Cliff May

President Obama last week refuted – clearly and commendably - those who have been attempting to exploit the bloodbath in Tucson to smear conservative polemicists and law-abiding gun owners. We cannot “use this tragedy as one more occasion to turn on each other,” he said. He added that while “a simple lack of civility” did not cause a deeply disturbed young man to commit multiple murders, “a more civil and honest public discourse can help us face up to the challenges of our nation.”

How likely is it that we will soon have such a discourse? I’m more pessimistic than ever. Let me explain.

On Jan. 11, Peter King, the new Republican chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed federal legislation to prevent people from knowingly bringing guns within 1,000 feet of any event at which members of Congress or federal judges are appearing.

I contributed a blog item to the Corner saying I thought the idea “worth considering” – not quite a ringing endorsement, though that did suggest I regarded it as not the worst idea since spray-on hair. Within minutes, my Corner colleagues, Andy McCarthy and Jonah Goldberg, were making strong arguments in opposition -- a civil and honest discourse. But about a hundred readers sent in comments along these lines: “Keep it up, and I'll cancel my subscription.” “I'd rather have a law banning a Congressman from coming within 1000 feet of my firearm.” “An awful proposal indicative of some darker portions of May's soul.” One reader asked: “What is this - the Huffington Post?”

As it happens, I soon received a call from the Huffington Post. The reporter sounded genuinely interested in my thinking. What logic had led me to the conclusion that this proposal might have merit?

I explained my thinking at some length but the piece he wrote ignored my reasoning, preferring instead to gleefully tell Huff Post readers that the “fragile Republican coalition isn't handling Pete King's gun bill well. … May tells HuffPost Hill … radical stuff that will prevent him from coming within 1,000 feet of a Tea Party rally…”

An example of my “radical stuff”: “Somebody who's considered a danger to his campus shouldn't be welcomed in a gun shop.”

Next, I received an email from an editor at NPR. My views deserved a wider hearing, she said. Could I write an op-ed for them as quickly as possible? So I did. The editor wrote back (boldface in original):

Cliff—I love this piece, because it is so surprising and fresh! I want it to have more about you personally. Do you own any guns? Are you a hunter? Is this a new position for you? How did you get here?


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.