When President Obama spoke in Minnesota on Monday he brought the debate on gun control to a gun-owning state where many citizens hunt and about half of homes contain at least one gun. It’s also where six innocent people were shot last September at a Minneapolis signage company by a recently fired employee carrying a Glock 9mm semiautomatic pistol. The memory of that event resonates with others around the country, most recently at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
The shooting at Sandy Hook in December opened the door on a national political firefight with pro- and anti-gun advocates taking pot shots at each other and throwing the occasional smoke bomb.
Most remarkable was the grenade lobbed into the dialogue by the National Rifle Association a week after the tragedy that left 20 first graders, six staff, the shooter and his mother dead in Newtown.
“I call on Congress today to act immediately, to appropriate what ever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school—and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school in January,” said NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre in a press conference on Dec. 21.
We might have expected a response to the Sandy Hook massacre that showed compassion and common sense, one that I suspect is shared by many NRA members. It could have been something like “Yes, let’s talk about whether civilians really need to carry assault weapons with high-capacity clips.” But in poker terms, the NRA doubled down—looked at a bad situation and doubled its support for nearly unlimited gun ownership and use in a country with an already estimated 310 million firearms in civilian circulation.
In 1729 Jonathan Swift wrote a satirical essay, “A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Publick.” Reading with a straight face, we’d all recognize it as sick and wrong. And it was, indeed, strong stuff. In it he suggested that the impoverished Irish sell their children to the rich as food, and went on to suggest that a “good fat Child” can be “Stewed, Roasted, Baked, or Boyled, and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a Fricasie or Ragoust.” For the full, angry blast against the rich and the Brits’ mistreatment of Ireland, see http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~jlynch/Texts/modest.html.
Swift’s Modest Proposal presented a long list of logical remedies that he said should not be taken to mercifully solve the plight of Ireland’s unemployed and starving families. Landlords should not show mercy to their desperate tenants. Stores should not sell locally made goods. Shopkeepers should not stop cheating their customers. Swift was being ironic, of course, in opposing proposals that could actually help the Irish poor.
Likewise, but not ironically, the NRA has opposed the sensible strategies proposed to lessen gun violence. It says that background check laws required for federally licensed dealers should not be extended to include the 40 percent of gun sales, those that are made privately, that are now exempt from the law. Why? The NRA makes the feeble argument that the law will not touch sales made on the black market. If that logic made sense, we would not make laws to limit anything dangerous that’s done secretly: alcohol sales to minors, driving over the speed limit or, say, making a bomb in the garage.
The NRA also opposes the proposed ban of high-capacity clips that hold 45 to 60 rounds. Why? Because the clips that allowed shooters to kill so many in Minneapolis, Newtown, Virginia Tech, Tucson and Aurora are, according to the NRA, “standard equipment for self-defense handguns and other firearms.” Yes, they may be standard now, but cocaine was once standard in Coca-Cola. And, are high-capacity clips more necessary and valued than the citizens who will die when others use them in tragic, non-standard ways?
After Sandy Hook, instead of a proposal for reasonable compromise the NRA made a “modest proposal” that the government pay about $18 million to arm teachers and guards in every school in the country.
Surely armed guards and teachers would never get angry and disturbed enough to turn a gun on a classroom. And surely a guard or teacher would have the skills, reflexes and Seal-Team-Six-type training to respond effectively to a shooter from outside.
A CBS 20/20 special, “If I Only had a Gun,” contradicts the latter premise. The program shows college students who had up to 100 hours of gun training responding to classroom intruders who suddenly entered and began firing. One armed student struggled with his gun caught in his shirt until the teacher, he and several students had been mock-shot. In another scenario, the student stood to fire her weapon and took a dummy-shot to the head. The third student froze in his seat and was peppered with five mock bullets. The video explains how our minds and bodies work against our effective responses in crisis situations. Seal Team Six members practice constantly in real-time scenarios to prepare to confront shooters like Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook. To see the 20/20 documentary, go to abcnews.go. com/2020/video/defend-gun-7312540.
Someone as cynical as I am might suggest that the NRA is working to spike gun sales by promoting paranoia that the government wants to take, not just assault weapons, but all privately-owned guns—something we’ve not heard one legislator suggest. They might suggest that some contributors to the NRA are gun manufacturers and retailers. In fact, the Violence Policy Center estimates that since 2005, gun manufactures have contributed nearly $40 million to the NRA.
Public debate is also spiking on the issue. A majority of Minnesotans support an assault weapons ban according to a recent Public Policy Polling survey. President Obama’s stand on the ban and several other policies to limit gun violence may shift the country’s attitudes further in the direction of public safety in Minnesota and across the country.
On Dec. 21, LaPierre hoped to speed up action on his proposals and avoid a closer look at the issue. “Before Congress reconvenes,” he said, “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.”
La Pierre was in a hurry. But, the debate going on now in response to the mass shootings in America will expose his rhetoric for the wrong-headed Modest Proposal that it is. Sadly, he is serious. I just wish that he was being ironic.