Words fail them 

Zinke, Daines defy logic when speaking about Obama's gun plan

Last week, President Obama announced plans to take "executive action" on gun violence—to use his control over agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to reduce the number of Americans shot and killed each year. Two of Montana's men in Washington, Sen. Steve Daines and Rep. Ryan Zinke, responded immediately.

"President Obama is jeopardizing the Constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans with his latest efforts to undermine the Second Amendment," Daines said in a public statement. "It is a gross abuse of executive authority for the President to unilaterally move forward his ineffective, anti-gun agenda with the stroke of his pen. As Montana's voice in the United States Senate, I will continue to fight against President Obama's endless assault on Montanans' Second Amendment rights."

It was kind of a screed. But it was positively tepid next to the words of Commander Zinke, who declared that the president's actions were "no surprise given his tyrannical record."

"I challenge this president to stand up and face the biggest threat to America's safety: radical Islamic terrorism," he wrote. "Rather than allow terrorists to come to our shores and kill our neighbors, President Obama must fight back and destroy ISIS at their base. Rather than drop pamphlets warning ISIS to flee before we strike, America must strike with resolve and destroy the threat."

The astute reader might recognize this policy as remarkably similar to Commander Zinke's position on global warming. Last month, when the president attended the Paris climate summit, Zinke complained that Obama "doesn't understand the threat of radical Islamic terrorism ... and he is willing to do anything to avoid confronting ISIS head-on."

Both Daines' and Zinke's statements were striking in their reliance on boilerplate—ready phrases that allowed them to talk about the president's gun control plans without actually saying anything. Daines warned the president was jeopardizing constitutional rights by undermining the Second Amendment—a perfect tautology whose redundancy was balanced by his odd insistence that the president was abusing his authority with an ineffective agenda. Drunk on power that doesn't work, Obama attacks the Constitution by undermining it.

But Daines is Michel Eyquem de frigging Montaigne compared to Zinke, who warned that the president's plans were "putting our nation at risk" and "should worry every American who values their rights and liberties." And what does this assault on liberty, this threat to the very nation and the rights of those who live in it, propose to do? It pretty much breaks down into three parts:

1. Require background checks for firearm sales at gun shows.

2. Invest in mental health care and make mental health information available to the background check system.

3. Sponsor research in gun safety technology.

click to enlarge opinion_guns.jpg

That's it. The president's unconstitutional tyranny does not involve changing any existing laws, nor does it keep anyone from buying any gun he could legally buy before. I agree it fails to stop ISIS, but the Stamp Act it ain't.

My concern with Daines' and Zinke's response to the president's very tepid plan is not that they oppose gun control. What bothers me about these statements from our Republican delegates to Congress is that they assume we either don't know what Obama actually proposes to do or don't care what words mean.

If Commander Zinke calls background checks at gun shows an "unconstitutional gun grab," what would he say about a plan that actually involved confiscating guns? If Daines thinks adding mental health information to the background check system is a "gross abuse of executive authority," what does he think of blanket surveillance by the NSA?

Statements like that reduce public discourse to a war of repetition. They wave the Constitution like a red flag and assume angry Montanans will charge at whatever is behind it, and they cheapen the lines of communication between voter and representative.

Between them, these two have cried tyranny so many times I worry they will run out of words if anything actually tyrannical happens. Their public statements seem to recognize no space between gross abuses of federal authority and doing nothing.

Besides accusing the president of subverting the Constitution, nothing is what Daines and Zinke seem to do best. Since taking office, Daines has sponsored exactly no bills that became U.S. law and cosponsored one. Zinke has sponsored zero pieces of successful legislation and cosponsored three.

Our elected leaders are not substantially influencing the course of legislation in Washington, D.C., nor are they meaningfully contributing to public discourse. They are throwing the word "tyranny" around and, in the case of Commander Zinke, reminding us that ISIS is bad. Except for their six-figure salaries, they are not functionally different from Facebook commenters.

Anyone in the world can shout that the president is a tyrant. If Sen. Daines and Rep. Zinke can't do anything more than talk, they might at least take care to speak sensibly. Dumb and noisy are too easily replaced.

Dan Brooks writes about politics, culture and the French Renaissance at combatblog.net.

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