I'd like to laugh, but these people are scary.
The National Rifle Association's solution to the Newtown massacre is put guns in the hands of armed guards at the entrances of all America's schools. This is vigilantism at its worst, not safety. It's a return to the Wild West, to a culture where "he with the most guns wins."
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said at a Washington news conference.
What's next, the "NRA Youth," brown-shirted school guards trained by the NRA? It sort of sounded like that from LaPierre's full statement.
"Before Congress reconvenes, before we engage in any lengthy debate over legislation, regulation or anything else, as soon as our kids return to school after the holiday break, we need to have every single school in America immediately deploy a protection program proven to work - and by that I mean armed security," he said, breaking a week of virtual silence by a group dominated by gun manufacturers. "...Every school in America needs to immediately identify, dedicate and deploy the resources necessary to put these security forces in place right now. And the National Rifle Association .... is ready, willing and uniquely qualified to help."
I've learned a lot about guns in America this past week. From NPR's Fresh Air, I learned that legislation passed by Congress about a decade ago makes it impossible to track what kinds of guns have been used in what murders in this country. The information exists. But Congressmen, bought and sold, have passed laws that make it illegal to release it, protecting the gun lobby.
I've learned that 300 million guns have been sold in this country, almost one per man, woman and child. I've learned that there are 30,000 guns deaths a year in the United States, 2,800 of them children. And I've learned that as hunting with normal rifles began to decline, gun manufacturers began vigorously promoting the sale of semi-automatic assault rifles - guns that are virtually identical to those used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan. Guns that can shoot dozens of rounds without reloading. Guns with bullets so lethal that some can penetrate body armor from hundreds of yards away.
These guns aren't meant to kill deer. They're meant to kill people. And their sale makes the people behind the NRA rich. But this is not an organization to be discounted as a bunch of crackpots. Hardly. It boasts 4 million members. It gives millions of dollars to political candidates. It sets agendas. Let us just hope it didn't do so in this case.
Today's press conference -- against the backdrop of more funerals in Newtown, Conn., against the backdrop of church bells tolling for 6 minutes there this morning to mark the passage of a week since a 20-year-old madman murdered 20 first-graders with an assault weapon, shooting each child three to 11 times -- is an obscenity.
But it's more. This country is not only dangerous because of the number of people armed to the teeth (the shooting in Newtown, I've read, has led to a rush on gun stores so people can buy more weapons). It's also dangerous because a sizable minority on the radical right seems to have no respect for even modest compromise in any area, no respect for government and no respect for the president. Now, these very same people want still more guns on our streets (as long, presumably, as taxpayers don't foot the bill.)
But this isn't the Wild West. Today's firepower is immensely more powerful. It can, as we saw last week, take out a classroom in seconds. Or a church service. Or a pre-school. Perhaps they, too, should have armed guards posted in front? Perhaps we should take shifts sleeping in our own homes so we can post an armed sentry in front? Is this the America the NRA ultimately envisions?
Perhaps it is time for peaceful Americans to offer an alternative, for hundreds of thousands of unarmed folks to march on NRA headquarters and the Congress demanding gun control, holding a vigil in the name of reasonable discourse.
Democratic nations are built around mutual respect, collaboration, community and care for others - not firepower.
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