Time For The NRA to (Please) Just Go Away   Leave a comment

Don’t Expect A Miracle After Newtown

December 30, 2012

I was in San Rafael, California, 10 minutes north of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a little after 9:00am local time, Friday December 14th. While driving north on Highway 101 I began hearing reports on the radio about a school shooting in Connecticut.  The first reports indicated there may be one or two deaths. Less than half an hour later a report attributed to “an unnamed law enforcement official” was more ominous: “it’s going to get a lot worse.” As the details unfolded I was channeled back to the dozen years I spent living in Connecticut’s Fairfield County.

Redding, Connecticut is about 12 miles from Newtown. In 2002 and 2003 my daughter and I often traveled past or through Newtown as we drove to her school in Waterbury.  I often had the luxury of time in the morning, and since she needed transportation to school, we enjoyed a tour through the bucolic countryside. It was also captive social time we shared during the 45 minute commute, regularly stopping at the local Starbucks for a morning latte. Newtown is one of those good memories.

In short order my mind was suddenly back in Marin County as my focus returned from reminiscing about the Newtown of eight or nine years ago, to the ongoing disaster. The unnamed source was correct; the news of the day got a lot worse. Twenty 1st grade children and six adults were dead. And as we later learned, it was nothing less than powerful assault weapons in the hands of a deranged human being that killed the 26 innocents and injured others. Little children with multiple gunshot wounds. Two weeks before Christmas the families, the school, local law enforcement, the greater community and the country would begin the process of being shocked, stunned, and overwhelmed. For the surviving families it was a sudden end to the first half of all of their lives. The second half began immediately. The second half would be far more painful than the first. The rest of their lives will be far more difficult than any life they had ever imagined.

That weekend we all spent time tuning in and tuning out as each report added details, adding to a conflicted nature of avoidance and interest. Like the conundrum of attempting to un-ring a bell, usually it was information we wished we’d never heard. Yet like many, we wanted (or needed) to hear more. What the hell happened? Who was this guy? Where did he get the guns? And why the mayhem? Could we once again, as a country, consider (reconsider) the role of guns in American life? Predictably, others were analyzing the same data and arriving at entirely different conclusions. Having fewer guns was not the answer. More guns. In the wake of Sandy Hook, the answer from the NRA and the manufacturers and their abettors in government was always more guns. In the Monday, December 17, 2012 Washington Post, Glenn Kessler cited a Texas politician who—no surprise—appeared on the previous day’s Fox News Sunday, advocating for school principals to begin carrying their own assault rifles: Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert “said of slain [Sandy Hook] principal Dawn Hochsprung: ‘I wish to God she had had an M-4 [assault rifle] in her office, locked up so when she heard gunfire, she pulls it out and she didn’t have to lunge heroically with nothing in her hands, but she takes him out, takes his head off before he can kill those precious kids.’” Obviously Gohmert believes that every school principal, teacher, and custodian should have an assault rifle in a gun rack behind their desk, fully loaded, with key to the trigger-guard in hand, waiting for the inevitable assault. Howdy Y’all. Welcome to Texas.

I considered my personal history of primary and secondary education. The vision of teachers and administrators from the schools of my youth in Milwaukee armed to the teeth was a non-starter. In my youth I respected my teachers (and feared most of my administrators) but believe me, none of them could/would be prepared to play Rambo. Fast forward 30 years and the adults in charge of the schools and classrooms in Waterbury (my daughter’s more recent elementary and high school experience in Connecticut) having immediate access to loaded, high-powered firearms was, to say the least, less than appealing. Think about it: Did any of them have the cool, calculating, composed ability to turn, lift the gun from the rack, unlock the trigger guard, make sure a clip was firmly attached, open the door, enter the hallway, get the intruder in her or his sights, take aim and shoot? Not likely. And then there’s the pesky issue of killing another human being. Could they kill someone who only might be a threat?

On Friday, December 21st I felt compelled to listen to just what original thinking the NRA would offer in the aftermath of the Newtown, Connecticut murders after one week. I fell into the trap of assuming that somewhere within the NRA existed a rational human being who could help move the organization into a meaningful discussion of the continuing tragedy of gun violence in America. Unfortunately what I heard from the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre confirmed my long-held opinion that his organization is myopic, arrogant, and tone-deaf. The NRA’s response: turn every school in America into an armed camp. Armed guards and armed staff members are the solution. Really? Arm the teachers. Give an AR-15 to the principals. Give the Russian teacher an AK-47. Offer a Glock to the History teacher. Place an Uzi inside the 1st Grade classroom. Perhaps a 22-caliber will suffice for pre-k.

Forget, for the moment, that within this bad idea the NRA doesn’t even address thorough training in, and use of, any weapon. As I suggested earlier, how many if any, of these elementary school teachers are prepared to pull the trigger knowing they will kill someone. It’s one thing to aim at an inanimate target. It’s something else entirely to shoot at another human being, with intent to kill, overcoming nerves and long-held personal beliefs about civil law or the Bible’s 6th commandment. Not to mention when the other person is preparing to shoot first. And who is to pay for the training, and who will select the candidates for guard duty? From what pool? How do we know that one of them isn’t a psycho?

The NRA doesn’t offer any ideas on how to pay for this in fiscally tough times. Congress and state legislatures have been cutting funding to education for decades. We have fewer teachers and larger classrooms but wave a magic wand and a gunslinger will be selected, hired, trained, and placed in every school in the United States. Abracadabra: Safe schools. Bullshit. This is a poorly thought out, easy piece of pablum for the gun lovers and gun manufacturers out there. It’s a comprehensive transfer of unsourced funds to schools but not for books, supplies, technology, or brainpower. It’s an employment program for gun lovers. Think about the amazing financial stimulus to the nation. Michael Chertoff or some other brain-dead conservative will advocate building a twelve-foot high fence around every school, a fence that would serve a dual purpose: keeping undocumented children from getting an education and putting some of Chertoff’s or LaPierre’s friends (who may be in the chain-link fence business) to work. Then we’d need someone to guard the gated access through the fence. More unsourced employment funding. Maybe some bouncers from area nightclubs could take a second job. The Chertoff’s of the world could add a metal detector, a “puff” machine, and one of TSA’s unreliable full-body scanners to the entrance of every school. (You know, the type many people voluntarily step into at American airports, i.e., the  L-3 Communications ProVision ATD). Another financial windfall. Then there are the operators of the machines. More minimum-wage workers to be hired by a local “security firm”. Privatize/outsource the hiring, training, and management. Poor security but more profits.  Next the NRA will put signs up at every school: “Take your shoes off please”.

For the record I’ve been a gun owner ( a 12-gauge Remington) for twenty years. I invite any city, county, state, or federal agency to ask me to register my weapon, take some test, do a background check, interview me, and log the serial number of the gun. They can look in my eyes anytime I buy more ammunition. I have nothing to hide and nothing to fear. Properly written background checks and one-on-one evaluations don’t frighten me. Asking people to register their weapon is not an infringement. Mr. LaPierre may have something to hide but I don’t. It is time to stop embracing a poor interpretation of the 2nd Amendment. It’s time to recognize that the most dangerous country in the modern, industrialized world is the United States. The sooner we are willing to accept some scrutiny in return for gun ownership is the day we begin to grow up. America is not the fictionalized wild west. It is supposed to be a civilized society. It is time for the NRA to just shut up. The crazies on the right may not trust the police but I do. I trust my local police force. I trust the Mendocino County Sheriffs Department. I trust the California Highway Patrol. I trust the Federal Government.

If some gun owners are not as supportive of the police as I am, let’s at least move toward intelligent action on guns. At the very least, how about if we [a] start doing mandatory background checks on all gun purchasers and purchases, including weapons sold at the so-called gun shows. [b] Share information between all interested law enforcement agencies. [c] Stop manufacturing, distributing, and selling assault and assault-type weapons (and excessive capacity clips) in the United States. [d] Stop selling ammunition without a background check. And how about if [e] we provide the potential crazies some psychological help. Many of the same right-wing, 2nd-Amendment zealots are the same people who opposed the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). If everyone has access to proper physical and mental healthcare, we just might identify the next potential madman (or madwoman) before they attempt to walk into a school, church, synagogue, airport, post office, college campus, police station, or McDonalds. Maybe we can treat a potential killer before the next . . .

. . . Austin (1966), Miami (1982), Dallas (1984), San Ysidro (1984), Edmund (1986), Palm Bay (1987), Sunnyvale (1988),  Louisville (1989), Stockton (1989), Jacksonville (1990), Iowa City (1991), Killeen (1991),  Royal Oak (1991), Olivehurst (1992), Watkins Glen (1992), Fayetteville (1993), San Francisco (1993), Fairchild (1994),  Corpus Christi (1995), Fort Lauderdale (1996), Orange (1997), Jonesboro (1998), Newington (1998), Springfield (1998), Atlanta (1999), Fort Worth (1999), Littleton (1999), Tampa (1999), Pittsburgh (2000), Wakefield (2000), Melrose Park (2001), Grundy (2002), Washington, D.C. (2002), Cleveland (2003), Meridian (2003), Columbus (2004), Brookfield (2005), Red Lake (2005), Goleta (2006), Lancaster (2006), Seattle (2006), Shepherdstown (2006), Carnation (2007), Crandon (2007), Omaha (2007), Salt Lake City (2007), Virginia Tech (2007), Baton Rouge (2008), DeKalb (2008), Tinley Park (2008), Kirkwood (2008), Henderson (2008), Binghamton (2009), Carthage (2009), Fort Hood (2009), Hampton (2009), Parkland (2009), Huntsville (2010), Manchester (2010), Carson City (2011), Vansant (2011), Seal Beach (2011), Tucson (2011), Aurora (2012), Chardon (2012), Clackamas (2012), Minneapolis (2012), Norcross (2012), Oak Creek (2012), Oakland (2012), Seattle (2012),  Tulsa (2012), and before the next Newtown (2012).

(sources: Mother Jones, Think Progress, The Telegraph, Huffington Post, CNN, Police One, WVVA, Time, Reuters)

David Steffen

© David Steffen 2012


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