Politics & Policy

Why Obama’s Tears Matter

(Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)

Multiple conservatives had a field day yesterday mocking President Obama for crying during the speech in which he announced new executive actions on gun control. Some accused him of emotional manipulation, while others floated the idea that he used a foreign substance to trigger waterworks on command.

But I’m not inclined to question the sincerity of Obama’s tears.

One of the most difficult aspects of any presidency is meeting with families who’ve suffered traumatic loss. Countless times, presidents meet the families of those who died in combat, in natural disasters, and in mass shootings, and those meetings can be intensely emotional. If, in his heart of hearts, Obama blames guns for these horrific losses, it’s easy to see why the announcement of new gun-control measures would make him cry.

And that’s why his tears are significant. They convey a genuine depth of feeling on the left that has cultural impact far beyond Obama’s relatively insignificant executive action. Not one of his gun-control policies will have the slightest impact on gun violence. Not even the more ambitious federal legislative proposals made after the Sandy Hook massacre would have prevented any of the recent American mass shootings.

RELATED: Why Would Anyone Want a Firearm? Self-Defense and the Second Amendment

Politically, Obama’s new actions are a wash. They’ll motivate both bases through a news cycle or two and probably stimulate a few new gun purchases, but they won’t get the president much closer to enacting the kind of gun control he’d like to see. New federal statutory restrictions are no more or less likely than they were two days ago.

But the tears lay down a marker. For the Left, the war on guns really, truly matters. And that means turning the full resources of popular culture against guns and — critically — gun owners. I wrote last month that the Left will attempt to shame America into political change, to use the same tactics — and the same depth of emotion — that transformed American culture on issues such as gay marriage and transgender rights.

#share#An NR colleague suggests another analogy: the war on smoking, in which pop culture relentlessly communicated that cigarettes are dangerous to your health and it’s not “cool” to smoke. This combination of truthful communication — it’s hard to find anyone who denies smoking’s health risks — and popular pressure led to steep declines in the smoking rate despite the powerfully addictive effect of cigarettes.

So far, anti-gun hectoring has had the opposite effect. Emotional gun-control debates actually help drive gun sales. But the Left’s strategy is clear: They aim to make guns seem inherently dangerous while shaming gun-owners as something far worse than “uncool.”

RELATED: The Left Won’t Shame the Gun Culture Out of America

And while I don’t think this campaign will work, it is incumbent on gun-owners to persist in making the moral case for carrying a firearm. Too often we find ourselves locked into wars over statistics — comparing gun violence across national and cultural boundaries, examining the effectiveness of a particular gun-control measure, or measuring the lives saved by the use of personal weapons in self-defense against the lives taken through suicide and homicide. But gun ownership is about values that are far deeper than any set of statistics.

#related#Gun ownership goes to the heart of what it means to be a responsible citizen in our constitutional republic. It goes to the heart of what it means to be a responsible parent or spouse. It isn’t merely about hunting, or the joy of an afternoon at the firing range, or “looking tough.” It isn’t about fear. It’s about autonomy, independence, and a deep and self-sacrificial regard for the lives of those you love. It’s about exercising the fundamental human right to defend oneself and others.

And that can’t be stressed enough, unless we want “gun culture” to live on in ever-shrinking regional enclaves, with each generation bowing just a bit lower to a relentless, motivated political and cultural elite. Barack Obama won’t be the last president to feel this deeply about gun control, and his tears reflect the deep feelings of millions of Americans, including those who effectively control the entertainment consumed by millions more. Politics are downstream from culture. We ignore that reality at our own risk.

— David French is an attorney and a staff writer at National Review.

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