Second Amendment

"Tomorrow We Should Do More" and Other Reasons Gun Rights Folk Mistrust President Obama

Obama's announcement today uses public mass gun murder to buttress irrelevant policies, with vague promises of "more."

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As Jacob Sullum has already pointed out today at Reason, most of the specifics of President Obama's lengthy and emotional announcement of various executive actions allegedly intended to curb gun violence, which he framed specifically as a reaction to a series of public mass-shooting tragedies, would have done nothing to prevent those tragedies.

Sullum has also pointed out that the combination of encouraging more mental health treatment along with tougher attempts to keep a class of people who seek that treatment from exercising their Second Amendment rights is likely to discourage people from seeking treatment.

With its core content irrelevant to its framed political purpose (about a political problem that the vast majority of the American people consider very low on their list of priorities), the rest of Obama's gun speech today nonetheless devolved into a political rally. He called for people to vote for politicians who will, like Obama, advocate for tougher access to guns, whether or not we have reason to believe doing so will deal with the problem of gun violence. That problem is not a growing epidemic but something that has shrunk in half in the past 23 years.

The parts of the speech about better gun safety technologies also obviously have nothing to do with all the tragic tales with which he buttressed the alleged purpose of the speech. Such technologies may well be a great thing for those that want them. If gun owners overwhelmingly want better computerized trigger locks, child safety devices and the like, and perhaps they do, they will eventually have them, if they are willing to pay for them.

But people who want guns for instant emergency self defense might not want a weapon only as easy to use instantly as a locked iPhone. People who can't afford high-tech gadgets might want access to a self-defense weapon that is not an expensive high-tech gadget.

And when this constitutional-law-professor-and-don't-you-forget-it president rhetorically deals with the issue of pre-emptively denying a core constitutional right to people based on pure government suspicion by merely saying that "that's not right…that can't be right" that the government should be denied this power when it comes to terror suspects buying guns, he's arguing from a position of pure desire to accrue more raw power to the government.

Obama also made calls for more (government-funded) research into gun violence, while at the same time showing exactly why those who respect gun rights are skeptical of such research: it is often incredibly shoddy and tendentious and used to back political proposals to restrict gun access that the "research" doesn't actually support.

Obama claimed today that "research" had proven that tougher gun access and permit laws caused a 40 percent gun homicide reduction in Connecticut and that easier gun access laws cause a huge gun homicide increase in Missouri.

Both studies are discussed in my February Reason feature "You Know Less Than You Think About Guns," and neither conclusion is proven true. When politicians use research to make untrue claims to back up their call for tougher legal access to guns, those who respect gun rights understandably don't trust them.

They also don't trust it when politicians like Obama make it clear their political target is not people killing people with guns, but rather people having guns. His whole quasi-sophisticated "rights balancing" talk about how our freedom of religion and freedom to assemble are harmed by people who wander into churches and gatherings and kill people with guns makes this clear.

Because the government has already made it illegal to do such things. There do not need to be more laws making it clear that such behavior isn't tolerated in our constitutional republic. What Obama wants to do is make it harder for more people to get guns, a whole different matter, as the vast, vast majority of the people affected by such laws will not use them to "violate freedom of religion" by shooting up a church.

But the key giveaway, the reason why this gun issue that seems so common sense to Obama and his fans is so politically contentious, is because Obama makes it very clear (though perhaps inadvertently) that in a game of positing gun violence as always, in whatever amount, so unacceptable it demands more laws, and then positing laws that will likely have almost no independent effect on gun violence, that the game of ratcheting gun laws more and more has no foreseeable end.

Obama kept nodding to how hard it is to stop gun violence, or maybe to pass gun laws, it was unclear which, though admittedly both are hard (and they are not the same thing). And he concluded: "tomorrow we should do more, and do more the day after that."

President Obama, that attitude is exactly why the politics of gun control—sorry, "common sense gun safety"— is so hard. Because we see you are seeking a goal that is unreachable in a world where guns and the legal right to own them still exists, and you want to do "more" and "more" to reach that goal.