have been so effective? Recent events and the resurgence of Russian influence suggest otherwise. We will defeat terrorism by being “smart and strong, resilient and relentless.” Besides the lack of specifics, is it not odd to claim relentlessness given things like the Iraqi pullout and our refusal to aid France and NATO? We will “draw upon every aspect of American power,” yet Obama foreclosed the option of anything beyond air bombing a few minutes later. (Yes, in a public address, he told our enemies what his limits were. If they can weather our bombs, which they are managing quite well now, then they’ll be fine.)
In a flourish of hypocrisy, he also asked Congress to authorize these bombing actions. They’ve not done so yet. The Nobel-winning president that the world once loved dropped bombs on his own authority. Now that the world knows exactly how effective those raids have been, he wants congressional cover.
On life here at home, he lectured us. He lectured us about religion. He lectured us about defense. He lectured us about discrimination. He basically admonished us to stay still and trust him, even though his record has given us no reason to do so and his speech offered no tangible new hope.
We Can’t Protect You, and You Shouldn’t Protect Yourself
The world and our nation are far more dangerous and angry places than they were when he first took office. His message: stay the course and worry about our own behavior. That is a lesson I often tell my children. But it is a message about enduring things we cannot change. It is not what I would tell them to do in the face of a violent bully in the school yard, yet it is the message Obama gave to the American people after a terrorist attack on our own soil.
Despite all the despair above, the collapse was most obvious with gun control. Most political journalists and news outlets expected a longer speech. They suspect that he cut a significant portion, most likely about gun control. Even with a perfect storm of elite passion on the issue—the NYT editorial, the New York Daily News screed, and the New Yorker cover—somebody must have made him finally realize the danger and futility of a gun grab of any sort. As I had planned on publishing, there is simply no winning scenario for the federal executive branch versus the Second Amendment. Long before it is the defense against tyranny, it is a most effective deterrent.
Obama dropped all but a bit of control rhetoric and a single, terrible idea. He introduced the call for gun limits by lamenting that the government could not root out every lone terrorist. So government admits that it cannot protect us from lurking, individual evil—again not a comforting speech—and he asks us to lower our personal defenses? Why? So we might be reduced to waiting for a terrorist to reload while we helplessly cower?
Regardless, it was just words. The only specific gun control plan they left in the speech was a supposedly common-sense gun purchase ban for the no-fly list. In the one spark of passion in the speech, Obama said he could think of no reason why we don’t curtail the rights of people on the no-fly list.
Obama Is Out of Ideas
Well, for one, the Senate already rejected the idea on Thursday, so I’m baffled as to what he thinks he options are. Executive orders die in challenges when the legislature has spoken on the issue. More significantly, however, the Senate rejected the ban probably because they, like the American Civil Liberties Union, can think of a bunch of reasons not to use the no-fly list.
The no-fly list is not a just a list of strongly suspected terrorists. It is just billed that way to the public. The criteria are not published, but the most famous lister was the late Sen. Ted Kennedy. He had sufficient pull in the government that he got removed relatively quickly—three weeks. The rest of us are not notified if we are added or removed. We are not informed about why we make the list. We can write a letter to get removed, but there is no guarantee of timely consideration. (Doug Mataconis has a great summary of abuses and usurpations with the no-fly list.)
The speech accomplished nothing. It did not reassure U.S. citizens of their safety here at home. It offered no new ideas for combating terrorists abroad. It reaffirmed to our enemies Obama’s lack of resolve. And the one new, specific proposal for “keeping America safe” will more likely see the no-fly list struck down than allowed as an obstacle for gun purchases.
It seems President Obama has become a lame duck a year early.