Free society came under attack twice this month, first when Islamists rammed a van into pedestrians and went on a knife-slashing rampage in the Southwark district of London, and then when a gunman opened fire on Republican lawmakers in the Del Rey neighborhood of Northern Virginia.
In both cases, police had barely begun their investigations when an American politician—first the Republican president, then a Democratic governor—seized on the carnage to advocate political causes via electronic media.
In the hours after the London attack, President Trump took to Twitter to push his administration’s proposed travel ban on people from several predominantly Muslim countries:
Then, in the first police briefing on the Del Rey shooting, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe called for expanded gun control:
It’s reasonable for a politician to advocate policies that he thinks will reduce future recurrences of a fresh tragedy. However, Trump’s immigration proposals are supported by people who typically oppose McAuliffe’s gun control proposals, and McAuliffe’s are supported by people who typically oppose Trump’s. This is puzzling because the proposals themselves are remarkably similar: they would constrain individuals’ freedoms in an effort to improve public safety. So why do the two proposals get such different responses from different people?
It’s not that there’s a big difference in the risk to public safety posed by immigrants or guns. Both have proven to be harmful, in the sense that both immigrants and guns have caused violence. But the risk posed by the typical gun or immigrant is tiny.