“The Daily Show” was on break during the massacre last month in Newtown, Conn., and for the loud aftermath that followed – from the newly impassioned cries for gun control coming from surprising corners of the political universe, to the NRA’s poorly received news conference and plan to install armed guards in schools across the county.
A few weeks’ delay didn’t stop Jon Stewart from devoting nearly all of Tuesday’s episode of “The Daily Show” to the issue of gun control. In two lengthy segments, Stewart made a stirring and clear-headed case for reasonable gun control measures, while also insisting that no suggestions or larger conversations about the roots of violence should be off the table -- not even the role of pop culture in glorifying and sensationalizing bloodshed.
TIMELINE: U.S. mass shootings
He began by dismissing the oft-cited rhetoric that we shouldn’t talk about guns in the immediate wake of a mass shooting, declaring “it is absolutely the time to talk about gun control.”
From there, Stewart methodically picked apart the various conservative objections to what he called “common-sense firearm regulations” – things like restrictions on high-capacity magazines or bans on military-class assault weapons.
“We’re looking for a series of steps from different areas that over time could improve the situation,” Stewart said, drawing a contrast with the current situation, in which it’s difficult for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to inspect gun dealers’ inventories and to keep disturbed people from being able to buy firearms.
As for former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura’s suggestion that regulating guns because of mass shootings would be like banning cars because of drunk driving, Stewart pointed to the fact that numerous legal regulations had helped dramatically reduce drunk-driving rates in just a few decades.
He also expressed amazement that America, “a nation of over-reactors to everything,” has been so reluctant to deal with such a real epidemic. “Why is that there is no other issue in this country with as dire public safety consequences as this that we are unable to make even the most basic steps towards putting together a complex plan of action?” he wondered.
It’s not really about the Constitution, Stewart argued. “A well-regulated militia” does not mean that individuals should be able to stockpile any and all weapons they want. There are plenty of things people can’t buy, like tanks or “surface-to-air anything,” and few people call those restrictions a violation of the 2nd Amendment. So why should we be entitled to assault rifles?
What it really comes down to, Stewart concluded, is the fear of not being able to fight back against a theoretical tyrant like Mao, Stalin or Hitler. As evidence, he played a clip from Alex Jones’ widely circulated appearance on “Piers Morgan Tonight,” in which he warned of another American Revolution if anyone comes after his guns.
He summarized the thinking of people like Jones this way: “Their paranoid fear of a possible dystopic future prevents us from addressing our actual dystopic present. We can’t even begin to address 30,000 gun deaths that are actually in reality happening in this country every year because a few of us must remain vigilant against the rise of imaginary Hitler.”