Why Is Defying Majority Support for Gun Control 'Cowardice'?


White House

Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.), who stood next to President Obama yesterday, nodding as he berated the senators who voted against his gun control proposals for their "shameful" failure to agree with him, continues the tantrum in today's New York Times. As gun controllers tend to do, she opens with an emotion-laden non sequitur:

Senators say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.

This nonsensical juxtaposition has zero logical content yet achieves Giffords' goal of portraying her opponents as insincere hacks who elevate their own petty political interests above the lives of children. In case you missed the point, she drives it home:

Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents—who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them….

I am asking every reasonable American to help me tell the truth about the cowardice these senators demonstrated.

In Giffords' view, these senators are two-faced, because you cannot truly sympathize with her unless you vote for the bills she supports. But I am a little confused about the purported motivation for this perceived betrayal. Obama and Giffords both insist the senators who voted against new gun controls did so not out of conviction but out of fear—specifically, fear that they would be defeated the next time they run for re-election. If their constituents "overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks," however, wouldn't voting for the bill mandating those have been the politically expedient thing to do? And why is opposing the will of the majority a mark of "cowardice," as Giffords says, rather than a mark of courage?

Furthermore, why would senators be afraid of "the gun lobby" unless they think it can sway voters against them? Isn't that ultimately the source of the NRA's fearsome power? But if voters are so easily manipulated, why should we be impressed by majority support for expanded background checks or any other gun control measure? I suspect that Giffords credits the majority with wisdom only when the polls are going her way, just as she credits politicians with integrity only when they agree with her.

"Speaking is physically difficult for me," Giffords writes, alluding to the disability caused by the gunshot wound she suffered at the hands of Jared Loughner in Tucson two years ago. "But my feelings are clear: I'm furious." Obama thinks such feelings should carry special weight in the gun control debate, and evidently so does Giffords, although they might change their minds when confronted by a victim of gun violence who does not support their agenda. Assuming that parents of murdered children are not all of one mind regarding the merits of new gun controls (and they're not), how do we decide whose feelings should prevail? Take a vote of the victims?

Enough already. If you have an argument to make, make it. But do not assume that the only possible explanation for your failure to persuade people is their bad faith or lack of compassion.