There are 300 million guns in the United States. According to governors like Rick Perry from Texas, right-wing pundits like Mike Huckabee and countless other apologists for the status quo, the problem is that the principal of Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut didn't have a firearm when a gunman entered the school with military-style weapons and tragically killed 20 students and six school personnel. As we have learned, principal Dawn Hochsprung was one of the heroic public employees who lunged at the gunman before being gunned down herself.
The proposal to arm teachers is insane. The solution to guns and gun violence is not more guns. It's also shockingly hypocritical. The extremists who want to outfit teachers and other public employees with guns so they can risk their lives to defend children from armed crazies also want to take away these workers' health care, pensions and unions.
So what will National Rifle Association leaders say tomorrow when they have their press conference about the massacre? I'm hoping that arming teachers in the classrooms is not one of their big initiatives. I'm hoping it's something that will make some sense to people in Newtown and across this country who are grieving and desperate for the kind of meaningful action President Obama has talked about.
The NRA's press release said the group is "shocked" and "saddened" by what happened. As horrific as this event was, no one should be shocked by it because it is all too common. What's shocking is the sheer number of mass shootings in this country since Columbine. What's shocking is the history of such shootings in our country. What's shocking is that 12,000 people are killed every year by firearms.
The NRA should do an about-face tomorrow on its legislative agenda or announce it's shutting down its advocacy operation. As recent polling has shown, the NRA doesn't speak for most gun owners because the majority of gun owners, just like the majority of other Americans, support commonsense gun laws. These include criminal background checks for all gun-buyers, bans on high-capacity magazines and bans on military-style assault rifles like the one used in so many recent shootings.
Basic gun safety among law-abiding citizens is also a major issue. Keeping a firearm at home significantly increases the risk of death for everyone in the home, no matter how the weapons are stored or what type they are, according to a Harvard study. If you have a gun, everybody in your home is more likely than your non-gun-owning neighbors and their families to die in a gun-related accident, suicide or homicide. So gun owners cannot be too careful.
The killer in Newtown began his rampage by shooting his own mother with her own guns, and he then took those weapons to Sandy Hook.
In Newtown, access to military-style weapons, lack of basic gun safety, this country's culture of excessive violence and the need to identify troubled people and get them mental health services all intersected. Clearly we have to address all these issues and others as part of a comprehensive and long-term solution to this problem.
The place to start is with immediate passage of the sensible gun laws advocated by the president, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy and organizations like the Brady Campaign and Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
The NRA is the mouthpiece of gun manufacturers, not law-abiding sportswomen and men, so the group's leaders should be extremely careful about what they say. Silence would be better than making a divisive contribution to a delicate public policy debate gripping a nation in mourning.