Hours after two Virginia journalists were murdered while conducting a live interview last month, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe went on the radio and demanded what he called “common-sense gun legislation.” The identity of the alleged killer was still unknown. The motive was still unknown. The type of gun and the killer’s method of acquiring it was still unknown — it would take more than a day for that information to come out.
Mr. McAuliffe wasn’t alone. The Obama White House and Hillary Rodham Clinton weighed in the same day with similar calls for gun control, also before learning of the facts involved.
It was difficult for all of us to watch the news that day. It was emotional, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a single person who wasn’t touched by the tragedy. Unfortunately, Mr. McAuliffe, Mrs. Clinton and Mr. Obama chose to exploit a heart-wrenching situation to push their political agenda — and even worse, they did so before knowing all the facts. Also unfortunately, the national media refused to call them on it because that agenda fits their shared gun control narrative.
The deranged individual who committed this heinous act bought his gun legally, months before he used it, through a federally licensed dealer. He passed President Obama’s federal background check and Mr. McAuliffe’s state background check. He did not have a criminal record nor had he been adjudicated mentally ill or been committed to a mental institution, either voluntarily or involuntarily, in-patient or outpatient. The fact is no piece of legislation pushed by gun control advocates would have stopped him from committing this brutal crime.
Mr. McAuliffe knows this, as does Mrs. Clinton. The White House even admitted — later — that gun control legislation, including so-called “universal” background checks, would not have stopped this. But to them, that’s beside the point. They will use any tragedy as an excuse to push their agenda regardless of the facts involved. They’re not interested in solving problems. This is politics, pure and simple. What’s most egregious about it is by exploiting tragedy to push gun control, they deflected the conversation away from real solutions that would solve our nation’s pressing problems — like fixing our broken mental health system.
And it’s not just politicians who use this craven strategy. Anti-gun groups, such as Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety, use it to advance their anti-gun agenda and even raise money. Immediately following a tragedy, they push emotional appeals to promote their cause and declare, “enough is enough.” Unfortunately, they offer no real solutions to the problems of violence in our communities — just the same rhetoric, devoid of common sense, logic or even the smallest connection to reality. In the case of expanded background checks, why would we expand something that is not working in the first place?
The list of mass shooters who passed background checks include the most recent tragedies in Roanoke, Lafayette, Chattanooga and Charleston. Although we’ve spent more than $1 billion on the background check system over the past two decades, it’s not a panacea for our broken mental health system. What America needs is solutions to violence, not more political rhetoric. Expanding background checks is not the answer.
Most people rightly believe that it’s inappropriate to use a tragedy to push a political agenda moments after a tragedy occurs. But that doesn’t ever seem to stop, or even slow down, proponents of gun control. As a matter of fact, that exact strategy was laid out in their 2012 guide “Preventing ‘Gun Violence’ Through Effective Messaging.”
In that guide, anti-gun advocates are directed to immediately hit television, Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets with emotional pleas for more gun control just as soon as tragedy strikes. Readers are urged not to wait for the facts to emerge, but instead, to push for political advantage while emotions run high.
For decades, the National Rifle Association has been calling for meaningful mental health reform, so those suffering from mental illness who are found to be a danger to themselves or others will not have legal access to firearms. In recent months, we have supported the legislative efforts of Sen. John Cornyn that would do just that.
If anti-gun politicians were really interested in solving problems instead of using tragedy to push a political agenda, they would have to work to address the underlying problem. Once again, unfortunately, they couldn’t help themselves.
• Chris Cox is executive director of the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action.