The Campaign Spot

Tragedy Spurs Action . . . Even if It’s Irrelevant to That Tragedy

Also in today’s Jolt, a rather skeptical look at the national impetus to “do something” after the Newtown massacre:

A Tragedy Spurs Us to Take Actions That Wouldn’t Have Stopped That Tragedy

So I realize I should be outraged by Obama introducing 23 executive actions on gun violence, but . . . this is pretty much what we all expected, isn’t it?

A friend who’s more gun-control minded asked me what I thought of the various proposals being put forth. I pointed out that almost none of the proposals would have made one bit of difference had they been in effect when the Newtown shooting occurred, suggesting that the purpose of the proposals was to make lawmakers and the public feel good about themselves, not to actually make it impossible for such a horrific event to occur again. In the end, there’s not really a law that can prevent a woman from having such terrible judgment that she keeps dangerous weapons and a deeply disturbed son in the same house, short of absolute and total national confiscation of all firearms in private hands — a draconian step that the gun control crowd insists they don’t really want.

Among his “executive actions”: “Nominate an ATF director.” That’s not an executive action, that’s a reminder you write to yourself on a Post-It note.

Assault Weapons Ban? It was in effect during the Columbine massacre.

Extended magazine ban? You’ll recall my brief flirtation with the idea. I’m now pretty dissuaded that it would have much of an impact on future mass shootings, since A) a shooter can reload within a few seconds, with just a bit of practice; B) most shooters in these cases carry more than one gun, so they’ll be able to inflict quite a bit of mayhem before needing to reload; C) there are already plenty of these magazines out on the market, and no one’s seriously called for confiscating them all; and D) you can manufacture them yourselves with 3-D printers, so you’ll never be able to really shut down production of them.

Would smaller-capacity clips mean fewer fired shots before someone was able to intervene? Maybe, on the margins. But let’s not fool ourselves about the impact we’re talking about with this change. A gunman who brings two guns with the 10-round magazines the president wants to require can still fire 20 shots before that first several-second reloading pause; in a school, park, college campus, shopping mall, or other public place with a lot of unarmed potential victims, that’s a lot of potential death and injury.

On Obama’s list is “Launch a national dialogue led by Secretaries Sebelius and Duncan on mental health.” Note that the Newtown gunman had no criminal record and had not been ruled mentally ill by a judge, meaning he would not have shown up in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. (He did try to purchase a rifle before the massacre but left the store without purchasing because he did not want to wait the two weeks required under Connecticut law.) Remember, despite a considerable history of odd behavior, the Tucson gunman was never legally declared mentally ill or a threat to himself or others. (After he was suspended from Pima Community College, the school said he could not be readmitted without “clearance from a mental health official.”)

I will be surprised if the “tighten our mental-health records” talk doesn’t lead to a much lower threshold to be declared “mentally ill” and unfit to own a firearm. And whatever that new, lower, more vague and arbitrary threshold is, I’ll bet it makes troubled individuals — or even not-so-troubled individuals — even more reticent to see a therapist, psychologist, or other mental health professional.

But hey, at least the politicians get to say that they “did something.”

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