Taking Advantage of a Crisis

You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.

Rahm Emanuel

And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you, [my opponent] is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things and two things only: making you afraid of it and telling you who’s to blame for it. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how you win elections.

From a speech by “President Andrew Shepherd,” played by Michael Douglas in The American President (1995), written by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Rob Reiner

It’s now been a couple of weeks since our country was rocked by yet another senseless act of violence, resulting in the killing of 17 innocent high school students and staff members.  No matter how often this happens, and there seems to be one or two every year anymore, it never ceases to shock us to the core.  We sympathize with the victims, and with their families, left behind to grieve for loved ones lost much too soon.  We’re confused, and angry, and we want something to be done about it – right now!

On social media, and in the mass media, we’ve heard all kinds of solutions offered; different, mutually-exclusive solutions in line with the preconceptions of the ones offering them.

And, of course, our political class is not about to be left behind.  Every politician, regardless of party, lives by “Emanuel’s Law,” quoted above.  Every crisis, every occurrence that stirs the emotions of the public and causes them to turn to “Big Brother” for help and security, is an opportunity to advance the politician’s agenda and, not incidentally, his or her career.  Perhaps the greatest example of this in most Americans’ lifetimes is the attack on 9-11, in 2001.  As a result of that horrific event, we got the illegal detention center at the 120-year-old American naval base at Guantanamo, Cuba, the TSA in American airports (better known to some of us as “security theater”), and the USA PATRIOT Act, possibly the most anti-liberty, anti-privacy law ever passed by an American Congress.  A decade and a half later, these are all still with us.

This political opportunism has once again reared its ugly head here in Ohio.  Last week, two state senators introduced a bill, designated Senate Bill 260.  This proposed law, a re-run of a similar bill introduced by the same two senators in 2013, is allegedly a measure to ban so-called “assault weapons,” but in fact, it would go well beyond this.  Besides banning any semi-automatic or automatic weapon capable of carrying 10 or more cartridges, the bill would also require the state to issue permits for the purchase of weapons or ammunition and create a database of all persons so licensed.  In short, you would no longer be allowed to purchase most common firearms, you couldn’t purchase any weapon or ammunition without the state’s approval, and your name would be on a permanent list in case the state wanted to pick up your guns at some time in the future – maybe as soon as cannabis becomes legal.  Kiss your Second Amendment rights goodbye!

But if, and only if, this bill passes … but it won’t.  The two senators introducing the bill, Senator Michael Skindell, Lakewood, and Senator Charleta Tavares, Columbus, are both Democrats.  They have lined up four co-sponsors, also all Democrats.  The six Democrats whose names are attached to this bill represent two-thirds of the total Democratic membership of the Senate, versus 24 Republicans.  The situation in the Ohio House is almost as lopsided, with Republicans enjoying exactly a two-thirds majority.

Since this bill was introduced, several people have contacted the Libertarian Party of Ohio to express their concern about this bill.  Some have cited the fact that that other supreme political opportunist, Gov. “Honest” John Kasich, recently appeared on a national television talk show and called for a ban of AR-15s, the weapon of choice in the recent horror and in most other recent mass killings.

Any time any piece of draconian legislation is introduced, wariness is certainly warranted.  “Who will watch the watchers?” is always an important question.  But in the case of this particular piece of partisan fertilizer, there is little danger.  Given the current partisan split in the legislature, if the sponsors had any serious intent of passing a bill, you may be assured that they’d have lined up at least one Republican co-sponsor.  Without at least some Republican support, there is less than no chance of passing it.  The provisions of the bill are so draconian that no Republican who has plans to run for office in Ohio ever again could possibly support it.  That was done on purpose.  They have no intention of writing a law that could pass.  They don’t want it to pass. 

No, what you have here is a vintage piece of political theater.  A pair of Democrats have deliberately written a bill that they know could never, ever pass, purely for the purposes of pandering to the Democratic base, and for use as a piece of political propaganda in the upcoming elections.  It is a cynical application of the rule elucidated in the Sorkin quote above: identifying a “problem,” trying to scare you with it, and pointing a finger at their political opponents as the ones to blame for it.  That’s how the game is played.

And sadly, two things are lost in such cynical posturing: any attempt at rationally discussing the causes and solutions for violent crime, and any real, honest concern for the 17 lives lost in the tragedy.  Instead, they have become mere statistics, counters on the game board of partisan politics.  That’s just piling tragedy on tragedy.

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