Emotion over reason.
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Emotions are running high following the Senate defeat Wednesday (04/17) of legislation that would have expanded background checks for gun purchases and limited the sale of some military-style rifles. The president was visibly angry. Vice President Biden actually wiped away tears.
The key word is “emotion.” Since the horror of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, proponents of strict gun control laws have been appealing to raw emotion at the expense of logic and common sense.
The president has staged public events flanked by parents of dead Sandy Hook students and even turned his weekly radio address microphone over to Francine Wheeler, the mother of a six-year old who died at Sandy Hook.
The pain on the faces of those parents is real and it is soul wrenching. But putting that pain on display doesn’t offer even the tiniest scrap of evidence that the rejected Senate bill would have prevented, or even mitigated, the horror of Sandy Hook — such being the minimum test necessary to pass laws restricting the freedoms of law-abiding citizens.
On the books already are laws against murder, burglary and sexual assault. Yet every day there are murders, burglaries and sexual assaults. Those inclined to commit such crimes are not much deterred by even the most tightly-worded statutes.
Why, then, would we expect that someone so deranged as to go shoot first graders would somehow be magically deterred by new statutes regarding the buying and selling of guns?
Whatever the emotional appeal of expanded background checks or limits on magazine capacity, arguing that either would reduce gun violence is wrong at best and sophistic at worst. There will always be an element of society that has no intention of submitting to a background check or indeed abiding by any law.
Neither will they surrender their high-capacity magazines. Restrict the sale of 15-round clips and all you will accomplish is to create a thriving criminal black market for the millions of such clips already in circulation.
Not that a high-capacity magazine is even required for carrying out mass murder. Eric Harris carried several small-capacity magazines and simply swapped them out when he and a partner shot up Columbine High School in 1999. Seung-Hui Cho did the same thing when he killed 32 at Virginia Tech University in 2007.
I could go on.
But there’s something else about President Obama’s use of grieving parents in his campaign to pass gun legislation. I can’t help my belief that putting the raw emotion of parental grief on display is less about supporting the president’s position than it is about delegitimizing his opposition.
The president is using the stark images of agonizing mothers and fathers to his purpose of transforming legitimate debate concerning gun ownership, self-defense and second amendment freedoms into a simplistic up or down vote on gun violence.
If you support the president’s position, you are, ipso facto, a decent, caring, empathetic person who opposes violence. If, however, you disagree with the president, your opposition is not principled objection to the limiting of freedom with no offsetting benefit to public safety. You are, instead, a de facto supporter of gun violence, lacking even sufficient humanity to grieve the loss of innocent children.
It’s cynical, brazenly political and unworthy of a leader. But it is potentially very effective if the goal is to keep emotions running high – something the president will have to do if he is to get the kind of legislation he would be unlikely to get if he had to rely solely on facts and rational argument.