Chris Christie Was Right Not to Meet with the Parents of Sandy Hook

by Charles C. W. Cooke

We’re back to this, I see. Per Politico:

Joe Scarborough on Tuesday slammed New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s refusal to meet with the parents of the Sandy Hook shooting, calling his defense one of the “stupidest arguments” he’s ever heard.

The Republican governor declined to meet with the families of children who were killed in the December 2012 shooting at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School, who wanted to discuss gun control legislation. Christie last week vetoed a state bill that would have banned ammunition magazines that held more than 10 rounds.

The governor said that it would have been “really hypocritical” to meet with the families who wanted to push for gun control, given that he had already made up his mind and vetoed the bill.

I’m not sure that it would have been “hypocritical” as much as it would have been pointless. Impolite as this is to observe, there really is very little that the parents of the victims of Sandy Hook had to add to this question. Chris Christie would not have been asking them how the abomination in Connecticut made them feel; he would not have been working out how best to rebuild their local school; he would not have been mining them for special or first-hand information that was unavailable to anybody else. Instead, he would have been inquiring as to what they thought of a bill that would have reduced the size of magazines from 15 rounds to ten — an objective, not subjective question. And then he would have been harangued or praised for his position.

As a society, we would do well to get over the idea that the victims of random violence are automatically able to give us special insights into our public policy. Sometimes they can; sometimes they can’t. Some among the parents of Sandy Hook presumably know a lot about firearms law; some know very little. But that their children were the victims of random gun violence has nothing whatsoever to do with their parents’ policy expertise. We might as well ask the victims of Hurricane Sandy what we should do prevent extreme weather. 

This, of course, goes for victims on both sides of the political aisle. Conservatives like to point hysterically to Evan Todd, a survivor of Columbine who is vehemently against gun control. Some treat him as if he possesses magical powers. He really doesn’t. He’s a man who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Nothing more, nothing less. Given the debate that is full of victims agitating for the other side, I certainly understand the Right’s temptation to push Todd into the fray. Overall, though, we would do much better to treat both groups as what they are: Random and heartbroken victims — people who have a great deal to tell us about what tragedy did to their lives but little that is unique to add to the debate over what we might do to prevent it from recurring.

Why do those criticizing Christie resent his refusal to play this game? Largely because he has declined to provide them with a powerful emotional weapon — a golden opportunity to say, “this man’s son was actually shot, and you have the temerity to disagree with him!” As I wrote last year, when President Obama was running around the country trying to spin anguish into gold, the advocates of change know that they are more likely to prevail on a wave of sentiment than they are as the result of a calm and reasoned argument:

The sole purpose of wheeling in innocent children, of pointing incessantly to the grief of victims of gun violence, and of relating tales of family suicide (as Harry Reid recently did on the Senate floor) is to dare your opponents to be hard-hearted enough to oppose your agenda. Instead of engaging his critics on substance, the president has done his level best to circumvent the debate by transmuting a dispute over the wisdom of new laws into an up or down vote on whether or not one is sad about gun violence.

Christie had come to his decision. Whether he got it right or wrong, he had nothing to gain from arranging another meeting than to open old wounds anew. A good decision — a brave one, too.