Another tragic but predictable mass shooting happened last week in Florida, killing seventeen high school students. A 19-year-old former expelled student of the school had no problem purchasing an AR-15 — a semi-automatic rifle — entering the school and causing mayhem. The armed officer who was supposed to go after the assailant fled instead, probably because he was scared but also because a standard issue police revolver is no match for an AR-15. Two of the dead were teachers who died protecting their students.
What made this shooting especially memorable was that it got the surviving students up in arms, so to speak. Within days they were at the state capital in Tallahassee petitioning its legislators to enact common sense gun restrictions. There were also TV interviews with the students, town halls with politicians and a meeting with Trump at the White House. Short-attention-span Don was given a set of five talking points to make it sound like he was being empathetic, a skill he simply lacks. Once the students were gone though his “solution” seemed predictable. While calling for raising the age to 21 for acquiring rifles (under which the AR-15 qualifies) — a proposition more rhetorical than anything else — he next pivoted to his “real” solution: put more firepower in the schools, principally by arming teachers. The “solution” to these Republican politicians is always the same: you solve the problem by doubling down on a failed strategy.
I last wrote about the folly of arming teachers after the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Some of the NRA talking points do make some sense. There are very few NRA members that would likely instigate something like this. Most NRA members are law abiding. It’s not the law abiding ones that I worry about though. The NRA’s real sin is not in causing these acts but in aiding and abetting them.
It’s all well and good for you not to take any lawless actions with a gun. But when you promote the equivalent of a huge open warehouse of guns and NRA members are encouraging anyone to come in and arm themselves, you are aiding and abetting. The NRA though goes far beyond this. They surround the warehouse with neon lights. There is a huge searchlight on the roof. They broadcast the warehouse’s hours on all the local radio stations. They make it easy to get a gun and encourage you to get as many not as you need, but as you want.
For an organization whose initial focus was gun safety this is a shocking turn away from their mission. It’s like encouraging kids to play with matches and open cans of gasoline. Okay, technically maybe this isn’t against the law. Matches and gasoline of course don’t kill kids by themselves. But they will kill some and injure a whole lot more if you make it super easy to play with matches and gasoline.
An organization at least originally chartered to promote gun safety should not be promoting people’s right to own AR-15s and enhance their semiautomatic weapons with bump stocks. This is because these actions are not responsible. First you need to demonstrate that you have the maturity to own a gun. Next you need to demonstrate that you can use a gun responsibly, perhaps by passing a required course in gun safety and marksmanship. Lastly you need to make sure that you can be held liable for your actions with a gun. Then maybe you should be able to get a gun. Maybe you should demonstrate for five years that you can use a handgun responsibly, and then are eligible to get an AR-15.
Obviously you can easily kill people with a gun. It’s pretty easy for me to kill people with my car too. To mitigate the likelihood that I will kill someone with my car, not only are there criminal penalties for doing so, but I also need insurance up the wazoo. Last I checked my wife and I were paying about $1700 a year for the privilege of driving. Most of that will compensate people who we injure driving or their property. If I had a history of driving aggressively I’d probably pay a lot more for insurance, if I could get it at all. Most states require drivers to carry insurance, which effectively means that if your driving is judged to make you a menace on the road, you can’t legally drive at all. Can you even get insurance that protects your liability for using a gun in this country? I doubt it. You should be required to get a gun insurance policy and show it to a dealer before you are allowed to even buy a weapon.
The NRA though aggressively promoted laws that allowed the alleged 19-year-old mentally unstable Florida shooter Nikolas Cruz to buy that AR-15. It actively worked against laws that would have kept mentally unstable people like him from acquiring these weapons in the first place. In fact last year it successfully got Congress to pass and Trump to sign a law that actually made it easier for the mentally ill to get weapons. The change said that no background checks were necessary unless the mentally ill person was likely to cross state lines.
And Trump’s new solution is to arm teachers, essentially putting out more open gasoline cans and matches as if by doing this will somehow make everyone safer. Of course it ignores the elephant in the room: guns are very lethal weapons and assault weapons are exponentially more lethal than handguns because they inflict greater injury, and much faster too. It’s like dumping gasoline on the sidewalk, giving kids burning matches and encouraging them to get close to the gasoline but not actually ignite it.
In short: it’s nuts. It’s absolutely true that barring some sort of bizarre accident, guns don’t kill people. People though kill people all the time, and in this country they principally do it with guns. Increasingly it is being done with ever more lethal weapons amidst denser populations. And they pack them in pretty tightly in our schools.
The Supreme Court has recognized that the right to own a gun is not absolute. You still can’t own a machine gun (unless it was manufactured before 1986 and you acquire it privately), although a bump-stocked semiautomatic weapon is virtually the same as a machine gun. No right is unlimited and that includes the right to bear arms. Society has every right to set boundaries on rights because no right is absolute, something the NRA likes to deny with guns. I have no right to yell “Fire” in a crowded theater. I have no right to publish libelous information. I have no right to assemble a crowd for non-peaceful purposes. And I have no right to possess weapons if I am mentally unstable, cannot use them safely or if their power is such that they effectively cannot be countered. Since at best cops hit their targets 20% of the time, an armed teacher is going to be even less effective. Most likely he will be mowed down before he can raise his weapon. If it is used it is just as likely to be used to maim or injure some innocent person than a perpetrator.
These reasonable restrictions on guns in the past were why school shootings rarely happened. Part of reducing these deaths though is also changing the culture that says unrestricted use of firearms is somehow virtuous. It is not and it kills thousands of us a year as a result. Students can clearly see that our laws are not working and that adding more guns will not ease the problem. With their energy and passion, perhaps common sense gun laws will return again.