Last week, President Barack Obama announced 23 largely useless executive orders he said were designed to curb illegal gun violence in the United States. The announcement angered Second-Amendment advocates and likely sets Democrats up for a major public-opinion defeat, but in all the commotion, one revealing aspect of the speech — the belief that daily chaos and tragedy can be conquered by human intellect and government power — went unnoticed and unchallenged.
That isn’t surprising. The first half of the statement was so comfortably couched in common sense, that it was easy to miss that the second part of the sentence was in direct contradiction.
“Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil,” Mr. Obama began, “if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.” (RELATED: Second GOP congressman threatens impeachment after Obama announces executive actions)
On its face, this is a pretty innocent utterance. But what would it mean in practice? In reality, we exchange security daily not only for lofty liberty, but for simple convenience. As libertarian reporter and “No They Can’t” author John Stossel points out, every day we pump an invisible, odorless, poisonous and highly explosive fuel no cheaper than oil into our homes, resulting in about 400 deaths a year. We call it natural gas, and it hails from a time when our country was less jumpy about the risks life entailed.
But hold on: If a parent said that they would take any precaution to protect their child from chaos and tragedy, wouldn’t that sound about right? Yes, but Mr. Obama is not our parent, and his massive government bureaucracy has the power and the money to screw up more than just our home life. And in the case of the former, even doting parents can be too burdensome on their children, holding them back and leaving them unprepared.
Which brings us to a second point: Whether it’s relationships, business or government, the theory of diminishing returns is in full effect. A little work goes a long way, but the more one plans, organizes, regulates, cleans and thinks, the less of an impact that time and effort yields. Progressives think that it is their job to protect Americans from every conceivable risk, and there comes a time when not only are the returns not worth the cost, the effects actually harm the intended beneficiaries.
Take a look at the regulators’ plans for Domino’s Pizza: Obamacare regulations will require nutritional information for all orders on-location so people can eat healthier. The problem is there are 34 million different combinations available at Domino’s today. This, corporate HQ estimates, will cost every single franchisee $4,700 to display, per location. Sound stupid? Well, the real kicker is that 90 percent of Domino’s business is conducted over the phone, with the customer never stepping foot in the door to see the fancy signs. Oh, and even before the do-gooders stepped in to save us, Domino’s built a nifty online calorie calculator. So in the end, a number of franchises close, and the ones that stay charge more money for their pizzas while 90 percent of customers reap zero benefit.
Or how about the Obama administration’s War on Coal? Regulators and their defenders like to cite increased — and very, very tiny — rates of asthma possibly caused by coal, with public awareness campaigns charging that Big Business wants to turn America’s children into air filters for their filthy pollutants. The problem is that since the 1970s, as the country’s air quality has increased, so too have the asthma rates. So, while the United States has the cleanest coal production and use in the world, regulators shut down coal plants across the country, jacking up Americans’ energy costs, decreasing Americans’ energy independence, and laying off thousands of workers. And regulators would do well to take a look at the effects unemployment has on the children they’re using to make a point: Unemployment leads to increased rates of poverty, crime, domestic violence, alcoholism and suicide. Last time we checked, that hurts at home.
But cynically using children to push the point is a favored tactic of unscrupulous politicians and activists, bringing us back to the terrible murders at Sandy Hook Elementary.
So why was Mr. Obama’s decision to surround himself with children while issuing his executive orders cynical? For starters, because none of the orders would have prevented the Sandy Hook murders. And while Mr. Obama calls for more stringent background checks, Vice President Joe Biden admits that the feds “don’t have the time” (or interest?) to enforce existing background-check and gun-safety laws already in place to protect innocents. (RELATED: Biden says government can’t prosecute most people who lie on firearms forms)
Meanwhile, while politicians rant on about large clips and “military-style weapons,” they conveniently ignore a number of hard truths, including that a Bushmaster .223 is a hunting rifle made to look like a military weapon; semiautomatic means you don’t have to reload, so people can defend themselves against more than one attacker; and ammunition magazines are just boxes with springs that fit into any gun that takes magazines, and are possible to make at home with relative ease. They also fail to mention that since the last “assault weapons” ban expired, the murder rate has fallen nearly 20 percent, from 5.7 per 100,000 in 2003, to 4.7 in 2011. Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal reports, “just 2.6 percent of all murders are committed using any type of rifle.”
But while any person who has read any history may come to the conclusion that senseless mass killings existed before assault weapons and — surprise, NRA — before violent video games, any politician knows that the political theater of appearing to be in charge is what counts. Why else would someone issue an executive order to “finally give the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) a confirmed director” or “review and enhance as warranted safety standards for gun locks and gun safes”? How about an executive order to go to work that day?
Or Mr. Obama could issue a proclamation only a monster could disagree with: make all children all places safe all the time.
And then it all comes back to the core progressive belief that the chaos and tragedy that is human existence can be overcome by human intellect; and then it all comes back to the core progressive mission to make those chaos-conquering ideas actual policy and create their Utopia here and now.
The problem is that the progressives’ faith in their own intellect, and in the bureaucracies they create, is misplaced; and despite the concerted efforts of some of the greatest — and some of the most wicked — minds in history, chaos and tragedy have not been transcended, but often multiplied.
So before Mr. Obama, drunk on his own ideology, pats himself on the back for proclaiming his “obligation” to swing the full weight of the Leviathan “if there is even one life that can be saved,” he would be wise to eye the mistakes of the past, enforce the laws on the books, and stop spouting empty rhetoric just to hear the sound of his own soothing intellect.
On the other hand, he could pick a fight with conservatives that will cost the Democrats Senate seats in the next election. Conservatives could use a win.