The Lesson of Newtown: When Gun Nuts Write Gun Laws, Nuts Have Guns

Obsessions, Manias, Complaints
Dec. 21 2012 4:32 PM

When Gun Nuts Write Gun Laws, Nuts Have Guns

We are living in the world the NRA has made.

National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre calls on Congress to pass a law putting armed police officers in every school in America.
A demonstrator from CodePink holds up a banner as National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre delivers remarks during a news conference at the Willard Hotel on Friday in Washington, D.C.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Read more coverage about gun control in Slate.

So this is what Wayne LaPierre came up with, with a week to reflect on the news that a law-abiding gun owner's legally purchased rifle, in the hands of her firearm-trained son, had been used to slaughter 20 kids: more guns, more law-abiding gun owners, more more more lead-spraying death machinery, more killing to stop the killers until all the killers have been killed. Only when we have eliminated the threat of "gun-free school zones," the danger and horror of children going through a school day unsurrounded by the implements of death, will we all feel safe.
    
People who live in the world of causes and effects and verifiable truths, the world the NRA has long since abandoned, had no trouble pointing out the flaws in LaPierre's analysis—the fact, for instance, that there had been an armed deputy sheriff on duty at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. Around the time LaPierre was speaking, someone in Pennsylvania was shooting another batch of people, including armed state troopers.

Guns kill people. More guns kill more people. What the NRA gets wrong—intentionally or delusionally or, in the psychologically and financially profitable zone where intention and delusion overlap—is its bedrock premise: that gun killings are the work of Bad Guys, predators whose drive to hurt and steal and kill cannot be stopped by anything but a brave Good Guy armed with a powerful firearm and, not at all incidentally, trained through an NRA-backed firearms-training program.
    
And the NRA insists that these people—"the monsters and the predators," as LaPierre put it—will not be thwarted by gun control, except in the funny T-shirt both-hands-on-my-weapon sense. The next Adam Lanza is already picking out his target, LaPierre said.

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That's because the next Adam Lanza is almost certainly able to get his hands on a weapon to point at that target. The original Adam Lanza was apparently too confused and low-functioning to navigate Connecticut's simple waiting period and buy one for himself. But his mother, a gun enthusiast in good standing, had a stock of her own. She reportedly had wanted to feel safe.

So Wayne LaPierre wants to talk about "evil," because evil is elemental and intractable. Evil is part of the human condition. You cannot legislate away evil.

Let's leave the darkest recesses of the soul for a second. Two days before the Connecticut massacre, this happened:

This is not unknowable wickedness. It's banal teenage rage and stupidity, amplified by a gun. That's what everyday gun crime is—fleeting moments of thoughtless viciousness, made permanent with the wiggle of a finger. The Jovan Belcher murder-suicide was an ugly domestic argument; Belcher's gun collection turned it lethal. Maybe, as the gun enthusiasts argue, he might have resorted to using a knife or a club. But that's a less likely result. And even if it did happen, it would be less likely to be fatal.

In Australia, gun violence decreased markedly after the implementation of strict gun control measures. In Bogota, the number of deaths by firearm is reportedly down 58 percent, after the mayor banned public possession of guns. Take away instant, easy death-dealing, and the death rate drops.

LaPierre does not live in the realm of probabilities and harm reduction. He lives in a sick, paranoid universe where guns substitute for law, custom, and morality. Here he is, describing the country as he sees it, a place that teeters on the brink of collapse because of our national softness on crime: "Add another hurricane, terrorist attack, or some other natural or manmade disaster, and you’ve got a recipe for a national nightmare of violence and victimization."

Violence and victimization. Now is a good time to remember what really happened after Hurricane Katrina: brutal cops and bands of racist civilians went around shooting and killing unarmed people. Why? Because they believed in the NRA message, that predators were waiting to attack law-abiding citizens. And they were right about that. They were just confused as to who the predators were.

The same confusion was apparently on George Zimmerman's mind. Another armed citizen, looking out for danger—and finding it in a teenager walking home with a bag of Skittles. This is what LaPierre wants to mobilize: "millions of qualified active and retired police; active, reserve, and retired military; security professionals; certified firefighters, security professionals, rescue personnel; an extraordinary corps of patriotic, trained, qualified citizens." With guns. Guns, guns, guns. Ready to use them.

And the police, too. "With all the foreign aid the United States does, with all the money in the federal budget, can’t we afford to put a police officer in every single school?" LaPierre said. Annie Lowrey of the New York Times quickly thumbnailed that proposal at $6.4 billion per year.

This is the most extraordinary thing about the NRA's ideology and the climate it's created. By the time you read this, there will almost certainly be someone who has jumped to the comments to denounce gun regulations as an infringement of fundamental liberties. It is only the presence of uncounted millions of guns, in the hands of uncounted millions of Americans—whether pointy-headed liberals recognize this as a "well-regulated militia" or not—that secures our freedom against the encroachment of a totalitarian police state.

Yet today, LaPierre got up and described the gun lobby's vision of our future: "A police officer in every single school." "Armed security ... building design ... access control ... information technology." "An active national database of the mentally ill."

This is the NRA’s idea of a free country. Kindergarteners on lockdown. Federal monitoring of everyone's mental-health status. Cops in every hallway.

The experts and counterexperts can and will keep arguing about the local and regional crime-rate effects under our ever-expanding concealed-carry and open-carry laws. One trend line, though, seems obvious: The Second Amendment and the Fourth Amendment have been moving in opposite directions. The NRA has racked up legislative triumph after legislative triumph, extending gun rights into airports, bars, churches, and schools. Yet rather than deferring to the armed public, the police have grown ever more militarized, ever less concerned with warrants, ever more willing to respond to disorderliness with overwhelming force. The government is collecting your email and tracking your phone. Drones are flying police missions in American skies. More than 2 million people are incarcerated.

None of that came up in LaPierre's discussion today, though he had time to denounce video games and the media. An ugly, violent, oppressive world is the world he wants. It's the world that gun culture thrives in. The only liberty that matters to these people is the liberty to kill.

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