How False Urgency Produces Stupid Gun Laws


"Connecticut has changed things," says Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.). "I don't know what we're going to do, but we're going to do something." Wolf is talking about violent video games, but his attitude is sadly common among politicians a month after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, no matter which scapegoat they prefer. Taking their cues from that vapid video featuring celebrities demanding "a plan to end gun violence," legislators seem to agree it does not really matter what they do, as long as they do it quickly.

First out of the gate is New York, where Democrats and Republicans are putting the finishing touches on a package of new gun restrictions demanded less than a week ago by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The New York Times reports that it will include a broader definition of forbidden "assault weapons" (mirroring California's) and a new, seven-round limit for magazines, which would be the strictest in the country. Marvel at the false urgency reflected in these comments by the people whom New Yorkers have charged with writing their laws:

"There's a real push and hope to do something today, but right now we're trying to make sure it's technically sound," said the Assembly majority leader, Joseph D. Morelle of Monroe County, the second highest-ranking official in the chamber. "If it goes into tomorrow, that's a possibility. But there's a sense that we'd like to do something."

Senator Jeffrey D. Klein of the Bronx, the leader of an independent faction of Democrats that has allied with Senate Republicans, said: "I think when all is said and done, we're going to pass a comprehensive gun bill today. And I think it's important and this is an issue that shows we can work together, Democrats and Republicans."

"Republicans, it's very clear, wanted harsher criminal penalties for illegal guns, which is something I agree with, but on the other hand we're also going to ban assault weapons and limit the number of rounds in a magazine," he added. "So I think putting those two things together makes it a better bill."

Senator Thomas W. Libous of Binghamton, the top deputy in the Republican caucus, called a gun control bill "inevitable," adding, "It's something that's going to go forward."

For proponents of these measures, there really is no time to lose. The longer they wait, the more time people will have to wonder whether these policies make sense on their own merits, let alone as a response to Adam Lanza's horrible crimes. People might even question whether combining knee-jerk Democratic ideas with knee-jerk Republican ideas is the sort of bipartisanship we need.

In Washington, D.C., meanwhile, Vice President Biden is supposed to make gun control recommendations to President Obama by tomorrow, having presided over a working group charged with that mission for all of three weeks. As of last Thursday, the day he finally got around to soliciting the views of gun control skeptics, Biden claimed he had reached "no conclusions," so I guess he really worked hard over the weekend. The pretense of fact finding is hard to credit, especially since Obama already has said he favors a new federal "assault weapon" ban, a limit on magazine capacity, and beefed-up background checks for gun buyers.

Gun controllers are not the only ones preying on panicky parents. Last month Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president of the National Rifle Association, demanded an armed guard in every school by the end of winter break to protect children against "the monsters and predators of this world" who "walk among us every day." That was LaPierre's attempt to one-up Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who had promised to introduce a new "assault weapon" ban "on the first day of the new Congress." The first day of the current session came and went the week before last, and the bill has yet to materialize, although the senator's website is still highlighting her blatantly broken promise. What is Feinstein waiting for? How many more innocents must die before she acts? Enough is enough.

Update: At a press conference today, Obama said he had received Biden's recommendations, adding,  "I expect to have a fuller presentation later in the week to give people some specifics about what I think we need to do."