Joe Biden’s Choice: Crack Down on Fake Guns, Or Real?

The vice president's gun violence task force issues recommendations on Tuesday. Does the First or Second Amendment face a greater challenge?

Real guns are great. It’s the fake guns—the ones you see on TV, on film, and in video games—that pose the real danger to our society.

Overstatement? Perhaps. But consider this: Vice President Joe Biden’s gun violence task force is expected to release its recommendations tomorrow, exactly a month after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre that ended with 27 people dead. And Biden’s task force ended up spending about as much time meeting with entertainment industry executives as it did with the NRA.

The NRA left its meeting decrying the Obama Administration’s “agenda to attack the Second Amendment.”

The entertainment execs—who included Comcast executive vice president David Cohen—were, uh, somewhat more conciliatory, committed “to doing our part to seek meaningful solutions.”

Which means a couple of things:

• The debate set off by the massacres at Sandy Hook, Aurora, and at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin have set America up for a test of which it values more: The freedom of expression protected by the First Amendment, or the right to bear arms covered in the Second.

• Judging by the opening stances, the Second Amendment’s defenders are far tougher and less willing to compromise than the First’s. (Make no mistake: Movies and video games are covered by the First Amendment.)

The result? Someday soon, it might be easier to buy and possess a super-manly Bushmaster assault rifle in real life than to play a video game in which characters use the exact same weapon.

““I don’t know what we’re going to do, but we’re going to do something,” said Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf, who carries a B+ rating from the NRA. He was talking, of course, about video game regulation.

Which is absurd.

Forget, for a moment, that studies on the impact of video game violence have returned mixed results: For me, like Gov. Chris Christie, the advent of parenthood has meant the putting away of violent, childish things like “Call of Duty” games in order that my young son not be exposed to it—or, at least, that he’ll have to wait a bit before that happens. ““You cannot tell me that a kid sitting in a basement for hours playing Call of Duty and killing people over and over and over again does not desensitize that child to the real-life effects of violence,” Christie said, and, well, what he says makes a certain amount of intuitive sense.

But this also makes sense: It’s only rarely that violent entertainment seems to be the cause of our mass violence. The killers at Sandy Hook and the Sikh temple seemed motivated by illness and bigotry; there’s a better (if imperfect) case for Hollywood’s malign influence in the shootings at Aurora and Columbine.

All those massacres are different in the circumstances that produced them. But in every single case, they were committed using firearms. It sounds glib, but it’s true: Every gun massacre is a gun massacre. Not all of them are John Hinckley fantasies however.

Given the enduring power of the NRA, however, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that fake guns face more of a regulatory crackdown in coming months than do real guns. We may value the First Amendment, it seems, but not quite as much as the Second. Massacres aside, that should be real cause for concern.