Biden’s Snip in the Air
The vice president’s commission on gun violence was theater from beginning to end.

Vice President Joe Biden at his gun-control task force, January 10, 2013


Charles C. W. Cooke

In Monty Python’s “Lumberjack” sketch, a reluctant, nervous, and possibly psychotic barber pretends to cut his customer’s hair. Taking a solitary snip in the air, he proclaims that his job is done. Don’t be ridiculous old fellow, complains his charge. “I know when a chap’s cut my hair and when he hasn’t. So will you please stop fooling around and get on with it?”

Joe Biden might well have a similar conversation with the American public, for his gun-control commission has taken a comparable attitude toward its work. Tasked with the grandiose goal of making sure that an incident such as Sandy Hook “cannot happen again,” it has issued its report impossibly fast — one month and done. Today, on the anniversary of the ratification of the 18th Amendment, which established Prohibition, Barack Obama endorsed Biden’s work. We are now to be ushered forward into broad, sunlit uplands

As one might expect, the report’s “findings” are not findings at all but the usual laundry list of progressive desires, this time set against the backdrop of small children and afforded cover by the half-truthful declaration that outside groups have been “consulted.” Earnest gun-control advocates possessed devoutly of the conviction that smart government action is capable of limiting violence might have hoped for a comprehensive inquiry. Instead, they got photo ops, platitudes, and hurried conversation. In place of rigorous thought, they got checked boxes, emotional bullying, and playacting. It strikes me that if you were cheered by the prospect of an American president’s taking up the topic, by now you must be sorely disappointed. After all, if the argument is that these measures were obviously necessary before the massacre at Sandy Hook but that it took that abomination to bring public opinion around, then we didn’t need a vice-presidential report to outline them, did we?

As in New York State, which rammed a series of “reforms” through yesterday, the real victor here was Haste, the patron saint of shoddy legislation. In Albany, the reactionary “improvements” of Governor Andrew Cuomo went from concept to law before you anyone could say, “Actually, there are some serious concerns among the state’s mental-health professionals.” No doubt that some of the features in the vice president’s parade of Things That Must Be Done will meet the same fate.

Throughout the process, Joe Biden has not kept the public informed of his progress as much as he has collected a bunch of clichés and strung them together with the only verbs he knows. You see, folks, people are more ready for legislation than ever because of their great and spontaneous awakening, and the time to act is now. If it saves just one life, we must seize this moment and do something of critical importance to make a real difference — but don’t worry if you’re a hunter, because the Second Amendment won’t be touched. And so on and so forth.

One cliché that Biden omitted was “Politics is the art of the possible.” This is a truism, perhaps. But possibility is not a strong justification for action. Nonetheless, it appears to be the administration’s operating principle. The president knows that he cannot get any meaningfully restrictive legislation through this Congress or past the American people, and so he has seen fit to outline what he can do without the legislature. To reserve as much of the action as possible to the realm of the executive order is practically and politically sensible, but it is not a blueprint for good law. If the White House believes an “assault weapons” ban or a restriction on the size of magazines is imperative, then it should steadily make that case and extend its time frame to years rather than months. Instead, it looks likely to go for a combination of very minor quick wins and larger symbolic gestures that it knows full well will die in Congress. What, a cynic might ask, are its real aims are here?