Gun control is once again in the news, as President Obama took to the airwaves this morning to announce that he is undertaking executive actions on the issue. His executive order will, among other things, expand background checks, in particular closing the so called “gun show” loophole that allowed small firearm sellers to avoid being required to do background checks.
The executive action follows a recent spate of mass shootings, which in prompted The New York Times to run their first front page editorial in decades, last December.
Just like the editorial, Obama’s announcement was filled with emotion, with the president shedding tears at one point during the press conference.
There is an understandable emotional theme throughout this discourse, but it’s based on the premise that gun deaths and mass shootings are out of control. Fortunately, all evidence seems to say the opposite.
As Mark Perry at the American Enterprise Institute points out, the gun homicide rate has dropped 49 percent since 1993, while the number of privately owned firearms has increased 56 percent. This fact seems to have largely been left out of post-mass shooting narratives. As a result, a majority of Americans mistakenly believe that gun violence is not only rising, but spiraling out of control.
Even President Obama’s much touted claim that mass shootings only occur in the United States seems to ignore the facts. As John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center points out, the United States is not even in first place when it comes to the annual death rate, or the frequency of mass shootings, let alone the only place where such events occur.
Any shooting is a tragedy, but using the outpouring of emotion from such a tragedy to carry out one’s own political agenda and deprive people of their rights is simply unacceptable. The condescension exemplified by The New York Times is inappropriate behavior for a respected news organization who claims to be interested in debating an important issue for the good of society.
In light of the clear evidence of decreasing gun homicides, it’s clear that the moral panic promoted by progressives is based in emotion rather than fact. There is nothing wrong in becoming emotional in the face of acts of incomprehensible evil, but there is great danger in enacting policy based merely on emotional impulses. Emotion clouds logic.
Unfortunately, the reliance on emotion over logic that is inspiring progressives to promote gun control is, at the same time, is being used by demagogues like Donald Trump to justify closing the border to Muslims, increasing domestic surveillance, and eroding civil liberties.
The Constitution and the rule of law are meant to ensure that individual rights remain secure, even in the face of emotional tragedies. So before progressives champion President Obama’s executive actions, they should consider what might happen if their ideological opponents were the ones unconstrained by the rule of law in the wake of a tragedy.
Zachary Yost is a Young Voices Advocate who works in the Washington DC area.