The day began in Sandy Hook, Connecticut with the tolling of bells. While the nation paused for a moment of silence in observance of the one week anniversary of the mass shooting, National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre prepared to take the stage. The NRA had been conspicuously silent about the mass shooting, which left 28 dead, including the attacker. While the nation, from the president on down, has engaged in a dialog about gun safety and gun violence in this country, the organization of record for all things firearms had remained mute. After Mr. LaPierre’s “press conference,” where he took no questions, it’s clear to me that the NRA should have continued its silence. He had nothing constructive to offer.
His answer to this and all such shooting incidents is to have more armed people available to handle the shooters. Or as he put it, we need more “good guys with guns” to go after the “bad guys with guns.” Since more guns are needed to solve the gun violence problem, he introduced “National School Shield,” a program whose goal is to put an armed guard in every school in the country.
You know, five years ago, after the Virginia Tech tragedy, when I said we should put armed security in every school, the media called me crazy.
– from Wayne LaPierre’s statement on the Sandy Hook mass shooting
Mr. LaPierre envisions National School Shield deploying armed retired police officers and armed trained volunteer civilians to the schools of America for protection against shooters.
So guns, guns, and more guns, that is the NRA’s answer to the Sandy Hook tragedy. How predictable. And how sickening.
First, let’s set the record straight on Virginia Tech. Like most modern, American universities, Virginia Tech has its own police force. So there are your armed guards, Mr. LaPierre: sworn peace officers. Perhaps you can take Virginia Tech off of your list of schools that need such guards.
Second, as the Virginia Tech tragedy demonstrated, it is impossible for police or armed guards to be everywhere at once. Officers responded quickly, but much damage and many lives were lost in a short space of time. Why, you might ask? Because today’s killers are often armed with military-style weapons that can hold enormous clips and shoot round after round quite rapidly. The age where six-shooters and two-barrel shotguns dominated as the weapons of choice died around the same time horses and bayonets no longer constituted modern warfare technology.
We live in a world where folks have access to some pretty nasty guns, a fact exacerbated by the sunsetting of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 2004. The ban had made civilian ownership of most semi-automatic weapons illegal. One of the weapons used at Sandy Brook was a semi-automatic rifle. But Mr. LaPierre doesn’t want folks talking about that. Mr. LaPierre would rather get people riled up about the amount of violence in our society, the number of violent movies and violent video games available out there. They breed an environment of violence, he contends, and have thus become anesthetized to killing. Since these bad influences cause “bad people” to want to get guns, “good people” need more guns to protect themselves. It’s dangerous! It’s dystopian! Buy more guns!
Again, this sounds sickening, but we must remember what Wayne LaPierre’s real job is. It isn’t to help foster gun safety and it certainly isn’t to advocate for better regulation of guns to keep them out of the hands of, say, mentally disturbed persons. His job is to be a cheerleader. The NRA is nothing more than the advertising wing of the gun industry, a mouthpiece to help drum up sales. Gun regulations reduce gun sales, therefore they must be fought at all costs. Instilling fear into everyone helps boost sales. Right now, the gun industry is having a field day. Every since the tragedy, more and more people have been buying guns, purportedly because they fear the Obama Administration will at long last unveil its secret plan to subvert the 2nd Amendment and take away people’s guns for good. Fear is good for business.
But fear is not good for public policy. Again, let’s look at the facts. True, our society is awash in fictional violence, video games, movies, music, and the lot. Most of this stuff is also available overseas. Yet among industrialized nations, ours has far and away the highest gun murder rate. Similarly, the US has the highest gun ownership rate of any country in the world. A Washington Post article states that there are nine guns for every ten people in this country and that there are about 270 million privately held firearms in the US. Other industrialized nations don’t even come close. Now why is that? Could it be that other nations have safe and sane gun laws, where civilians cannot so readily purchase guns, much less semi-automatic, military-grade weaponry, and butt-loads of ammo to go with it? Maybe.
If the NRA were really an organization dedicated to public safety, then it would welcome a dialog about how to end gun violence. As it was, Mr. LaPierre didn’t even bother lingering for questions. His so-called press conference was merely a platform for him to espouse his ridiculous views. During his speech his group called for a national dialog and said that the NRA would be part of that dialog. But once he finished his speech, he walked off the stage, refusing to take questions. So much for taking part in the dialog.
The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School evokes the darkest nightmares of our society. No one wants to hear about 5 and 6 year olds being shot to death. As horrible as the Sandy Hook tragedy was, it was in fact the 16th mass shooting to occur this year, and the second to occur the week it happened. These are frightening statistics. And apart from the mass shootings, citizens are killed in random shootings on the streets of this country daily. Oakland, California, home base of the gar spot and a city of about 390,000, has seen well over 100 homicides this year, most due to gun violence. In fact, one of this year’s mass shootings occurred in Oakland. Babies have been killed here, too. And yet, we allow ourselves to be cowed by the snake oil salesmen of the NRA and allow their cult of fear to envelop us and strike us mute when it comes to discussing this problem.
It is tragic that it has taken something like the Sandy Hook shootings to jell a national dialog on gun violence. It should not have taken something so extreme to foster so vital a conversation. Gun violence is killing us. Gun fetishism, which the NRA fosters and supports, is killing us.
We should not allow the NRA to dictate the terms of the conversation any longer. It’s time that they were marginalized into irrelevancy. It’s time for the adults to step in and take over the conversation about easy access to guns versus difficult access to mental health treatment and anger management. It’s time to stop killing each other.
© 2012, gar. All rights reserved.