I am certain that plans are already in the works to trot out Richard Martinez, the grieving father of one of the victims of killer Elliot Rodger in his murderous rampage at the University of California in Santa Barbara, for service in hearings, at rallies, for fund-raisers, at protests and in anti-gun ads. The emotionally distraught father provided a ready-made media sound chomp in his CNN rant against anyone and anything that have, in his mind, prevented radical restrictions on guns, those who, in his view, contributed to the death of his son.
“What has changed? Have we learned nothing? These things are going to continue until somebody does something, so where the hell is the leadership? Where the hell are these people we elect to Congress that we spend so much money on? These people are getting rich sitting in Congress, what do they do? They don’t take care of our kids.My kid died because nobody responded to what happened at Sandy Hook. Those parents lost little kids. It’s bad enough that I lost my 20-year-old, but I had 20 years with my son, that’s all I’ll have. But those people lost their children at six and seven years old. How do you think they feel? And who’s talking to them now? Who is doing anything for them now? Who is standing up for those kids that died back then in an elementary school? Why wasn’t something done? It’s outrageous!”
I don’t blame Martinez for how he feels, but I will blame those who exploit him, and I know there is no chance that they won’t.
In 2013, we all saw how every Sandy Hook parent who was sufficiently enraged and camera-worthy fueled the shameless drive to use fear-mongering and exaggeration in the push to finally gut the Second Amendment, as anti-gun activists have so long wanted to do. Martinez is perfect, just as Cindy Sheehan, destroyed because her soldier son died in a war, was custom-fit for pacifists and anti-war advocates, just as a brain-damaged Gabby Giffords was ideal to have recite child-like generalities against firearms in Congress.
Of course, Martinez can’t be objective or rational on the topic of his son’s death, which means that in a fair and responsible political environment, he would be the last one who anyone should want to see influencing public policy. He is full of anger and rage, and if given the chance, I’m sure he would want every gun removed from private hands. If his son had been mauled by a pit bull, he’d want to have all pit bulls killed; if his son had been eaten by a shark, he would want the monsters eradicated from the seas; if his son had been murdered by an illegal immigrant with a police record, I’m sure he’d want to have all illegals with police records deported, and if his child was molested by a registered sex offender, I wouldn’t be surprised if he advocated all registered sex offenders to have warnings tattooed on their foreheads. In short, Martinez’s connection to one gun-related tragedy makes his judgment on the matter of gun regulation unreliable. It creates a conflict of interest, a bias, that removes him as a useful participant in dispassionate discussions and disqualifies him as an agent of rational public debate. He can appeal to emotion only, and though one could never convince Richard Martinez otherwise (and nobody should try), the issues of personal rights and reasonable gun control measures are far more complicated than he is capable of grasping now, and probably ever.
Recruiting Martinez and those like him to lead the debate on gun control and preventing violence is a cheap and cynical strategy favored by anti-gun zealots who want to avoid honest consideration of difficult legal, ethical and practical questions, but it is completely consistent with the shallow reasoning of those who think the winning question in any such debate should be, “How would you feel if it were your child was the one [facing capital punishment/being deported/who who was raped, molested, mauled, or murdered]?”, or the irresponsible rhetoric of a demagogue President who has argued more than once, including in a State of the Union address, that “if we can save only one child,” it justifies changes in the law and policy.
Martinez has a right, like any other American, to express his views on gun control and public safety. But because his reason is presumably clouded by anger and grief, his influence on the debate should be less than most, not more. Those who exploit his appeal to emotion reveal themselves as not merely uninterested in responsible public discourse on an important issue involving life, death, and basic rights; they alert us that their intent is to undermine it.