January 18 2013
Carrie L. Lukas
Parents are often asked by their children to solve unsolvable problems. When woken by nightmares, my daughter seeks reassurance that bad dreams won’t return when she closes her eyes again. I offer a fresh pillow, inviting her to think that somehow it will foster only happy visions.
If I cajoled them to, my kids could scratch out some tear-jerking pleas for the President to put an end to nightmares, lost stuffed animals, and illnesses of all kinds. Yet that really shouldn’t be the impetuous for nation-altering legislation. Grown-ups—including politicians—may have a duty to offer children reassurance after a trauma, but we cannot pretend that we have the power to wipe bad things out of existence.
Using children’s pleas to end violence is about the most grotesque rhetorical tool available to politicians. Our natural instincts are to want to shield children from life’s pain. Yet fixating on our desperate desire to protect children from harm distracts from the truly important, adult business of assessing what solutions are actually available.
So it is with the gun debate. As if the massacre of children in Newtown, Connecticut wasn’t emotional enough, the President is now posing with children and publicizing kids’ pleas for the government to take action to prevent gun crimes. The Administration’s messaging strategy is clear: If you care about children, then you’ll do what we say and support new regulations and restrictions. Never mind questions about whether there is any evidence that the new restrictions will actually disarm would-be killers. We have to do something. You are either with us and the children, or you are on the side of mentally-ill, child-murdering maniacs.
This is not an intelligent way to approach public policy.
Like many Americans, I’m no fan of guns. The first time I saw a real gun that wasn’t on a police officer or solider was in 2001 when I went skeet-shooting with my future husband’s grandfather. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed skeet-shooting, as well as how much my shoulder hurt from the shotgun’s kick-back. Years later, I went with my husband and some of his family to a firing range and shot a revolver. That wasn’t fun at all, it was terribly noisy, and I haven’t shot anything since.
I know only enough about guns to know that I know very little at all. I cannot imagine personally being comfortable enough with a gun to use one in self-defense, so guns scare me.
Yet just because I would never personally want to own or use a gun doesn’t mean that I have nothing at stake in the gun rights debate. I’m glad that there are women who know how to use guns and do so in their own defense. I want potential assailants not to assume that all women are helpless until the police arrive.
If keeping guns out of the hands of criminals were as easy as outlawing certain categories of guns or ammunition or more thorough background checks, then it seems that all of the existing gun laws would have been more effective at reducing gun violence and that cities with the strictest gun laws, like Washington DC and Chicago, would be among our safest. They are not.
I have yet to see convincing evidence that more burdensome federal restrictions, like those being proposed by the President, will hit the target and reduce gun violence. I have seen studies suggesting that stricter gun laws disarm law-abiding citizens and make it easier for violent criminals to operate. But I’m open to reviewing new data if the President has some to offer after he’s done tweeting the most recent missive from an eight-year-old.
Let’s have a real conversation about the efficacy of gun laws, and what measures might prevent mass shootings and keep deadly weapons out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. Yet let’s have that conversation as adults, and leave the children out of it.
Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum.