Saturday, December 22, 2012

Let's Pretend: The NRA News Conference Edition

Rather than stare slack-jawed at the insanity on display yesterday, we're going to act as if Wayne LaPierre is not a demonstrably crazy, conspiracy-mongering whackadoodle.  Rather, we are going to pretend, just for a moment, that a couple of the things he says have some kind of merit, to be considered thoughtfully by all Americans.

First, there's his claim that the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.  How does he explain one of our worst recent mass-shootings at Ft. Hood in Texas?  That was an Army base where there were, I presume, more than a few "good guys" who not only had guns but training in how to use them, in particular using them in situations where someone is shooting back?

The crickets stopped chirping.

There was an armed police officer stationed at Columbine High School.

The crickets have left the building.

The other of LaPierre's statements that I want us to give all due consideration is his call for armed guards, whether police or volunteers, in all schools.  Setting to one side that history has already demonstrated the irrelevance of armed guards in preventing a mass shooting at a school, maybe we should think a little differently.  For example, all sorts of folks were sharing the story of the Marine Sgt. who stood watch outside his son's school yesterday in Merced, CA.  Turns out, however, there was less there than meets the eye.  No offense to the school officials, but I am far more worried about the fact they didn't vet this guy well enough before giving him the nod.  Sure, it turned out OK in this instance.  What about next time some school decides to say, "Sure," to some guy who comes along claiming to be a veteran with a child in school wanting to stand watch?  What if that guy not only isn't a veteran, but is a pedophile?  Or worse?  I don't blame the young Marine who only wanted "to do something".  I blame the school district for not doing basic due diligence, acting to protect the children in their care.

Furthermore, we have "armed guards" over our schools.  They're called police officers.  Now, I'm not a huge fan of police forces for any number of reasons; that doesn't mean I dislike or lack respect for police officers, most of whom are hard working men and women in a dangerous, depressing job.  There hasn't been a single peep about the fact that preventing crime, subduing criminals, and dealing with extreme situations is the job for our municipal, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.  Whether we put police on station in schools, or merely have them patrol nearby at frequent intervals, or make sure school Administrators have a direct line to police departments to ensure someone arrives in a timely manner in case of a crisis, it seems to me most school districts already do this.  Anyone with a child in high school will tell you this.  The only ones I hear ignoring or dismissing or demonstrating lack of respect for the role of municipal police officers is Wayne LaPierre.

Furthermore, the call to place armed guards demonstrates the basic lawlessness of the NRA's entire position.  Rather than trust local law enforcement to do their jobs, LaPierre wants ordinary citizens to volunteer to take the law in to their own hands, placing themselves and others at risk because, at heart, LaPierre and the NRA have repeatedly stated their distrust of and dislike for police.  Rather than work to create a safer, healthier society, one in which various officials work together to mitigate violence and the potential disasters that come when people invariably slip through the cracks, LaPierre is insisting we weaken the bonds that unite our local communities, trusting not our elected officials and those who work to protect us but "volunteers" who may or may not have the understanding, training, and expertise to act correctly in a situation of extreme stress.

More to the point, LaPierre's statement ignores the fact the problem isn't school shootings, or just school schootings.  It's shootings.  Period.  How many people have died in gun violence in the past eight days?  How many children have died from gun violence in the past eight days?  It's been invisible for any number of reasons, not the least of them being we as a society no longer consider gun violence as a category of social problem with which we all must deal.  Rather, it is only the occasional extreme example, such as last week's mass shooting, that is the problem.  Gun violence has become, sad to say, the new normal, the price we pay for living in a free society.

Finally, a word or two or three about Wayne LaPierre and the National Rifle Association.  For four years, he and his organization have raised a whole lot of money by creating a paranoid conspiracy theory about Pres. Obama.  Even though Pres. Obama has actually worked to expand gun rights in the United States, the NRA has consistently claimed that, at any moment, the President and his Administration is going to swoop down upon every home in the country and take away our guns.  Like most everything else the right has said about this President and Administration, the exact opposite is the case, but that hasn't stopped the message being repeated and heard.  Gun sales have been through the roof the past four years.  Gun manufacturers - the NRAs real constituency, not the two million Americans who joined because they took a gun safety class or enjoy hunting - have seen their net sales grow each year.  I do not believe for one moment that LaPierre believes any of the drivel he sends out to members about Obama's secret plans to take away our guns.  It is worrying, however, there are far too many Americans who hear it, believe it, and act upon it, buying up more and more guns, creating more and more opportunities for accidental shootings, suicides, and the occasional huge, whomping horror as occurred last Friday in Connecticut.

Part of having a discussion about gun control - not "gun safety"; gun control, folks; we have to stop this idea that if we just rebrand an idea it will suddenly be more appealing - is dealing with the world in which we actually live.  Wayne LaPierre and the NRA have created for far too many gullible Americans an alternate reality, one in which they live in fear, one in which police departments and law enforcement officials are "jack-booted thugs" rather than part of the way we ensure our communities are safe.  Rather than work to promote responsible gun ownership, the NRA has spent the past four years promoting paranoid fantasies, ensuring more and more profit for its primary constituency - the corporations who manufacture and sell firearms.  That is reality.

Wayne LaPierre's news conference was just another exercise in his years-long promotion of fear.

Virtual Tin Cup

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