Gun zealots: Shooting victims should stay out of debate

Former Rep. Gabby Giffords and Newtown families are props and bullies, gun rights absolutists explain

Published April 23, 2013 1:00PM (EDT)

Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords     (Reuters/Samantha Sais)
Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (Reuters/Samantha Sais)

James Taranto, who not only writes a column for the Wall Street Journal but also edits its opinion website, rightfully became the most hated man on Twitter yesterday afternoon for questioning whether former congresswoman Gabby Giffords could have possibly written the New York Times Op-Ed she published last week shortly after a gun control bill died in the Senate, considering how injured she remains after getting shot in the head two years ago.

Here's Taranto parsing the forensics of her column-writing abilities on an NRA radio show Friday, caught by Media Matters' Timothy Johnson yesterday:

TARANTO: One fascinating thing about this is this piece was published no later than 9:03 PM on Wednesday evening, because that's when it first appears on the New York Times' Twitter feed. The last Senate vote on amendments to the gun bill was a bit after 6 [PM]. Giffords appeared at the White House at 5:35 [PM] when we saw that enraged rant by the president. The Manchin-Toomey [background check] provision was the first vote. That was at 4:04 PM. So if you read this piece it's presented as a cry from the heart, as Giffords' personal reaction as somebody who's been wounded by gun violence to the betrayal of these Senators. So we are supposed to believe that somehow in less than five hours a woman who has severe impairments of her motor and speech functions was able to produce 900 publishable words and put in an appearance in the White House in the course of it. So I think that's a little bit odd.

Ironically, in a column Thursday, Taranto wagged his finger at Giffords for practicing "incivility and unreason."

But it's not just Taranto. From Sen. Rand Paul to small-time radio hosts, gun rights absolutists seem eager to dismiss gun violence victims and condemn them for daring to speak out.

The National Review's Kevin Williamson criticized Giffords in a particularly ugly way, saying, "It should be noted that being shot in the head by a lunatic does not give one any special grace to pronounce upon public-policy questions." A Washington Times editorial said that Obama was "exploit[ing] the grief" of the Newtown families by "using them at every opportunity as props to make a political argument." Breitbart's Ben Shapiro likewise decried Obama for "exploitation of victims of violence using guns." Another conservative blogger accused Giffords of "emotional bullying."

Of course, Republican Paul called gun violence victims "props," but even conservative Democrats were not above rejecting the right of victims to participate in the debate. “It’s dangerous to do any type of policy in an emotional moment,” Alaska Democratic Sen. Mark Begich told the New York Times. “Because human emotions then drive the decision. Everyone’s all worked up. That’s not enough.”

A radio host in Minnesota even told gun violence victims to "go to hell." “I’m sorry that you suffered a tragedy, but you know what? Deal with it, and don’t force me to lose my liberty, which is a greater tragedy than your loss," said Bob Davis on AM 1130.

This camp seems to reject not only the arguments made by gun violence victims, but their right even to have their voices heard. Or it assumes they're feeble and easily manipulated by nefarious gun-grabbers -- can they have no genuine opinions of their own? Imagine if these were the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks or the Boston Marathon bombing -- would conservatives call them "props" too?

Meanwhile, gun owners are held up as the real victims of gun policies, whose voices must be heard and whose rights can never be infringed upon, even if they happen to be suspected terrorists. So if you want to be taken seriously by conservatives when discussing gun violence, make sure you don't become directly affected by it.

By Alex Seitz-Wald

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