Friday, December 21, 2012

The Shocking Delusion of the NRA

NRA's Vice Executive Chairman Wayne La Pierre

Even in light of the tragic events that struck a primary school in Connecticut last week, the media and America were not expecting from the National Rifle Association’s first public statement since the atrocity to result in a major change of policy for the gun lobby. Some had hoped that the overwhelming anger of the nation in reaction to the barbarous massacre of over twenty children would in some way pull them towards a somewhat more conciliatory stance about the issue of gun control. Indeed several hard-line gun supporters in Congress, some even in the past the recipients of campaign money from the NRA had sensed the fury in the media and the streets. Greater gun control would be an immediate issue for legislation by virtually all politicians. Instead there was bemusement and horror at the strong defense of the NRA by its Executive Vice President Wayne La Pierre in a tough statement to press Friday afternoon that was not proceeded by any questioning by the media.

In essence it was a cold condemnation of a constellation of maladies in American society, from violent video games, the care of mentally ill people to the media and political groups in Washington. Guns were only a factor in that there were not enough armed people in the primary school to defend against a mad man bent on murdering children. It was an astonishingly deluded set piece from a well-paid suit in the safe confines of a Washington office. It was far removed from the outpouring of grief taking place only a few hundred miles away as some of the victims in their tiny white coffins were laid to rest after having lived only a fraction of the time Wayne La Pierre has.

The simple fact is that in the United States over 12,000 people die every year due to guns, from misuse of the weapon to cold-calculated massacres. In some states it is frighteningly easy to walk in to a shop and buy guns that have no purpose in defense and are designed solely for effective destruction of a target or targets. No matter how one can argue that a gun is a means of defense, it is in the exact same amount a means to maim and kill. The NRA on Friday even advocated for the introduction of armed guards in to all schools in America.

Let’s just take a moment to think of this stupidity. First of all, not all massacres occur in schools, although the most shocking of them have occurred in places of education, such as Virginia tech and last week in Sandy Hook. However this past year saw mass murders in a shopping mall, a cinema and in recent years in work places. No place is safe when there is a high prevalence of gun ownership. Second of all, even with armed guards, there is no guaranteeing children will be safe when confronted by people brandishing multiple assault rifles. In 1999, two students embarked on a shooting spree in a high school in Columbine, a school that had armed law enforcement agents on call at the time. The presence of armed guards failed to prevent the death of over a dozen people that day.

It’s almost funny if it wasn’t for the context of the statement that a lobby with strong links to the tax-cutting and government-slashing Republican Party that the issue of cost and who would pay for armed guards in places of education, estimated by some to be almost $7 billion a year was not even considered in that statement. Nevertheless maybe it is my own feeling, writing here in the safe surroundings of Ireland but a school, especially a primary school should be a sanctuary. It should be a place where children are not instilled with fear by armed guards every morning. That a culture even has to consider such an issue is a sign of moral failure.

As a person who has dedicated eleven years of my life to people with intellectual difficulties I was horrified by the statement that the government should create a database of the mentally ill in some sort of twisted attempt to prevent mass murders. We may never know what exactly went on in Adam Lanza’s head that morning but to correlate massacres to the mentally ill was extremely blunt and disgusting. Not all multiple gun murders are caused by people the NRA would classify the mentally ill although the biggest have indeed been the result of people of questionable mental health. But that ignores the multiple murders on a Baltimore street corner over drugs or the murders caused by someone just blindly angry and taking it out on someone like their boss or spouse. It only takes one person, insane or otherwise to turn a gun on someone else.

Implying the need of a national database for the mentally ill is a gross stigmatization of people who truly need our help. To put mentally ill people in to a database like criminals or pedophiles is a horrifying concept smacking on fascism and a breach of fundamental privacy of innocent individuals.

That the NRA took issue with violent video games was bizarre. Those games they castigated are festooned with mass murder by the things they hold so dearly: guns. If guns were not so prevalent to begin with, the close correlation between fantasy and real world would not be there. Furthermore one must look at the society at hand. Video games are played universally but it is only in some societies that the debate concerning violent video games and murder is a major concern. In Japan, a nation whose explicit porn and violent video games are well known, there is virtually no gun crime. When you allow easy access to guns, it is then when the bridge between fantasy and real life comes close to allow things to get out of hand.

Many were left speechless by Friday’s press conference by the NRA. For a moment I certainly was, it was truly that breathtaking. Whenever a massacre occurs in the United States caused by guns, the NRA is cocooned in the surreal land of lobbying, far removed from the scene of the crime. It is not Wayne La Pierre’s six year old daughter being laid to rest this week, a few days before Christmas. It was not his son maimed and paralyzed for life while watching a film with friends. It was not his wife or child caught in the crossfire of a drug war. It was a shocking speech laced with arrogance and denouncements. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” he said. No, the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is to never give him access to the gun in the first place. 

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