Saturday, December 22, 2012

NRA Responds

The National Rifle Association finally reacted to the shootings at Sandy Hook elementary school. It said that we should put armed police officers at every school in the nation, because there is no other way to assure that children will be safe. Their proposal will be appealing to some people. Over the past several decades, politicians' response to crime has almost always been to call for more police officers. What the politicians don't talk about much is that when the funding runs out, we always end up cutting the number of police on the streets. Our country simply can't afford to have police everywhere. Nor do the politicians talk about just how little good it does to have more and more police. Usually, deploying more police in an area just means criminal activity moves down the block.

The NRA thinks that if there is trouble we shouldn't have to wait a minute or two for the police to arrive, and that we would be better off if there was an armed policeman not only on every street corner, but in every school. That is, they think we should live in a police state. Not many people agree, and certainly not a lot of NRA members, who are famously anti-government. Nor would it work to have only one police officer at each school. To really protect kids the way the NRA envisions protection, we would need police both inside and outside the schools, in every hallway, and at every possible point of entry. Like a prison. And when school is dismissed, we would need police to escort every child home.

The NRA can't think that their proposal makes sense. But it doesn't have to make sense. It just has to sound good to people who don't want to think about what the real solution to our gun violence problem is. The solution is to have far fewer guns in civilian hands. That solution works everywhere else in the world, and it would work here. We aren't really very different from people everywhere else in the world. We came from everywhere else in the world.

What the NRA really wants is not a reduction in violence. It wants more guns, regardless of what effect the guns have on our society. It is, after all, the trade association for the gun industry. Just as the oil, gas, nuclear, and coal industry lobbies push for more use of their products regardless of the harm they are doing to everyone's health and the environment, the NRA doesn't see its role as protector of the populace. It just wants its corporate members, who manufacture, import, and sell guns and related paraphernalia and services, to make a profit. There is no reason to take them seriously when they talk about gun safety.

But, like the energy lobby, the gun lobby has a loud voice because it has the money to advertise, contribute to political campaigns, and organize. There is a lot of money in selling guns, so it is well funded. There isn't any money in not selling guns, so the opposition to the NRA has hardly any money at all.

Corporate money has invaded not only our electoral politics, it has virtually taken over the public debate on a number of topics, including the issue of guns. Even though the American people, shocked by the recent shootings, want something to be done to reduce the violence, the NRA has the money to continue to shape the debate. Today's NRA press conference was just their opening gambit. They will persevere and seek the kinds of victories that they have won in the past and that have brought us to the point we are at now. The only thing that might make a difference this time and lead us to do something about the violence is the images we have in our heads of all the children lying dead in their classrooms. It would take an awful lot of money for the NRA to erase those images.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Seven-Year-Olds and Guns

Three days in a row, seven-year-olds have been in the news because of the guns around them. In one story, a seven-year-old boy shot his five-year-old brother while the brother was in the bathtub. Their mother had left two handguns lying around the house. In another story, a seven-year-old boy shot his eight-year-old sister. The gun he used belonged to his grandfather, with whom the children lived. Their grandfather kept the gun locked in a safe, but the seven-year-old managed to unlock the safe. In the most recent story, a seven-year-old boy was shot to death by his father while they were getting into their car. The father said he didn't realize the gun was loaded. All three shootings were called accidents.

Accidents, maybe. Preventable? Absolutely. If there hadn't been guns in the household, none of these kids would have been shot. For decades, hospitals, schools, television stations, and magazines have been advising new parents to baby-proof their homes by putting poisonous chemicals out of children's reach, covering electrical outlets, putting up gates to guard against falls down stairs, and implementing all sorts of other safety practices. I know. I got the warnings when my kids were little. I took them seriously. So did everyone I know. We got used to not being able to open kitchen cabinets without first releasing child-safety latches. There can hardly be a parent of a seven-year-old in this country who hasn't heard these warnings.

And yet, on three days this past week, seven-year-olds were involved in shootings in our country. Are people with guns really so stupid that they don't think they have to protect their children from this known hazard? Do people with guns think their guns are more important than the lives of their children?

It doesn't seem fair to blame all people who have guns for these tragic shootings. But it is fair to blame the millions of members of the National Rifle Association (NRA), because that group has consistently lobbied to keep the government from doing anything to make children safe from these kinds of accidents.

There is a government agency, the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), which has done a great deal to reduce childhood injuries and deaths caused by ingesting poisons, strangling on drapery cords, suffocating under crib bumpers, inhaling small toy parts, and numerous other potential hazards. But because of the NRA's efforts, the CPSC is prohibited by law from doing anything to keep kids from being accidentally shot.

There are lots of things the CPSC could do if it was permitted. It could mandate that guns not go off if they are dropped. Other countries have this regulation. The CPSC could mandate that guns have integral locks which would make it harder for kids to shoot them. The CPSC could impose standards for safes where guns are stored, to make it harder for kids to unlock them. But the CPSC has been totally banned from doing anything with regard to guns.

It is hard to imagine that the NRA and its millions of members are so heartless that they are willing to sacrifice children in the name of gun owners' rights. But for years their strategy has been to oppose any regulations on guns, no matter how reasonable the regulations are and no matter how catastrophic the result has been for the public, including children.

One day, this country will decide that protecting children is important enough that it will risk offending the NRA. Sadly, more five, seven, and eight-year-olds will probably be shot before that happens.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Church Shooting

Yesterday, while members of the congregation I attend in Illinois were discussing gun violence, a man walked into a church in Pennsylvania and shot his ex-wife, the church organist, in the head, killing her.

The shooting in Pennsylvania didn't influence my congregation's decision to take a stand against gun violence. It was happening as we talked. No one knew about it. But the possibility of a shooting like the one in Pennsylvania was on people's minds. We have all heard of other shootings in churches, schools, and other places where we would like to think we are safe.

What concerned the people I was among was not just that a shooting might take place in our own congregation, but also that shootings might take place somewhere else. No one even mentioned the possibility that we could protect ourselves by posting guards at the doors. No one talked about any measures we might take to protect ourselves as distinct from protecting everyone else everywhere else. The discussion, which was spirited, never veered from the question of what we should do to make the entire world safer.

How wonderfully different the discussion was from what we have grown accustomed to in our political world, where everything is presented as a choice between us and them. American jobs are extolled over jobs being shipped to China, Mexico, Bangladesh, or India, regardless of which country's people are more needy. American health care resources are being restricted to American citizens and denied to people who live in our country but who have not achieved citizenship, as if non-citizen residents didn't need to be healthy. American security is touted as more important than the security of any other nation. Every city and every state is competing to get companies to hire people within its borders rather than in nearby cities and states. Every locale wants people to shop, dine, and vacation there rather than somewhere else.

I'm not sure why the discussion at my congregation stayed on the level it did, but I am grateful for it. Maybe people are so tired of reading about so many shootings every day that they just want it all to stop. Maybe the teachings of concern for one's fellow humans that are found in my religion and in every other religion I am aware of were actually guiding people's thoughts.

Having just endured an election season where we were constantly told that everyone would be voting their own pocketbooks, it was wonderful to participate in a discussion in which no one argued that self-interest was any different from concern for the general welfare. How delightful to be reminded of the sweetness, when so often we are surrounded by bitters.