The usual attitudes are moving beyond infuriating. Year after year, Virginia politicians put enormous effort into expanding the presence of guns in state society, from allowing more than one purchase of a handgun each month to taking away the rights of localities to fingerprint people applying for concealed weapons permits.
Now in the aftermath of the shooting of 20 small schoolchildren in classrooms in Connecticut, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell wants to talk about arming teachers rather than addressing the real issue of banning assault rifles and high-bullet magazines.
“If people were armed, not just a police officer but other school officials who were trained and chose to have a weapon,” he told Washington radio station WTOP. “Certainly there would have been an opportunity to stop aggressors coming into the schools.” Fellow Republican Bob Marshall of Prince William County, always good for hard-right zaniness, wants teachers to take special arms classes from State Police.
These ideas capture the essence of what is so terribly wrong with Virginia and the rest of the country. In the McDonnell-Marshall worldview, the gun is god. This concept was put very nicely in a blog by Garry Wills in the New York Review of Books:
“The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?”
McDonnell’s statement drew immediate rebuke from educators and political opponents. Meg Gruber, president of the Virginia Education Association, says expanding the number of guns in schools is not the answer. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) called McDonnell’s statement “outrageous, extreme and reprehensible.”
What makes McDonnell’s views so out of synch is that Virginia Tech was the scene of an even worse bloodletting in 2007, when a mentally ill student opened fire in classrooms. Some people touched by that horror are involved in gun control issues and still have to listen to the likes of McDonnell.
This time around, it will probably be different. The fact that the so many of the victims in Newtown were primary schoolers is changing the equation, as is the fact that the right wing has been weakened by its losses in November’s election.
As the mood shifts, pressure is coming from other quarters, namely from big public retirement funds. One such group pressured Cerebus Capital Management into putting on the block its share in Freedom Group, the firm that makes the Bushmaster semi-automatic assault rifle used in Connecticut and also in the D.C. sniper slayings 10 years ago. Big outdoors goods retailers like Dick’s are scaling back weapons sales.
They seem to be getting the message. McDonnell and Marshall obviously never will.