A 6-year-old boy in Michigan shoots a classmate in the chest, and this is how President Clinton reacts: "Why could the child fire the gun? If we have the technology today to put in these child safety locks, why don't we do it?"
Ordinary people might wonder what sort of upbringing produces a child who responds to a schoolyard spat by bringing a pistol to class and cold-bloodedly executing a little girl. They might also wonder how he got his hands on the gun to begin with.
But not Bill Clinton. He wants to know how it was that a first-grader with murder on his mind and a pistol in his pocket was physically able to pull the trigger.
Everyone else asks, "Where were the parents?" Clinton asks, "Where was the trigger lock?"
The thing is, the second of these is pretty much worthless without the first. Trigger locks–which have been around for decades, although Clinton makes them sound like a recent innovation–do not automatically attach themselves to guns. They have to be locked into place by responsible adults.
Those seem to be conspicuously missing from the life of the boy who killed Kayla Rolland. His father, who recently served two years in prison on burglary and cocaine charges, is in jail for a parole violation. A couple of weeks before the shooting, after being evicted from a home that neighbors said she had trashed, the boy's mother left him and his 8-year-old brother with an uncle.
The boy slept on a couch in the uncle's place, which police and neighbors describe as a crackhouse. He said he found the loaded gun under some blankets after seeing his uncle's friend brandish it.
Police say the gun was stolen, and they suspect it came into the house as payment for drugs. The uncle's friend, who also lived in the house, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter.
President Clinton did not know all of these details when he first responded to the murder, but his comments make it clear that he was soon apprised of them. He nevertheless persisted in his bizarre contention that a law requiring gun dealers to sell trigger locks along with handguns could have prevented Kayla's death.
"The child who was killed was killed by another child with a stolen gun," he said on March 2. "If we had trigger locks on all the guns, it wouldn't have happened."
No piece of legislation, of course, could put a trigger lock on every gun in America. Leaving aside the fact that some 250 million guns are already in circulation, requiring that people buy trigger locks is no guarantee that they will actually use them.
Clinton seemed oblivious to this point in his March 2 appearance on the Today show. "If we had passed the child trigger lock provision," he told Katie Couric, "then at least those guns [sold after the law took effect] would not be used by 6-year-olds to kill other 6-year-olds."
By March 5, Clinton was back-pedaling. "We can never know if any one proposal could have prevented these tragedies," he told Newsweek. But "just because a gun law won't make all the difference doesn't mean it won't make any difference."
Now Clinton was saying it might help, so why not try it? Where's the harm?
Economist John Lott, whose research has provided strong evidence that armed civilians help deter crime, has an answer. He says the emphasis on trigger locks exaggerates the risks of gun ownership, discouraging people from buying weapons that might save their lives.
It's not surprising that Clinton overlooks this cost, because he does not even acknowledge self-defense as a legitimate reason to own a gun. Talking to Couric, he mentioned only "the right of any lawful citizen to hunt or engage in sports shooting."
Yet surveys indicate that guns are used for self-defense something like 2 million times a year. A gun in the home is much more likely to save a life than to kill someone accidentally.
Lott notes that a trigger lock makes a gun less accessible in an emergency. Hence people need to weigh various factors, including neighborhood crime rates and the presence of small children, before deciding how to store their firearms.
In other words, they need to think carefully rather than jumping to conclusions. It's the sort of advice the president would hate.