National Rifle Association Vice President Wayne LaPierre says people who want stronger gun control after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. — apparently including the students who survived there — “don’t care about our schoolchildren. They want to make all of us less free!”
By LaPierre’s account, Florida — with some of the loosest gun laws in the nation — ought to be one of the freest states in the nation. Try telling that to the students in Parkland. Try telling that to the families of victims, whose freedom was robbed last week in gruesome fashion. Try telling that to the survivors of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando in 2016, where 49 people were killed — or the survivors of the shooting at Fort Lauderdale airport in January 2017, where five were killed and 36 injured in the mayhem. How free do they feel in a society where such events happen regularly and lawmakers do nothing to prevent them?
Now the NRA and its allies are saying we need to arm teachers and staff in our schools, instead of doing something that might make it harder to get guns, like closing the legal loophole in Florida and most other states that lets anyone buy a weapon in a private sale without any background check.
If a coach at the high school had been armed, President Trump said Thursday, he could have stopped the gunman in his tracks. Trump questioned the policy of designating schools “gun free zones” because this advertises to a “sicko shooter” that schools are soft targets. If teachers and staff are armed, the president says, this will deter prospective shooters. This is plainly false: There was an armed guard at the Parkland school, but he didn’t even attempt to confront the killer. For that matter, there was an armed guard at Columbine High School during the first mass school shooting to capture national attention in 1999. He was no match for the shooters’ firepower — four weapons, including a semiautomatic firearm.
What kind of firepower, what show of defense, would credibly deter shooters? And what transformation does this risk inflicting on our schools? If we outfit teachers with concealed handguns, will the NRA say after the next shooting that school officials must match the firepower of would-be killers? Are we morally required to stock schools with AR-15s?
After the Sandy Hook school shooting, NRA minion Louie Gohmert said he wished the principal “had an M-4 [semiautomatic rifle] in her office” so she could have stopped the shooter in his tracks. Is this soon to become part of the common visit to the principal’s office — gazing up at the semiautomatic rifle mounted on the wall, over the desk?
Of course, as many have noted, arming teachers is no solution to mass shootings. They will hardly make such situations better — they will probably make them worse by compounding the damage and bloodshed. Even trained police officers have a hard time using their weapons precisely, much less effectively, in chaotic situations.
So perhaps LaPierre’s solution is to deliver school shootouts, where students must cower in the crossfire between criminals and teachers. If so, enterprising companies — often in the defense industry, accustomed to outfitting our soldiers for foreign campaigns — are ready with products designed to protect students from said shootouts. These include bulletproof backpacks for the kids and bulletproof whiteboards and clipboards for teachers. Or bulletproof blankets that students can pull over themselves — even bulletproof armor that can be pulled off the walls and ceilings. These are school expenses I am sure the NRA would happily endorse.
But what will our schools look like when we are done? What will our schools feel like? Is this where we are to train and nurture a free society, in the midst of assault rifles and bulletproof armor? Those things signify and communicate something quite other than freedom. They impose an environment of fear, which can be debilitating to our youth, whom we should want to be confident, open, honest and happy. These are not the kinds of things you see in a free society, but a society at war. How bizarre is it that we would willfully take on the trappings of a society at war, while countless nations around the world — embroiled in real, live civil wars — envy our peace?
This is madness, of course. The NRA’s logic dictates that we should make our schools look like war zones to accommodate unfettered gun rights.
Rather than imposing a bunker mentality on our youth, how about trying the basics of gun control? Because right now, there is little of that, especially in Florida. In addition to forgoing universal background checks on gun sales, Florida is the laboratory of “stand your ground” laws, which permit gun owners to shoot people they deem threatening. Of course, the nature of “threat” is highly subjective, and predictably, many innocent people have been needlessly killed, thanks to this reckless law. Florida also imposes a gag rule on doctors forbidding them from discussing gun safety with patients who have a gun in the home. In this case, Florida decided that the Second Amendment should overrule the First. And Florida lawmakers have been eager to follow the lead of 11 other states that have recently legalized “permitless carry,” whereby gun owners can carry a gun in public with no permit — or safety training.
Are people finally waking up to our outrageous gun laws? Is this what we are seeing now, with Stoneman Douglas High students storming their state capital, flooding lawmakers with loud, impassioned demands for action? Do the youth understand better what their elders ignore? Is this why they are staging school protests across the nation, walking out of class? Because they see the nation that the NRA wants them to inherit, and they know it is absurd, chilling, apocalyptic?
The NRA, and the gun rights movement more broadly, is fragile, weak, ripe for defeat. While there are 270 million guns in America, ownership is shockingly concentrated: half the guns are owned by 3 percent of gun owners. Gun ownership drops precipitously among younger people, with no sign of a rebound — certainly not after the Parkland shooting, as teens recoil at the NRA’s vision for America.
What’s more, the NRA represents a tiny minority of voters, and only a minority of gun owners. It has prevailed against the majority of Americans who favor stronger gun control laws — 90 percent of whom want universal background checks, for example — by persuading or threatening lawmakers to heed its will, over and against their constituents. This worked fine so long as voters did not prioritize gun control and ignored the outrageous laws around them. But now things might change. For the NRA, the game is almost up. It’s long past time.