Pointing the finger in the wrong direction

Pointing the finger in the wrong direction
Pointing the finger in the wrong direction
Associated Press

Care to guess which Democratic president conservatives are blaming for the mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard this week? If you said, “Barack Obama,” guess again.

“It hasn’t always been the case that only MPs can carry firearms on U.S. military bases. A mere twenty years ago, ‘gun free zones’ made their way to these facilities under the watch of President Bill Clinton,” Breitbart’s Awr Hawkins wrote…. “In other words, thanks to Clinton, citizens who join the military to use guns to defend liberty abroad cannot practice their constitutional right to keep and bear arms while on active duty at home.”

Citing the same editorial, Austin Peterson at the Libertarian Republic wrote, “[Alexis] was more equipped than the 12 people he killed on the base who were not permitted to carry weapons on the base thanks to former President Bill Clinton.”

The Right Rant put it even more bluntly: “If you want to blame somebody besides the Navy Yard shooter, blame Bill Clinton.”

In addition to the examples Ryan Kearney noted above, Media Matters reports that the same accusations were levied by Rush Limbaugh, who told his listeners yesterday that military bases are “unarmed” due to a “Clinton-era law,” while killers “pick places where there are no guns.”

Let’s pause to appreciate the speed with which this shift occurred. On Monday afternoon, the conservative line was, “It’s awful to play the blame game at a time line this.” By Tuesday morning, the right had decided, “It’s Clinton’s fault.” The speed with which this ricocheted from one conservative outlet to another also offered an amazing example of the right’s epistemic closure.

The problem, of course, is that the claim just isn’t true.

The source of the argument appears to be this editorial in the conservative Washington Times.

Among President Clinton’s first acts upon taking office in 1993 was to disarm U.S. soldiers on military bases. In March 1993, the Army imposed regulations forbidding military personnel from carrying their personal firearms and making it almost impossible for commanders to issue firearms to soldiers in the U.S. for personal protection.

As The New Republic piece noted, this is in reference to a specific Army regulation, set in motion by a Pentagon directive issued on February 25, 1992 – right around the time Bill Clinton came in second in the New Hampshire primary.

In other words, the right has decided to blame Clinton for a policy approved by the Bush/Quayle administration.

What’s more, the notion that the Navy Yard was a “gun-free zone” – a claim pushed by the Daily Caller – is ridiculous. From Eric Boehlert’s piece:

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Washington, D.C. police chief Cathy Lanier detailed how local police officers arrived at the Navy Yard within two or three minutes of the first shots ringing out, and that even before that, “internal security” at the Navy Yard was firing at the gunman.

Does that sound like gun-free facility to you? Does that sound like the gunman didn’t have to worry about anybody shooting back, as the Daily Caller absurdly claimed?

Indeed, we know that the apparent gunman’s first victim was a Navy Yard security guard – who was armed.

I sometimes wonder why the right even bothers. Blaming Clinton is obviously foolish, but by even raising the question of who bears responsibility, conservatives are inviting a larger debate they insist they do not want. In effect, the response we’re likely to hear from the right, now that yesterday’s claims have been debunked is, “Wait, Clinton’s not to blame? OK, then let’s go back to rejecting the entire blame game again.”