It’s great that comedian Amy Schumer is taking up the challenge of working for reasonable gun laws. It’s too bad that she’s doing it with her cousin, Sen. Charles Schumer.
Schumer comes to the issue via the same path that so many others, including James and Sarah Brady and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, traveled before her: tragedy. “Trainwreck,” the comedy in which Schumer stars, was playing in the Louisiana movie theater in which John Russell Houser shot 11 people last month, killing two women and himself.
As a comedian, Schumer can do a lot of good addressing America’s gun culture. Absurdities abound, from the comic book world view of National Rifle Association leader Wayne LaPierre to the ditsy self-justifications of open-carry fanatics. As Australian comic Jim Jefferies has shown, even the most basic building blocks of gun-culture logic can lend themselves to comedy (when they’re not producing tragedy). Like Jefferies and Daily Show host Jon Stewart, Schumer has the capacity to develop arguments that get propelled, through YouTube and other tributaries, into mainstream channels. But she also specializes in the kind of cultural angles — the link between male insecurity and gun worship comes to mind — that straight-faced advocates of gun control won’t touch. By working the pop-cultural ground, Schumer can prepare the land for successful political action in the future.
The political arena, however, is much less promising for Schumer’s efforts than pop culture is. Gun politics has become completely polarized along partisan lines. While Democrats generally support more regulation, Republicans routinely support less. In state capitals dominated by Republicans, legislators have been busy passing laws that most Republicans would’ve considered ludicrous a few years ago. (When a law is known by the shorthand “guns anywhere,” you can be pretty sure that you’ve crossed the border of reason.)
By joining forces with Cousin Chuck, a member of the Senate’s Democratic leadership, Schumer is feeding the partisan dynamic that is one of the forces undermining gun regulation. True, a lot of the lads who make gun culture in the United States so unique are not inclined to listen to a smart-alecky feminist no matter who her friends — or cousins — are. But Amy Schumer has genuine cultural power, which can seep into odd and even resistant corners of the nation in unexpected ways.
U.S. politics, by contrast, is far less fluid at the moment, with partisan lines too sharply drawn to yield much immediate progress. In any case, a change in gun culture is almost certainly a necessary prelude to change in gun politics. It’s far less obvious that the reverse would be true.
So while it’s good to have someone with Schumer’s cultural cachet entering the fray, it’s less clear that she is spending her capital wisely. Teaming up with a senator may seem like the obvious approach to dealing with a vexing public policy issue. But you don’t need senators involved until you have hope of passing laws. Right now it’s more important to expose gun- rights extremism for the joke that it is. And there is no question which Schumer is the woman for the job.
Francis Wilkinson writes on politics and domestic policy for Bloomberg View.
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