A Response to David Mamet on Gun Control

David Mamet’s Newsweek piece on gun control was a bizarre, inaccurate rant, says Michael Tomasky.

I remember reading a profile of David Mamet in the Times Magazine many years ago, about which the only thing I recall is his admonition to his profiler, who had inquired into his method and the matter of what advice he might offer writers. Mamet’s response was: Go through and cut it in half. Then do that again. And then do that again. Something along those lines.

A rudimentary knowledge of mathematics tells us that one can cut in half to infinity and never reach zero, which is too bad in this case, because zero would have been the optimal word count for Mamet’s bizarre rant in Newsweek about how Barack Obama, acting on subliminal instruction from Karl Marx, wants to take away his guns and throw his family to the wolves. But he could at least have gotten it down to eight or, even better, four. “Me really angry man” would have sufficed.

You know you’re going to need your waders when someone kicks things off with Marx. Oy. Mamet: take it from someone who’s written thousands of columns. That’s hoary. Overused. I’m not sure what the thespian equivalent would be. Sending someone out on stage to yell “Stella”? It’s been done.

He gets his Marx wrong, by the way, whatever difference that makes. The famous offending diktat—“from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”—would not, per Marx’s formulation in “Critique of the Gotha Program,” be enforced by the state. That social arrangement wouldn’t really kick in until the state had withered away and the proletariat itself was calling the shots. I know that the right’s list of secret Obama evil plans for America is virtually endless, but I don’t think the state withering away is on the list.

But that’s an ancillary point. The general conceit seems to be rage at a purported liberal double standard, the sort of thing conservatives never tire of moaning about. The double standard in this case is that the Obama family members will allegedly be guarded for the rest of their natural lives by men and women with guns, and yet libruls don’t want regular Americans to enjoy the same: Obama “has my respect for taking those steps he deems necessary to ensure the safety of his family. Why would he want to prohibit me from doing the same?”

He just can’t intend this seriously. Does Mamet really begrudge a president or ex-president Secret Service protection? Does he genuinely believe that the Obama family is no different from the Mamet family or the Tomasky family or any average Middle American family?

Incidentally, he mangles the facts here, too. Mamet writes that the law Obama just signed “extends to him and his family protection, around the clock and for life, by the Secret Service.” That isn’t true. (Gee, ya think he heard that on ... Fox?) In fact, the act provides protection for presidential children only to age 16. But it’s handy to throw the kids in there. To the right, Sasha and Malia are little more than two of your more notorious members of the moocher class, having as they do the gall to be living in fancy subsidized housing and eating all those subsidized healthful foodstuffs. But in fact, after age 16, as pertains to the Secret Service, they will be on their own. Michelle would be, too, should the Obamas split up someday.

If, however, Sasha and Malia want to walk around with heat-packing muscle in their adult years, they will be able to do the same thing David Mamet can do. They can hire an armed body person. And of course they can buy handguns of their own, which David Mamet can also do. They would need to qualify for concealed-carry status, but that’s up to local law enforcement, not the president of the United States. So in what exact sense is Barack Obama trying to “prohibit” him from ensuring the safety of his family? The answer is, in no sense whatsoever.

Almost every “fact” is wrung through an ideological thresher and pulverized. Assault weapons, he writes, have been illegal since 1934, so what’s the big fuss? Actually, not quite. They have been really hard for the average citizen to obtain since 1934, but not completely illegal. And in any case the point here comes down to what we mean by “assault weapons” in the first place. For example, the very Bushmaster AR-15 used by Adam Lanza in Newtown and by James Holmes in Aurora is perfectly legal. Mamet doesn’t discuss this gun specifically, but he certainly means to convey the opposite impression.

The fact that the AR-15 is legal gives us reason to consider and support a new assault-weapons ban. It is not to reaffirm something that has already been law since 1934, but to place certain new deadly weapons (because after all, a few have been invented since 1934) under proscription.

If Mamet has difficulty with this concept, he might ask George W. Bush about it, as Bush supported the Clinton-era assault-weapons ban. It was Congress, wholly owned by the National Rifle Association, that let it expire; it is true that Bush didn’t use any political capital to fight the NRA when the ban expired in 2004, but he did campaign in 2000 supporting the ban, and he never withdrew that support.

I could go on, but I think I’ll follow the old Mamet’s sound advice and refrain from today’s Mamet’s unhousebroken prolixity. It’s basically kind of boring; another rich white man yelping about his taxes and so on. Makes one wish that some of the lurid things these people believe Obama wants to do to them were actually true.