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A Massacre Is Not an Argument

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

The morning after a gunman murdered nearly 60 people in Las Vegas, Hillary Clinton tweeted that "we can and must put politics aside, stand up to the NRA, and work together to try to stop this from happening again." The former Democratic presidential nominee's commitment to putting politics aside was gone in an instant, and her implicit claim that she knows how to "stop this from happening again" was equally empty.

Gun controllers like Clinton habitually seize upon mass shootings as evidence in favor of the policies they have always supported. But there is rarely any logical connection between the two because in this debate, showing you are on the right side is more important than persuading anyone.

Clinton, for example, argued that the Las Vegas attack demonstrated the folly of the NRA-backed Hearing Protection Act, which would loosen federal restrictions on suppressors, aka silencers. She suggested the death toll in Las Vegas could have been higher "if the shooter had a silencer," since "the crowd fled at the sound of gunshots."

But as firearms experts immediately pointed out, so-called silencers do not actually eliminate the sound of gunfire; they merely reduce the noise level. Even with a suppressor, the hundreds of shots fired from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Resort and Casino would have been clearly audible.

By the time Clinton was tweeting irrelevantly about silencers, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof had already published a column in which he listed eight gun control proposals, all supposedly aimed at "preventing mass shootings like the Vegas Strip attack." Most of them, including a minimum gun purchase age of 21, safe storage requirements, microstamping of cartridges and promotion of "smart guns," plainly had nothing to do with mass shootings like the Vegas Strip attack.

Even the most plausible-sounding of Kristof's ideas, "universal background checks," would have made no difference in this case, since the Las Vegas shooter, identified by police as a 64-year-old retired accountant named Stephen Paddock, was repeatedly cleared by the FBI when he bought his guns. As is typical of mass shooters, Paddock did not have a disqualifying criminal or psychiatric record.

After presenting his list of new gun controls, framed as responses to the previous day's attack, Kristof conceded that "it's too soon to know what, if anything, might have prevented the shooting in Las Vegas, and it may be that nothing could have prevented it." His column, in other words, was a 20-paragraph non-sequitur.

That's par for the course in the wake of mass shootings, which gun controllers use to create a sense of urgency they hope will translate into new restrictions. It does not matter whether the restrictions would or could have prevented the horrifying event that supposedly justifies them.

If you are truly outraged by crimes like the Las Vegas massacre, gun controllers argue, you must agree with them that some unspecified piece of legislation is long overdue. Otherwise, you are a heartless ideologue or an NRA stooge. That is Hillary Clinton's idea of putting politics aside: blindly assenting to a proposal you have not seen as a way of proving your courage and compassion.

"It's time for Congress to get off its ass and do something," Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., declared on Monday. "There's no excuse for inaction," tweeted former Vice President Joe Biden. As CNN observed, "Democrats are desperate to do something -- anything -- on gun control."

The White House is not so eager. "Before we start trying to talk about the preventions of what took place last night," presidential press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said on Monday, "we need to know more facts."

Democrats obsessed with gun control may not be interested in facts, but they have managed an impressive feat by making Donald Trump look calm and thoughtful. Contrary to what Joe Biden seems to think, having no idea what you're doing or whether it makes sense is an excellent excuse for inaction.

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