In politics, as in comedy, timing is all. Last weekend, to great self-generated fanfare, the New York Times ran its first front-page editorial in 95 years. Its vital subject: The scourge of so-called “assault weapons,” which, the editors contended, must not only be “outlawed for civilian ownership” but confiscated from those who are already in possession of them. By taking this action, they submitted, the United States would “end the gun epidemic” and at long last reclaim “its sense of decency.”
In the past week, the paper’s board has seen fit to echo this contention twice. Today’s offering was particularly hysterical. Among its claims: that the gun industry is “war profiteering”; that modern sporting rifles are “weapons designed for the rapid spray-shooting of multiple enemy soldiers in wartime”; that concealed carriers wield “powerful semiautomatic pistols with the firepower of rifles”; and that teenagers are stocking up on the “super destructive .50-caliber sniper rifle.” Strictly speaking, none of this is true. But then, it’s not really supposed to be. Outside of Eighth Avenue a culture war is raging, and the Times has at last found its crusade.
EDITORIAL: A Shallow Argument for Gun Control
But not, it seems, its rhythm. At the best of times “epidemic” is a peculiar way of describing criminal behavior. But now? Per Merriam Webster, “epidemic” suggests “a rapid spread or increase in the occurrence of something,” or, perhaps, a problem “affecting many persons at the same time, and spreading from person to person in a locality where the disease is not permanently prevalent.” Does this apply to firearms deaths in America?
Hardly. Indeed, to peruse the hard facts is to learn that gun crime, which has been a permanent part of the American scene for centuries upon centuries, is today at a 25-year low. In 1993, Obama’s DOJ confirms, the “gun murder” rate was more than double what it is now, while the “crimes with a firearm” rate was more than three times as high. Last year, moreover, we saw yet another impressive drop. If we must insist upon responding to the trends with viral terminology, shouldn’t our mot juste be “containment”?
#share#Oddly enough, you will find no mention of this decline in the New York Times, only the cynical pretense that we are in the midst of a “crisis.” A week ago my colleague Jonah Goldberg pointed out just how peculiar this is, noting that among the bombshell pieces of news that the Times has not considered worthy of front page editorialization are “the Peace of Versailles, Buck v. Bell, the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, the Hitler-Stalin Pact, the Ukrainian famine, the internment of Japanese-Americans, the Tuskegee experiments, the Holocaust, McCarthyism, the Marshall Plan, Jim Crow, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Kennedy Assassination, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Kent State, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, Watergate, withdrawal from Vietnam, the Killing Fields, the Iran hostage crisis, the Contras, AIDS, gay marriage,” and “the Iran nuclear deal.” That it took a remarkable drop in the crime rate to force to force the editors into action should tell you a great deal about their sensibilities.
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Indeed, all things being equal, it is hard to avoid the feeling that the Times’s editors are indulging in anything more than a series of high-class primal screams. As the paper’s own polling confirms, for the first time in two decades a majority of Americans opposes a ban on the very “assault weapons” that are now under fire. And why wouldn’t they? Because they do not live cloistered and ideologically insulated lives, Americans outside of the Beltway understand that the sort of rhetoric in which their “paper of record” is indulging is preposterous on its face. They know that 18-year-olds are not buying .50 cal rifles, which start at $10,000 or more and have never been used in a crime. They know that AR-15s do not “spray bullets” and are not designed for “battle.” They know that handguns do not in fact have the same “firepower” as rifles, and that concealed carriers pose no threat to the public. And, above all, they know that if the people of these United States are to enjoy a functioning right to keep and bear arms, they will need their gun manufacturers to be inoculated from the awkward designs of those who would casually charge them with war profiteering.
#related#The extent to which the gun-control debate is but one skirmish in a broader culture war can be overstated; for all their flaws, many reformers are genuine in their desire to save lives. But the Times’s newfound jihad is so egregiously ill-conceived as to make one wonder if its architects are more interested in preaching to the choir than in winning anything concrete. As his time in office comes to a close, President Obama is making it clear that the one thing he regrets above all else is his inability to overcome the status quo and to make serious inroads against the Second Amendment — a confession that indicts as co-conspirators against him both the tricky American political system and the popular culture writ large. Since he confirmed this frustration, his allies have been keen to step up to the plate and do all they can to help. That the effort appears to do little more than to increase the number of gun sales and to swell the NRA’s coffers is, one suspects, entirely beside the point. The proselytizers are always going to proselytize, the smug will always search for redemption, and the harsh imposition of reality will do nothing to check either’s march.