President Barack Obama set a new standard for stupidly exploitative White House events by appearing onstage with children to unveil his gun-control proposals.
He quoted from the kids’ letters. He invoked their Solomonic authority: “Their voices should compel us to change.” He signed executive orders as they gazed on adoringly. He hugged and high-fived them.
No doubt every parent thinks his or her little Johnny or Sally is the next James Q. Wilson. That doesn’t make it so. Some of the wisdom that the president shared from his adorable pen pals was, “I want everybody to be happy and safe,” and “I feel really bad.”
News flash: Kids don’t want bad things to happen. This would be a genuinely useful insight — if we could write public policy in crayon. The White House event smacked of the old unilateral-disarmament campaigns of the 1980s, when we were supposed to abolish nuclear weapons because they scared youngsters.
We can assume that the kids onstage with Obama don’t have a fine-grained sense of the limits of gun control or a proper regard for the Second Amendment. That’s okay, but — neither does he.
It can’t be said that using kids as props was beneath the gravity of the occasion, since the occasion was all about feel-good PR and make-believe. For all the emphasis on preventing another Sandy Hook, Obama didn’t offer any gun-control proposals that would do it.
The president plugged for a universal background check. Adam Lanza’s mother, who owned the guns he used on his rampage, passed a background check. James Holmes, the Aurora, Colo., shooter, passed two background checks. So did the Virginia Tech shooter (although he shouldn’t have).
The president wants a new assault-weapons ban. He told of how another school shooting happened in California while networks were broadcasting a Joe Biden news conference about his task force. Obama didn’t mention that the shooter used a shotgun, not an assault weapon. He could have said that there was yet another shooting at a Kentucky community college. The shooter used a semiautomatic pistol.
During his remarks introducing the president, Biden invoked Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech shooting who was in the audience. Seung-Hui Cho shot him four times. Not with an assault weapon. Cho perpetrated the worst school shooting in U.S. history with a semiautomatic pistol.
The president called for a ban on magazines of more than ten rounds (fewer than some guns have as a standard feature). This would have made a difference in Newtown only if you presume that Lanza, who knew his way around firearms, couldn’t have reloaded in the permissive environment of an elementary school without a guard.
Unfortunately, no one can write a law against mothers’ owning guns that one day might be turned against them by deranged sons who then commit horrific acts of murder-suicide. Shooting rampages are very hard to prevent because they are so often committed by disturbed young men without criminal records who don’t care if they are caught and usually want to die.
These are adult facts that don’t intrude on the childish world of White House policymaking. They must have eluded Biden in the course of his consultations with 229 different groups that just happened to result in recommendations from his task force that anyone could have predicted beforehand.
To justify any gun-control measure, no matter how ineffectual or symbolic, Biden talks of adopting an “if it saves one life” standard. If that really were the White House’s guiding principle — politics and the expense be damned — it would push massive stop-and-frisk crackdowns in the nation’s cities. It would take up the National Rifle Association’s proposal for armed guards at every school in America. But what it really wants is as much gun control as it can plausibly get in the aftermath of Newtown. As Rahm Emanuel might put it, never let a massacre go to waste.
There’s no reason for kids to see through this. Discerning adults should.