Gun control debate: How both sides use children

Updated
US President Barack Obama (C) signs executive orders with Vice President Joe Biden (L) and invited guests during an event unveiling a package of proposals to...
US President Barack Obama (C) signs executive orders with Vice President Joe Biden (L) and invited guests during an event unveiling a package of proposals to...
Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

It’s nothing new to call the current debate over gun control vicious. But somewhere between the mass murder of 20 elementary school students in Newtown, Conn., and President Obama’s decision to include four young kids during Wednesday’s gun control announcement, the political debate over guns has turned particularly nasty, and it has settled on a new target: children.

No longer are opponents of gun control attacking just the politicians. Attacks from the far right focus on children so intensely that it is sometimes hard to tell who is really in their bullseye–gun control advocates or the children themselves. Rush Limbaugh was so enraged by Obama’s plan to announce his gun control order alongside children that Limbaugh actually mocked the kids in attendance at the White House on Wednesday for writing letters to the president after the Newtown shooting.

“Obama uses kids as human shields,” said Limbaugh on his radio show Tuesday. “He brings these kids, supposedly who wrote letters to the White House after Newtown… It’s going to be very difficult, very difficult to oppose it. They got these little kids there, they don’t want to die.” Limbaugh then pretended to sob and said, “How can you, how can you not listen to them? You’ve got to do something!”

Hardball host Chris Matthews criticized Limbaugh on Wednesday for lacking what he called “any kind of human approach to this problem.” Limbaugh’s decision to make fun of kids’ fear that they could face a situation like the one in Newtown was “sadistic,” Matthews said.

Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, also rolled out the “kids as human shields” argument on Fox News Tuesday when he compared Obama to Saddam Hussein, who used to film meetings with Western hostages in an attempt to deter targeted attacks during the first Gulf War.

And in an article entitled, “Prop-a-palooza: The Use and Abuse of Kiddie Human Shields,” blogger Michelle Malkin argues that, “From health care to gun control, the left has perfected this fallacious art of prop-a-palooza—the well-being of the children and national discourse be damned.” Malkin also referred to Wednesday’s gun control announcement as “the most cynical in Beltway theatrical staging—a feckless attempt to invoke ‘For the Children’ immunity by hiding behind them.”

Not even the president’s own children are off limits. In a web ad released on Wednesday, the National Rifle Association targeted Obama’s daughters, Sasha and Malia, for benefitting from what the organization suggests is an unfair level of protection. The ad asks, “Are the president’s kids more important than yours? Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school?”

President Obama signed a 23-point gun control order on Wednesday that consists of closing background check loopholes, banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, providing schools with safety resources, and increasing access to mental health services. He was flanked by the children who wrote concerned letters to him, despite the onslaught of criticism he received in the leadup to their appearance. The president also spoke movingly about Grace McDonnell, a 7-year-old victim of the Newtown massacre, whose parents were in the audience.

“It’s the responsibility of grown-ups to protect kids, and it’s the responsibility of elected officials to protect the society,” said Matthews on Hardball Friday. “They’re doing their jobs. And for Rush and those people to come out, and for LaPierre to come out, and say, oh this is all theater…Nobody made up this crime, this horror. Nobody made it up, it happened, it’s true, it’s the reality we live in. And it’s going to happen again.”

Watch Chris Matthews, Virginia Tech shooting survivor Colin Goddard, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns director Mark Glaze discuss Rush Limbaugh’s hateful comments about the children invited to Obama’s gun control announcement.

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Gun control debate: How both sides use children

Updated