The bombs that were used to attack the Boston Marathon this week were fashioned from pressure cookers stuffed with nails and other shrapnel, authorities believe.
Should we respond by requiring that pressure cookers be registered with federal authorities, or that prospective purchasers of kitchenware undergo criminal background checks?
Nobody seems to think so. Such measures would not stop the next twisted individual who is intent on killing or maiming as many strangers as possible. Enacting such rules might momentarily assuage our need to “do something” in response to the Boston outrage, but we would merely inconvenience our fellow law-abiding citizens and stigmatize a widely used product.
“Our pressure cookers…are not intended to be used for any purpose other than cooking,” the maker, Fagor America Inc., said in a statement reported by The Boston Globe and its affiliated website, Boston.com.
We can have a rational discussion about how to stop the would-be bombers in our midst. But when it comes to guns and the mass shootings in which they are sometimes used, our reasoning ability seems to disappear.
President Obama and other advocates of gun-control legislation were roundly defeated in the Senate this week. Obama was visibly enraged at a White House news conference in which he pronounced it “a pretty shameful day” and vowed to continue pressing for federal legislation.
Obama had pulled out all the emotional stops to try to get the Senate to approve at least a compromise measure that would have expanded the use of pre-sale background checks for gun buyers. Notably, he yielded the microphone for last Saturday’s weekly presidential address to Francine Wheeler, whose 6-year-old son Ben was among the victims of the mass shooting at Newtown, Conn., in December.
Most of the measures the Senate considered this week would have had no conceivable impact in Newtown. Shooter Adam Lanza used weapons owned by his mother, Nancy, a gun collector who was among his victims. From what is publicly known, there is no reason to believe Nancy Lanza would have had any problem passing a background check.
“Thousands of other families across the United States are also drowning in our grief,” Wheeler told the country as her husband, David, sat silently next to her. “Please help us do something before our tragedy becomes your tragedy.”
Everyone – absolutely everyone – sympathizes with the Wheelers and the other Newtown families. Everyone understands the need of a parent, in the face of a senseless, devastating death of a beloved child, to feel that something good must come out of it. If we lose a child to disease, we crusade against the disease. If we lose a child to gun violence, we crusade against gun violence. It is the natural reaction of a grief-stricken mother or father. We all understand their pain, and most of us try to support them when we can.
But “support” is not the same as exploitation or appeasement. Passing irrelevant or counterproductive legislation to satisfy a grieving parent would be appeasement. Using that parent’s pain to promote a pre-existing, and largely unrelated, policy objective is exploitation. Obama did not hesitate to exploit the Newtown parents’ pain to promote a gun-control agenda long favored by many in his party.
I don’t mean to imply that the president’s own sympathy for those parents is insincere, or that he does not believe in the policies he is joining with them to promote. I think Obama was as horrified by Newtown as anyone else. Due to his office, he probably feels more responsibility than most of us. He likewise feels the need to “do something.”
Obama, like many gun-control advocates, caricatures opponents as gun-loving right-wing nut jobs, or at least as ideologues and tools of the National Rifle Association. The president supports gun control measures that would have no major impact on gun offenses, but would make it more cumbersome for Americans to legally own and transfer guns.
Obama sees little downside in this because, I believe, he and other gun control backers see little upside in gun ownership. How many times have we heard advocates observe that a gun’s only purpose is to hurt someone? (Minor allowances are made for hunting and target shooting.)
This trivializes the reasons so many Americans – tens if not hundreds of millions – own guns. Many keep them for self-defense. Some, who work or play outdoors, rely on weapons to protect livestock and pets. Some, like my rancher friend in Montana, live miles from the nearest neighbor and dozens of miles from the nearest town. Practically everyone owns a gun in such places.
Though I have no statistics handy to prove it, I’d bet that more American households own guns than own pressure cookers.
Go ahead and dismiss them – and me – as “gun nuts” if you want, but be advised that I do not own a gun and have never even fired one. I am certainly not a member of the NRA.
I just want policy responses that make sense. We are not going to stop shooters from getting guns, any more than we can stop bombers from getting pressure cookers. The best defense is to identify and stop these people before they can act. We are never going to be perfect at this, yet we can probably get better.
I wish Obama and the Newtown parents would focus their efforts on finding ways to identify and treat or stop the next Adam Lanza before he steals his mother’s guns, kills her and shoots his way into a school. Vilifying opponents of gun-restricting measures will not do this, and neither will passing irrelevant legislation just because we feel the need to “do something.”