Earlier in the year, as the gun-control movement tried clumsily to transform an abomination into a cudgel, the Washington Post’s Kathleen Parker distilled its problem into a single sentence. “Nothing proposed in the gun-control debates would have prevented the mass killing of children at Sandy Hook Elementary School,” Parker contended plainly, “and everybody knows it.”
This was abundantly clear at the time, and it is even more so in retrospect. And yet I must nitpick ever so slightly with Parker’s excellent contention, for it is missing the crucial word “almost.” Almost everybody knows it. The public seems to know it. Legislators seem to know it. But, judging by the abundance of vexed anniversary columns, a significant cabal of journalists and activists have never got the message. A year later, their cry is as it was at the outset: Why won’t we act?
Yesterday, Michael Bloomberg delivered a speech in which he utilized what I have come to regard as the Newtown Template. Having established the tragedy in the audience’s mind — December 14 “will mark a very somber anniversary,” Bloomberg noted, correctly — he went on to claim
that “unlicensed sellers of firearms” were “illegally flooding the Internet with weapons,” causing “a massive online, unregulated, second-hand firearms market that threatens public safety.” Then, for good measure, he took a swipe at the government for “doing nothing.”
As in the various columns of the same bent, Bloomberg’s purpose here was obvious: To suggest that, by failing to crack down on the private sales of firearms, the federal government has dishonored the memory of the victims at Newtown. Something that abhorrent happened, this argument goes, and we did nothing.
To wish to prevent another Sandy Hook is an admirable and human instinct. But to chase placebos? That is infinitely less commendable. Typically, when government inaction is the complaint, it is beneficial to eschew emotion in favor of a couple of hard questions. The first is “What is it that you want the state to do?”; the second, “How would the state’s doing this affect the problem?” In this case, the “what” was the Toomey-Manchin bill, which would have forced all the states to run background checks on all private transfers and sales of firearms. And the answer to “What would it have done?”: Nothing.
As a few of the more honest advocates of gun control acknowledged at the time, it is just about possible to argue with a straight face that universal background checks could help to prevent or diminish the general rate of gun crime. But it is certainly not possible to claim that they would prevent or even diminish the number of mass shootings. In fact, to argue that such a requirement would have done anything whatsoever to stop recent massacres isn’t just wrong — it’s deeply dishonest. Those who have been chastising Congress for not reacting to massacres by passing legislation that has nothing to do with massacres should be ashamed of themselves.
The left-wing blog ThinkProgress has compiled a list of massacres perpetrated between 1999 and 2012. Let’s have a look at the most recent ten:
- In December of last year, Jacob Tyler Roberts stole a Stag Arms AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and killed two people in Portland, Oregon.
- In September of 2012, Andrew John Engeldinger went on a shooting rampage in Minneapolis after he had been fired. Engeldinger used a Glock 19 handgun that he had bought legally from a licensed dealer. He passed the background check that is mandatory for all commercial sales.
- In August last year, Wade Michael Page killed six members of a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Page was an Army veteran, and because his discharge was “general” not “dishonorable” he was legally allowed to buy firearms. This he did, buying the handgun that he used in the shooting at a gun shop in West Allis, Wisconsin, and passing the background checks without a hitch.
- In July, James Holmes killed 12 people at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado. Over a period of time, Holmes legally purchased two Glock 22 pistols, a Remington 870, and Smith & Wesson M&P15 semi-automatic rifle. All the weapons were purchased from licensed dealers, and Holmes passed background checks on each occasion.
- In May of 2012, Ian Lee Stawicki murdered five people at the Café Racer Espresso in Seattle, Washington. Stawicki legally purchased two .45-caliber handguns for his spree, before which he had legally purchased four other firearms. Stawicki not only passed background checks on all six occasions, but he had a concealed-carry permit too.
- In April 2012, Jake England and Alvin Watts killed three black men in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in an apparently racially motivated attack. The guns they used were legally owned.
- In April of 2012, One L. Goh walked into Oikos University [in Oakland, Calfornia] and murdered seven people. Goh used a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun and four 10-round magazines, all of which he had purchased legally from a licensed dealer. He passed a background check and abided by California’s ten-day waiting period.
- In February 2012, Thomas “TK” Lane used a .22 caliber handgun to shoot three people dead at Chardon High School in Ohio. Authorities reported that Lane had stolen the .22-caliber handgun from his uncle, who had purchased it legally
- In October 2011, Scott Evans Dekraai killed eight people in Seal Beach, California. Dekraai used a 9mm Springfield pistol, a .45-caliber Heckler & Koch pistol, and a .44 Magnum Smith & Wesson revolver. All the guns were legally purchased. Just over a year earlier, Dekraai had been under a restraining order that had barred him from possessing firearms. This had expired at the time of the shooting.
- In September of 2011, Eduardo Sencion shot 5 people dead in an International House of Pancakes in Nevada. The rifle Sencion used was not only banned in America, but the company that made it was prohibited from selling or moving its products into the United States. Indeed, nobody knows how Sencion got hold of the weapon. Reports are unclear, but some suggest that the perpetrator illegally converted the weapon from semi-automatic to fully automatic.