Thursday, January 3, 2013

The NRA's Proposal? Escalation.

The sheer senselessness of the mass shooting at a school in Newtown, Connecticut seemed, briefly, to create some impetus for tightening up gun control in a country which has long been plagued by (and unbothered by) urban gun violence, and which has seen public mass shootings become an almost regular feature on our news screens. 

Then the NRA moved in.
The moment anyone begins to discuss gun control, this august American institution, ostensibly geared towards defending Second Amendment rights, takes aim with a view to blowing the proposals in question out of proportion and out of the water.  The NRA doesn’t do civil debate, and it doesn’t do public interest.  It has learned that the most expeditious manner to get its own way is for it and its associated lobbies to scream bloody murder and pretend that the government is out to take away everybody’s guns.

Occasionally, the irresponsible leadership at the NRA even comes up with a “solution” of its own.  In this case, in the wake of mass violence on a school campus—a place which should be peaceful and safe—the NRA is calling for armed volunteers to patrol our schools.  These schoolyard minutemen, the logic goes, would make schools safer and prevent future killings.  Vigilantism is a venerable facet of frontier culture, but it’s not a happy or a positive one, and it does not represent the thoughtful, structured, legal approach to these mass killings that the public deserves. 
We’re facing a situation in which lots of people have lots of guns.  And too many of those guns are designed to do nothing other than kill people, and to kill them speedily and in horrifically large numbers.  These are, in other words, guns that have nothing to do with self defence as most of us would understand it. 

I know a lot of people who inhabit a lot of places on the political left, and contrary to the caricature peddled by those on the far right, I’ve never heard one of them talk about outlawing guns.  Nicholas Kristol offers a sensible piece on how other countries have dealt with gun violence.  The measures he cites are gentle, and in no way represent some dramatic instance of governmental over-reach. 
Surely most gun owners who are prepared to take a deep breath and put their instinctive hostility towards gun control aside for a moment wouldn’t actually disagree with many of the proposed measures.  The trouble is that the debate becomes skewed the moment the NRA leadership begins foaming at the mouth and opening fire indiscriminately on a caricature of the actual gun control measure. 

As is so often the case, a morally-depraved lobby, more enamoured of its own power than of the public good or even its constituents’ real interests, is its own worst enemy.  The naked self-interest and –aggrandisement of the gun lobby’s institutional embodiment should act as a wake-up call to gun-owners and gun-control advocates alike.  In fact, it should make the point that these two groups—portrayed as diametrically opposed by blowhards like LaPierre—don’t have to be, and in reality shouldn’t be, distinct. 
People will and should argue the merits of individual proposals, but that is precisely what the NRA refuses to do.  Its immediate response to dreadful gun violence is always a clarion call for escalation.  More guns on school campuses, it has the nerve to argue, will make children safer.  More shooters in a darkened cinema will cut down on deaths.  Loosening gun control and ensuring that there is a greater capacity for the casual misuse of deadly weapons will, in the fevered minds of the NRA leadership, make our country more peaceful and safe.  This vacuous and dangerous line of logic needs to be comprehensively rejected, because it is imperilling the public.

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