Update: Relevant links added 12:48 AM on 1/26/13
Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post’s Right Turn blog joined Bill Bennett on Philadelphia’s 990 AM WNTP this Wednesday to advise the GOP on how it should respond to Barack Obama’s inaugural address and the formal commencement of his presidency’s second term.
Rubin insisted she did not think “… the right idea is to play tug of war with the president. If he goes left we go right. Rather I think we should appreciate that he has left nearly the entire political playing field empty and available for us, meaning the center is really I think not going to…go for all of this newfound collectivism and really some passivism and retreat-ism internationally as well.”
“And therefore that the Republicans should take their views, explain them to the American people, but explain them…in a new and different and more appealing way that is more personal, that is less esoteric, that is less – if you will – ideological. I’m not suggesting they change their views but to explain those policies in a very practical way in terms of what they can do for the American people.” she advocated.
Later in the conversation she turned a question about gay marriage into an opportunity to discuss education.
“…don’t play on their terms. Talk about what we want to talk about in ways that are compelling. I think we go down these rat holes all the time with the president. He kind of leaves crumbs and we scramble after him in ways that aren’t very helpful to us.” she said.
Rubin’s remarks seem aimed more at GOP politicians than conservative talk radio, but her counsel does come on the heels of a protracted discussion of Second Amendment rights on the AM dial amidst a White House push for stricter gun control measures.
Given it was the most recent ideological topic that dominated the radio waves of Philadelphia, it’s worth reexamining last week’s reaction to President Obama’s approval of 23 executive orders aimed at tightening gun control in the wake of a series of mass shootings in 2012.
Topics of discussion included the state of popular culture as well as policy issues like school choice, gun free zones, concealed carry permits, background investigations, and straw purchases of firearms. And though not included in Jennifer Rubin’s interview with Bill Bennett, talk radio’s commentary on gun control from last week is still related to facets of her larger argument.
Kudlow on public schools, faith, and culture
A number of the executive actions issued on January 16th pertain to how ObamaCare, state exchanges, and government provided mental health services might ameliorate gun violence.
But Father C. John McCloskey of the Faith & Reason Institute joined Larry Kudlow last Saturday for an interview on the psychological factors that could be attached to gun violence such as graphic movies/games, parenting, and even prayer in public schools – broadcasting locally on 770 AM WABC last Saturday.
“I believe that you look at [perpetrators of mass murders in 2012] a lot of these multiple murders [are] committed by young men from broken families that don’t have fathers. And I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I guess that’s what I’m saying.” Kudlow offered.
“I think A leads to B, and B leads to C. I’m not saying that [the] traditional nuclear family would stop all crime…if a person is mentally ill they’re mentally ill. But it just seems to me [from] the president on down we don’t want to have a conversation about the illness and evils of family break up.” the radio host continued.
Father McCloskey, who played a role in converting both Larry Kudlow and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich to Catholicism, surmised that moves like the reduction of prayer in public schools (as a result of Supreme Court decisions in the 1960’s) might have played a contributing factor in the coarsening of popular culture and an emerging trend towards atheism.
Kudlow also shared how religion played a role in his own struggles with drug and alcohol addiction in the 1990’s, going on to wonder whether faith might restrain violent impulses in the mentally ill.
“In the worst moments of my life of hopeless alcohol and drug addiction I remembered The Lord’s Prayer. It came back to me and it…helped me take some actions that got me straightened out…”
Kudlow was not offering a policy prescription per se, he was simply sharing his own struggles with mental illness. Yet, he still expressed concern with the removal of prayer from public schools as it frustrated the efforts of parents attempting to raise religiously observant children because it was where kids today spend “the bulk of their waking hours.”
“Well I think you’re right Larry, and it brings up another point, which is the importance of school choice.” McCloskey asserted.
The priest went on to insist, “…parents are the ones who are responsible for the education of their children. And to a great extent…most of them are forced to go to public schools which are not what they were …thirty or forty years ago in terms of morality, in terms of acknowledging there is a God, the Ten Commandments, and so on.”
“So one of the ways [forward] is to make it possible to have parents be able to send their children to the schools of their choice without the penalty of paying taxes for public schools where they do not want to send their children.” McCloskey concluded.
Gun Free Zones
One of the points which animated Republicans like Kentucky Senator Rand Paul on gun control is the often-repeated fact that with one recent exception every mass shooting since 1950 involving three or more fatalities has occurred in a gun free zone. And throughout last week conservatives insisted that killers looking to perpetrate mass murders gravitate to these areas because they will encounter little resistance, enabling them to claim multiple victims.
While speaking with Senator Paul last Friday, Laura Ingraham lamented the Republican Party’s tepid response to the PR offensive launched by the Obama administration ahead of inauguration day.
Paul acknowledged her concerns but indicated he received strong bipartisan support for defending Second Amendment rights in the deep red state of Kentucky.
He also argued, “…I think people are afraid of the whole idea of guns at school, but I’m talking more and more about how – you can’t necessarily have guards everywhere – but having concealed carry and letting teachers who are trained in firearms (or principals) have a weapon at the school is a source of protection – and announcing to the world basically we no longer have gun free zones, it’s no longer a killing field for mass murderers…”
Ingraham correctly pointed to the White House’s opposition to allowing guns in schools. And it is worth noting a Pew poll of adults conducted nationwide from January 9-13th showed 57% of respondents opposed arming teachers/school officials – with 40% in favor. However, the same survey showed a 64%-32% split in favor of more armed guards and police.
Yet, this does not make the establishment (and disclosure) of gun free zones any less problematic. Airing locally on 1100 AM WGPA on January 15th, a caller to the Dennis Miller Show alluded to the deterrent effect of firearms while remarking on the controversial decision of The Journal News to publish a map of registered gun owners living in New York’s Westchester and Rockland counties last month.
“I wonder if there’s a newspaper in the country that’s got enough guts to print the name of everybody in town who doesn’t have a gun – or invite people to put a sign in your front yard that says I proudly don’t have a gun.” he said.
Views from the mid-atlantic: armed security
Delaware Governor Jack Markell (D) joined local radio host Dom Giordano on 1210 AM WPHT on January 17th to tout a new mental health initiative as well as stricter gun control in The Diamond State, emphasizing the importance of his push for universal background checks and a ban on possession of a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school. In addition, the governor reiterated his skepticism about the practicality of beefing up armed security in public schools.
“Are you going to post somebody outside of every classroom? What happens when they have to use the restroom? What happens…if they’re taking a walk through the school? So those are decisions schools can make.”
Later in the interview he reiterated this, stating, “…I think schools can make that decision…here in Delaware somewhere between twenty and thirty schools do have school resource officers. These are decisions that are left up to schools.”
One of the president’s recent executive actions includes a reference to incentivizing the hire of school resource officers.
And a shortcoming of Markell’s argument is that it does not address the deterrent effect of the presence of these individuals. Yet even so, it’s unlikely Democrats will accede to the expansion of concealed carry permits, which presents a dilemma for parents with safety concerns in areas that do not opt for heightened security. As one potential response, the GOP could renew its push for voucher programs either at the state or national level.
The Heritage Foundation is already advertising the third annual National School Choice Week, with the conservative think tank launching a “whistle-stop train tour” from January 25th to February 2nd.
And conservatives could do worse than helping parents place their children in safe learning environments if they have concerns about the security arrangements of their local public schools.
An additional executive action set into motion by President Obama on January 16th directed the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives to provide guidance to federally licensed gun dealers on how to run background checks for private sellers.
And while pressing for more vigorous background checks with Dom Giordano on January 17th, Governor Markell stated if a gun is purchased from a licensed dealer then, “…you have to have a background check but that’s about 60% of sales. The other 40%, whether it’s a gun show whether – or it could be a private, you know, one person to another person, no background check needed. So what could happen, or what does happen, you go to a licensed dealer, you have a background check, you’re turned down. You leave, and you can go somewhere else and get a gun and no background check required. And that to me just doesn’t make sense.”
The governor’s comments echoed President Obama’s own remarks at his January 16th press comments where he stated, “The law already requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks and over the last 14 years that has kept 15 million of the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun. But it’s hard to enforce that law when as many as 40% of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check.”
However, Economist John Lott offered a rebuttal to the president in an interview with Philadelphia native Mark Levin on January 16th – carried locally on 106.9 FM WWIQ.
“…the 1.5 million number is completely bogus in the sense that when he says prohibited them – these are just initials denials,” Lott observed.
“…If you try to buy a gun the dealer who’s selling it to you will go and call up [the National Instant Criminal Background Check System] and they’ll check your name and if somebody who’s prohibited has a similar name to yours then they’ll flag it and either try to look at it more over the next three days or issue what they call an initial denial, which could take months to clean up.” the economist explained.
“…the 1.5 million number is completely bogus in the sense that when he says prohibited them – again, these are just initial denials. About 99.9% of those initial denials end up being dropped – almost 94% of them are dropped within a month or two after the initial flagging of those individuals."
Lott pressed that the figure was misleading because it did not represent the number of people actually kept from obtaining firearms.
“So I just give you a simple analogy, people remember the late Senator Ted Kennedy from Massachusetts. There were five times he was prevented from flying because his name was on the No Fly List. I mean, he was eventually able to fly. It would be wrong to say ‘well we got five people prohibited from flying’ because they were initially denied being on the flight – counting Kennedy five times there; but he shouldn’t be because he eventually did get on a flight.”
Lott also clarified both the substance and two decade old source of Governor Markell and President Obama’s assertion that as many as 40% of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check.
“There was a survey of 251 people who had bought guns in 1993-94. And the Clinton administration’s conclusion was that about 40% of the sales were not having background checks but that’s not really what they were saying. If you go through their numbers all that 40% are basically inheritances between family members or gifts between family members.” Lott said.
“So when the president uses the term sales there, I mean obviously that’s misleading.”
Despite Lotts’ clarification, there has been little follow up from the press on whether Democrats actually intend to tackle the topic they raise by citing this 40% figure.
Specifically, does either the Obama administration or the state of Delaware intend to pursue background checks – and government regulations more broadly – in instances where family members either inherit guns or receive them as gifts? If so, how will they go about accomplishing this? Moreover, are these gun transfers excluded from the president’s executive action directing ATF to provide “guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers?”
Straw purchase laws
One final executive action announced by President Obama on January 16th involved a vague reference to maximizing enforcement efforts to prosecute gun crime.
And the day of President Obama’s press conference Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett used his monthly interview with local radio host Dom Giordano to insist that the primary issues remained enforcement of existing law and addressing mental health concerns as they relate to mass shootings.
In particular, the two touched on The Keystone State’s recently passed “Brad Fox Law,” which reinstates a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison for second time convictions of straw purchasing firearms.
“The problem are the judges in Philadelphia in my view…everybody I talk with – and you were at the center of this – straw purchases. That’s what’s happening here. Yet they won’t give them the five years when there’s a commission of a crime with a gun. You’ve enhanced it now, but if judges won’t sentence people what do we do?” Giordano asked.
“…Remember this would be mandatory, not just a sentencing commission recommendation…if they don’t give the mandatory the district attorney would have the right to appeal to the appellate courts to enforce it.” Corbett responded.
Stimulating talk has its own inherent worth, and radio hosts are not politicians advancing public policy.
But in spite of the danger of conservatives allowing themselves to be led into fights they do not want to have, talk radio’s clash on guns still produced some noteworthy outcomes.
First, countering some of the president’s assertions is important because they are repeated on the local level where many of these national fights are also playing out. And, it has exposed points that require further clarification.
Second, while it could be said the president went left and conservatives went right, they did so in unexpected ways. And it’s important to take Jennifer Rubin’s observation about leaving exposed huge swaths of the political playing field to heart.
If the president is trying to divide the GOP it’s essential to look for opportunities to bring additional aspects of conservatism to the fore. As an example, if unsuccessful with advancing concealed carry don’t abandon the Second Amendment but raise the topic of safety and school choice.
As previously mentioned, Jennifer Rubin discussed the importance of school choice with Bill Bennett when asked about gay marriage.
In fact, Rubin labeled education as the real civil rights issue of our time, charging, “…why is it that Democrats are barring the school door, not allowing black and Latino children to go to the best schools and have control over their lives. In other words don’t play their game, don’t play on their terms. Talk about what we want to talk about and talk about it in ways that are compelling.”
And on this issue, particularly at the commencement of National School Choice week, the question of school safety is a dialogue worth having as part of the overall discussion of "gun violence."
Parents have every right to insist their children enjoy the opportunity to thrive in safe learning environments.
Indeed, this is a subject where every family deserves a voice.
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