The Corner

President Obama Has Let His Emotion Get the Better of His Judgment

Obama’s executive-led gun control push is finally underway. Per NPR:

ATF will play a central role in the administration’s move, by clarifying what it means to be “engaged in the business” of selling guns. Until now, some collectors and hobbyists have been able to avoid that designation. As a result, they haven’t needed a federal license to sell and they haven’t been required to conduct background checks on their customers. The new guidance from that Bureau is designed to require more such sellers to conduct background checks, even if they’re doing business only at gun shows or online.

Moreover:

The administration is also working to improve the quality of background checks by encouraging states and government agencies to share more information about criminal histories, domestic violence, and mental illness that could disqualify a person from buying a gun. And the FBI is hiring 230 additional staff people to speed the processing of background checks. Under current law, a gun sale can go forward if a background check is not completed within three days.

Arguendo, let’s presume that all these changes are legal (given, how tightly the laws are written, I’m skeptical). Has Obama lost his mind? This is a man, remember, who is supposed to be admirably dispassionate; a man who is supposed to understand how the game is played; a man who is supposed to reflexively refuse to be taken in by the emotion of the moment. And yet he’s going to use a good deal of his last year’s political capital in order to tweak a few minor rules around the edges? Why? Even if we’re generous and presume that every single one of these regulations finds its way permanently into the law, he will nevertheless have done nothing substantial to further “universal background checks”; he will have instituted none of his coveted magazine limits; and he will have banned none of the weapons that he disdains. Further, he will have set no meaningful precedents whatsoever. In other words: Even if he wins this round, he will have done precisely nothing of merit — except perhaps to have pleased his base and to have convinced the most ignorant parts of the electorate that he has finally stuck his finger into the NRA’s eye. Were these serious measures, I would be squealing. Instead, I’m amused. These are the dampest of squibs.

Which is to say that Obama’s behavior is not at all rational. As far as I can see, the president has announced these initiatives for no other reason than to satisfy his burning desire to say that he did “something” to advance gun control. That he in fact did nothing of note is neither here nor there. He needs the applause line — both now, and in his retirement — and he’s determined to get it.

When I say he did “nothing of note,” of course, I mean “nothing of note to advance his agenda.” As it happens, the president has done something “of note” tonight: He has hurt his own side. Were I a gun control advocate I’d be livid with him. Livid.

Why? Two reasons:

1) In order to make his actions appear meaningful, Obama is going to have to pretend that they represent serious change. If he does that, though, he’ll permit his opponents to say, “look, we just did big gun control by executive order, we have other things to do, and we’re not doing it again.” That matters. The Left makes great hay out of the “we never do anything” line, and its more effective advocates use our present inertia to justify the need for experimentation. Insofar as there is any, Obama has slowed the momentum for further gun-control. This is not how you win the argument.

2) By taking this route, Obama will help to entrench America’s gun culture — and for little in return. Ceteris paribus, the United States will play host to at least another 20 million guns by the end of December 2016 — many of them so-called “assault weapons.” In addition, the country will welcome another million or so concealed carriers, and another half-million or so NRA members. Every time the president talks about gun control, these numbers increase, and, in consequence, the president’s opponents are strengthened. Not only will this maneuver make it more likely that a Republican presidential candidate will make inroads with pro-gun voters — the ads write themselves: “you don’t want another anti-gun would-be King, do you?” — but it will likely damage the long-term prospects for change. By his own account, Obama wants to reduce, not increase, the number of guns in circulation. If history is anything to go by, this action will do precisely the opposite.

And for what? A minor change to the way in which firearms are sold on the private market? Obama has let his emotion get the better of him here. He and his fellow travelers will likely pay a price.

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