So the National Rifle Association's answer to our problem with gun violence is to get more guns. Did you expect the NRA to say something else?
I did, though I'm not sure why. The NRA is a massive lobbying organization that promotes gun ownership. Lobbyists are salesmen. They advocate for laws and policies that would benefit their group. And in this instance, the people who would benefit are gun makers and sellers.
One week after the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where a gunman killed 20 children and six adults, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre called for all U.S. schools to have armed police officers on campus.
"The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," he said. Then he called upon Congress to appropriate whatever funds are necessary to put officers and guns in every school and announced an NRA program to develop a model security plan that relies on armed volunteers.
Isn't that exactly what a gun salesman would say? More guns will make us safer. More guns will scare off the bad guys. More guns means more money in gun sellers' pockets. And what better way to ensure a new generation of gun owners than to put guns in our schools?
Perhaps I missed something. Isn't the proliferation of guns part of the problem? How, then, can it also be the solution?
My daughter is six years old, the same age as most of the victims at Sandy Hook. When she and I watch television together, she has trouble discerning the difference between commercials and news reports. Just the other day, she saw an advertisement for home pregnancy tests and panicked. "There's something wrong with being pregnant," she shouted. "Doctors just discovered that it's dangerous."
I assured her it was perfectly safe to be pregnant. Then I explained that commercials are a company's way of trying to sell you something that you don't necessarily need.
"Oh," she said. "The people on TV make it sound like they're talking about something they really mean."
They sure do.
So what is the NRA selling? Besides guns, they're selling fear. They are capitalizing on the anxiety we all feel in the wake of the Newtown tragedy and insinuating that our children cannot be safe in school unless we put armed guards at the front gates.
Every parent in America is scared right now, including me. I drop my daughter off at school and go home to watch the news. I listen for sirens and scan the sky for helicopters circling our neighborhood. I count the hours and minutes until it's time to pick her up.
I'm scared of another mass shooting, just like everyone else. But I'm more afraid of what a knee-jerk police state would do to our children, of how they would be affected in the long run by the constant sight of armed guards outside their classrooms. I love my child as much as the next person loves theirs, but I don't want my daughter to live in the shadow of a handgun. I don't want her to grow up thinking she's only safe if someone, somewhere, has a weapon.
The NRA's solution to curb gun violence comes without any data to support the notion that armed guards would make our schools safer. In 1999, two armed officers stood watch at Columbine High School, where shooters still managed to kill 15 people. In 2007, 32 people died in a massacre at Virginia Tech, despite the campus having its own police force. It was, and remains, the deadliest school shooting in our history.
Studies actually show that putting guards and cameras in schools makes students feel less secure. Yet, guns and bulletproof backpacks are flying off store shelves. Yes, bulletproof backpacks. I didn't know such a thing existed until this week.
I'm not sure why, but I expected more from the NRA on Friday. I anticipated a more conciliatory attitude, a more constructive tone. I thought maybe, finally, the NRA would consider reasonable measures to limit the number and type of guns that find their way into the hands of dangerous people. I thought I might see the first step toward compromise. Instead, I saw a defiant and defensive spokesperson peddling fear and passing the buck in the name of the gun retailers he represents.
After all, that's what LaPierre gets paid to do. The NRA may technically be a nonprofit organization, but its pitchman earns nearly $1 million a year by making speeches and lobbying politicians.
No matter where you fall on the spectrum of gun control, consider the source of Friday's announcement. The NRA's mission is not to protect our schools. It is not to strengthen our communities or make the world a safer place. Its concern is selling more guns.
LaPierre's announcement wasn't a press conference. It wasn't news. It was a commercial.
And I, for one, am not buying what he's selling.