Overloaded: Gun violence in America, part 2 of 2

In the days after the Parkland, Florida, gun massacre, the all-too-familiar solution to school violence of arming teachers surfaced. Some proponents of this strategy advocate arming all teachers while President Trump stated that up to 20 percent of instructors should have guns.

Alfonso Calderon, a survivor of the Florida killings, had an excellent response to the guns-for-teachers strategy: “I don’t know if President Trump has ever been to a public high school, but as far as I’m aware, teachers are meant to be educators. They’re meant to teach young minds. … They are not meant to know how to carry AR-15s. They are not meant to know how to put Kevlar vests on students and themselves.”

Would arming 20 percent of teachers prevent school shootings? Perhaps. More likely it would only change the location of the massacre. A shooter afraid of confronting a gun-wielding teacher could easily shoot students at a school bus stop, or gun them down on the bus. Arm school bus drivers, and they will be the first ones shot.

We expect police officers and firefighters to risk their lives in the line of duty. Should we ask the same of teachers? What a sad commentary on this country that arming teachers to prevent students from being victims of a gun massacre is even considered.

While students from Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were making the 400-mile trip to Tallahassee to voice their opinion about semi-automatic guns, their elected officials were voting down (71 to 36) a proposed ban on these weapons and large-capacity firearms magazines. Almost all of the individuals who voted against the ban in the Republican-dominated legislature have an “A” rating from the NRA’s Political Victory Fund, a PAC associated with that pro-gun organization.

On the same day the gun vote was taken, Florida’s legislature approved a resolution introduced by Rep. Ross Spano (who is running for state attorney general) that pornography be declared a public “health risk.” Pornography bad. Guns good. Sounds like a “Saturday Night Live” skit and would be funny if not pathetically true.

Republican Sen. Macro Rubio of Florida tweeted that “Banning all semi-automatic weapons may have been popular with the audience at #CNN Town Hall, but it’s a position well outside the mainstream.” Hardly a surprising statement from a politician who has received more than $3 million from the NRA and its affiliates. It’s also flat-out wrong.

A Quinnipiac University poll taken a few days after the Florida gun massacre found 67 percent of Americans support a nationwide ban on the sale of assault weapons. In addition, support for gun owner background checks was almost universal with 97 percent of those surveyed advocating this position, including 97 percent of gun owners. The pollsters found that support for stricter gun control laws had increased from 47 to 66 percent in just over two years.

A survey conducted in April 2017 by Pubic Polling Policy found that 67 percent of gun owners polled said they either strongly or somewhat agree the NRA had changed from an organization dedicated to gun safety to one “overtaken by lobbyists and the interests of gun manufacturers and lost its original purpose and mission.” It’s Sen. Rubio and the other politicos on the NRA gift list that are out of step with the American public.

Over the years the NRA has created a winning strategy for advancing its agenda. There are at least four aspects of this social-political game plan.

1. The slippery slope argument — Preaching to its members that any form of gun control today will lead to the repeal of the Second Amendment tomorrow, and that federal agents will be confiscating all of your guns the day after, is the NRA’s first line of defense. As a consequence of this all-or-nothing scenario, compromise with gun control advocates is impossible.

2. Change and attack — This is another very effective NRA tactic. Shift the discussion from the latest massacre and attack those who want sane gun control laws. Addressing the Conservative Political Action Committee, NRA President Wayne LaPierre stated, “You should be anxious, and you should be frightened. If they seize power, if these so-called ‘European socialists’ take over the House and the Senate, and God forbid they get the White House again, our American freedoms could be lost and our country will be changed forever.” That the number of guns in this country increased by approximately 39 million in the first four years of the Obama administration and that gun and ammunition sales increased by 8.4 percent annually during this period was conveniently ignored by LaPierre.

In that same speech, The NRA’s top man said, “Every day young children are being dropped off at schools that are virtually wide-open soft targets for anyone bent on mass murder.” Yet another shift-and-blame tactic. For the NRA, the problem isn’t that almost anyone sane or insane can purchase a military-style weapon. No, the real problem lies with “soft target” schools that don’t protect children from these individuals. Turn schools into hard targets, and individuals bent on killing children will attack them in “soft targets”: parks, playgrounds, youth centers, little league baseball and soccer games, or anyplace else young people congregate. Transforming the entire country into a “hard target” is impossible.

3. Wait till the rage subsides — The strategy here is to wait until the post-massacre gun control storm declines; then it’s business as usual. A day after the Parkland, Florida, slaughter, Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan was asked if police should be able to confiscate guns from someone exhibiting signs of mental illness. Ryan stated, “This is not the time to jump to some conclusion not knowing the full facts.” There have been 170 school shootings from the Columbine High School killings in 1999 to the Parkland slaughter, and Ryan doesn’t want to jump to conclusions. For the NRA and its political lackeys, there will never be a time of “full facts.”

4. Gun laws don’t work — When gun laws are enacted — almost always weak statutes because the NRA does everything possible to diminish them — and guns are used in a crime, the NRA loudly proclaims “See! See! Gun laws don’t work,” ignoring the fact there were at least 320 million guns (including millions of assault rifles) in private hands before some of these laws came into effect. Each one of these weapons — especially the estimated 300,000 to 600,000 guns that are stolen every year — are potential crime weapons. With so many firearms in this country, how can guns laws ever be anything more than minimally effective?

The unfortunate truth is that gun-related crime, including mass murders, are a fact of American life and the NRA leadership’s predictable response to these killings will continue. Victims and their loved ones “are in our thoughts and prayers,” they say while repeating the NRA mantra ad nauseam: “More guns will keep us safe.”

A gun-related massacre of children could happen every day, and the NRA would not change its position.

George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale, retired after 24 years of teaching sociology at the University of San Diego.


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