Is there anything more predictable than people using a hot news story to promote whatever political agenda they wanted to push anyway?
The tragic shooting at the Washington Navy Yard Monday is the latest example of this ugly partisan tendency. The bodies weren’t even cold before progressives started calling for more gun control. I started seeing calls for gun control on Facebook from progressives while the story was still being sorted out. Nobody knew whether there was one shooter or up to three of them, but lack of facts about what happened didn’t stop people from turning to their political agendas.
The news media can almost always be counted on to get something egregiously wrong in a story about guns. CNN provided the shocking moment of ignorance Monday when it referred to the weapon used as an “AR15 shotgun.” The AR-15 is one of the “assault weapons” that media frequently use to demonize guns of all sort, but it wasn’t even used in this shooting. It’s a specific type of weapon — and it’s not a shotgun — but that mention is enough to subtly embed fear of such a weapon into those who might have seen the graphic on the screen. Was it an accident? Yes. Was it inexcusable ignorance by people who don’t have a clue about guns? Yes.
For his part, Barack Obama quickly launched into a call for more gun control. (Oddly, he didn’t say anything about how this black shooter might look something like his son, if he had a son.) The gunman used a shotgun that he bought legally, because there was nothing about him that would have flagged him for the sort of background checks that progressives keep claiming will stop shootings. That didn’t stop Obama from pretending that his existing agenda would have stopped the shooting.
Then there were conservatives and libertarians, who were so eager to blame the shootings on a Democrat that they trotted out Bill Clinton to blame. The only problem for the people eager to attack Clinton is that the military directive that limited who could carry weapons on military bases (and under what circumstances) was issued under the administration of George H.W. Bush. It was signed by Bush’s deputy secretary of defense. So Clinton had nothing to do with it, but facts don’t matter when you’re engaged in heated political rhetoric.
The fascinating thing here is that both sides are touting things that would have done nothing to stop Monday’s shooting. There was nothing in the shooter’s background that disqualified him from owning a shotgun. (Remember that the shotgun is the weapon that Joe Biden famously recommended that people buy for self-defense.)
By the same token, there’s no reason to believe that workers at the Washington Navy Yard would have been armed and ready to return fire while they were at work if not for that nasty prohibition against people having weapons on them when they weren’t needed. You can debate whether you think the rule is a good one or not, but most folks aren’t going to pack heat at work when it’s not needed. As an employer, I wouldn’t allow it, either.
Some people are so eager to promote their own political agenda that facts don’t really matter to them. You already know what I think about gun legislation, because I’ve talked a number of times about the ineffectiveness of gun laws to stop those who want to commit criminal acts. But not every news story needs to be a hook for a political point. There are times when bad things happen and there’s absolutely no political point to be made.
Bad things happen sometimes. As long as guns exist, a few people — very few, statistically speaking — are going to be killed or wounded. If guns had no utility otherwise, there might be merit in banning them. But since there is tremendous utility in civilians owning weapons to protect themselves — against criminals now and possibly against a government in the future — the few people who are harmed are very unfortunate consequences of living a normal human life.
We don’t ban cars because thousands of people are killed in car accidents each year. We don’t ban swimming pools because of the many who die in them. And we don’t ban bathtubs because of all the people who die from bathtub falls.
We can reasonably discuss what makes sense when it comes to gun laws, but the discussions need to be honest and fact-based. We don’t need dishonest people throwing emotional accusations at each other in the heat of a tragic news story.
People are going to continue to be dishonest and emotional about important issues, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be the rational person who walks away from their attempts to manipulate you.