From Aaron Burr to Dick Cheney, vice presidents and firearms have never been a good combination. The latest example is Joseph Biden, who sees shotguns as a universal solution for personal defense the same way government spending is for social woes. First he told a woman to use a double-barreled shotgun instead of an AR-15 to protect her home, since it’s supposedly easier to aim (though, as the woman pointed out, it can also fire only two rounds). Later Biden recalled telling his wife that if their family home was menaced by an intruder, she should go out on the balcony and fire two shotgun blasts in the air — which, besides being of questionable effectiveness, is illegal in Delaware. The vice president’s advice would be potentially hazardous if anyone listened to him, but we have a better idea: Let Americans defend themselves and their homes as they see fit, and sign Mr. Biden up for a refresher course in firearm safety.
In their rush not to let a tragedy go to waste, several states moved forward with questionable gun-control bills — bills that not only are unlikely to work but also contain drafting errors that could lead to unintended effects. New York State initially failed to exempt police officers and guns used on movie sets. And a Colorado bill that has already passed the state house contains language that could be read to ban common pump-action shotguns — the ammunition in such guns is stored in a tube that can easily be extended to hold a forbidden number of rounds. Passing bills to find out what’s in them is becoming a liberal motif.
It would be nice if America could get over the peculiar idea that the victims of gun violence should be privileged in our conversation about gun control. But if it is not able to do so, some balance in the coverage would be welcome. Evan Todd, a survivor of the Columbine massacre, seems to agree. In February, Todd wrote an open letter to the president, in which he argued against “universal background checks,” against an “assault weapons” ban, and against limiting magazine size. “In theory,” he wrote, “your initiatives and proposals sound warm and fuzzy.” But in reality? “Your initiatives seem to punish law-abiding American citizens and enable the murderers, thugs, and other lowlifes who wish to do harm to others. . . . There is no dictate, law, or regulation that will stop bad things from happening — and you know that. Yet you continue to push the rhetoric. Why?” This is a good question. As Todd observes, no law made a difference in Columbine. He should know: He was one of the first people to be shot.
Detroit is a mess: Its finances are backward, its population has been halved, its bonds are unsellable junk, its crime is uncontrolled, its landscape is dominated by abandoned buildings, and its politics are such that the voters chose a retired Pistons combo guard as mayor when the incumbent was carted off to jail. Michigan governor Rick Snyder has announced his intention to appoint an emergency financial manager for the city to oversee its reorganization, and Detroit’s comfortable ruling junta is howling: It’s unconstitutional, or a violation of the Voting Rights Act, or the Civil Rights Act, or something. Cries of racism are in the air, as they always are in Detroit: When Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick lied in court about sleeping with his chief of staff and then fired the police officers investigating him, he too said the issue was racism. Detroit Democrats charge that the financial manager will be an “overseer” — note the plantation language — while the Reverend Wendell Anthony demands: “Has Michigan become the new Mississippi of our day?” (Detroit should be so lucky as to have leaders like Mississippi’s sober governor, Phil Bryant.) Governor Snyder has a moral obligation to save Detroit, even if Detroit does not wish to be saved.
Hugo Chávez, the late president of Venezuela, liked to present himself as a revolutionary, a socialist for the 21st century. Many members of the American Left presented him this way too. In reality he was the latest in the long line of caudillos, a reactionary throwback to the strongmen who have been the scourge of Spanish America. As a junior army officer, Chávez did not hesitate to mount a coup, and once in power he devised a constitution that made him leader for life. Violence was his medium, and under his rule murders, disappearances, and thefts exploded, making Venezuela more dangerous than even the narco-states Mexico and Colombia. He militarized his supporters, putting them into red shirts and red berets. He drove thousands into exile, expropriating their land and property, and nationalized Venezuela’s oil companies to secure the funds with which to buy popularity. Rumor has it that Chávez and his family amassed a fortune of $2 billion. Hostility to the United States is the caudillo’s favored expedient, and Chávez did what he could to obstruct her foreign policy (while continuing to sell her oil). Fidel Castro was the model he deferred to obsequiously, and he counted among his friends and allies Saddam Hussein, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Robert Mugabe, Moammar Qaddafi, and Bashar Assad. In front of the UN General Assembly he referred to George W. Bush as the devil and claimed to smell sulfur, and in front of a media pack he shamed Barack Obama with a book-length polemic against Yankee imperialism. Years may have to pass before the dire consequences of such misrule can be righted. Like other caudillos before him, Chávez has left the world a more brutal place than he found it. Dead at 58, R.I.P.