Chris Rickert: Silence of gun rights backers is cowardly

2012-12-20T08:00:00Z 2013-02-06T21:24:13Z Chris Rickert: Silence of gun rights backers is cowardlyCHRIS RICKERT | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6198

It's as if mothers of Republican lawmakers updated that old advice "If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all" to something more befitting the times.

Like: "If you have no interest in limiting gun rights, keep your mouth shut and wait for the news cycle to exhaust itself."

Republicans have had either nothing or very little of substance to say in response to Democratic calls for more gun control in the days following yet another mass shooting in America.

Which might prove Republicans have plenty of political acumen — if not the guts to be honest with Americans struggling to explain how a 20-year-old, armed-to-the-teeth, apparently mentally disturbed man could slaughter 20 6- and 7-year-olds.

The Republican response to the tragedy in Connecticut so far follows a timeworn political pattern, according to Mordecai Lee, a governmental affairs professor at UW-Milwaukee and former Democratic state lawmaker.

"You can't get into trouble for what you don't say," Lee said. "By not commenting, they're just waiting it out."

In contacting Republican state lawmakers, I found those "waiting it out" include Gov. Scott Walker, incoming Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and incoming Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald.

The most I got was from Fitzgerald's spokesman, who allowed that gun control "is an issue that certainly may be discussed" next legislative session, but that the senator was focused on jobs and the budget.

Less circumspect was Buster Bachhuber, a member of the boards of both the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association, Wisconsin Force, and the NRA itself.

From the emails going back and forth among NRA officials, it's clear there is no interest in tightening any gun laws, Bachhuber told me.

"Wisconsin Force is adamantly opposed to any additional laws. Period," he said.

Bachhuber pulled out some of the arguments pro-gun people pull out to defend the ability of Americans to carry all manner of firearm: guns don't kill people, people kill people; criminals don't follow the gun laws anyway; the public doesn't want more gun control; allowing people — such as teachers — to carry firearms might be the best defense against mass shootings.

Ultimately, it's about freedom, he said, and "maybe you just got to take your lumps when you're free" and accept that every now and then large numbers of people will be shot to death.

Which might sound harsh, but does at least get to the heart of what the gun debate is about for some people: belief, and, more specifically, beliefs about freedom.

And, "when you're a true believer, events aren't evidence. Events aren't facts," Lee said, "because you have a belief that can't be overturned by any events or facts."

If Republicans' belief in Second Amendment freedoms is immune to the events of Friday and the fact of 28 dead — as well as this year's deadly Sikh temple and spa shootings in Wisconsin — the least they can do is have the guts to tell us.

Silence just wastes time. Worse, it allows false hope to flourish.

Contact Chris Rickert at 608-252-6198 or, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (@ChrisRickertWSJ). His column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

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