As a teen-aged newspaper intern in my North Carolina hometown in 1952, I was assigned to cover a dog field trial. I had no idea what a field trial was, and said so. “You can learn about it from the man running it,” the managing editor snapped.
After a quick look at a hunting magazine, I drove the eight miles out into the county and found the man in charge, a retired Army lieutenant-colonel, name long forgotten, in his khaki outfit covered in National Rifle Association patches. He didn’t want to talk about the marvelous dogs, or the birds they were trained to roust, or the rhythms of the hunt as the dogs bounded through tall grass to point and flush the birds. He was focused on the guns.
“We have to protect our guns,” he declared. “The communists in the government want to make us register our guns so that they can take them away,” he said. “We can’t let that happen.”
That was 66 years ago and, sure enough, his determined resistance worked: the commies didn’t come and take away the guns.
Nothing has changed for the NRA in those six decades, except that “socialists” has been substituted for “communists” in the organization’s mantra. Current NRA chief Wayne LaPierre made that clear in an unhinged tirade last week at a conservative convention. Unhinged too harsh a description? Read the full text or, better, listen to it all and judge for yourself.
LePierre’s fear-mongering was just one of several cynical and clumsy attempts to divert Americans’ focus on the core enabler of mass murders in public places: the easy availability of high-capacity, high-velocity guns designed to kill many people quickly.
LePierre insists “elites” and “socialists” want to confiscate all guns as a prelude to taking away “all your basic rights.”
LePierre’s $30 million beneficiary in the White House used a different but equally fantastical diversionary tactic: arm teachers, or at least 20 percent of them (that would be 700,000 or so, a nice bulk order for the gun industry). “Problem solved,” declared Donald Trump.
He actually would expect teachers to engage school invaders in close-quarters, adrenalin-infused firefights in which they are out-gunned. The ultimate “good guys with guns” outside the U.S. military are New York City cops. In similar shoot-out situations, those highly trained, brave people hit their targets less than 15 percent of the time. In routine shooting situations, they do slightly better, hitting their target one-third of the time.
How’s your average algebra teacher going to fare?
And how deterred by the algebra teacher would a mentally disturbed person be, given that a high percentage of mass shooters plan to kill themselves?
So why not try to figure out why it happens?
Treating it as a mental health issue would require rigorous study by qualified researchers approaching the problem from many angles, and, most important, lawmakers being willing to accept the results. You know, like climate change.
In 1996, a study sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control found, quite unsurprisingly, that homes with guns in them were more likely to be homicide sites than those without. The NRA quickly shoved through Congress a ban, still in place, on CDC study of gun violence. In 2011, the same law was used to stop the National Institutes of Health’s modest program.
The problem won’t be eased by ignoring it; wasting time on debate of nonsensical diversions only brings the next tragedy closer.
Davis Merritt, Wichita journalist and author, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.