"This is about doing the right thing for all the families who are here that have been torn apart by gun violence," President Obama declared on Monday, promoting his "common-sense gun safety reforms" in a speech at the University of Hartford, where the audience included parents of children who were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in nearby Newtown last December. "This is not about politics."
Unless you disagree with him. "There is only one thing that can stand in the way of change," Obama said, "and that's politics in Washington." Members of Congress have a simple choice to make, he explained: "What's more important to you—our children, or an A grade from the gun lobby?" This crass attempt at moral intimidation, contrasting Obama's benevolent motives with his opponents' child-endangering partisanship, is the essence of his case for new gun restrictions, which relies on emotional manipulation rather than logical argument.
Two days after the Sandy Hook attack, at a memorial service for the 20 children and six adults killed by Adam Lanza, Obama said people who don't support his gun control agenda are in effect saying "we're powerless in the face of such carnage" because "the politics are too hard." Since then he has repeatedly cited the Newtown massacre as a reason to enact the same gun controls he has always supported—including "universal background checks," a renewed "assault weapon" ban, and a 10-round limit on magazines—even though these policies could not possibly have prevented that horrific attack. He calls this "common sense."
Obama cites the careless, confusing gun control bills hastily enacted in New York, Colorado, Connecticut, and Maryland as models for Congress to follow. "We can't stand by and keep letting these tragedies happen," he said on Monday, as if strong resolve is all that's needed to stop mass shootings. "If there is just one thing we can do to keep one father from having to bury his child, isn't that worth fighting for?"
Contrary to Obama's implication, the question is not whether preventing the murder of children is desirable but whether the policies he supports would do that. Instead of explaining, for example, how background checks can thwart mass killers, who typically do not have disqualifying criminal or psychiatric records and who in any event can use guns purchased by someone else (as Lanza did), Obama simply assumes his plan will work and insinuates that anyone who opposes it does not care about children as much as he does.
Even as he claims to be troubled by a lack of empathy in the gun control debate, Obama refuses to entertain the possibility that his opponents, like him, are doing what they believe to be right. On Monday he described them as "powerful interests that are very good at confusing the subject, that are good at amplifying conflict and extremes, that are good at drowning out rational debate, good at ginning up irrational fears."
This from a man who says mass shootings, which remain thankfully rare, are becoming "routine"; who falsely asserts that Lanza used a "fully automatic weapon" and habitually conflates military-style semi-automatics with machine guns; and who claims background checks have "prevented more than 2 million dangerous people from getting their hands on a gun," when in fact we don't know how many of those people were actually dangerous or how many were actually prevented from obtaining firearms. Obama's idea of "rational debate" involves trotting out grieving parents and presenting their pain as if it were an argument.
"There are good people on both sides of this thing," Obama said in Denver last week, "but we have to be able to put ourselves in the other person's shoes." He worried that "both sides of the debate sometimes don't listen to each other" and wondered, "How do you build trust?" Here's one way: Stop trying to claim the moral high ground by clambering onto the bloody corpses of children.