The ability to sincerely feel compassion, even pity for the plight of another, particularly a stranger, is a mark of good character and of civilization. In a state of nature—or a tyranny–such sympathetic feelings and the altruism they inspire tend to be counter-productive, even self-destructive.
It is therefore remarkable that one of the foremost claimants of superior morality and caring for the downtrodden—The New York Times—has once again, by pushing a familiar, leftist narrative and manipulating one in poor condition to recognize that manipulation, harmed one it claims to champion, and diminished civil discourse.
I speak of former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who suffered traumatic brain injury at the hands of a lunatic. What decent person would not feel sympathy for Giffords and the struggles that will now consume the remainder of her life? Who would not think “there but for the grace of God go I,” and look upon her with kinder eyes?
Yet, there are limits to sympathy, particularly when the object of that sympathy throws them self into the political arena, using their very status as an object of sympathy to demand legislation that would infringe on the rights of others. These limits are even more obvious when they claim those opposing their legislative solutions are heartless, even evil, and when those solutions clearly could not solve the problems they purport to solve.
Since her injury, Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, have become anti-gun crusaders, aligning themselves with Mr. Obama’s anti-freedom campaign. Kelly did not help their cause when in March of 2013, he filmed himself buying an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle and a .45 caliber handgun at Tucson gun store.
When the media was tipped off, Kelly claimed that he bought the rifle to illustrate how easy it was to buy such dangerous weapons:
Suddenly, Kelly announced on his Facebook page that he was not going to keep the AR-15, which he has yet to pick up from the store.
Days after making the purchases, Kelly wrote on Facebook:
I just had a background check a few days ago when I went to my local gun store to buy a .45. As I was leaving, I noticed a used AR-15. Bought that too. Even to buy an assault weapon, the background check only takes a matter of minutes. I don’t have possession of it yet but I’ll be turning it over to the Tucson PD when I do.
The advocacy group established by Kelly and Giffords—Americans for Responsible Solutions—advocates for the banning of rifles like the rifle purchased by Kelly.
Why Kelly would want to illustrate that it is “easy” to purchase a completely lawful product which also happens to be the most popular rifle type currently sold in America is difficult, at best to understand, particularly when such a sale requires a federal background check and filling out substantial federal paperwork. Surely even anti-gun types cannot be in any way informed or surprised by this, even though they might conceivably pretend to be “shocked; shocked!” Would it somehow be better for background checks of completely law-abiding purchasers to take days or weeks? Would such infringement on a fundamental right be in any way virtuous or enhance public safety?
This odd incident, however, is as nothing compared to Ms. Gifford’s New York Times op ed following the ignominious defeat in the Senate of Mr. Obama’s immediate anti-gun hopes. The Washington Post found it very significant:
The single most important piece about the shameful defeat of Toomey-Manchin yesterday is this New York Times op ed by Gabrielle Giffords, who blasts Senators for basing their vote on cowardice and cold political calculation.
I found it immensely sad. Ms. Giffords’ wrote:
Senators say they fear the N.R.A. and the gun lobby. But I think that fear must be nothing compared to the fear the first graders in Sandy Hook Elementary School felt as their lives ended in a hail of bullets. The fear that those children who survived the massacre must feel every time they remember their teachers stacking them into closets and bathrooms, whispering that they loved them, so that love would be the last thing the students heard if the gunman found them.
Senators fear losing their jobs and power. To whatever degree they fear the NRA, that fear is a reflection of its representation of a substantial portion of the population that not only wants to uphold the Constitution, but is willing to vote to see that it is upheld. Gifford’s raw emotionalism in this opening paragraph degrades her and those who died.
On Wednesday, a minority of senators gave into fear and blocked common-sense legislation that would have made it harder for criminals and people with dangerous mental illnesses to get hold of deadly firearms — a bill that could prevent future tragedies like those in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., Blacksburg, Va., and too many communities to count.
Ms. Giffords surely knows better. Even Vice President Biden has admitted that the bill would do none of this, nor would it have prevented even Giffords’ injury.
Some of the senators who voted against the background-check amendments have met with grieving parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook, in Newtown. Some of the senators who voted no have also looked into my eyes as I talked about my experience being shot in the head at point-blank range in suburban Tucson two years ago, and expressed sympathy for the 18 other people shot besides me, 6 of whom died. These senators have heard from their constituents — who polls show overwhelmingly favored expanding background checks. And still these senators decided to do nothing. Shame on them.
I have no doubt “some of the senators” that looked into her eyes honestly and kindly felt pity for Ms. Giffords. However, they did not confuse human kindness with their sworn duty to uphold and defend the Constitution and to dispassionately and rationally debate public policy. In refusing to vote for a law that would not have helped Ms. Giffords, would not help anyone in the future, and that would infringe on fundamental rights, they did, in fact, do something, something minimally expected of them in our representative republic: they behaved like statesmen.
Ms. Giffords was far from done playing the emotion and children cards:
Speaking is physically difficult for me. But my feelings are clear: I’m furious. I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.
Ms. Giffords arouses our sympathy—few things evoke more pity that watching a victim of brain injury struggle to communicate–but implies that anyone opposing her does not want to keep children safe, and that an evil “gun lobby” is making money via lies. Considering the fact that the law she supported would not improve school safety in particular and the safety of children in general, and the fact that the “gun lobby” is effective because it defends a fundamental constitutional freedom, her argument descends to the level of a gutter slur. As a politician, Ms. Giffords surely knows there is nothing illegitimate or unethical about lobbying Congress, and about raising money for that lobbying. Lobbies work under the very laws established by Congress. Notice that Ms. Giffords does not specify the “fear and misinformation” she decries.
They will try to hide their decision behind grand talk, behind willfully false accounts of what the bill might have done — trust me, I know how politicians talk when they want to distract you — but their decision was based on a misplaced sense of self-interest. I say misplaced, because to preserve their dignity and their legacy, they should have heeded the voices of their constituents. They should have honored the legacy of the thousands of victims of gun violence and their families, who have begged for action, not because it would bring their loved ones back, but so that others might be spared their agony.
“A misplaced sense of self-interest?” Ms. Giffords obviously knows how politicians “talk when they want to distract you,” for that’s precisely what she’s doing. The truth is that senators did heed the voices of their constituents, but even if their constituents were 100% for infringing on the Second Amendment, the only honorable, proper thing for senators to do would have been voting down the bill. That is the legacy of statesmen; that takes dignity. We do not spare others agony by passing ineffective, feel good laws, rather we ensure that even more will needlessly experience it as well as the additional pain of dashed, unrealistic hopes.
This defeat is only the latest chapter of what I’ve always known would be a long, hard haul. Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful. On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.
Progress. Who can be against progress? That’s why liberals now call themselves “progressives.” People have caught on to what liberalism actually is, so that particular title has lost its utility. Ms. Giffords is right, however, the destruction of the liberty of a free people tends to be a “long, hard haul”—thank God. But she has one matter backward: it is the powerful that desire to be protected—by taking away the means The People have to resist tyranny. The People, and those organizations like the NRA that assist them, are powerful only when they defend the Constitution and secure unalienable rights against those that would take them for their own despotic purposes.
Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way.
Communities have an interest in ineffective, unconstitutional legislation? That’s the American way? Defeating such legislation puts others in danger?
Boston showed us how Americans behave when others are in danger. While the debris and dust of explosives still hung in the air, Americans ran to the sound and scene of destruction to help. They didn’t care about feel good legislation and rhetorical posturing. They didn’t demonize those that did not agree with them. They did what was right and necessary.
I know what I would have done had I been the editor of the New York Times. I would have told Gabbie Giffords who is, by all accounts, a kind and honorable woman, that this op ed was beneath her. I would have gently assured her that her words—if they really were her words—would not convince those holding opposing opinions, and that they did not reflect well on her and on what she hoped to accomplish. I would point out her factual errors and rhetorical excesses, and I would have declined to publish it as written. I would have felt genuine sympathy for her, refused to use her, and actually done her a kindness.
But the editor didn’t do that. He decided to use Giffords because she was shot in the head by a madman. He probably thought he could score cheap political points and demonize the God and gun clingers of flyover country under the cover of an inherently sympathetic woman struggling with grievous injuries. He knew better, but took advantage of her—let’s be honest: he took advantage of a brain-damaged woman–in the furtherance not of honestly and accurately informing the public, but in the pursuit of an ongoing partisan narrative.
I guess that’s why I’m not the editor of the New York Times.