The Wednesday, April 5, episode of ABC’s conspiracy drama, Designated Survivor, may as well have been written by the Brady Campaign, or any one of Michael Bloomberg’s consortium of anti-Second Amendment organizations. For those unfamiliar with Kiefer Sutherland’s new role as President Tom Kirkman, he seems to have done a complete 180 from his days as 24’s Jack Bauer. Sutherland now stars as the reluctant president, thrust into the role after an attack on the State of the Union address kills most of his predecessor’s administration and the entirety of Congress.
In Wednesday’s episode, “One Hundred Days,” Kirkman laments that the circumstances of his ascension to the presidency denied him the chance to lay out his own policy agenda. Presidents, he explains, “are judged by their first hundred days, when a president rolls out his policy initiatives for the next four years,” before asking the White House Press Corps to allow him to “reset the clock.” The show applauds itself for appointing the first certified, non-partisan, “independent” to the White House, and President Kirkman makes a valiant rhetorical show of directing his staff to avoid hot-button issues and focus on uniting the people. His promise lasts about five minutes and he ends up looking as “independent” as Bernie Sanders.
The warning signs were there. When the staff director for the Senate Energy Committee calls the administration’s office, Kirkman’s staff advises him to “stick to wind and solar,” two technologies that, despite tens of billions in subsidies, account for less than 7 percent of the energy produced in the U.S.
Things only get worse from there when the new First Lady gets asked about gun control at a luncheon.
Host: Next question -- "Considering our country recently witnessed two separate acts of gun violence -- the death of Vice President MacLeish, and the assassination attempt on your husband -- what are your views regarding gun policy in America?
First Lady: Oh! Honestly, this was something that deeply concerned me long before Tom and I ended up in the White House. When something as simple as a mandatory background check can't get through Congress, then, honestly, I-I have to wonder how we got here. How do we tell our children that we are doing everything to keep them out of danger? I-I don't know the answers to these questions, but I do know that we need to deal with guns differently in this country. Thank you so much.
Background checks are already mandatory on all firearms sales involving a gun dealer; they are also mandatory for any interstate firearm sale, even between private sellers. Straw purchases, when someone purchases a firearm for someone else, are a “Federal crime punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.” The overwhelming majority of criminals obtain their guns from a friend or family member, on the street, or through an illegal source, not through private sales or at gun shows.
If only the writers had stopped there and let President Kirkman stick with his instinct to avoid this issue, but they couldn’t resist the temptation to preach. The First Lady’s luncheon answer sets off a firestorm and the issue inevitably arises at President Kirkman’s first town hall.
President: Next question, please.
Sandra: Hello, Mr. President. My name is Sandra.
President: Hi, Sandra.
Sandra: I heard what the first lady said about background checks, and I have a question. I recently lost my daughter, Julie. My ex-boyfriend was... Released from jail, and even so, he was able to buy a handgun from a private seller. [Voice breaking] He broke into our house... And he shot and killed my little girl. I'm so sorry. My daughter was my world, my everything. And the man... who took her from me was a monster who somehow still got his hands on a gun because unlicensed gun dealers don't have to run background checks. I'm here because I have to be strong for my other two daughters. But I struggle every day to find a reason to keep going. I would like to ask you, Mr. President [clears throat] What will you do to prevent something like this from happening again?
President: Sandra, your story breaks my heart. And as a father, I can't even imagine what you're going through. Gun control is one of the most divisive, hot-button topics in our nation, but that should not be an excuse for avoiding the issue. In fact, that should be the opposite.
Nadia: He's good.
Aaron: Yeah, that's because he means it.
President: But I want to be absolutely clear. I believe that the American people have every right to buy and own guns by virtue of the second amendment. I would also like to take a moment to quash the myth that somehow gun control is equal to the Federal Government coming into your home and taking your weapons away. Nobody is advocating for that. We need to be doing everything we can to stop guns from falling into the hands of prior felons, people dealing with serious mental-health issues, people on terrorist watch lists. I mean, come on. We need to be using common sense. It's as simple as that. And I hate the fact that there is nothing I can say or do right now to ease Sandra's pain, but I can make her one promise -- that I will do everything in my power to make sure that not one more American family has to experience her grief.
Sandra: Thank you.
This entire scene is a dumpster fire of misinformation. For starters, there is no such thing as an “unlicensed gun dealer.” An unlicensed gun dealer is a criminal. More stringent background checks aren’t going to have any impact on people who are already violating federal background check laws. Furthermore, current law already prohibits those who have been committed to a mental institution or adjudicated mentally defective from purchasing firearms.
But what about terrorist watch lists? Surely we can find some commonsense agreement there. Unfortunately, these are a demagogue’s Christmas gift and a dark recess where due process goes to die. Once on a list, it’s nearly impossible to clear your name. Back in the real world, a compromise bill would have required a 3 day waiting period for those on watch lists during which federal “prosecutors could make a case to a judge that the person was an actual threat” and block the sale of a firearm. According to Bearing Arms, “Democrats voted against this bill and kept it from passing the 60-vote threshold because it required the government to prove the person being denied their rights actually was a terror threat. The bill fell short 53-47.”
I wish I could say that was the end of Designated Survivor’s misguided attack on the Second Amendment, but the promos for next week’s episode have made it clear they’ll be doubling down on the anti-gun messaging. I, for one, am not looking forward to it.