President Obama wasted no time before using the tragic massacre in Charleston, South Carolina to argue for gun control (or, more accurately, to sulk publicly about his failure to impose it). Obama stated:
We don’t have all the facts, but we do know that once again innocent people were killed in part because someone who wanted to inflict harm had no trouble getting their hands on a gun.
Now is the time for mourning and for healing. But let’s be clear, at some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.
After a pause, perhaps realizing that he couldn’t get away with his absurd last sentence, Obama added:
It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency. And it is in our power to do something about it.
I say that recognizing the politics in this town foreclose a lot of those avenues right now. But it would be wrong for us not to acknowledge it. And at some point it’s going to be important for the American people to come to grips with it.
Mass violence committed with guns is not uncommon “in other advanced countries.” France experienced it this year with the Charlie Hebdo killings. And, as Bill Otis reminds us, four years ago, Anders Breivik gunned down 69 people, the great majority of them teenagers, on an island in Norway.
A comparison of the frequency of mass violence in the U.S. versus “other advanced countries” would require an adjustment for the size of our population. We’re too big, compared to Western European nations, to compare our level of such violence with any one, two, three, or four “advanced countries.”
Would a proper comparison support Obama’s claim that we have significantly more mass violence? I don’t know. I do know we have much too much of it.
But would the “avenues” Obama has in mind for “coming to grips” with our mass violence actually achieve that objective? Obama is referring, of course, to gun control.
But is it credible to believe that new laws could prevent a deranged racist bastard like the Charleston shooter from obtaining the weapon necessary to carry out his attack? I don’t believe so. Frankly, I don’t see how a reasonable person could believe it.
Let’s assume that mass shootings do occur with somewhat less frequency per capita in Western Europe than in the U.S. This wouldn’t mean that our gun laws explain the disparity. We’re a less homogeneous nation than our “advanced” counterparts, and we have a unique history.
That’s probably why Obama massively overstated his case at the outset by claiming that “mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.” If this somehow were true, it would be possible to believe that gun laws might have the potential to curb such violence. But it is not true, as Obama eventually had to admit.
It’s typical of Obama that he couldn’t resist trying to score political points in the immediate aftermath of a national tragedy. And it’s typical that he did so in a particularly classless way — by whining about “this town” and essentially throwing his hands in the air.
UPDATE: I see that John has written on the same subject. We are in accord, but we quarrel with Obama in somewhat different ways. I hope readers will check out both takes.