Multiple conservatives had a field day yesterday mocking President Obama for crying during the speech in which he announced new executive actions on gun control. Some accused him of emotional manipulation, while others floated the idea that he used a foreign substance to trigger waterworks on command.
But I’m not inclined to question the sincerity of Obama’s tears.
And that’s why his tears are significant. They convey a genuine depth of feeling on the left that has cultural impact far beyond Obama’s relatively insignificant executive action. Not one of his gun-control policies will have the slightest impact on gun violence. Not even the more ambitious federal legislative proposals made after the Sandy Hook massacre would have prevented any of the recent American mass shootings.
But the tears lay down a marker. For the Left, the war on guns really, truly matters. And that means turning the full resources of popular culture against guns and — critically — gun owners. I wrote last month that the Left will attempt to shame America into political change, to use the same tactics — and the same depth of emotion — that transformed American culture on issues such as gay marriage and transgender rights.
So far, anti-gun hectoring has had the opposite effect. Emotional gun-control debates actually help drive gun sales. But the Left’s strategy is clear: They aim to make guns seem inherently dangerous while shaming gun-owners as something far worse than “uncool.”
And while I don’t think this campaign will work, it is incumbent on gun-owners to persist in making the moral case for carrying a firearm. Too often we find ourselves locked into wars over statistics — comparing gun violence across national and cultural boundaries, examining the effectiveness of a particular gun-control measure, or measuring the lives saved by the use of personal weapons in self-defense against the lives taken through suicide and homicide. But gun ownership is about values that are far deeper than any set of statistics.Gun ownership goes to the heart of what it means to be a responsible citizen in our constitutional republic. It goes to the heart of what it means to be a responsible parent or spouse. It isn’t merely about hunting, or the joy of an afternoon at the firing range, or “looking tough.” It isn’t about fear. It’s about autonomy, independence, and a deep and self-sacrificial regard for the lives of those you love. It’s about exercising the fundamental human right to defend oneself and others.
And that can’t be stressed enough, unless we want “gun culture” to live on in ever-shrinking regional enclaves, with each generation bowing just a bit lower to a relentless, motivated political and cultural elite. Barack Obama won’t be the last president to feel this deeply about gun control, and his tears reflect the deep feelings of millions of Americans, including those who effectively control the entertainment consumed by millions more. Politics are downstream from culture. We ignore that reality at our own risk.
— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.