What are Americans to make of the National Rifle Association's official response to the Connecticut shootings? NRA vice president Wayne LaPierre's Friday address included no acceptance whatsoever of responsibility for the character of American gun-violence. What it did include was a Trojan horse:
"The NRA is gonna bring all its knowledge, all its dedication and all its resources to develop a model national schools shield emergency response program for every single school in America that wants it. From armed security to building design and access control, to information technology, to student and teacher training, this multifaceted program will be developed by the very best experts in the field. Former Congressman Asa Hutchinson will lead the effort as national director of the National Model School Shield Program, with a budget provided by the NRA of whatever scope the task requires."
Police protection for schoolchildren is not what Mr. LaPierre is suggesting. What he's suggesting is an NRA designed and funded program to educate security personnel, teachers, and yes - students.
In a world where they cannot promote guns overtly, what the NRA really regards as the best possible outcome is not armed security, or even armed teachers. It's NRA armed and educated schoolkids.
Not right away, of course. But the closer they can get to schools, the more effectively they can pass on the gospel of gun ownership to the next generation. This is a potential that cannot be ignored in any thoughtful analysis of the NRA's platform. The overarching theme of Mr. LaPierre's presentation is that the NRA is very upset by every cultural interaction children have with firearms that is not specifically endorsed by the National Rifle Association.
Here's the blow-by-blow of the speech itself, with some rebuttal:
Watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lgu9f-qd_Uo
Full transcript: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/remarks-from-the-nra-press-conference-on-sandy-hook-school-shooting-delivered-on-dec-21-2012-transcript/2012/12/21/bd1841fe-4b88-11e2-a6a6-aabac85e8036_story.html
2m22s "While some have sought to exploit tragedy for political gain, we have remained respectably silent"
Who's climbing the ladder on this issue? No one. Everyone who has spoken out is a known quantity. No one's on the political ascendency riding this issue. But thankfully, while nobody is exploiting this for personal political gain it cannot be denied that people see a clear need for immediate political action.
3m15s - "Politicians pass laws for gun free school zones, they issue press releases bragging about them." [A CodePink protester steps in with a banner saying "NRA Killing Our Kids". LaPierre pauses to wait for the protester to be removed by a very imposing security guard]
Isn't an armed society supposed to be a polite society? It seems a reasonable trade-off to ask parents with carry-permits to disarm before parent/teacher conferences -- you know, as a matter of courtesy -- so that sentencing can be increased on much less courteous street gangs and drug dealers. If I were the cynical sort, I would suspect that Mr. LaPierre is more upset that "Gun Free Zones" send the message to children that guns are dangerous. That's bad for business.
6m40s - "They walk among us every single day, and does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school, he’s already identified at this very moment? "
A lot of one's belief about the effectiveness of gun-control laws has to do with whether you view assailants as more impulsive or more methodical. Shooters seem to come in either variety. The "planning" stage of such events is as likely measured in days or weeks, as months or years. Especially in the case of shooters acting primarily on impulse, the availability of the weapon matters! An admission of the consistent linkage between legal firearm purchase and illegal - often horrific - firearm usage has to at least be acknowledged for any rational discussion of incident prevention to take place. I see no such admission anywhere in Mr. LaPierre's remarks.
6m58s - "How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame from a national media machine that rewards them with wall-to-wall attention and a sense of identity that they crave…"
Mr. LaPierre would probably do better not to take up the argument of that fake Morgan Freeman troll on Reddit .
7m25s "How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?"
Here's why that's not such a good idea.
8m00s "Meanwhile, while that happens, federal gun prosecutions have decreased by 40 percent, to the lowest levels in a decade."
Unfortunately, that's what happens when you choke off resources to the ATF.
8m58 "There exists in this country, sadly, a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells and stows violence against its own people. Through vicious, violent video games with names like “Bullet Storm,” “Grand Theft Auto,” “Mortal Combat,” and “Splatterhouse.”
And here’s one, it’s called “Kindergarten Killers.” It’s been online for 10 years. How come my research staff can find it, and all of yours couldn’t?
Except for an incident in 2008 where the game was pulled from servers (not shelves, because the game is only available online) in Finland after a school shooting, there has been no media attention to it. Why would there be? It's completely obscure, especially in comparison with other games he mentions by companies with multimillion dollar ad budgets - not a penny of which flows to the NRA.
So why would he single out this game among so many others? Could it possibly be because a unique aspect of this particular video game's storyline is that the children are armed?
11m40s"Rather than face their own moral failings, the media demonize gun owners." [And then another CodePink protest break, this time "the NRA has blood on it's hands…ban assault weapons now!"]
The media has quite obviously bent over backwards not to demonize law-abiding gun owners in this discussion. The NRA on the other hand doesn't necessarily represent the priorities of gun-owners anyway.
12m45 "The media calls semi-automatic fire arms, machine guns. "
He's right. It does a disservice to gun-control advocacy that advocates, the press, and even the legislators often have no idea what they're talking about. But then again...
14m10s "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun."
The apex of LaPierre's impassioned defense is delivered, revealingly enough, in the fatuous language of 10-year olds playing "cops-and-robbers". He repeats the language of "good guys and bad guys" over and over throughout the speech.
15m11s "But since when did “gun” automatically become a bad word?"
Again, he's using the language one would use to communicate values to a 10-year old.
16m52s "But what if -- what if when Adam Lanza started shooting his way into Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday, he’d been confronted by qualified armed security?"
I believe it is possible that if a would-be assailant were to spy two squad cars parked out in front of a targeted school while marching toward the entrance it might turn out to be a deterrent. But even if that were not true I would strongly advocate for having a consistent police presence in our schools right now. This one's a no-brainer.
I say a police presence in our schools, not at our schools because ideally school beat cops should be an integral part of the life of the school. Introduce them to the students at an assembly, let them run drills and drug abuse education (remember D.A.R.E.?). Let them form relationships. In communities where there is antagonism with the police, how transformational it would be for a child's first and daily interaction with the police to be with a cop assigned to protect them, not bust them. By all means, let the police become a familiar part of school life for kids. What would be the cost of a minimum 2 officers or 1 officer per 500 students (whichever is greater) "embedded" in every school with more assigned to routes when children are arriving and going home?
18m20s "But do know that this president zeroed out school emergency planning grants in last year’s budget and scrapped Secure Our Schools policing grants in next year’s budget." [SOS program fact sheet 2011http://www.cops.usdoj.gov/pdf/2011AwardDocs/CSPP-SOS-CHP/2011-SOS-Post-FactSheet.pdf] With all the foreign aid the United States does, with all the money in the federal budget, can’t we afford to put a police officer in every single school?"
20m15s "I call on Congress today, to act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation. And, to do it now to make sure that blanket safety is in place when our kids return to school in January."
Finally we get to policy.
Against all better judgement, I would like to take Mr. LaPierre's proposals at face value. I would like to believe this is a transformational moment. But how can I? If the NRA is truly willing, in this moment of introspection not just to rebrand itself superficially, but to earnestly reposition itself as a training and security organization, then isn't some act of good faith on their part necessary before we hand them the keys to the classroom? Let them prove it by ceasing all lobbying activities on behalf of gun manufactuerers. Let them prove it by becoming entirely responsive & accountable to the NRA's membership - a membership that has long acknowledged the need for a reform, if not a reversal of America's gun laws.
Let them prove it.
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