The political atmosphere in the aftermath of the latest mass shooting — this one in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people, mostly school children, were killed by a man wielding a semi-automatic rifle — seems different from the many previous such massacres.
Oh, there is the shock, anguish and anger, but this time the anger burns more like well-seasoned oak than like the bright but brief flare of wadded newspaper. It seems that a smoldering rage is catching fire, ignited by surviving children of the Parkland massacre.
These high school students — focused, articulate and determined — are being joined by other children and adults in marching on government to demand legislative action to address the persistent, glaring, gun problem that is inflicting continuing carnage across the nation — at theaters, concerts, churches, dance clubs, airports and schools.
No place, and no one is safe.
This time seems different because the reaction from the gun lobby, notably the National Rifle Association, is detectably panicked. They smell the smoke of rage, too, and are freaked out by the children’s crusade that they fear may spread across the nation like wildfire. Their rhetoric, as exemplified by NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre, is more unhinged and vicious than ever.
Appealing to the tin-foil hat faction at the far right, LaPierre, in a recent speech, claimed that a conspiracy of “elites” is plotting to undo the Second Amendment and confiscate citizens’ guns in order to then rescind all civil liberties.
It’s not clear exactly who the “elites” are or why they are so intent on enslaving the nation, but LaPierre thinks patriotic Americans need to keep their powder dry.
The fear of government tyranny that only an armed citizenry can deter, is the pro-gun lobby’s definitive argument. They will recite a list of historical examples when governments disarmed the public to facilitate brutal suppressions and genocides.
They will remind us that the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment confirms gun ownership as an individual right, and insist that it validates the deterrent-to-tyranny argument. They discount or ignore the “well-regulated militia” clause of the Second Amendment, as well as the court’s stance that there can be reasonable limits to gun rights that prohibit citizens from possessing certain war weapons such as missiles, grenades, machine guns and maybe, someday, the AR 15 semi-automatic rifle — the go-to weapon of mass murderers.
The deterrent-to-tyranny argument assumes that an armed citizenry can match up against the U.S. government’s massive military might. And, while there are historical instances where guerillas mounted successful insurrections against more heavily armed oppressive regimes, there are many more where the insurgencies were brutally crushed.
If fear of oppressive government is the rational for supporting unrestricted gun rights, a more effective, and certainly less violent, approach is to embrace civic responsibility; remain vigilant, informed and engaged politically. Better that informed voters preserve liberty than trusting that to armed insurgents — whose guns would eventually be taken from their cold, dead hands anyway.
The next standard, pro-gun argument features the mindless mantra, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This argument maintains that gun violence is due to psychological disorders, not easy access to powerful weapons.
It conveniently ignores that mental illness is not peculiar to America. Other advanced western nations have crazy folks, too, but because these nations enforce strict gun control laws that hinder homicidal wackos from getting today’s powerful, military style firearms, they rarely if ever suffer mass shootings.
But what about Switzerland, which requires all adult citizens to possess a gun? There is little gun violence there. True, and Swiss law requires citizens to register their weapons and undergo periodic training in how to use them. The Swiss system is essentially a well-regulated militia, not a firearms free-for-all.
The next round in the chamber of pro-gun logic is “the way to stop a bad guy with a gun, is with a good guy with a gun.” This argument underlies what is perhaps the most desperately asinine proposal to address mass shootings — arming teachers and deploying armed guards to all schools.
Sure, what could go wrong?
Gun fights are chaotic and confusing — “the fog of war.” Imagine a gun fight in a crowded school cafeteria where armed teachers and guards rush through different doors, guns blazing — but miraculously manage not to hit innocent students, staff or each other? An armed teacher might be mistaken for the perpetrator. It’s not like a Dirty Harry movie in which the good guys with guns are steel-nerved marksmen who calmly stroll through a crowd and pick off the bad guys.
What are the logistics of turning schools into armed garrisons? How many schools are there in America? How many guards are needed to adequately secure the facilities? It’s a good thing that Congress increased the defense budget. They might need to bring home all the troops and impose the draft to recruit enough manpower to guard all the schools. Gun manufacturers would get one hell of a bump in sales.
Turning schools into armed forts, subjecting school kids to invasive security measures, and eventually subjecting the entire nation to ever-more police state tactics just to avoid gun regulation ironically fosters the very government oppression that the gun lobby argues we need guns to defend against.
The gun lobby’s contortions of common sense are a desperate attempt to avoid any additional gun restrictions, particularly re-imposing the federal Assault Weapons Ban — the more practical approach to addressing mass shootings.
The children marching on political capitals and confronting NRA-purchased politicians are taking action that their parents and grandparents have failed to take. Baby boomers took to the streets often and in large numbers to demand an end to a politically misguided war that was killing and maiming thousands of them. What action are they taking now as their grandchildren are being slaughtered?
— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.