Whenever a politician proposes a policy surrounded by children, skepticism is in order. But skepticism, logic and sound argumentation are the enemies of President Obama in his gun control push, which kicked off Wednesday on a White House stage filled with kids.
After December's Sandy Hook massacre, Obama has reached deeper than usual into his bag of debater's tricks and rhetorical ploys. He assigns evil motives to those who disagree with him on policy. He tries to pre-empt cost-benefit analysis with facile assertions that any policy is mandatory if it will save "only one life." And the most contentious policy he seeks -- a ban on so-called assault weapons -- has near zero correlation to the problem he claims to be addressing.
Obama on Wednesday told voters to ask their congressman "what's more important, doing whatever it takes to get an A grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns, or giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade?"
Obama's direct and unmistakable implication: The only reason to oppose an "assault weapons ban" is for campaign contributions. In his press conference, he credited "an economic element" to "those who oppose any common-sense gun control or gun safety measures."
Obama rules out the possibility that some people deeply value the constitutionally enshrined right to bear arms. Concerns about unintended consequences? Obama doesn't acknowledge those. Anyone studying the 1994 "assault weapons ban" can see it did little to curb violence. But in Obama's mind, that argument is just another cover story for "I Want More NRA Contributions!"
Obama engaged in this same sort of argumentation during the health care debate. While he had the full backing of the drug lobby, the President described Obamacare opponents as those who "would maintain a system that works for the insurance and the drug companies."
Obama's most facile argument Wednesday was this plea for gun control: "[I]f there's even one life that can be saved, then we've got an obligation to try." Vice President Biden said a week earlier that "if your actions result in only saving one life, they're worth taking."
The flaw in this reasoning is pretty obvious. Thousands of Americans will drown this year in swimming pools. You could save many of those lives by banning swimming pools. That doesn't mean we have "an obligation to try" banning swimming pools.
We don't outlaw pools because -- however heartless this sounds -- we weigh other goods against the good of preventing deaths. In the case of a pool, we weigh the costs to health, fun and liberty against the lifesaving benefits of banning pools. When talking about gun control, we could weigh lives saved by outlawing guns against the costs to recreation, liberty and self-defense. But the Obama-Biden "just one child" rule precludes any two-sided analysis.
Finally, Obama's policy prescriptions are grounded in what's politically popular rather than what would effectively address the problem of gun violence. Obama repeatedly called for a ban on "military-style assault weapons." This is not actual class of weapons -- this is a rhetorical device to make some rifles sound scary.
Scariness is what "assault weapons" talk is all about. The 1994 "assault weapons ban" didn't have a real definition of assault weapon. The law listed a bunch of guns that would be illegal and then laid out some criteria for what could make a gun be an "assault weapon." The qualifications were mostly cosmetic: A rifle could become illegal if you added a flash suppressor; it could become legal if you removed a bayonet.
And restricting rifle ownership has very little bearing on curbing murders. According to FBI data, rifles are responsible for less than 3 percent of all U.S. murders for which the murder is weapon is known. You are five times more likely to be killed by a knife or a blade than by a rifle. Handguns, the data show, are used in a vast majority of gun murders. But handguns don't look as scary as the AR-15.
Many on today's Left flatter themselves as being more "reality-based" than the Right. Liberals care more about science, data and the empirically proven, you'll hear from MSNBC or the New Republic.
But Obama's arguments for gun control aren't based on data or logic. They are based on aspersions, emotion and popular fears. In other words, it's politics as usual.
Timothy P.Carney, The Examiner's senior political columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears Monday and Thursday, and his stories and blog posts appear on washingtonexaminer.com.