We’ve all seen the cartoons on television. Our hapless protagonist, caught up in the heat of the moment, fails to notice that the barrel of his gun is bent backward toward his face. When he pulls the trigger, he hits himself, blowing his Stetson hat off — or worse.
Long before Barack Obama came fully out of the gun-control closet and dressed himself in the gaudy attire of the crusader, he held a solid claim to the title of Best Inadvertent Gun Salesman in History. His credentials are impeccable: Not only did Obama record for posterity his endorsement of “a ban on the manufacture, sale, and possession of handguns” on a 1996 political questionnaire, but, while running for president in 2008, he also discourteously characterized Americans who weren’t from New York City or San Francisco as “bitter” people who “cling” to guns and religion — summing up what progressives have long thought about gun owners and their recalcitrant accomplices in the “flyover states.”
Subsequent attempts to walk back the condescension proved fruitless. “My writing wasn’t on that particular questionnaire, Charlie,” he told Charlie Gibson during the 2008 Democratic primaries. “I have never favored an all-out ban on handguns.” The public appears not to believe him. A Huffington Post/YouGov poll from February of this year revealed that a plurality believe that the president would “ban handguns” and “repeal the Second Amendment” if he could.
Our beliefs determine our behavior. Since the president kicked off his post-Newtown tour, the citizens of the United States have been on what The Atlantic termed “an unprecedented gun-buying binge.” Here are the ten busiest weeks for the NICS (National Instant Criminal Background Checks System) in its 15-year history:
As The Atlantic noted, “in the intervening 746 weeks since November 1998, the ten weeks with the most checks have all happened since the Newtown shooting.” These are but the high points of a remarkable trend. Since Obama took office in January of 2009, more than 66 million guns have been sold in the United States.
Bill Clinton, burned badly in 1994 on the issue of gun control, warned President Obama earlier this year that he was setting himself up for a fall. But Obama did not listen. “A lot of these people live in a world very different from the world lived in by the people proposing these things,” Clinton counseled Democratic donors in January. “I know because I come from this world.” The current president most definitely does not.
In Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, tedious Cousin Jasper comes to Charles Ryder’s Oxford rooms and, taking aim at Charles’s hedonistic lifestyle, of which he evidently disapproves, gives his charge a severe ticking off. “Jasper,” as Charles recalls, “would not sit down.” Instead, “he stood with his back to the fireplace and, in his own phrase, talked to me ‘like an uncle.’” The characterization will be familiar to gun owners, many of whom have felt as if they have been on the receiving end of such a general rebuke for the better part of four months.
Jasper’s Grand Remonstrance is so miserably ineffectual that Charles responds by reaching into his cabinet and taking out a bottle of champagne. “I’m sorry, Jasper,” he says, airily. “I know it must be embarrassing for you, but I happen to like this bad set. I like getting drunk at luncheon, and though I haven’t yet spent quite double my allowance, I undoubtedly shall before the end of term. I usually have a glass of champagne about this time. Will you join me?” General disapprobation is not, it seems, the way to win hearts.
The president has done more than spur gun sales. As he ramped up his effort last December, precincts across the country reported a record number of applications for concealed-carry permits; shelves emptied of ammunition; AR-15s, a favored bogeyman of the gun-illiterate Left, became almost impossible to obtain; the National Rifle Association added half a million members in six weeks; and, most important, the states took up the cause. Much hay has been made of the reactionary new laws in Connecticut, Colorado, New York, and Maryland. New York’s in particular has been singled out as a perfect example of the follies of haste. But what of the 15 states that have loosened their rules?
This year, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, South Dakota, Kentucky, Texas, Idaho, Montana, Utah, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Michigan, Maine, and Arizona have all enacted bills that weaken gun restrictions. Arkansas, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Maine have expanded the list of places where citizens may keep and carry weapons; Virginia, Montana, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Maine have made concealed-carry permit records confidential or limited public access to them; and the legislatures in Oklahoma and Kansas have sent bills to the governor that would provide “automatic reciprocity for all out-of-state concealed weapon permits.”
In South Dakota, residents with a concealed-carry permit may now carry a pistol while riding a snowmobile; Kentucky has not only removed its six-month-residency requirement for a concealed-carry permit but also instructed state police that they have 30 — not 90 — days to approve applications; Idaho has banned local jurisdictions from refusing to recognize concealed-carry rights; Utah has made it illegal for the state and for local jurisdictions to compel concealed-carry holders to disclose that they are carrying; and Mississippi has clarified the meaning of “concealed,” so that one cannot be prosecuted if a concealed gun becomes temporarily and accidentally visible.
These moves are certainly in keeping with a general 20-year-old movement toward expanding gun rights at the state level. But the speed with which such bills made it through the political process should worry the gun-control movement. Twenty-five measures have been passed in the four months since Newtown. More are awaiting gubernatorial signatures or are subject to further debate. Gun controllers seem to face a genuine, perhaps intractable, quandary: In order to have a shot at changing the rules, they must speak in urgent and emotional terms, and they must try to rush legislation through before reason can intrude on the debate. But it is this very emotional urgency that scares people into buying guns, turning the restrictionist into the salesman.
As the old song goes:
They say that in the army
The guns are mighty fine.
But when you pull the trigger,
The bullets fly behind!
— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.