“What we must have is a national debate about guns.” So goes the media cliche of the moment. Everybody on the left is saying it, but nobody there means a word of it. All these wayward worthies really want is an opportunity to put piety on parade (and take your guns).
Everybody agrees that there’s too much violence in the culture. There’s even wide agreement on three major instruments of the violence — guns, the mentally ill, and the entertainment media. Gun owners, usually defined by liberals as “gun nuts,” are most tempting to blame in the wake of shootings like those at a high school near Cleveland, and then at a movie theater in Colorado and lately at an elementary school in Connecticut.
Not so easy to blame is Hollywood, purveyor of wholesale violence, usually rendered as a romantic pursuit of justice. People like movies, even bad movies, and Hollywood’s chief customers are the young, the restless and the easily impressed. The shooters are nearly always found walking around in this market, looking for trouble.
The mentally ill, or at least mentally disturbed, are the hardest to identify, and the shooters are almost invariably the young men who ought to be safely locked away in a loony bin where they could do no harm to themselves or others. It’s just not fashionable in the salons of the left to say so.
The First, Second and Fourth amendments, which guarantee free speech, gun ownership and freedom from illegal search and seizure, remain formidable obstacles to the government, which by nature seeks to restrict and control the freedoms of everybody. Who can say which of these guarantees is most important? Therein lies the dilemma of a free society where everybody wants to talk, just not to each other.
After the tragedy in Connecticut, President Obama quickly named the inevitable task force, theoretically to listen and then to report what it heard. He put Joe Biden in charge, which may be a clue to how much he thinks the panel’s own conclusions will be worth. It won’t matter, anyway, since we already know what he thinks about guns and what he would like to do about them. We know what his constituency thinks, too.
“To be fair to [Mr.] Obama,” writes John Cassidy in The New Yorker, “nobody should underestimate the hatred, ignorance, baloney, mendacity and borderline lunacy that would confront him if he were to take on the gun lobby.” So why talk to “the other side?” Mr. Cassidy is only a little more hysterical than average.
So good luck with that “national debate.” Good luck, too, in Hollywood. Harvey Weinstein, the Hollywood producer who has pumped more trash and gore into the bloodstream than almost anyone else, in a fit of pretension called a “filmmaker summit” in the wake of public outrage after the Columbine shootings.
“I think, as filmmakers,” he said, “we should sit down — the Marty Scorseses, the Quentin Tarantinos and hopefully all of us who deal in violence in movies — and discuss our role in that.”
Not that violence in movies has anything to do with inspiring impressionable young men copying the violence in real life. “If we don’t get gun control laws in this country, we are full of beans. To have the National Rifle Association rule the United States is pathetic,” Mr. Weinstein said. Alas, this is the level of Hollywood’s understanding of how America works.
How to control the crazies, certified and uncertified, is difficult. We’re paying the price now for dismantling public psychiatric hospitals 50 years ago, which made civil libertarians feel good about themselves but which is judged now to have been a public catastrophe. Thousands of unstable men and women were set loose on the streets with a bottle of pills and told to swallow them on schedule.
The three largest mental health hospitals remaining, write E. Fuller Torrey and Doris A. Fuller in The Wall Street Journal, are the psychiatric wings at Riker’s Island in New York, the Cook County Jail in Chicago, and the Los Angeles County Jail. The feds, who can’t run public housing, public health care and public education, observes The Wall Street Journal, can’t be trusted to identify and deal with crazy people, either, but several of the states have established effective outpatient programs.
The First Amendment protects Hollywood’s gore machine. The amendment guarantees even irresponsible speech but does not require it, a distinction often lost on those who abuse it. Getting crazy people off the street would be difficult. The Second Amendment protects the right of the law-abiding to own a gun. That’s the target of the gun-control hysterics.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times.