Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Dammit, Jim...

So. For the first time since his election, President Obama has thrown a bone to the gun control "movement". A meager, meager bone.

Every large political faction has its little clutches of extremists who are disconnected from the mainstream, and standard policy is to ignore them most of the time and send the occasional "thinking of you" card without actually giving them anything controversial. So as the President's administration founders, it probably feels like a good idea to say a few noncommital words in a minor regional newspaper during a news cycle absorbed by the Japanese tsunami, in hopes that it'll squeeze a few votes out of the crazy uncle at the family reunion who won't stop ranting about how many thousands of infants a second are murdered "by guns".

Taken seriously, this editorial would say only two things:

First, that the President has no understanding of crime and violence in this country, but thinks he can fix it if people would just stop getting in his way. At this point, we have enough real-world evidence to know conclusively that talking about preventing murders through gun control is about as serious and reasonable as talking about decreasing teen pregnancy through abstinence education.

Second, that the President has nothing but disdain for anybody who might value his own rights more than making concessions to this idiotic and outdated culture-war skirmish. Anybody who opposes more useless gun control is just one of those dumb, cousin-humping redneck extremist who "[thinks] the word 'commonsense' [is] a code word for 'confiscation'". If only we could shut out the people who oppose gun control, maybe we could finally have a meaningful conversation about gun control!

But it shouldn't be taken seriously. In truth, this editorial is a largely substanceless exercise in cultural signalling, as is appropriate for a thinking-of-you card to a fringe group whose agenda won't sell to the mainstream American public. The President opaquely and vaguely implies that he may possibly, under some conditions and to some unstated extent, support measures intended to bring more uniform reporting of mental-health prohibitions to the national background-check system (a benign policy that the NRA has routinely supported) and to "close the gun-show loophole", which is flatly unacceptable as presently advocated, and which gun-rights advocates will fight with everything we have.

This nonspeak could gain the President a couple hundred votes from the handful of remaining American gun control advocates who can't put down their favorite childhood toy, or gain him broad opposition from millions of otherwise uncommitted Americans who don't like government touching their guns. It all depends on whether he now pushes for serious infringements of the right; pushes for trivial, uncontroversial tweaks to the existing system; or, most likely, pushes for nothing. This editorial, I'm nearly certain, is meant exclusively to keep the crazy uncle dreaming of significant infringements long enough to vote in the next election.

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