Ten years ago today a disturbed young man stole his mother’s gun, murdered her in her bed, stole several more firearms, and proceeded to the local elementary school that he once attended, where he opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle and senselessly slaughtered 27 people, including 21 children, before taking his own life.
Gun control activists, including then-Vice President Joe Biden, were quick to demand a ban on so-called assault weapons in the aftermath of the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, but Congress did not oblige. Now, a decade later, Biden says the entire nation should feel guilt over the failure to enact a ban at the time, while calling on the Senate to approve a ban on so-called “assault weapons” that narrowly passed the House earlier this year.
“We should have societal guilt for taking too long to deal with this problem,” Biden said in a statement. “We have a moral obligation to pass and enforce laws that can prevent these things from happening again. We owe it to the courageous, young survivors and to the families who lost part of their soul ten years ago to turn their pain into purpose.”
“Enough is enough,” Biden said. “Our obligation is clear. We must eliminate these weapons that have no purpose other than to kill people in large numbers. It is within our power to do this – for the sake of not only the lives of the innocents lost, but for the survivors who still hope.”
There are a number of problems with Biden’s attempt at emotional manipulation here, starting with the fact that bans on so-called assault weapons are both unconstitutional and completely ineffective at preventing active shooting incidents. According to the FBI, handguns are the primary weapon of choice for active shooters and violent criminals in general, both juvenile and adult.
But Biden’s statement also contradicts the very legislation he’s been pushing in the Senate. The so-called assault weapons ban approved by the House on a 217-213 vote earlier this year contains a grandfather provision “permitting” existing owners to maintain possession of their legally purchased semi-automatic rifles. If the roughly 25-million modern sporting rifles can continue to be possessed by their existing owners, how does that square with Biden’s repeated calls to “eliminate these weapons”?
The truth, of course, is that grandfathering in existing firearms is simply a sop to get “moderate” lawmakers to back the ban, and a provision that can always be axed once the initial ban is in place. We’ve seen the gun control lobby use that particular strategy in states like California and New Jersey, where grandfather clauses in previous bans on “large capacity” magazines were removed years later and gun owners were told to either destroy or permanently modify their existing magazines, hand them over to law enforcement, or remove them from the state.
Second Amendment attorney and scholar Stephen Halbrook recently did an excellent job of explaining why prohibitions on AR-15s and other semi-automatic firearms run afoul of the Constitution and Supreme Court precedent, but Joe Biden doesn’t care about the legal niceties of his proposed gun and magazine ban any more than New York Gov. Kathy Hochul is worried about treading on the Second Amendment rights of New Yorkers with her Concealed Carry “Improvement” Act.
In a nation that protects the right of we the people to possess and carry firearms in self-defense, certain restrictions are off the table, and that would include turning the possession of the most popular rifle in the country into a federal felony offense. And frankly, in a country with more than 400-million firearms (and tens of millions of gun owners who have no plans to give them up), the idea that we would ever be able to ban our way to safety is simply delusional.
The really sad thing about Biden’s statement today is that he could have used this as an opportunity to talk about what we as a society can do to prevent these types of attacks without the need for any new legislation. According to the Secret Service, which has examined school shootings in detail, about 90% of those who plan or carry out a targeted attack on a school tell someone about their plans beforehand; either in person or online.
Simply paying attention and saying something when you come across a threat can save countless lives, at least when authorities react and respond as they should. Biden’s statement on the anniversary of the Sandy Hook murders, on the other hand, didn’t mention any of this. Instead, it was almost entirely devoted to pushing for a gun ban that doesn’t have the votes in the Senate and would likely be thrown out by the Supreme Court if it was enacted. I can’t say I’m surprised by Biden’s attempt to guilt-trip American into backing his ban, but it’s still disappointing to see him use the anniversary to stump for a doomed gun control bill instead of promoting the simple steps each of us can take to stop an active shooter before they have the chance to pull a trigger.