What do you do when you don’t like the conversation? You change it. Right now, Barack Obama doesn’t like our national conversation, and with his executive action on guns, he’s trying to change it.
The conversation of the year around the world has been ISIS. Will the caliphate spread beyond Syria and Iraq? Will ISIS be able to infiltrate Europe and the United States? Will the West’s response to the refugee crisis make Americans and Europeans more vulnerable to attack? And will the world’s great powers do enough to defeat this enemy abroad so we don’t have to face it at home?
By year-end in 2015, the answers to these questions were no longer in the realm of the hypothetical. They were concrete and concerning. Two months ago, a squad of suicide bombers and armed militants affiliated with the Islamic State killed and wounded hundreds of innocent civilians in Paris. Weeks later, ISIS-inspired radicals stepped up their assault on the West with an attack on the United States, murdering fourteen Americans in the San Bernardino attack.
We and our friends across the Atlantic know now with certainty what we feared all along: The ISIS cancer is spreading, and our governments haven’t kept us safe. The only hypothetical that remains is the one our leaders have chosen not to fill in: a credible strategy to defeat ISIS.
But in the wake of the San Bernardino attack, before the connection to ISIS had been firmly established but long after reasonable suspicions regarding ISIS had begun to circulate among the public, President Obama previewed a different sort of response to ISIS terror: tell law-abiding Americans that the problem isn’t radical Islamic terror; it’s the Second Amendment.
“At this stage, we do not yet know why this terrible event occurred. We do know that the two individuals who were killed were equipped with weapons and appeared to have access to additional weaponry at their homes. … [W]e see the prevalence of these kinds of mass shootings in this country. And I think so many Americans sometimes feel as if there’s nothing we can do about it,” he said. For all his caution about prematurely assigning blame for the attack, the president didn’t hesitate to prescribe a solution: gun control. “[W]e’re going to have to, I think, search ourselves as a society to make sure that we can take basic steps that would make it harder – not impossible, but harder – for individuals to get access to weapons.”
This is the left’s typical response to problems that its ideology won’t allow it to confront head-on: redefine the problem. Remember, the Fort Hood attack by an al Qaeda-linked shooter wasn’t radical Islamic terrorism; it was “workplace violence.”
Barack Obama’s effort to turn our attention, again, to gun control, is a distraction from our real problems, and most Americans will recognize it as such. But there’s a lesson for conservatives to take from his approach: when the left tries to redirect the conversation, we need to push back with equal and opposite force.
Michael A. Needham is the CEO of Heritage Action for America.