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A knee-jerk plea for gun control? Absolutely!

December 19, 2012|By Paul Whitefield
  • A child peers through firefighters standing during the funeral for school shooting victim Daniel Gerard Barden in Newtown, Conn., on Wednesday. Daniel had talked about becoming a firefighter someday.
A child peers through firefighters standing during the funeral for school… (Charles Krupa / Associated…)

Is it too soon to be advocating for new gun control measures?

It isn’t for President Obama, as he showed Wednesday with his announcement of a task force on the issue to be headed by Vice President Joe Biden.

But some people want to use the old “haste makes waste” argument to delay action.

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Take Times Op-Ed columnist Jonah Goldberg, for example, in his piece Tuesday, “Mourn first, then act,” about the Newtown, Conn., shootings.

I've lost my share of loved ones in recent years … though (thank God) I've experienced nothing that can match what must be the soul-eating despair that comes with the murder of a son or daughter. Still, one piece of advice you often hear in such situations is "don't make any big decisions" in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy.

It's sound advice that is routinely and predictably ignored in the political realm.

Well, no kidding. Of course the advice “don't make any big decisions in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy" is ignored in the political realm. 

Why? Because almost without exception, in the political realm, it almost always takes a crisis to spur real action.  

You think legislators would be stuck in Washington right now if they hadn’t given themselves a “fiscal cliff” deadline? You think there would’ve been a report on security at U.S. embassies without the attack in Benghazi, Libya? You think George W. Bush would’ve invaded Iraq if there had been no 9/11? (Uh, OK, wait … scratch that last one. Make it Afghanistan instead. That works.)

As my colleague Doyle McManus writes, a week ago gun control wasn’t even on Obama’s agenda for his second term. Now it’s a priority. 

Governments are made up of people, but governments aren’t people. Or maybe governments are people -- the kind of people who never plan. (You think it’s a coincidence that California has  perpetual budget crises, despite pleas for years for a “rainy day” fund?)

Governments make snap decisions all the time in response to crises.

And why? Because politicians know that if you don’t strike while the iron is hot, nothing happens. 

If we pause to reflect, as Goldberg suggests, the memories of Newtown and its awful toll will fade. Other crises will come along. Interest groups will work their lobbying magic.

No. Not this time. It is absolutely the time to move forward on gun control.

Is it an emotional response to a terrible tragedy? Of course. Will we do everything right? Of course not.

But how can we stand by and watch 20 little kids be buried and do nothing?

If we wait, that’s what will happen. Nothing.

And that would be a tragedy too.


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