The phrase “You are entitled to your opinion but not your own facts” is attributed to Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late senator from New York. Of course the shorter “you’re entitled to your opinion” is a way of dismissing someone you disagree with—a glancing attempt at politeness when you obviously disagree. Opinions—yours, mine and everyone else’s—have been flying through the air of late, first in this extended political season full of, well, opinionated politicians. It’s also evident in the responses to several recent high-profile shootings, the latest of which happened in Roseburg, OR. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion. Hillary Clinton thinks as president she could, by executive order, change the definition of “engaged in the business” to include anyone selling a gun (or even making a gift of one), forcing a background check, even if they sold (or gifted) just one gun in their lifetime. Mrs. Clinton doesn’t exactly explain how that would keep guns from the people, like the murderers in Oregon, Virginia and South Carolina, all of whom were able to legally buy guns—and not from private individuals. She also waxed nostalgic for the good old days of her husband’s presidency when the Brady Bill was passed as well as a now-sunsetted prohibition on so-called assault weapons. Historians (or at least I) will note that after beating the drum for the bill for months, both Mr. & Mrs. Clinton decamped for a Martha’s Vineyard vacation, apparently deciding that its urgency could wait until after their vacation and until such time as a suitably optic collection of victims and law enforcement personnel could be gathered for the bill signing. Mrs. Clinton’s husband—by far the better politician in the family—tactically and practically—has admitted that the whole deal cost the Democrats control of Congress the following year.
New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, opines that he’s not worried about illegal immigrants coming to his state, but he is worried about guns “emigrating” from other states. He later sort of, kind of, in a Cuomoesque way, walks that back, as he does his opinion that the Democrats in the US House of Representatives should shut down the government unless some kind of strict, but unspecific, new gun law is voted on. Cuomo doesn’t come right out and say that other government officials should pervert their laws and pass—under cloak of “emergency” something very much like New York’s notorious SAFE Act, passed as an “emergency” measure after the Sandy Hook school shooting. Cuomo also doesn’t say that parts of the SAFE Act have never been implemented because they were determined to be unworkable, as were New Jersey and California “microstamping” laws. On the other side of the gun issue, Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson said he would have tried to rush the gunman in the Oregon shooting after exhorting his fellow hostages to do likewise, reasoning that this would provide a better chance of survival for a greater number of people.
The media, predictably, took this up as some sort of dangerous lunacy on the part of Carson, a retired neurosurgeon, at the same time implying that he was somehow being disrespectful to the victims at Umpqua Community College because they did not act that way. Most people who have done even the smallest amount of tactical training or reading on the subject would agree with Carson. But that fact was lost on most of the media, pundits and comedians like Trevor Noah of The Daily Show, whose “bit” on Carson included Noah “impersonating” Carson in a childish and offensive manner. “Facts are stubborn things, and whatever may be our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of the facts and evidence,” said John Adams in 1770, defending British soldiers in the Boston Massacre. As natural as it is for everyone to have an opinion and to want to “do something” following tragedies, few recognize, as Adams did 250 years ago, that you cannot make law based on passions or inclinations.
The harder questions that arise from these incidents—which include, but are not limited to, how do we balance a concern for public safety with the rights of the mentally ill? How do we come to grips with the alienation of young, often fatherless, men before they act criminally? And how do we justify the continued existence of so-called Gun Free Zones, when it has become abundantly clear that those with criminal, murderous intent are actively seeking these zones out? I wouldn’t presume to amend Adams’ words, but it is clear that facts are as hard as they are stubborn.