Congressional hearings are supposedly held to investigate public policy issues so well-meaning legislators can apply facts and reason to forming evidence-based and constitutional solutions. This is the reason that courts judging the validity of legislative enactments typically give broad deference to the judgments of lawmakers on matters of both constitutionality and fact.
On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing entitled “Constitutional and Common Sense Steps to Reduce Gun Violence.” The hearing all too predictably failed to live up to its name, offering little hope that Congress will treat the complex problem of people committing crimes with firearms as anything other than an opportunity to target the lawful ownership of guns by people who will never misuse them.
While casual observers might have been impressed with the credentialed and well-spoken witnesses, knowledgeable followers of the gun issue endured what was immediately recognizable as a steady stream of predetermined, focused-tested talking points that served more to misdirect than to enlighten.
Considerations of brevity and readability forbid us from addressing every oversimplification, material omission of fact, or outright falsehood that occurred during the proceedings. Nevertheless, several especially egregious examples illustrate why no gun owner should surrender their hard-fought rights by taking what is said on Capitol Hill at face value.
First is the phrase “gun violence” itself, which is how gun control advocates describe harm one human being inflicts on another by use of a firearm. More than just convenient shorthand, it is a psychological framework that shifts the responsibility for the problem from the person who acts to the tool the person uses. If the gun itself is what causes violence, then every rational solution must be aimed at diminishing its prevalence. As one anti-gun witness stated during the hearing: “Undoubtedly, the challenge of gun violence is related to the fact that we have guns. Without guns, there would not be gun violence.” Moreover, guns, unlike people, don’t have natural rights. So the phrase “gun violence” deftly diminishes not just personal culpability on the part of the perpetrators but the personal freedom of harmless individuals who will bear the brunt of gun control’s effects.
And make no mistake, it is those harmless individuals who are in the crosshairs of the predetermined “solutions” offered by the gun control advocates at the hearing. Private transfer bans, categorical bans on popular types of firearms and magazines, waiting periods, and making law-abiding manufacturers and dealers responsible for third-party criminal acts dominated the discussion. It was as if, against all available evidence, violent criminals would be more beholden to technical restrictions like a ban on private transfers than to obeying the laws against murder and aggravated assault.
The tone (and purpose) of the hearing was established by a slickly produced video montage of breathless media reporting on the “public health crisis” of “gun violence” played at the outset by Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-IL). Despite the allegedly deliberative purpose of the proceedings, the obvious point of this stunt was to portray the issue as emotionally, sensationally, and simplistically as possible. It also underscored how the anti-gun media and anti-gun factions in government have effectively merged in the common purpose of promoting gun control. Among the video’s many disingenuous tactics was to include suicides in its figures of “gun violence,” superimposed over images from mass murders and crime scenes. One does not have to diminish the seriousness of suicide to deplore exploiting the phenomenon to create exaggerated perceptions of criminal violence.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) also tried to ratchet up the cultural war narratives to place gun ownership in the context of racial grievances, misogyny, and madness that the media and certain activists would have people believe are the defining characteristics of 21st Century America. “The hate-motivated shootings that tore through Atlanta last week are just the latest example,” Blumenthal scolded. “They won’t be the last.” He continued: “Without access to a weapon the Atlanta shooter is a just a racist and a misogynist. But armed with a firearm purchased that very day, he is a monster, a mass murderer.”
There is, needless to say, no justifiable or acceptable reason to do what was done recently in Atlanta. But Blumenthal’s characterizations of the perpetrator’s motives are, as far as anyone knows from publicly available facts, a product of his own imagination and speculation and are not based on the findings or conclusions of the professionals actually investigating the crimes. Indeed, to the degree those professionals have publicly discussed motive it all, Blumenthal’s comments contradicted their statements.
Meanwhile, arch anti-gun Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) made much of the AR-15 type firearm the suspect in the Boulder supermarket murders reportedly purchased six days before the crime. Feinstein characterized the AR-15 as the “weapon of choice” of mass shooters. She also lamented the historic surge in legal firearm purchases that occurred during the pandemic year of 2020, suggesting that people exercising their rights to obtain an effective means of self-defense during a national emergency was itself a crisis.
Yet as the NRA has repeatedly explained, semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 are not only underrepresented in firearm-related homicides generally, they have not been used more often than other types of firearms in mass shootings. And Feinstein’s expressed concern over legal firearm purchases demonstrated that she, and likeminded anti-gunners, won’t be satisfied with banning only certain types of semi-automatic firearms.
Both Blumenthal and Feinstein were quick to use aspects of the recent crimes to try to score political points, but were just as quick to ignore or downplay aspects of those crimes that did not fit their political objectives. Blumenthal, for example, made much of what he considered the Atlanta killer’s motives, but dismissed the Boulder shooter simply as a “disturbed individual.” Investigators have yet to establish either suspect’s motives. Likewise, Feinstein ignored the fact that the Boulder police have not actually established that the Boulder’s suspect AR-15 was used to commit all or even any of the crimes in question and that the Atlanta suspect is believed to have used only a 9mm handgun.
This underscores the point that the timing and theatrical outrage of the hearing is as much or more a matter of ordinary politics as it an attempt to solve a serious problem. It also refutes claims that comprehensive solutions to firearm-related violence are easily within reach, if only the political will existed.
The simple fact is that gun control proponents continually overpromise what their legislation would accomplish. Ironically, Colorado itself had enacted versions of some of the very sorts of measures discussed at the hearing. Those measures, sadly, did not protect the victims of the latest terrible crimes in Boulder. Instead, it was the arrival of armed police, and the shooting and wounding of the suspect, that stopped the rampage.
To be fair, the hearing was not without witnesses who were willing to challenge the anti-gun orthodoxy or to try to interject a more nuanced and rational approach to the universally recognized and lamented problem of violent criminals harming others with firearms. Even some of the witnesses who supported gun control were willing to acknowledge there are effective interventions aimed at reducing violence that address the underlying social, economic, and behavioral dynamics and do not infringe on civil rights. And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) gave a spirited and forceful defense of the right to keep and bear arms, while condemning the misdirected focus of legislation that only punishes the law-abiding for crimes they did not commit.
Overall, however, the depressing conclusion from the hearing was that there was very little appetite to address the broader issues that contribute to violence and crime in America. The unfortunate likelihood is that opportunistic politicians will instead continue to exploit the acts of criminals and madmen to demonize, marginalize, and alienate the more than 100 million Americans who own guns.
That is why the NRA remains committed to being the voice of these upstanding citizens and to ensure they are not simply the perpetual scapegoats for complex problems the U.S. Congress can’t or won’t address. The people of the U.S. have a constitutional right to self-defense, and exercising that right can and does save innocent lives when danger strikes. Americans are reasonable and generous, but they won’t surrender their fundamental liberties based on false promises and hypocritical finger-pointing like that at the Judiciary Committee’s hearing.