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“Firearms And The Romance Of Heroism”: How The NRA’s Proposal To Put Guns In Schools Became Credible

This week, the National Rifle Association is starting up its propaganda machine to argue in favor of using federal money to put armed guards in schools. They’re calling it the “National School Shield Program” – nomenclature that invites us to imagine guns as defensive barriers, only pointing outward against threats. But guns can point in any direction. What’s more, they can fire in any direction. That’s what makes them guns and not, you know, shields.

In the immediate aftermath of the NRA‘s disastrously received post-Sandy Hook press conference, the “National School Shield Program” was easy to mock (I did!). But as the weeks have worn away at support for gun control, the gambit appears increasingly, depressingly savvy. Public sentiment whipsawed between unimaginable grief and inchoate rage, and the NRA provided a concrete proposal whose very outlandishness contained a glimmer of hope: no one has ever before seriously proposed weaponizing public schools. It could work! At least it hasn’t failed!

While guns themselves took on some of the toxicity of the incident, the NRA’s idea neatly capitalized on the understandable human fantasy that accompanies any senseless death – “If only I could have done something” – as a way of re-imbuing firearms with the romance of heroism. When we hear, “The only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” the focus is on bad guy versus good guy, not “how did that bad guy get a gun?” What’s more, that reduces the problem of gun violence into “bad guys” and “good guys”, when the reality looks more like “good guys who believe they’re bad”: most gun deaths – about three out of five – are suicides.

In the context of school-age children, the math is not quite so bleak, even if the idea that they could be so hopelessness is all the more grim: for children and teens, 66% of gun deaths are homicides, 29% suicides. There is a simple reason for this reversal of proportions: adults have greater access to guns.

The National Rifle Association’s program to put guns in schools will change that.

For me, that is the end of the argument. Reams of documentation point to the correlation between access to firearms and the deaths of young people – most likely due to suicide. One study of state-level data, controlling for mental illness, substance abuse, income, family structure, urbanization and employment found that in the 15 states with the highest levels of gun ownership, the risk of suicide was double that of the six states with the lowest levels (though the total populations were about the same). Among those young people who have committed suicide with a firearm, another survey found that 82% used a gun that was legally obtained by a relative or someone else they knew.

Increasing the number of legally-obtained guns will increase the number of deaths. It’s almost a mathematical certainty, and these cold statistics point up the (literally) fatal error that’s made its way into the debate over gun violence: that these deaths are somehow the product of faulty laws, that if we could just figure out the right mechanism for enforcement, the right filter for ownership, the right place to set up our perimeter, then gun deaths would decrease … to some level that’s tolerable, I guess.

But when all is said and done, it’s not the laws that are the problem, it is the guns. They are lethal machines, made to be lethal. I like shooting guns, myself. At targets, sure. But you know what makes shooting guns fun? The idea that they’re lethal.

As I’ve written before, the tragic foolhardiness of putting such objects in the vicinity of children might be clearer to people if we substituted “Ebola virus” or “thermonuclear device” for “gun”. Both those things are safe enough, in the right hands and following the right protocols, but there’s a reason we don’t let teachers keep biological weapons in their desks: what if something went wrong? What if they fell into the wrong hands?

The NRA posits a universe in which both the bad guys and the good guys are, in their own way, perfect: the bad guys will be expert gun-handlers for whom reloading cartridges is so easy that no lives would be saved by decreasing the capacity of their magazines. And they would meticulously avoid schools foolish enough to be “gun-free”. The good guys, on the other hand, never miss, always store their guns safely and, of course, are unassailably good and non-homocidal and non-suicidal: no intentions ever change; no circumstances lure them into depression or rage.

Those of us who argue against the NRA’s policies also have to argue against the NRA’s universe; it’s the latter that’s more difficult. The popular appeal of the “School Shield” program hinges on believing in heroics; good public policy depends on preventing the need for them.


By: Ana Marie Cox, The Guardian, April 2, 2013

April 4, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The NRA Is A Public Health Hazard”: Five Reasons Why The NRA Must Be Stopped

When National Rifle Association chief Wayne LaPierre called on Congress to place an armed guard in every school in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, it showed that he has no intention of doing anything to stop deranged people from using military-style weapons to kill people in large numbers. LaPierre made it clear that the NRA isn’t interested in ending gun violence. In his theatrical and defiant Dec. 21 press conference a week after 26 Sandy Hook children and teachers were shot to death, LaPierre called for even more guns in schools.

In the debate about gun violence, the NRA will rely on time-tested scare tactics. Here are five reasons why the NRA must be defeated:

1. NRA leaders’ immoral interpretation of the Second Amendment presents a serious public health risk.

LaPierre essentially argues that the right to bear any kind of firearm for any reason without any rules – including limits on criminals’ access to the most dangerous weapons ever manufactured – is more important than others’ right to live. This is not what most NRA members or Americans support, and it’s not what the Second Amendment says.

2. The NRA does not represent the views of most NRA members and gun owners.

Recent polling underscores this point. For example, 74 percent of NRA members (and 87 percent of non-NRA gun owners) support requiring criminal background checks on all gun buyers. The NRA rank and file also supports barring people on terror watch lists from buying guns (71 percent) and believes the law should require gun owners to alert police to lost and stolen guns (64 percent). NRA policy makers oppose these proposals.

3. The NRA represents gun makers, not gun owners.

LaPierre’s NRA is not the voice of law-abiding gun owners and sportsmen. It is the lobbying arm for gun manufacturers opposed to a ban on the assault rifles they make. These weapons include the Bushmaster used in Newtown, Conn., and many other recent shootings. The manufacturer calls this rifle the “ultimate military combat weapons system,” and the NRA gave the Bushmaster its “Golden Bullseye Award” in 2011.

It’s no surprise that the firearms industry contributes significantly to the NRA. In fact, less than half of the NRA’s budget comes from membership dues, and contributions from weapons makers and ideological donors (including the Koch Brothers) are rising. From 2004 to 2010, the NRA’s corporate and other fundraising revenue grew twice as fast as member dues, according to a Forbes piece on “The NRA Industrial Complex” by Peter Cohan. The Violence Policy Center estimates that between 2005 and 2011 the firearms industry donated as much as $38.9 million to the NRA. Lee Fang explains in The Nation that there are dozens of insidious ways that gun makers influence the NRA beyond direct cash contributions.

4. The NRA lies to the public and its members.

The NRA lies to law-abiding gun owners who want their rights protected by saying that a ban on military-style weapons with massive magazines would mean the government will come for hunting rifles next. The group says that if we close loopholes that allow people to get around criminal background checks, it’s only matter of time before the Second Amendment would be repealed. These are flat-out lies that the NRA uses to buttress its “slippery slope” opposition to sensible gun laws like those overwhelmingly supported by individual NRA members. They use the imaginary slippery slope to justify doing nothing.

5. The NRA uses its power to silence responsible politicians and quash constructive efforts to reduce gun violence.

The NRA is a dangerous force in American politics. Not even the atrocity in Newtown has tempered the organization’s extremism and rigid opposition to any effort to address gun violence. Expect to see the NRA use its considerable resources to ruthlessly attack every legislative proposal to address this crisis. LaPierre will employ negative television ads and direct mail marketing to attack the President, the Vice President and the members of Congress fighting for change.

The NRA is a political bully, and the politics of destruction is its trademark. Politicians have feared the NRA because of its willingness to target them with smear tactics and because of its reputation for defeating opponents at the polls, even though this reputation is undeserved and wildly exaggerated.

If public officials can talk with their constituents about the need for sensible gun laws, they’ll persuade most folks. But when the NRA gives an “F” grade to politicians who want to stop gun violence in America, and when it even lobbies to limit public and private data-gathering on guns and gun violence, this organization is having a chilling effect on public policy and debate. It intimidates good people from trying to do the right thing. It protects the status quo.

That’s why we have to aggressively take on the NRA and support the Biden Commission and members of Congress working on a comprehensive solution to gun violence. Washington must address the epidemic of mass killings, the daily shootings in our cities, the culture of violence and the need to expand access to mental health services.

We should start immediately by enacting commonsense gun laws such as those advocated by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Carolyn McCarthy and supported by those members of Congress who opposed gun legislation prior to the massacre in Newtown. Won’t the nation be safer if we reduce the number of military-style assault rifles on the streets? Won’t fewer people be shot and killed in an America without large-capacity magazines? Won’t we be safer without the gun-show loophole that allows firearms buyers to evade background checks? The NRA doesn’t think so, and the gun manufacturers who set the NRA agenda simply don’t care. After Sandy Hook, the NRA issued a proposal that would make schools more dangerous, not safer.

The NRA doesn’t offer solutions. It works to keep things the way they are, not to reduce gun violence in America. We have to put the NRA on notice that its days of steamrolling Congress are over. The NRA is a public health hazard that must be stopped.


By: Ethan Rome, Executive Director, Health Care for America (originally published on the Huffington Post), January 7, 2013

January 9, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Our Authentic Tradition”: Here’s To A Kinder, Gentler 2013

The boardwalk where generations strolled along one of the world’s great urban beaches is gone, twisted and then tossed into neighborhood streets by an unforgiving storm called Sandy.

Off-season devotees of the Atlantic are bound together in homage to the waves even after the temperatures have dropped and bathing suits have given way to fleece. But now, the joy of a winter’s day walk along the ocean between Beach 120th and 130th streets quickly gives way to sorrow at the sight of collapsed roofs, mounds of rubble, front porches warped into unnatural shapes and homes blown from their foundations now perching at perilous angles.

Still, the human spirit cannot be blown away. The highlight of my beach walk was etched on a plywood barrier protecting an empty lot. Someone had scrawled the words: “NO retreat. NO Surrender. Not now. Not Ever. Rockaway 4ever.”

For political junkies, the meaning of 2012 was defined by an electoral verdict rendered by a richly diverse electorate on behalf of President Obama. History may well judge the election as the year’s decisive event, a turning point in our national argument.

Yet it was also a year that ended in twin tragedies.

First came the devastation of Hurricane Sandy in Rockaway, and in New Jersey, Long Island, Staten Island, Manhattan and Connecticut. Sandy taught me something troubling about the limits of my own empathy. Of course I felt for those elsewhere whose lives were wrecked and whose communities were torn apart in other natural disasters. Televised reports seared New Orleans, and especially its Lower Ninth Ward, into the consciousness of all Americans.

But television pictures are less powerful than ties to a particular place and to the people who live there. My mother-in-law, Helen Boyle, and the families of two of my brothers-in-law, Brian and Kevin Boyle, were all displaced by the storm. They inspire my love for Rockaway, a place that was also home to so many firefighters, police officers and others who perished in the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001.

We can’t forget Rockaway’s times of sadness, but these cannot wipe away so many moments of delight. Whenever we arrive for one of our frequent visits, my wife, Mary, our three kids and I are immediately drawn in as if we have spent our whole lives here. Old-fashioned places are like that. Community is not a philosophical abstraction in the blocks of the Belle Harbor neighborhood where my extended family lives.

An experience like Sandy dissolves ideology. My sister-in-law Kathy Boyle, part of the management team that helped keep South Nassau Communities Hospital open during the storm, offered a view of the role of private and public action so filled with common sense that it would never enter Washington’s debate.

In politics, we debate, uselessly, whether government agencies or nonprofits are “better.” Her conclusion is that not-for-profits with ties to people and neighbors — Catholic Charities and a slew of other religious groups, Team Rubicon, local charitable organizations such as Rockaway Wish, Rockaway Help and the Graybeards — were absolutely vital in the earliest days after the storm, before government help was up and running.

Then, government could kick in with larger-scale aid and basic services, notably a New York City Sanitation Department that cleared away mountains of sand and debris.

Kathy, more conservative than I, has no illusions about government, yet she also has no illusions that we can live without it. At the same time, none of us should pretend that government, without community, religious and nonprofit associations, can solve our problems all by itself. Our authentic tradition is to bring the public and voluntary spheres together, not divide them.

And surely government has no more important role than in protecting its citizens, young children above all, from violence. However much we identify with Sandy’s victims, we can probably never fully fathom the desolation felt by the parents in Newtown, Conn. A hurricane has no face. Nature has no conscience. The loss of a child to random violence committed by another human being is an inexplicable evil.

We must act forcefully to contain gun violence, and that is a political matter. But a year that ended on notes of heroism in response to natural disaster and endurance in response to human horror brings to mind George H.W. Bush’s challenge: We need to become “a kinder, gentler nation.” That seems a worthy resolution for 2013.


By: E. J. Dionne, Jr., Opinion Writer, The Washington Post, December 30, 2012

December 31, 2012 Posted by | 2013, New Years | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“NRA Vs. Common Sense”: The NRA Is Selling Guns, Not Saving Lives

When the National Rifle Association promised “meaningful contributions” to prevent another massacre like the recent horror in Newtown, Conn., I didn’t expect much, but I hoped for more than what we got.

After a mentally ill gunman killed 20 children and seven adults, including himself, a remorseful public has been jerked alert once again to the need for some sensible gun reforms.

I had hoped NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre might try for a middle ground with some common-sense reforms on which gun owners and non-owners tend to agree — like measures that can help keep guns out of the hands of the mentally or criminally unfit.

But, no, LaPierre hunkered down. His “meaningful contributions” sounded less concerned with promoting gun safety than promoting gun sales.

The firearms trade business must have been delighted. The guns-and-ammunition industry has contributed between $14.7 million and $38.9 million to the NRA’s corporate-giving campaign since 2005, according to a report last year by the Violence Policy Center, a gun-control advocacy nonprofit. The trade appears to be getting its money’s worth.

LaPierre’s big news: He called for armed guards and armed schoolteachers in all of our schools. My initial thought: As soon as some teacher’s gun is stolen by a rambunctious student, that’ll be the end of that idea.

But, no, arming guards or even teachers is not a totally goofy idea. It’s not very original, either. “Across the country, some 23,200 schools — about one-third of all public schools — had armed security staff in the 2009-10 school year, the most recent year for which data are available,” The New York Times reports. Most are high schools in troubled areas, although a K-12 school in rural Harrold, TX, has allowed teachers to carry concealed weapons since 2007, after proper training. Lawmakers in at least six other states are considering similar policies, according to news reports.

But armed guards are not the panacea that many imagine they might be. Columbine High School in Colorado, for example, had an armed guard on duty during the murderous rampage of two students. He even engaged in a shootout with one of them, according to the official report on the tragedy. But he failed to stop either of the two teens before police arrived and they had killed themselves.

And Virginia Tech’s campus police had their own trained SWAT team. Yet they, too, failed to stop a student before he killed 33 in 2007, including himself.

“There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people,” said LaPierre. No, he was not taking about the gun industry. He was talking about the entertainment industry.

He lambasted violent in movies, videogames, a coarsening of the culture and, ah, yes, that all-purpose scapegoat, the news media — as if massacres were not worthy of public attention.

What about common-sense gun reforms? At least two recent polls, for example, show large numbers of gun owners and non-owners favor measures that help keep guns out of the hands of the mentally ill, suspected terrorists and people who have a criminal past. But the NRA headquarters opposes them.

Most gun owners who were not NRA members supported a national gun registry, a ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds and a ban on semi-automatic weapons, according to a poll last year by YouGov, a global marketing firm. Most NRA members in the poll — and the national organization — opposed all three of those measures.

In an NBC Meet the Press interview Sunday, LaPierre rejected a proposed ban on large magazines, saying he didn’t think it would “do any good.” Yet, such a ban might have saved lives in Tucson, Ariz., last year. Jared L. Loughner was tackled and restrained by onlookers when he paused to reload his oversized magazines. That was after he shot 19 people, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, killing six.

If only he had been limited to smaller magazines, one wonders, how many other lives might have been spared? But LaPierre and the NRA don’t seem to be interested in “if only” scenarios that don’t fit their arguments — or promote more sales of guns and ammo.


By: Clarence Page, The National Memo, December 26, 2012

December 26, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“The NRA’s War Of All Against All”: The World Is Not Made Up Of “Good Guys” And “Bad Guys.”

It’s quite salutary that Wayne LaPierre and the National Rifle Association are getting so much attention, because the truth is that most Americans aren’t familiar with their rhetoric and the reality they inhabit. If you didn’t know too much about LaPierre but tuned in to see him on Meet the Press yesterday, you probably came away saying, “This guy is a lunatic” (a word we’ll get to in a moment).

I’m not talking about his preferred policy prescriptions. I’m talking about his view of the world. LaPierre gets paid close to a million dollars a year, which I’m guessing allows him a comfortable lifestyle. But he seems to imagine that contemporary America is actually some kind of post-apocalyptic hellscape a la Mad Max, where psychotic villains in makeshift armor and face paint cruise through the streets looking for people to kill.

Why do we need armed guards in every school? “If we have a police officer in that school, a good guy, that if some horrible monster tries to do something, they’ll be there to protect them.” Monsters? Yes, “There are monsters out there every day, and we need to do something to stop them.” Should we improve our mental health system? Well, maybe not improve it so much as keep track of everyone who has ever sought mental health services. “We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed. We have no national database of these lunatics…We have a completely cracked mentally ill system that’s got these monsters walking the streets.” There was also this: “Most of the media, when I go around this country, they’re protected by armed guards.” This got a lot of guffaws from journalists, because no one who works in the media knows anyone in the media who is protected by armed guards, except maybe Roger Ailes. Does LaPierre actually think that your average working journalist takes an armed escort when he goes down to City Hall to interview the deputy mayor? Who knows. But as LaPierre has candidly said, before “We have nothing to fear but the absence of fear.”

At his Friday press conference, LaPierre effectively offered a one-sentence summation of his group’s philosophy: “The only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Here’s a good rule of thumb: If you talk without irony about “bad guys” and “good guys,” you’re inhabiting an imagined world that has absolutely nothing to do with reality, and it’s a good bet your ideas about policy are similarly absurd. But you can’t understand the NRA’s perspective without grasping the importance the good guy/bad guy dichotomy plays in their worldview. As far as they’re concerned, we are indeed living in that post-apocalyptic nightmare, where murderers and rapists are going to come banging down your door any second and the police are ineffectual.

What they never acknowledge, however, is that the typical gun murder isn’t a home invasion. Harold Pollack got data for his hometown of Chicago, and according to the police there were 433 murders there in 2011. How many happened in the course of a burglary? One. In the whole country, we get about 100 murders that happen this way. In 2011, 14,612 Americans were murdered; gun murders account for about 9,000 of those.

So what do the actual gun murders look like? They’re disagreements that get out of hand, people taking revenge for real or imagined slights, family members killing each other. They’re not the work of super-villains, or “lunatics,” or commando squads of “bad guys” (David Frum has more on this). But the NRA and its supporters believe that the home invasion is always just moments away, and that’s why our laws must allow everyone to be armed to the teeth.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, December 24, 2012

December 25, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence, Guns | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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