Having firmly established herself as the entertainment media’s darling de l’année, the comedian Amy Schumer decided in August to branch her commentary into a new political realm: gun control. After a showing of her movie Trainwreck was shot up by a misogynistic drifter, Schumer promised the world that she would henceforth speak out. Standing next to her cousin, Democratic New York senator Chuck, at a hastily arranged press conference, the actress apologized profusely for having been silent hitherto. “These are my first public comments on the issue of gun violence,” she told the press, “but I promise you they will not be my last.” And so, to great applause, her star continued to rise.
True to her word, Schumer has been vocal of late. Asked by a journalist in Switzerland why the United States had not imposed draconian gun restrictions, she plumped for a familiar contention: “I think,” she said casually, “it’s money.”
One can only imagine that Schumer would have benefited from inserting a period of study between her promise to speak out and her making good on the pledge. By her own insistence, Schumer hopes only to change the manner in which the background check system is run. She is not — at least not yet — contemplating advocating an all-out ban. That being so, one has to wonder where the “money” comes in to her theory. If we were at present debating the prohibition of firearms, then the financial health of the nation’s gun companies would surely be at stake. But we’re not. Rather, we are discussing altering the way in which violent and mentally ill people get hold of the firearms that are already on the market. What can she mean?
Presumably, Schumer is resting her argument upon one of the more witless ideas in all of American politics: the contention that gun manufacturers oppose stricter laws governing who may buy firearms so as to keep their market as big as possible. Gun sellers, this peculiar theory goes, are far more interested in taking the few dollars that the crazy or violent among their patrons can provide than they are in saving the lives of the innocent. As such, the government must step in to ensure that profits are not made at the expense of the public good.
One can only imagine that Schumer would have benefited from inserting a period of study between her promise to speak out and her making good on the pledge.
This, frankly, is nonsense. All things considered, there is simply no way that the benefit of adding a few undesirables to the customer base could outweigh the cost of fighting the more draconian measures that are invariably proposed after a mass shooting. Forget the caricature of the soulless arms dealer that Everytown and their ilk like to promulgate, and look instead at the question as a dull business calculation: What gun manufacturer in its right mind would want the negative publicity that attaches itself to the sort of massacres that are committed by society’s outcasts? The answer, obviously, is “None.” Were the NRA and its friends really about increasing their bottom lines at the expense of everything else, they wouldn’t prattle on about freedom; they’d accept proposals such as Schumer’s with alacrity.
Indeed, were it not for the remarkable political and commercial pressure that their customers impose — this is the real reason that the “gun lobby” is against further controls — the firearms industry would be more than likely to champion stricter rules of its own volition. Each and every time I hear somebody say that the “gun lobby” opposes universal background checks because it wants to increase its profits, I have first to laugh out loud, and then to wonder on which political planet the speaker is presently living. Had Chuck Schumer gotten his way after the abomination at Sandy Hook, pretty much every single firearms transaction in the United States would now require an attendant background check. The consequences of this change would have been twofold: 1) Because each sale, transfer, or gift would have attracted a mandatory fee, second-hand firearms would necessarily have become more expensive to buy — thereby providing a boon to those who make new ones; and 2) The bigger corporations — Walmart, Gander Mountain, Bass Pro, Cabela’s, etc. — would have set themselves up as the most reputable (and cheap) facilitators of the transfer process, thereby taking advantage of a brand new, government-created market. If it makes her feel virtuous, Schumer can believe that her preferred proposals would stick it to the moneyed interests, but in truth, they would do little more than to expand those interests’ profits.
Schumer’s ill-considered diagnosis is not the only glaring error that she has made of late. One of her latest sketches, titled “Ask If Birth Control Is Right for You,” depicts the actress struggling with all the necessary steps that are placed in the way of women who hope to obtain birth control from a pharmacy. At the end of what turns into an absurdly long quest — and having had to ask all and sundry for permission — Schumer finally gets her prescription . . . only to watch a little boy walk into the same store and be given a handgun, no questions asked. “Remember,” the pharmacist says casually to the child, “that’s your right!”
Such as it is, the humor here derives from the supposed absurdity of its being more difficult to get hold of birth control than to purchase a firearm. Unfortunately for Schumer, that simply isn’t true. Leaving aside for a moment that the most vocal advocates of over-the-counter birth control have been Schumer’s ideological enemies, the gun-buying process in the United States is in fact far, far more complex than the sketch’s makers appear to believe. In order to purchase a handgun, an American must be 21 years of age, fill in a bunch of federal and state forms, hand over identification, and submit to a criminal background check. If Schumer thinks that it’s hard to get hold of the pill from a CVS, she should try buying a Glock from Walmart. Presumably, apologists for the spot will meet these objections with the insistence that “it’s only a joke.” But it’s really not — it’s satire, and satire only works when it’s internally consistent. Should Schumer wish to keep harping on this question, she will need to study up.Likewise, if she wishes to do anything other than strike a feel-good pose, she would benefit from a broader understanding of what exactly kills reform measures in the United States. In a press release touting the ideas to which she has put her name, her cousin Chuck suggested that the Americans “desperately need to improve the background check system, which helps prevent the adjudicated mentally ill and violent criminals from getting their hands on a dangerous weapon.” In order to do this, Schumer suggested, the national database needs to be more comprehensively populated.
As one might expect, this is unlikely to be popular with Second Amendment advocates who fear that the government will abuse any power that it is given. But, as Reason’s J D. Tuccille establishes today, such ideas are also anthema to many mental health professionals, who worry that “individuals might avoid seeking help if they’re worried that treatment will end up as an entry in a government database,” and that “so might the family and friends of troubled people who think a loved one needs care.” When people realize “just how arbitrary the use of government records can be,” Tuccille notes, they may well come to believe that the changes “could make things worse.”
A similar fate may well await Amy Schumer’s foray into the debate.
— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer at National Review.