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Opinion Why won’t pro-lifers act against our deadly gun culture?

Associate Justice Clarence Thomas speaks during an event at the Library of Congress on Feb. 15. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP)

Let us hear no more lectures from Clarence Thomas on the sanctity of human life.

The Supreme Court justice, with timing that could be charitably described as clumsy, issued his latest paean to gun rights Tuesday, as the child victims of last week’s school shooting were still being buried.

Reacting to his colleagues’ refusal to hear a case challenging California’s waiting period for gun purchases, he complained that justices would hear similar challenges to abortion, speech or privacy. “The Court would take these cases because abortion, speech, and the Fourth Amendment are three of its favored rights,” Thomas wrote. “The right to keep and bear arms is apparently this Court’s constitutional orphan.”

Not for the first time, Thomas has it backward. Abortions are restricted far more than guns (and abortions are declining, while gun deaths are rising). Even speech is limited if it endangers life. Why shouldn’t there be reasonable restrictions on guns, too?

Opinion | The Washington Post Editorial Board appeals to Trump and Congress to stand up to the gun lobby and prevent mass shootings. (Video: The Washington Post)

But Thomas has a bigger problem: claiming to be “pro-life” while his advocacy of unlimited gun rights expands a culture of death. The gun-control movement has been reluctant to use such words, lest it be seen as aping the antiabortion movement. But the theme is apt, and it points to the hypocrisy of those who profess to be pro-life but are also pro-gun without exception, those who denounce the termination of a pregnancy but not the termination of innocent life outside the womb.

If anything, the “sanctity of life” argument is more compelling for gun control: There is no moral consensus on abortion, but there is a moral consensus on wanton killing.

Even though 92 percent of abortions take place in the first trimester, the pro-life movement takes particular aim at late-term abortion. So let’s think of the Parkland victims in those terms:

Nicholas Dworet, who aspired to swim in the 2020 Olympics, was killed in the 72nd trimester of his life, a month shy of his 18th birthday.

Carmen Schentrup, a 2018 National Merit Scholarship finalist, was killed at the end of her 68th trimester of her life and buried the day before her 17th birthday.

Peter Wang, who had not yet reached his 64th trimester, was buried in his Junior ROTC uniform and was accepted posthumously at West Point.

They had a right to life. So did the 14 others who died.

Pro-life groups are largely silent about this, while others on the right have slandered the Parkland survivors, who in their grief have cried out for gun control, by claiming they are itinerant actors. Some explicitly tie the shooting to abortion. On the conservative website Newsmax, Dan Perkins wrote: “How is it that we have a society that on the one hand can become enraged at a school shooting, but have no compassion for the 27 babies killed by abortion each day [in Florida]?”

Christine Emba

counterpointWhy do Americans want guns? It comes down to one word.

The theme has been prominent this week in conservative social media, prompting a writer for the religion website Patheos, G. Shane Morris, to argue, thoughtfully: “It is not legitimate, in the aftermath of the carnage at Stoneman Douglas High School, to yell, ‘Yeah, but what about abortion?!’ ” Morris argued: “If we truly are pro-life, we should be willing to . . . talk about what needs to be done to stop a uniquely horrifying form of bloodshed that’s wracked this nation again and again in recent months and years.”

Pro-lifers are often called hypocritical, sometimes unfairly, for opposing health-care spending, or supporting the death penalty. Those are complicated. For many, opposition to abortion is deeply held morality. But it is no stretch to say that those who accept the routine mass murder of innocents are not truly pro-life.

Many on the right bristle at the idea that gun control will limit gun deaths, so let’s set that aside. What else would stop horrors of the sort that occurred at Parkland? More school security? Better mental-health intervention? As Politico reported, President Trump’s budget, released two days before the shooting, proposed a $25 million cut in funds for school safety activities, and elimination of a $400 million grant program for bullying prevention, mental-health assistance and the like. The budget also proposed deep cuts to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Institute of Mental Health.

Trump has made some noises about gun control in recent days, though it remains to be seen whether that is the usual pro-gun rope-a-dope after such tragedies. He has also responded to Parkland with the language of the pro-life movement, urging a culture “that embraces the dignity of life.”

“Dignity of Life.” “Culture of life.” “Sanctity of life.” “Protecting life.” Those fighting against gun violence should own such language, seizing it from those who call themselves pro-life but refuse to act against America’s culture of death by firearms.

Twitter: @Milbank

Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated the number of students killed in the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting.

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Read more:

Kathleen Parker: Stopping the next mass shooter

Edward Burmila: To beat the NRA, think like the NRA

Paul Waldman: Why the Parkland students have made pro-gun conservatives so mad

Alexandra Petri: Modify my views on guns, or vilify traumatized teens? I have chosen the latter.