Gun Control is Driven by Emotion, Not Reason

Ron Fournier, National Journal: John McCain’s Peculiar Emotions

McCain in HallPlease read these two statistics and notice your emotional reaction to them. Do they make you angry? Do they make you eager for government action? When you digest these roughly equivalent numbers, do they stir you equally?

  • A Human Rights groups says more than 150,000 civilians, rebels, and members of the Syrian military have been killed in the nation’s three-year conflict.
  • A U.S. gun control group says more than 100,000 Americans are shot every year in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts and accidents.

First, may we mention that the U.S. is a tad larger than Syria? —US, 313.9 million people vs Syria, 22.4 million people. When I pointed this out to Fournier he gave me a virtual shrug of the shoulders: “No analogy is perfect or equivalent.”

Wouldn’t you agree, though, that this isn’t a small flaw in an otherwise useful analogy?

It strikes at the heart of interpreting this:

For Sen. John McCain, the hawkish Republican senator from Arizona, the first number makes him spitting mad, literally – as judged Wednesday from my front-row seat at the Harvard Institute of Politics forum, where he answered questions from a moderator and students.

“The Syrian decision has reverberated around the globe,” McCain said, linking President Obama’s blurred red line over Syria to aggressiveness from Russia, China and Iran. He dismissed suggestions that Americans are war-weary, noting that Ronald Reagan grew the U.S. military in the immediate aftermath of the Vietnam War, and harshly criticized Obama for dithering on calls to arm Syrian rebels.

Visions of the dead and dying, women and children, lined in the streets after chemical attacks, keep him awake at night, McCain said.

“I am emotional,” declared the infamously temperamental senator, his face reddening with anger. “I’m guilty. I’m emotional.”

Contrast that reaction to the one a few minutes later when a Harvard student pressed McCain on gun control. With a shrug of his shoulders, the two-time presidential candidate noted that he had supported a bill that would have required background checks on all commercial sales of guns. It failed in the Senate.

His tone, passionate and aggressive on Syria, turned professorial and passive-aggressive on guns, as McCain explained that while the U.S. Constitution protects the right to bear arms, gun violence is “an emotional issue.” Congress needs to grapple with the issue somehow, he said, noticeably uncomfortable with his wishy-washyness.

“I know that’s not a good answer,” McCain said, “I wrestle with it all the time.”

So this is how McCain reacts to those two sets of numbers: Go to war for Syrians. Wrestle for America.

Look at bullets again, simplified:

  • 150,000 killed
  • 100,000 shot

So not even all the 100,000 are killed.

According to the Brady Campaign, 31,537 of the 100,000 die from gun violence:

  • 11,583 are murdered.
  • 18,783 kill themselves.
  • 584 are killed accidentally.
  • 334 are killed by police intervention.
  • 252 die but intent is not known.

Of the 18,783 (the largest number on the list), how many would have killed themselves anyway if they didn’t have access to a gun?

That leaves 11,583 who are actually murdered.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (as quoted by NBC News), 2012 saw 33,780 traffic fatalities in the U.S.

More people were killed in auto accidents that year than are shot to death in an average year.

What Fournier doesn’t mention

When McCain mentioned “The Syrian decision [that] has reverberated around the globe,” he wasn’t talking just about a decision not to invade, but a decision to lay down red lines—and then ignore them. A decision that many of us believe emboldens Putin.

At this point Fournier completely surrenders to confusion:

The contrast of emotion may speak as much about the Republican Party as it does about McCain. The GOP is lurching so far to the right that this Arizona conservative is considered a “RINO,” a Republican in Name Only, and there no room for common sense policies that uphold the 2nd Amendment while curbing gun violence.

After supporting one war fought on false pretenses in Iraq, McCain is still rattling U.S. sabers over the deaths of 150,000 Syrians in three years. Normally, that would hardly be notable: McCain, after all, is a consistent interventionist. But laid against the shootings of 100,000 Americans annually, McCain’s peculiar lack of emotion about gun violence seemed to speak to the sorry state of U.S. politics. And made me sad.

Most of us who’ve been reading the papers know that it was the Rand Paul/reluctant hawk caucus that moved to block the president’s preliminary decision to attack.

And these are the people who call McCain a RINO.

I don’t understand how Fournier can make this mistake. It’s a total unforced error driven, I guess, by emotion.

It’s certainly not by sober analysis.

At this point I remembered another, earlier Fournier column.

Ron Fournier, National Journal: Cowardly Congress, Ruthless NRA, and an Impotent Obama Conspire Against Assault-Weapons Ban

Obama talking about Sandy HookI don’t have the words to describe the cowardice of Congress or the depravity of the gun lobby, which conspired to kill the assault-weapons ban. I can’t explain the apparent impotence of President Obama who vowed to “use whatever power this office holds” to convert the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School into commonsense common good.

Fortunately, Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News found the words:

Any fool knows that [Adam] Lanza couldn’t possibly have killed as many children as quickly as he did on the morning of Dec. 14 without an assault weapon in his hands. So how does the president and any other big politician who allows the gun nuts from the National Rifle Association to win again answer the larger question about weapons that make killings like the elementary-school massacre ridiculously easy: If not now for a ban on these weapons, when?”

His must-read column was illustrated by the pictures of 20 slain Sandy Hook students and this headline: “Shame On U.S.”

The ban on assault weapons sponsored by Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California apparently died Tuesday with barely a whisper from media outlets or the White House. Black bunting should have hung from every window in Washington.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Democratic ally of Obama, told reporters that Feinstein’s proposal could not overcome Senate rules requiring the support of at least 60 senators before allowing a final vote. The proposal “using the most optimistic numbers, has less than 40 votes. That’s not 60,” he said.

In fairness, the gun lobby deserves most of the blame for creating a political climate in which any regulation of firearms is viewed as an attack on the constitutional right to bear arms. This as much a financial issue to the NRA and its industry allies as it is a constitutional one.

The gun lobby?

Where Fournier’s missing it is in reversing the cause and effect of the NRA and its constituents. I’m sorry, I don’t get the impression that voters, as a group, are affected by what the NRA says. On the contrary, the NRA is hugely affected by its membership, which is highly representative of an impressively large and vocal school of thought among voters.

In other words, the NRA isn’t like AARP. AARP is a services-oriented organization that attracts members by the array of products and services it offers its members. It then translates the resulting cash into a powerful political force on Capitol Hill. A force whose politics in no way represents the politics of its members. It cannot bring votes, only money.

The NRA is a genuinely representative organization, and it knows where its clout comes from. Not from its ability to form a political program it then pushes in the halls of Congress, but from its virtual Rolodex.

But Obama and fellow Democrats shoulder a responsibility to reframe the debate around unassailable facts: The Second Amendment is not at risk; modest regulations would improve gun safety and strengthen the nation’s noble gun culture; and nobody outside the U.S. military needs an assault weapon.

How does Fournier know this? How does a seasoned professional journalist throw out phrases like “unassailable facts”?

And then not present them?

Instead, the White House and Democratic lawmakers signaled retreat on the assault-weapons ban almost immediately after Obama proposed it. He didn’t fight.

“We cannot tolerate this anymore,” a teary-eyed president told the nation after the Sandy Hook shootings. “We are not doing enough and we will have to change.”

I don’t doubt Obama’s sincerity, but it is fair to question the president’s stomach for hard and hands-on legislative campaigns in a divided Congress. Not only are the facts on his side, but so is the public. An ABC News/Washington Post poll shows that 52 percent of the public favor stricter gun laws; 91 percent support background checks at gun shows; 82 percent want to make illegal gun sales a federal crime; and 57 percent favor a ban on assault weapons.

Every member of Congress, every White House aide, and every National Rifle Association dues-payer should take another look at those numbers. Be ashamed.

Why? Why should we be ashamed?

Because we recognized that nothing discussed in the bill Fournier referred to would have done anything at all to prevent another Sandy Hook?

Politicians are addicted to appearances. It is far easier for them to pretend to accomplish things than to enlighten voters. They love to be seen as acting to solve some crisis and for their opposition to be seen undermining solutions.

In my (very ardent) opinion, any law passed that is either unneeded, won’t work, or has unintended consequences undermines the Constitution whether the Constitution technically allows it or not.

In this case, no champion of the various legislative solutions offered yesterday claimed any of them would have prevented Newtown. Especially in the area of background checks.

And since Newtown was the catalyst for this “national conversation,” and preventing another Newtown was the supposed purpose of this debate, then the whole thing was a sham.

Which is bad for representative democracy and undermines the Constitution.

This emotion-driven finger-wagging is getting on my last nerve.



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