Of all the arguments we’ve heard in the gun debate, few are more absurd than the claim that President Obama and Democrats have used the Sandy Hook families as “props” in a nefarious plot to exploit them for political ends.
Those making this case are using eerily similar language. Rand Paul yesterday said: “I think in some cases the president has used them as props.” The Washington Times today opined: “The shame is how the gun-control advocates have exploited the grief of these families, bearing up under a sadness beyond knowing by the rest of us, using them at every opportunity as props to make a political argument.”
It was cruel of the president to involve the Sandy Hook families in a fight that was not their fight. For all the good they can do and all the deference and respect they deserve, it is a travesty that the families of the Sandy Hook victims were used as props and lobbyists and that the tragedy of Sandy Hook was contorted into a Washington legislative battle about expanding the federal paperwork required to make a gun purchase. The Sandy Hook families didn’t create this farce; it was the president’s idea.
As it happens, the idea that Obama and/or gun control advocates are “exploiting” the families and using them as “props” is not just silly; it’s demonstrably misleading on the facts.
Sandy Hook families actually initiated contact with the White House, and not the other way around, according to Tim Makris, the executive director of Sandy Hook Promise, the group of families most active in lobbying Washington lawmakers on guns. Back in February the families contacted the White House “and said we wanted to meet with them,” Makris told me.
What about the families’ recent appearance on Air Force One? Having already been previously contacted by the families, the White House called them to ask them to participate in an event in Hartford, Connecticut. But the families actually turned this invite down. They informed the White House that they had already purchased their tickets for the train to Washington and that they would have to leave for the Capitol. It was only after this that the White House offered to transport them to Washington on the presidential plane, an invitation the families themselves accepted for convenience sake, Makris says.
When the families met with Vice President Joe Biden last week, it again happened because the families initiated contact in hopes of getting a briefing on the state of play in the Senate, Makris said.
All of this aside, the “props” line is actually an insult to the families, posing as a defense of them. It implies that the families, in lobbying on these issues, are not thinking for themselves. In reality, the families want to stand with the President at events for a fairly obvious reason: Obama is fighting for the same things they want. Indeed, one of the family members, Mark Barden, who lost his son Daniel in the shooting, voluntarily stood with the president at the White House yesterday as Obama reacted to news of the Senate vote, and thanked Obama for his leadership. Needless to say, if Barden felt like he was being exploited or used as a prop, he wouldn’t be thanking the president.
I’d say the views of the families themselves on the question of whether they are being used as props should carry more weight than the views of Republicans who are doing everything they can to thwart the very reforms those families are fighting for.
This argument, like so many others from the “gun rights” side, is designed solely to obfuscate and confuse. It’s meant to imply that in fighting for his gun proposals, Obama isn’t actually representing the interests of the families. The “gun rights” side has to argue this, of course, because the families are highly sympathetic figures, and Republicans can’t be seen to be fighting to thwart their will. But of course, that is exactly what Republicans are doing — the families’ agenda and Obama’s agenda are one and the same. Even more perversely, they are doing this while posing as defenders of the families by painting them as victims of Obama’s exploitation.