When New York Times columnist Mark Bittman started writing about food policy, I wished he would go back to writing about food. Now that he is writing about gun control, I wish he would go back to writing about food policy. Actually, he mentions food policy in today's column, along with global warming. To Bittman, they all come down to the same issue:
No matter what you look at, the basic problem remains so-called leadership that cannot stand up to big ag, big food, big energy, Wall Street …or the N.R.A….
It's easy to say that without proof of direct causation you can't justify regulation, but how many people died while the tobacco companies lied? Of course cause and effect is complex, but that's no reason to ignore the smokiest guns.
This is where leadership comes in…
Real leaders lead. Though gun control is said to be too risky an issue for most politicians, didn't we elect them for their judgment and will? Otherwise, why not govern by polls and Twitter?
I especially admire the non sequitur "how many people died while the tobacco companies lied?" because it can be randomly dropped into any empirically shaky plea for government intervention. Relying on real leaders who lead, regardless of the evidence supporting said leadership, absolves Bittman of the responsibility to think, or even to familiarize himself with the most basic facts of the subjects on which he pontificates. "You can buy a semiautomatic weapon online almost as easily as you can a book," he asserts. Yes, because when you buy a book online, you first must find a licensed local bookseller who is willing to act as your intermediary, accept delivery of the book, and run the legally required background check, after which (assuming your record is clean) you can take possession of the book by traveling to the bookseller's location and picking it up.
Bittman also notes/complains that "most weapons used in murders, even semiautomatics, are bought legally." Even semiautomatics? A semiautomatic firearm is any gun that fires once per trigger pull, ejects the spent cartridge, and automatically chambers a new round (assuming there is one in the magazine). Semiautomatics are very common, used for self-defense, hunting, and target shooting a lot more often than they are used to murder people. Does Bittman really mean to draw a distinction between semiautomatic weapons and, say, revolvers, bolt-action rifles, and single-shot pistols, or is he under the mistaken impression that there is something especially sinister about this broad class of guns? You be the judge.
Bittman wants to "make gun purchases more difficult, especially for disturbed people who appear to think they're part of some 'solution' to a series of 'problems' identified by hatemongers." But how do we know which individuals are so "disturbed" that they should be stripped of their Second Amendment rights? Bittman suggests Bill O'Reilly fans as one suspect class. He also mentions that Jared Lee Loughner, the Tucson shooter, had a prescription for antidepressants; that James Holmes, charged with killing 12 people in a Colorado movie theater, "was acting in a weird manner"; and that Dean Page, shot to death during his attack on a Sikh temple near Milwaukee, "was a racist so ignorant he didn't know a Sikh from a Muslim." I surmise that a real leader, in Bittman's view, would push legislation banning gun possession by depressed people, weirdos, stupid racists (what about the smart ones?), and possibly Fox News viewers.
This week I wrote a tongue-in-cheek column proposing "an ideological test for gun ownership" that many readers took seriously. (Fortunately, almost all of them—the ones I heard from, anyway—were horrified by the idea.) I blame knee-jerk, know-nothing, do-something pundits like Bittman, who are working hard to make satire impossible.