It's been two weeks now since various gun control measures went down in flames in the US Senate, prompting President Obama to don his petulance pants and lecture us from the Rose Garden. In that time I've read quite a few pieces by Democrats seeking to explain, in one way or another, how gun control could fail in the wake of the Newtown mass shooting. Some blame the NRA, of course. Some blame Republicans, of course. Some even blame Obama, but not for the reasons I'm going to cite. Pretty much all are long on self-pity and short on self-examination, so here are my criticisms of the pro-gun control side, because they are every bit to blame, if not more, than the NRA and Republicans.(This is a long one, so I'll put most of it below the fold)
Obama's poor leadership
When Obama outsourced the issue to Joe Biden, the probability for meaningful action took an immediate and negative hit. At that moment Obama signalled that it was really going to be business as usual, in other words it was going to be "inside the beltway politics." In the short term that was probably smart politics for Obama personally, but it was also another missed opportunity for him to match the greatness of his office.
He could have taken the role of an honest broker between the two sides and step by step publicly guided the conversation toward what was possible. That would have meant swallowing his own personal preferences for the moment and acting as President of all of these United States to bring both sides together. I suppose many in both party establishments would consider that idea naive, but my gut tells me the less ideological on both sides and independents would have eaten it up. Besides, isn't that the Hope and Change president we've been promised twice now?(I know, I know, that was always phony, but I couldn't resist)
Biden's Poor Leadership
Many projects fail before they even begin because the problem and/or the scope of the solution are not properly defined from the start. I've seen it countless times over the years to the point where I can smell a looming clusterf*ck from a mile away. As I noted here and here, the problems of overall gun violence and mass killing are related but also distinct, and they have related but also distinct solution sets.
A tightly focused effort on Biden's part might have had a chance, but instead we got what was basically a free for all of gun control wish list items, regardless of how effective they would be in preventing the next mass shooting or daily gun violence on the streets.
To be fair to Biden, the Washington Post back in January noted how Obama had tied his hands somewhat from the start. Still, he wasn't just Obama's puppet on this issue. He fully embraced Obama's strategy of foregone conclusions, emotion over reason, and divisiveness through demonization. That worked in the last general election with the media covering their backs, but as shown in the results two weeks ago, it's a disastrous way to try to govern.
The bodies had not yet been removed from the school that terrible day when prominent pundits on the gun control side and supporters of Obama started to hurl vile accusations of complicity at members of the NRA and, in most cases, gun owners in general.
One can argue that gun owners are a pretty hardened lot when it comes to their opinions on Second Amendment rights, but a great many of us were profoundly shaken by the massacre of those children and teachers. Shaken enough that we were open to listening to gun control proposals that might help prevent the next one. Right off the bat what we got instead were outrageous charges of complicity in murder.
That some gun control supporters would go off the deep end wasn't exactly a surprise and no political movement can stop its more extreme members from speaking out. What they can do however, is disavow their fringe element in the interest of working with the other side to accomplish something meaningful. Aside from some generic talk about "responsible gun owners," I didn't see any push back on the gun control extremists. Not only did that absence of civility poison the well early on, from a gun control perspective it was enormously counter-productive in energizing Second Amendment groups and turning off independents.
Believing Your Own Bullshit
One of the most comical, if also kind of sad aspects of the whole Senate debacle is the constant refrain of "...but, but, 90% of Americans want universal background checks."
As a sort of breezy and generic concept, that's true. But as always, the devil is in the details. "Everybody has to have a background check" is a nice idea, but that exact verbiage would make a very lousy and unenforceable law. To get to a real law specific circumstances must be addressed and as soon as that happens, either the 90% or the universal aspect goes "poof."
For example, because people still want the freedom to sell a gun to family members or the pal down the street without going through the hassle of a background check, the Manchin-Toomey Amendment exempts relatives as distant as first cousins. It also exempts private transactions that are not advertised in any way. Both of those exemptions are absolutely necessary for the amendment to have a chance, but both also blow some pretty big loopholes into the concept of "universal" background checks.
Another phony talking point is the alleged "gun show loophole." Based on a ridiculously small survey of 251 people back in 1993, more than 3/4 of which covered sales before the Brady Act was even in effect, gun control advocates claim that 40% of gun sales at these shows are not required to have a background check. I think that reality is quite different.
Check out this story from City Pages that I have linked to before for a more accurate perspective on gun shows, at least those in Minnesota. The upshot: "Six days, three gun shows, and 19 attempts to buy handguns sans permit had yielded zero sales." I'll bet a six-pack that that's closer to reality across the country than that 40% number.
The vast majority of gun sales at gun shows go through licensed dealers, all of whom are highly motivated to follow state and federal laws or lose their license. That's not to say that there are zero issues with gun shows, but they are far less in the real world than what gun control advocates claim.
Playing games with polls and statistics are sure paths to disappointment when reality inevitably imposes on the fantasy. Gun control advocates would not have been so foolishly surprised if their campaign had been based on facts and the real world instead of bullshit talking points, among other things.
Even worse in my book than believing one's own bullshit is willful ignorance. Given the high degree of overlap between gun control advocates and a progressive movement that prides itself on its belief in "science" and "reality," you would think that actual knowledge about firearms and firearm accessories would be of paramount concern all the way around. And yet it is painfully obvious that the truth is just the opposite.
So many pro-gun control people are woefully ignorant regarding the truth about firearms that it is astounding. From not understanding that an assault weapons ban is really a cosmetic features ban, to calling semi-automatic rifles weapons of war, to the state of New York allowing only handgun magazines that don't exist, and on and on, the pro-gun control side has chosen to believe an enormous amount of nonsense. If they treated medicine the way they treat firearms they would constantly worry over their four humours and go down to the barber every so often for a good bleeding.
This widespread willful ignorance results in time and effort wasted on basically useless legislation such as "assault weapons" and "high capacity magazine" bans. Useless because few in Congress want to face the massive civil disobedience that confiscation would lead to, and therefore the millions of those items in circulation now would stay that way. They would have done nothing to prevent the Newtown shooting and they would do nothing to stop the next mass shooting. Nothing.
Senator Feinstein and friends can insist otherwise from now to eternity, but the AWB was just theater. Our schools, other public gathering places, and the poor, urban neighborhoods that see most of the gun violence in this country don't need goddamned theater, they need real solutions. They aren't going to get them from people who refuse to learn the truth about firearms.
Harry Reid's Games
I remember a time when the US Senate was called "the world's greatest deliberative body." Under Harry Reid, deliberation on major bills has died. Instead we get monstrosities like Obamacare and financial "reform" that are cobbled together in back room deals and voted on before anybody has actually read what is in them. I haven't seen this widely reported, but here's the stunt that Dirty Harry pulled on gun control:
A word, first, about that Senate "minority." Majority Leader Harry Reid was free to bring the deal struck by West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin and Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey to the floor for an up-or-down vote, and this background-checks amendment might have passed. It did convince 54 Senators, including four Republicans.
But under Senate rules, a simple majority vote would have opened the measure to up to 30 hours of debate, which would have meant inspecting the details. The White House demanded, and Mr. Reid agreed, that Congress should try to pass the amendment without such a debate.
Majority rules would have also opened the bill to pro-gun amendments that were likely to pass. That would have boxed Mr. Reid into the embarrassing spectacle of having to later scotch a final bill because it also contained provisions that the White House loathes. So Mr. Reid moved under "unanimous consent" to allow nine amendments, each with a 60-vote threshold.
I've read most of the Manchin-Toomey Amendment on background checks and I'm not reflexively against it. However, I'm not comfortable that the provisions on making sure the mentally ill are added to NICS have been properly thought through. For example, will the amendment as written actually do more harm because it will discourage people from seeking help for fear of losing their guns? Is the process for getting on or off of the list reasonable from a Constitutional perspective?
Those questions and more deserve proper hearings and deliberation, not the shitty gamesmanship of Harry Reid.
I think there would be a good chance for at least passing some improvements to the background check system if certain gun control backers could reset their attitude and devotion to honesty and the facts, along with eschewing a legislative process that's about as transparent as a brick wall. Based on what I've seen the last two weeks I strongly doubt that will happen. All I see is lashing out instead of the introspection that is almost always called for after a major defeat.
That's not uncommon from our political elites of any persuasion these days, more's the pity. We need leadership and we get posturing, bullshit, and inside the beltway machinations. But then, that's apparently what we have voted for.