3 things the NRA has right

Posted by tobymuresianu on Dec 28, 2012 in Politics, Thoughts |

The other week, I wrote a post suggesting measures to make schools safer that could be agreed on without politics.

They were having armed guards in schools, and reducing violence in the media.

It didn’t turn out exactly how I’d hoped.

A few days later, the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre gave a press conference where he called for armed guards in schools, and blamed the media for violence.

There was a minor backlash.

It was funny – I actually thought I was being apolitical, and nobody had accused me of being a gun nut (which I’m not; I support gun control). Was I way off base? Or were liberals vilifying the NRA, cause, well, it’s the NRA and they’re villain-y?

Out of curiosity, I watched Wayne LaPierre’s press conference.

It would be easy to create a laundry list of how crazy and hypocritical the NRA is, and many people have.

They deride politics when they are political lobbyists. They criticize the media for dramatizing violence, then create a fear-driven narrative of a world populated by monsters who can only be stopped by “good guys with guns” – a narrative which draws more from Dirty Harry and email forwards than reality. They have zero self-awareness over the fact that someone who believed everything they said was killed by the guns she loved and enabled the entire massacre.

But packaged in the basket of crazy are a few perfectly legitimate points. Maybe they stumbled upon them by accident, and it would be easy to write them off. But if our goal is to genuinely protect kids and not just win an argument, we shouldn’t.

1) The media doesn’t know anything about guns.

I would expand the media to include “most people on facebook and twitter.” All abound with confusion over what terms like semi-automatic or .223 mean, or feature calls to ban “military-style assault rifles” – a vague and unhelpful term. As one relative put it, “is it okay to have non-military style assault rifles?”. Even the legal definition of “assault rifle” includes characteristics like bayonet lugs and pistol grips, which do nothing to affect their deadliness – barring any recent mass bayonetings or pistol whippings I’m unaware of.

It’s hard to imagine an effective weapons ban when the people advocating it don’t understand what weapons they want to ban. This was the case with the previous ban, and the result was that dangerous-sounding guns such as the AK-47 were banned, but guns like the WASR-10, which is a type of AK-47, weren’t.

Romanian WASR-10

Good thing this isn’t an AK-47, those things are dangerous

For the record – “semi-automatic” basically means it fires once every time you pull the trigger. Automatic weapons (meaning they fire three times when you pull the trigger, or continuously if you hold down the trigger) have been restricted to police/military use for years. .223 is a common size of ammunition used in everything from hunting rifles to military ones. If there’s one topic we should bring ourselves to admit the NRA knows more about than liberals, it’s how guns work.

And the practical definition of assault rifle for the purposes of a new ban that restricted the most dangerous class of weapons should be “a semi-automatic rifle with a high capacity magazine”.

2) The media – including video games – encourage violence.

Obviously, it doesn’t do so to a dangerous extent with the overall population, but for a vulnerable, alienated segment of the population violent media and video games are dangerous. Just like, you might say, guns.

Again, nobody has actually suggested ways for reforming the media, and I believe it’s irresponsible to point the finger at them without recognizing the role we all play in supporting it. Also, we have a thing called a first amendment. If there is to be a change in the culture or the media, it won’t come from legislation; it has to come from us as individuals avoiding gratuitously violent media and creating an environment in which it is no longer socially acceptable.

3) Armed guards are the only preventative measure that will take effect right now.

Nobody disputes that gun control legislation will take months and guns will still be circulating for years. Better mental health care will be a long time coming as well, will not fix people who are crazy right now, and will not ensure at any point that people with mental health problems use it.

I’m hearing two common arguments against security guards in schools.

a) There was a security guard at Columbine, and he didn’t do anything!

This is true. He fired at the attackers from 60 yards away (a laughable distance with a handgun), got shot at, retreated and called police. Here’s why: he was a shitty security guard.

I hate that the gun control debate is so driven by anecdotes – whether it’s the Columbine example or gun rights advocates bringing up one-off cases of a grandmother killing a mugger – which don’t exemplify what happens in most cases. This is a big country, and everything is going to happen a certain amount of times.

Someday, I would like to hear gun rights and gun control avocates argue about how to play roulette. “You know, in this one case, Jane Harrison placed her money on 32 black and won. Would you have had her not win that jackpot?”

b) It’s not right for teachers to have guns! We need less guns, not more!

I dislike this argument because it’s purely emotional reasoning. A related argument is that armed guards “send the wrong message about the role of a school,” which smacks of “it does not fit my mental image of the school I went into, so therefore it is wrong.” Would people saying this also argue that in the 1/3 of American schools that already have armed security, those personnel should be taken away?

Also, nobody is suggesting all teachers be issued handguns. But if a teacher has completed training and wishes for their own safety and that of their kids to have, say, a handgun locked in their drawer or in the principal’s office, is it really helpful to tell them that they can’t? When did teachers go from being saints who could do no wrong and always deserved to be paid more to authority figures who couldn’t be trusted with such decisions?

On the other hand, there is one great argument for not having guns in schools – we don’t need it. This argument comes courtesy of Josh Barro at Bloomberg, who points out that schools are still overall the safest place for our children to be (though I do disagree with his arguments that guns “sending the wrong message on education” for the reasons above).

It’s surprising this argument isn’t made more, but after a catastrophe the pressure is so strong to “do something” that sometimes it’s hard to make the case that we don’t need to.

On the other hand – there is a good argument for armed guards even if they are not cost-effective. As with terrorism, the damage done by school shootings isn’t in terms of casualty numbers alone. The damage is largely mental – in the national anguish and atmosphere of fear it can create.

We need to balance the pain of not having an armed guard there to defend against the next school shooting (which will happen, at some point, even if it is hopefully later due to gun control or other means) against the savings of not having them there. The side consequences and benefits of gun-related accidents and prevention of other crimes should also be in the equation.

Considering those things and determining the right thing to do is a difficult question. But it is an honest one, as opposed to slogans or blanket arguments which do not alleviate the problem.

It’s my personally still my belief that we should encourage guards in schools – because when the next shooting occurs, we will either stop it, or be able to say we did all we could to – even if it wasn’t our idea.

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