Note to Ron Johnson: We won’t forget your vote on background checks

I’m working on new NRA slogans to better reflect the organization’s increasingly hidebound outlook. “If criminal background checks are allowed, only criminals won’t have guns” is a good one. Or “First they came for the convicted felons, and I wasn’t a convicted felon, so I didn’t speak out. Then they came for the criminally insane, and I wasn’t criminally insane, so I didn’t speak out. Then a homeless guy fell asleep on my porch, and there were no criminally insane felons with assault weapons left to help me protect my stash of munitions and freeze-dried legumes, so I had to shoot him myself.”

I have to say, even in this hyperpolarized political climate, the Senate’s recent vote on background checks for gun purchases leaves me flabbergasted.

Though I’m left of center on most issues, I’ve never been a really big gun control guy. That said, I really don’t understand the Senate’s inaction on this one, and though I’ve set the bar about as low as it can go for our six-watt senator, Ron Johnson, I’m deeply disappointed in him.

Let’s parse just one of Johnson’s statements following his vote on the gun bill:

“I think we have enough gun laws on the books; I don’t think we need more. If you need to enforce them, start enforcing them, but where you see incredibly stringent gun laws on the books, that’s where you see the greatest violence.”

Okay, if he’s good for nothing else, Johnson is fantastic at creating teachable moments. Specifically, he’s great at providing philosophy 101 students textbook examples of the post hoc ergo propter hoc (“after this, therefore because of this”) fallacy.

One classic refutation of the post hoc fallacy is this:

Argument: During periods when ice cream sales increase, the number of drowning deaths also increases. Therefore, the consumption of ice cream is responsible for drownings.

Rebuttal: This fails to account for other factors, namely the increase in water-related activities during hot summer months, which also prompt an increase in purchases of ice cream. So the causal arrow goes from hot weather to both ice cream consumption and drownings, not from ice cream consumption to drownings.

Here’s another one:

Argument: The arrival of Ron Johnson in the Senate correlates strongly with a marked increase in the number of dopey, uncomprehending stares observed in the Senate chamber and the number of half-completed Highlights for Children word searches found crumpled up in wastebaskets in Ron Johnson’s office.

Rebuttal: It proves nothing, really, but further study is warranted.

Of course, the obvious response to Johnson’s observation about violence correlating with stringent gun laws is that the gun laws were most likely a response to high rates of violence. A municipality or state that experiences a lot of violent crime is more likely to pass strict gun laws, and a relatively peaceful town is unlikely to worry as much about guns. So there may be a strong correlation between gun laws and gun deaths, but as we all (ahem) know, correlation does not imply causation. (To be fair, liberals play this game, too. If rates of gun ownership sometimes correlate with high homicide rates, it may simply mean that people are buying guns to protect themselves.)

Then again, maybe Johnson is simply making the point that stringent gun laws have failed to bring about violence-free utopias and are therefore ineffective. Fair enough, but then why have any laws? Laws prohibiting murder have not done away with murder, and laws prohibiting prostitution have not turned Washington, D.C., into a virtuous city.

The question is, what would these high-violence cities be like without any gun laws? I have at least a little sympathy for the argument that concealed-carry laws and high gun ownership rates might act as deterrents to crime (I wouldn’t bet the house on the idea that they actually reduce crime rates, of course, but I do acknowledge that they could). Then again, maybe well-crafted gun laws are effective at reducing violent crime rates in high-crime cities.

That brings me to the other part of Johnson’s quote, where he says we already have enough gun laws on the books. Yes, but do we have a federal law requiring universal background checks for gun purchases? Apparently not. If we did, you wouldn’t have so many people upset with you right now, Senator.


I have no problem with enforcing the gun laws that are already on the books (or repealing them if they’re ineffective or counterproductive), but what does that have to do with this law? This law would help prevent criminals and mentally ill people from getting guns. Why not consider the merits of this law before worrying about all those other laws that are on the books? Seems like a classic red herring to me.

Responding to Senate Republicans’ vote last week, former Republican Sen. Al D’Amato said “you’ve got to be a jackass to be voting against background checks for people buying guns.”

D’Amato didn’t mention Johnson by name, but he seems to know him well.

Sen. Johnson, enjoy the next three years. The NRA will no doubt remember your role in thwarting the will of 90% of Americans come election time. So will Wisconsin. See you in 2016.

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