Availability Cascades and Liberal Gun Gunning
Posted on December 20, 2012
“You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” So stated Rham Emmanuel, now mayor of Chicago, and then President Obama’s Chief of Staff. He was pinpointing legislation to expand the federal government’s control over the economy in the 2008–2009 economic crisis. If there’s a crisis, make good use of it. There was a crisis, and Emmanuel and Obama made very good use of it.
Thomas Sowell once observed that liberals manufacture or employ crises to burgeon the federal government — and federal control. This is just what’s happening — predictably — with the mad rush to pass new gun control legislation in light of the horrific murders of school children and educators at Newtown, Connecticut. While prudence would dictate calm reflection after the expiration of the emotion of the crisis’ aftermath before considering new legislation, liberals (and some conservatives) have never been known for prudence — only for seizing the populist froth of the moment to engineer political change that citizens in calmer times would never seriously contemplate. CNN reports that a “bare majority now favor major restrictions on owning guns or an outright ban on gun ownership by ordinary citizens.” And this is surprising, how? Daniel Kahneman’s highly regarded Thinking, Fast and Slow reminds us of the reality of “availability cascades,” according to which media bombardment — what we think about, what’s mentally right up front at the moment, looms unusually — and disproportionately — large in our decision-making: “Nothing in life is as important as you think it is when you are thinking about it” (p. 402). (This is why you should be thinking about God all the time.) In short, when the media have bombarded the public 24/7 with every detail of horrific, gun-related violence, particularly unleashed on precious children, any solution, no matter how impracticable and draconian, will seem reasonable. Waiting a few months for the easing of the availability cascade isn’t on the liberal agenda, however.
This horrific tragedy is “an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Never waste a crisis, even if it means exploiting people’s grief. Obama is gunning for guns, and he can’t allow a little thing like prudence to stand in the way.
There is another kind of availability cascade relevant to this pressing issue: “Connecticut gun laws [are] among the nation’s strictest.” There was no availability cascade of guns in Connecticut. Obviously, strict gun control laws didn’t prevent this horrid tragedy. Why think that stricter laws would have prevented it? Guns were not readily available to the perpetrator or his mother — yet they procured them. Would limiting ever further or even outlawing guns have prevented this tragedy? Are guns the only weapon by which this heinous crime could have been committed? Would arming responsible school leaders have been a more prudent policy? If not, why not?
These are questions that require calm reflection long after the understandable emotions of the crisis moment have faded. But they are necessary questions. And stampeding liberty-depriving laws on a grieving populace is both imprudent and callous.
But prudence and appropriateness have never been liberal virtues.