Two horrific shootings offered the President two chances in two weeks to lead on an issue of great concern to the American people. Instead, he chose to attack his political opponents, smear about half the country, and make ridiculous jokes in the wake of tragedy. Presidential this is not.
Two weeks. Two brutal mass shootings, one targeting blacks and another targeting young children in elementary school. Two speeches, one on white supremacy and another on gun control. Two chances to recommend actual policies to address an issue most Americans care deeply about. Two opportunities to unite the middle of the country and actually lead on an issue. In the cynical world of politics, tragedy can translate into political capital, offering an opportunity for a sitting President to take control of a debate and burnish their image with the American people. As President Barack Obama’s one time chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel put it, “never let a crisis go to waste.” It sounds downright Machiavellian, but sometimes these are the moments that come to define a Presidency whether or not the occupant of the Oval Office would ever ask for something so horrific to occur on their watch. Think Ronald Reagan after the space shuttle Challenger explosion. George W. Bush after 9-11. Alas, I can say with some surety that President Joe Biden will never be on that list after the sad spectacles we just witnessed, or perhaps were subject to, as in forced to endure, would be a more accurate description, over the past two weeks.
Instead of uniting the nation and presenting actual plans with some reasonable hope of preventing another horror, he attacked his political opponents, mercifully and mockingly. On May 17, President Biden delivered remarks in Buffalo, NY where he chose to condemn white supremacy rather than focus on the obvious failure of our gun laws and mental health systems. Thus, the tragic story of a mentally ill young man only a year out of high school who declared he was going to commit a murder-suicide in advance and shouldn’t have been able to legally purchase a gun under New York state law, turned into an incoherent rant about the vague specter of white supremacy. “For the evil did come to Buffalo, and it’s come to all too many places, manifested in gunmen who massacred innocent people in the name of hateful and perverse ideology rooted in fear and racism,” he proclaimed. Though the attack was committed by a lone gunman, not working with anyone else, neither planned nor affiliated with any group, he declared it terrorism, stretching the definition to fit a purely political narrative of his own making. “What happened here is simple and straightforward: terrorism. Terrorism. Domestic terrorism. Violence inflicted in the service of hate and a vicious thirst for power that defines one group of people being inherently inferior to any other group.” From there, the President attacked America’s media and political system for the “hate that through the media and politics, the Internet, has radicalized angry, alienated, lost, and isolated individuals.” He insisted this is occurring because an unspecified “some” are spreading lies “for power, political gain, and for profit.”
The root cause of the problem in President Biden’s opinion, at least on May 17, wasn’t the broad need for gun control, or mental health, or a culture that refuses to confront deranged individuals directly. We have dozens if not hundreds of ineffective, rarely enforced laws on the books, but that was not his concern. His primary focus was white supremacy, a grave risk to democracy itself running right through the body politic like arsenic. “White supremacy is a poison. It’s a poison — (applause) — running through — it really is — running through our body politic. And it’s been allowed to fester and grow right in front of our eyes.” Not content to paint with so narrow a brush, he expanded the scope of his ire to almost the entire Republican party, saying they are complicit in their silence, giving unnecessary new meaning to the phrase silence is violence. “And, look, failure for us to not say that — failure in saying that is going to be complicity. Silence is complicity. It’s complicity. We cannot remain silent.” If there was any mistaking who the President was referring to, he made the point plain later in the speech where he bizarrely connected a mass shooting committed by a crazed individual to the riot on January 6, as if the Trump supporters massed at the capitol with swastikas as part of the Fourth Reich. This is after the President has variously referred to his opposition as Neanderthals, Confederates, and adherents of Jim Crow, making it all too clear that he truly believes half of the country is an implacable enemy that disgusts him personally. In that case, it is no wonder why he refuses to engage in the sort of meaningful dialogue that might result in a compromise. He is bothered by the very existence of an opposition party populated with individuals he not-so-secretly loathes.
Policy wise, the only thing the President called for was a reinstatement of the assault weapons ban from 1994. “We can keep assault weapons off our streets. We’ve done it before. I did it when we passed the crime bill last time. And violence went down, shootings went down.” Of course, the very crime bill the President is referring to has since repudiated by Democrats as racist. It was also far more than an assault weapons ban, accompanied by a diverse combination of mandatory sentencing and local police initiatives, almost all of which have also been repudiated as racist by his own party. Further, the impact of the assault weapon ban itself is likely to have been minimal. First, the Roosevelt Institute for Government at the State University of New York, not exactly an ultra-MAGA outfit, estimates that 74.6% of mass shootings are committed with a handgun, meaning the impact of an assault weapons ban would at most solve a quarter of the problem, likely much less considering millions of rifles are already available throughout the country. Second, violent crime and shootings continued to fall after the assault weapons ban expired in 2004, making it incredibly difficult to identify what portions of the crime bill were responsible for the drop. Third, the impact of the ban on the weapon itself is completely unknown because it was also accompanied by a prohibition on high capacity magazines, which appears to have had the most impact. A study by Northwestern University, quotes Lori Post, Director of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics. “It does not result in fewer other types of gun deaths and injuries, such as domestic homicides. You only need one bullet to commit suicide, kill your wife or kill somebody else. But when you are just looking at mass shootings, it is super effective,” she said regarding the high capacity magazine ban.
The research also pointed out the scope of the problem compared to other incidents of gun violence in general, something we should all be keenly aware of while considering any new legislation. “Every year, 50,000 people die from a gun injury, however, less than 1% of the cases are mass shootings, defined as four or more fatalities in a single setting in a public space.” In other words, there is a massive problem with violence in general, but instead of focusing on 99% of the issue, Biden and his fellow Democrats are zoned in like a dull laser on less than 1%. The remaining deaths get barely a mention, or one could even say some have been caused by their own policy choices such as the defund the police movement. It also bears mentioning that the modern mass shooting era began on April 20, 1999, in the middle of the assault weapons ban, when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold launched an all out assault on their classmates at Columbine High School, ultimately killing 13 people. This occurred five years after the ban was enacted, and created the modern template we witness with distressing frequency two decades later. Before then, the idea of young men donning body armor and attacking a school was almost unheard of. It was so rare that a shooting at the University of Texas in 1966 prompted multiple movies. The late great singer and songwriter Harry Chapin devoted an entire album to the topic, Sniper and Other Love Songs. After Columbine, however, the entire dynamic changed for reasons that are unclear, and now mass shooters research the “greats” like they were filmmakers working on a thriller. Sick as it is to say: Klebold and Harris were innovators in that regard, and it’s impossible to truly compare before and after.
The President followed the speech in Buffalo with remarks from the White House on the evening of the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, TX, but there was no improvement in the content itself. This time, he chose to sell the assault weapons ban with a bizarre joke after blaming the gun lobby. “What in God’s name do you need an assault weapon for except to kill someone? Deer aren’t running through the forest with Kevlar vests on, for God’s sake. It’s just sick.” Of course, the ubiquitous AR 15 packs a .22 caliber bullet in most configurations, far less than many handguns and certainly not enough to penetrate Kevlar, making it unclear if the President actually knows what an assault weapon is. Otherwise, he did take the time to insist that Americans support “common sense gun laws” without specifying what those might actually be, before pondering why mass shootings don’t seem to occur in other countries. “What struck me on that 17-hour flight — what struck me was these kinds of mass shootings rarely happen anywhere else in the world. Why? They have mental health problems. They have domestic disputes in other countries. They have people who are lost. But these kinds of mass shootings never happen with the kind of frequency that they happen in America. Why?”
Alas, this is yet another falsehood propagated by Democrats and the media. According to World Population Review, “Although events in the U.S. tend to get the lion’s share of media exposure, mass shootings are clearly a worldwide issue. The following is an alphabetized list of just some of the developed countries other than the United States that have experienced one or more mass shootings in the past few decades: Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Finland, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Nigeria, Norway, the Philippines, Russia, Serbia, Spain, and Switzerland.” They continued, “Exactly how mass shootings in the U.S. compare to those in other countries is a highly disputed subject. In a widely publicized study originally released in 2015, the pro-gun nonprofit Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC) compared the annual number of mass shooting deaths per million people in the U.S. to that of Canada and several European countries from 2009 to 2015. The result? Norway led the world with 1.88 deaths per million, followed by Serbia, France, and Macedonia. Where did the U.S. rank? 11th place.”
Regardless of the facts, the President declared, “Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone to have the courage to deal with it and stand up to the lobbies?” He concluded with a vague peon to the idea that we can do more, “We can do so much more. We have to do more,” without saying what the more is other than a recycled assault weapons and high capacity magazine ban from going on 30 years ago. Perhaps nothing encapsulates the meandering, nonsensical nature of both speeches then how he chose to end his remarks in Buffalo, NY on May 17. “To the families: As my grandpop used to say when I walked out of his home in Scranton — he’d say, ‘Joey, spread the faith.’ And my grandma would yell, ‘No, Joey.’ I mean, he said, ‘Keep the faith.’ And my grandma would say, ‘No, Joey, spread the faith.’” Of course, the President isn’t a priest. His job is to lead, to recommend innovative, effective solutions, and to build consensus around key issues facing the nation. President Biden, however, has completely failed on every front, delivering back to back flops powered by no new ideas and motivated primarily by attacks on his opponents, who happen to represent about half the country. America deserves better, though we aren’t likely to get it anytime soon.