It’s a distressing reality of our hyper-politicized culture that all too many people value fame and good intentions over facts and reason. And so it is with the rise of the Left’s philosopher-comedians, the men and women that the Washington Post’s James Hohmann called “prominent voices of moral authority.” Foremost among them is Jimmy Kimmel, the man who has supplanted Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as the celebrity face of the #Resistance.
I’ll agree that these comedians are certainly prominent. I’ll agree that they’re quite sincere. I question their moral authority — especially when their arguments constitute little more than a grab-bag of gun-control myths and Democratic talking points. Let’s take, for example, Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue from last night, an emotional segment that’s rocketing around the left-wing half of the Internet. You can watch it all below:
There’s much to unpack here, but when you truly examine his claims, you’ll see that he’s spreading more than a little misinformation, his “solutions” won’t solve the problem, and his fondest ideals fundamentally violate the Second Amendment.
Kimmel, to his credit, does note that the killer “came out of nowhere.” So far there appears to be none of the usual warning signs. He didn’t seem to be a political or religious extremist. There’s no evidence yet of a history of mental illness. He passed background checks. In other words, he is perhaps the most difficult kind of criminal to stop.
But I disagree with that intensely, because of course there’s something we can do about it. There are a lot of things we can do about it. But we don’t. Which is interesting, because when someone with a beard attacks us, we tap phones, we invoke travel bans, we build walls, we take every possible precaution to make sure it doesn’t happen again. But when an American buys a gun and kills other Americans, then there’s nothing we can do about that. And, uh, Second Amendment, I guess, our forefathers wanted us to have AK-47s is the argument, I assume.
First, notice how he diminishes the jihadist threat — calling the people who hit us on our home soil harder than superpowers like Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan ever could — “someone with a beard.” No, the jihadists who struck the United States on 9/11 (and we’ve been fighting ever since) not only have the capacity to inflict grievous harm here at home, they’ve demonstrated the ability to take over entire nation-states, commit genocide, disrupt our European allies, and kill our soldiers by the thousands. Of course our response to such a threat will be significant.
Kimmel begins his monologue by invoking the terrible individual losses last night in Las Vegas. We all grieve for the slain, just as we all grieve for those slain in jihadist terror attacks. Yet our grief doesn’t justify actions that are ineffective or counterproductive at addressing the threat. Kimmel invokes “travel bans” and “wall” as responses to jihadists. But doesn’t he oppose those things? No one would credibly argue that his opposition to security measures he believes misguided renders him somehow callous to the victims of terror. Similarly, conservative opposition to liberal gun-control arguments is only evidence of disagreement, not indifference.
Second, it’s just completely false to contrast our response to 9/11 with a comment like “there’s nothing we can do” about gun crime (or mass shootings) in the United States. We have a host of laws and regulations governing gun ownership and gun use, and we spend billions of dollars on local, state, and federal law enforcement to enforce the law and punish violations. The question isn’t whether we’re doing “nothing” but rather the “something else” that Kimmel proposes will be lawful and effective at reducing gun violence.
It’s disappointing to see Kimmel repeat a popular left-wing internet meme — that the Founders couldn’t have wanted Americans to possess AK-47s. Yet it’s historically indisputable that the Founders protected the right of Americans to possess weapons that gave individual citizens far greater military parity with the government than American citizens possess now. The musket was the principal weapon of armed conflict in the 18th century. An American leaving his home with a musket was on par with a member of the Continental Line. Not so with an American who possesses any number of AR-15s or AK-47s. The contemporary gap between civilians and the military is vast and growing.
Moreover, it’s a tad ironic to see a man exercise his First Amendment rights through modern technologies like television or YouTube or social media (something the Founders couldn’t possibly imagine) and decry the exercise of Second Amendment rights through the ownership of modern firearms. Guns are advanced, yes, but they’re still guns. The Founders could foresee their use. In addition, the Constitution protects categories — like “arms” or “speech” or “the press” — not specific objects — like muskets or the printing press.
Next, Kimmel says this:
Orlando, Newtown, Aurora, San Bernardino, every one of these shootings the murderer used automatic or semiautomatic rifles, which are not weapons used for self-defense. They’re weapons designed to kill large numbers of people in the shortest amount of time. And this guy reportedly had ten of them in his room, apparently legally, at least some of them were there legally. Why is that allowed?
Let’s deal with this factual point — the shooters in the cities listed above did not use automatic rifles (the Las Vegas shooter may have used an automatic weapon, or a semiautomatic weapon modified to simulate automatic rates of fire). They used semiautomatic rifles, and semiautomatic rifles are used for self-defense. I have one in my home now. Multiple self-defense experts recommend an AR or similar semiautomatic rifle as the best home-defense weapon. Many Americans find them far easier to use than pistols, and they’re far more accurate. Moreover, we’ve tried banning them before, and there was no impact on gun crime.
And if the concern is mass shootings, so-called “assault rifles” (an inaccurate and misleading term) are hardly the only weapon of choice for the worst killers. Look at this list of the worst mass shootings in American history. Time and again the weapons used are exactly the kinds of pistols that law-abiding Americans use to defend their homes and families. You simply cannot ban the kinds of weapons used in mass murders without effectively repealing the Second Amendment. It’s that simple.
Moreover, if you pull back the lens from individual mass shootings and look at gun violence more broadly, semiautomatic rifles are among the least-used weapons in America. Blunt instruments, hands, feet, and knives kill more people than rifles of all types, much less the “assault rifles” at issue in Kimmel’s monologue.
Next, Kimmel just gets the law flat-out wrong. He says this:
Because it is — it’s so crazy, there are loopholes in the law that let people avoid background checks if they buy a gun privately from another party, if they buy a gun online or at a gun show. So I want to show you something. These are the faces of the senators who, days after the shooting in Orlando, voted against a bill that would have closed those loopholes. These are the 56 senators who didn’t want to do anything about that.
He’s referring to the so-called “gun show loophole,” a loophole that doesn’t exist. If you buy a gun from a licensed dealer, then that dealer has to confirm that you’re legally entitled to purchase the gun. Period. It doesn’t matter if you purchase that weapon at a gun show, at the store, or standing in line at Burger King. The actual “loophole” he’s referring to is the reality that many states permit so-called private sales without background checks between two persons who live in the same state. But this “loophole” is irrelevant to the shooting in Las Vegas. The shooter reportedly recently passed a background check. Kimmel raising the “loophole” in this context is like using a cancer diagnosis to contend that heart medication should be cheaper. That’s arguable, but it’s irrelevant to the event at issue.
Kimmel claims that the NRA has Republican leaders’ “balls in a money clip.” This is a popular Democratic talking point, but it’s fundamentally false. You wouldn’t know it from the popular rhetoric, but when it comes to political donations, the NRA is a financial midget. Look at the list of the top 50 organizational donors in 2016. You won’t see the NRA. The power of the NRA rests in the power of gun owners, not in the power of cash. The NRA informs the millions of motivated gun owners of threats to their civil liberties, and those gun owners respond. The NRA isn’t manipulating politicians. Members of Congress are responding to their constituents.
But let’s back up a bit and look at the bigger picture. Though crime has increased in a number of large cities in 2015 and 2016, we are still in the midst of a historic decrease in violent crime. As Nick Gillespie writes in Reason, for the last quarter-century many states have loosened restrictions on gun ownership, yet gun crimes have gone down. The numbers are amazing:
“From 1993 to 2015, the rate of violent crime declined from 79.8 to 18.6 victimizations per 1,000 persons age 12 or older,” says the Bureau of Justice Statistics in its most recent comprehensive report (published last October, using data through 2015). Over the same period, rates for crimes using guns dropped from 7.3 per 1,000 people to 1.1 per 1,000 people. The homicide rate is down from 7.4 to 4.9.
As Gillespie says, “These are not simply good things, they are great things.” Now is not the time for gun owners to retreat from defending their fundamental civil liberties.
It’s a sad fact that there’s not much any nation can do to defend itself from a multimillionaire hell-bent on mass murder — especially when he has no criminal history, no record of mental illness, and no record of radical political or religious beliefs. It’s telling that law-enforcement officers reportedly found bomb-making materials in his car. The worst murders in American history have been committed with box cutters, planes, and bombs — not firearms — and the recent truck-ramming in Nice, France, took a far greater human toll than any American mass shooting.
Humanity has struggled to neutralize evil men for millennia. For millennia, we have failed. It doesn’t mean that we don’t continue to try. It doesn’t mean that we close ourselves off to innovative solutions and new ideas. It does mean, however, that even the best of intentions and the most genuine of monologues have to be exposed to the cold light of law, reason, and facts. Sincerity only makes misinformation more dangerous. Kimmel is misleading Americans, and when he misleads, he’s not acting as a “moral authority,” he’s clouding the debate.
— David French is a senior writer for National Review, a senior fellow at the National Review Institute, and an attorney.