The NRA response to the Newtown massacre is shortsighted

Midland Daily News January 2013

On December 14, there was a terrible massacre at Sandy Hook School in Newtown Connecticut. I was filled with sadness when I heard the news about this massacre and was filled with compassion for the surviving mothers, fathers, and siblings of those children and adults who were brutally gunned down. These families experienced not only a dreadful loss but will forever have sorrowful memories.

The response of the National Rifle Association (NRA) on December 21 prompted me to write this column. In that response, the NRA proposed several contributing factors to such massacres including violent video games, media demonization of gun owners, lack of school security and “genuine monsters” planning other attacks. Wayne LaPierre, executive Vice President of NRA, told us that the NRA was quiet for a week because it held a “respectful silence” for those who died, but then addressed the nation with a question that the rest of us failed to ask: “how do we protect our children?”

This question assumes the problem of the massacre is lack of protection and his solution is armed security in every school which he wanted done by the time children returned from their holiday break. LaPierre says that because politicians pass laws declaring schools gun free zones “they tell every insane killer in America that schools are their safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.” He then asked, “How have our nation’s priorities gotten so far out of order?”

LaPierre reminded us that we have armed security for the President, Congress, banks, courts, and airports. Why not schools? Retired policemen would flock to fill these positions, he suggested. However, LaPierre’s examples of armed security involve people or material that others want to destroy or steal for purposes of greed, anger, or power. Schools are a different situation entirely.

To support his argument he raised the scenario that if Lanza had “been confronted by qualified armed security”, lives would have been saved. That is certainly a hopeful vision, albeit fantasy, but now his position of having one armed guard in a school has suddenly become a security force. He is no longer talking about one person but a troop of armed forces at every school and implies that principals and teachers should be armed. Are armed teachers and principals his “security force”? What a sad thought.

LaPierre then suggested that the country is filled with “deranged” people just waiting for the opportunity to repeat what Lanza did in Newtown. He suggested “an active national database of the mentally ill” be established. This is a totally unacceptable proposal for several reasons. First of all, this assumes that all killers are mentally ill or that all the mentally ill are potential killers. While there may be comfort in thinking that way, this thought is not based on reality. Also, who determines whether a person is “mentally ill”? Is it those who have sought help? To put them on a registry would violate the confidentiality of the professional-patient relationship. If a person is mentally ill, the possibility of being listed on a registry would deter them from seeking help. Lastly, many individuals who struggle with mental illness do not seek help or cannot access it and therefore are not known. 

LaPierre declared that the NRA is willing to work with others in developing “a model national schools shield emergency response program” that extends “from armed security to building design and access control, to information technology, to student and teacher training.”

Unfortunately, LaPierre did not address the fact that guns are readily available, from both illegal and legal sources, and access to guns must also be considered in the aftermath of this massacre. The NRA must also be prepared to consider restrictions on the purchase of some types of guns.  In fact he took a contrary point of view by saying that the 20,000 laws already on the books did not prevent this tragedy. He went on further to say that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” In other words, his answer to this massacre is more guns!

Has our country come to this sad state of affairs that we need armed security in every school to protect our children from harm? If so, then we have a bigger problem than shootings in schools.