Guns ‘n’ Schools

imagesThe National Rifle Association’s Wayne LaPierre has blamed the Newtown shootings on just about everything and everybody except guns and the gun-fetishizing culture the NRA promotes. He thinks the answer is armed guards in every school (cost be damned).

Maybe this is a job for TSA – they could deploy flocks of uniformed personnel, and full body scanners, to make going to school as tortuous as getting to a flight. Sure would reduce unemployment.

We have a right to own guns, just like any other sporting equipment, which doesn’t even depend on the Second Amendment. But there’s never a right to be free of reasonable regulation to prevent harm to others. Indeed, the words “well regulated” appear in the Second Amendment itself. And assault weapons are not “sporting equipment;” their only conceivable use is to kill people, and lots of them. Surely it’s reasonable to ban such weaponry, just like banning mustard gas or anthrax spores.

But note that Adam Lanza didn’t even use assault weapons. In fact, no conceivable reasonable gun restrictions could have blocked him. Lanza didn’t buy the guns; they were his mother’s.

images-1This highlights another point. While gun ownership is often vaunted as protection against bad guys, in actuality overwhelmingly more bullets wind up in family members than baddies. Many such shootings are accidental, or suicides, and many victims are children. Guns in the home kill vastly more kids and spouses (many hundreds annually) than intruders (close to zero).

We’re told that responsible gun owners safeguard their weapons to prevent mishaps. Sure. As if everyone is responsible 100% of the time. There’s many a slip ‘twixt cup and lip. The fact remains that if you own a gun, it’s far more likely to injure a loved one, or you yourself, than some criminal. As Mrs. Lanza learned.

So how do we prevent mass shootings? Having fewer guns around would help. That Chinese whacko stabbed a lot of people, but none died. America’s murder rate is way higher than in Europe, and it’s not because Americans are bloodthirstier; it’s the guns, which Europeans control quite strictly.  A twerp like Lanza would not likely have been able to kill anyone if his mother hadn’t been a gun enthusiast. That kind of enthusiasm should be societally discouraged and stigmatized, rather than celebrated as the NRA does. (The “sport” of shooting innocent creatures, causing suffering and death, is barbaric and atavistic.)

We’re also told more must be done about mental illness. Fine; probably. But unfortunately derangement is a fact of life; the kind of sicko who could shoot a six-year-old in the face will always be with us.

images-3But my main recommendation is to calm down. The NRA proposal for armed guards in every school is lunacy. What schools don’t need is more guns in them! (Note: There was actually an armed lawman in Columbine.)  Even with an occasional Newtown, schools remain one of the safest places anyone can be. Just as, despite the occasional crash or terrorist episode, you’re rarely safer anywhere than while flying. (And that would remain true even if the TSA were mercifully abolished.)

Child safety is important, but the idea that we can or should strive to reduce all dangers to zero is a fantasy. Life itself is inherently unsafe. And however dangerous guns are, there’s something we all own that’s far more dangerous: automobiles. They kill many more kids than guns ever do.

Am I just being too rational?

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12 Responses to “Guns ‘n’ Schools”

  1. Gregg Millett Says:

    Frank, nicely written. My friend Mike Ackerman, author of Counterterrorism Strategies for Corporations,” agrees with you and so do I.

  2. Lee Says:

    I am not smart enough to figure out how tightening or loosening gun laws can help to prevent this sort of tragedy.

    But I do know how to save kids’ lives — that many children die each week in car accidents, so teach them to respect the danger that cars represent: always buckle in, be careful and responsible as a pedestrian, bicyclist, passenger, and driver.

    Even a mere 1% or 2% increase in car safety will save more children than changing the gun laws.

  3. Scott Perlman Says:

    Frank, no, you are not being too rational but before I offer any comments I would like to tell you a bit about myself relative to this subject. I am a gun owner. More precisely, I own 9 guns. That may seem like many to most of your readers. I hunt birds and shoot skeet and trap. I enjoy shooting my pistols and improving my skills with them. None of my guns are even close to assault style.

    While I believe that a gun is a very effective tool for home defense in the hands of someone with training, my wife does not share this belief. More to the point, she absolutely hates guns. That, combined with the fact that I am very safety conscious, results in my unloaded guns being locked in a 1400 pound safe that has (10) one-inch bolts closing the door. In other words, no one is getting to them. In addition, the ammunition is stored in a different area. This is my home situation despite the fact that I have had significantly more training than most police officers and certainly put more rounds down range on a weekly basis than 90% of them. I continually take more classes in tactical training because I enjoy the challenge.

    Based on my hobby, I believe many of your readers will have already labeled me a gun nut and NRA supporter. I do not consider myself either. I listened to LaPierre’s speech and was appalled. To say the NRA effectively shot themselves in the foot would be too easy of a pun on too serious of a subject. We do not need to arm teachers or put guards in schools. Specifically, I think we need to take many small steps to start to reduce the risk of another incident like what happened in Newtown because there is no single magic answer.

    My gun loving friends typically state two reasons in support of unrestricted gun ownership. First, it is our right (and to some, our responsibility) to stay armed as a check and balance against runaway government tyranny. The other reason is that we all need protection for the eventual collapse of society when lawlessness will prevail. That is why, according to them, that we should be allowed to buy high powered weapons with 100 round magazines. Yes, I know a few that own shotguns with 40 round drum magazines and “assault style” weapons with even larger magazines. The fact that I can purchase a 50 caliber sniper rifle with an effective range (in the right hands) of over 1 mile does not make me rest easy. I have no training for such a weapon nor have any interest in it. But I think about those that do.

    Arming against government tyranny and the pending apocalypse are silly reasons. First, any gun or guns that we collectively own will do nothing to stop, or even slow down, a government that is bent on squashing our rights. Simply stated, their (the government’s) numbers are too large and their tools and techniques vastly more sophisticated. It is just ridiculous to think otherwise. This disregards that fact that I do not think it will ever happen.

    And I just do not believe that the decay of society is imminent and that the only defense will be high powered high capacity weapons. Sorry, just don’t buy it.

    And finally, the writers of the Constitution could not conceive of the situation we are in. All the weapons during their time were similar. Muskets, flint lock pistols or even the Kentucky long rifle all shared the same loading system. One shot at a time. Consequently in those times a town full of citizens with rifles could act as a real deterrent to an army with the same equipment.

    I do not support that we have a right to own a gun with no restrictions. I do not think it is my constitutional right. But the metaphorical toothpaste has been squeezed from the tube and getting it back in will be impossible, unless laws are passed making it unlawful to own these guns and the government starts a program of confiscation. I don’t think we want that. By most estimates there are approximately 300 million guns in circulation in the US. Confiscation is simply not practical and will likely lead to more deaths.

    But to do nothing does not make sense to me. We can start with some steps that will preserve citizens’ right to self-protection and hobbyists’ rights to hunting and recreational shooting while reducing the risks. Here are some examples.

    1. Eliminate the ability to sell guns at gun shows without the appropriate background check.
    2. 10 round magazines should be the largest by law. This is actually more symbolic than anything else because I can eject a magazine from a pistol, insert a full magazine, rack the slide and be shooting again with less than a 3 second interruption. If I want to do some damage, I can with multiple 10 round magazines.
    3. Choose a maximum caliber allowed by law. Whatever hunters needs should be that number.
    4. Make it against the law for a private citizen to sell a gun to anyone other than a registered dealer.
    5. Anyone who inherits a gun must submit to a complete background check to own them or they must be turned in. People die much sooner than a well maintained gun.
    6. Institute an excise tax on guns. Have the first one be tax-free which will allow those interested in self-defense to have it and will not be a burden to lower income people. But tax each additional gun and make the tax progressive. Each subsequent gun is taxed at a higher rate than the last one. You could even place significantly higher taxes on less desirable weapons such as assault rifles. The interesting concept here is if you choose to purchase a gun illegally you would not pay the tax on it and we are now also talking about tax evasion. It worked for Big Al.
    7. Require a basic gun safety training course for gun owners. This would not just include the mechanical aspects of gun safety but should also include an orientation about ballistics, gun storage, suicide rates relative to ease of gun availability, and proper selection of ammunition. To be fair to lower income people, the course should be free, paid for by tax dollars.

    All that said I could not agree more with Lee’s previous comment. There are literally dozens of things we can do which will have significantly more impact on saving children’s lives (seat belts probably being numero uno). In fact, the actions I suggest will have virtually no impact on the overall mortality rate by gunshot for anyone and will certainly do nothing to stop another incident like Newtown. What it may do is allow us to focus on those actions that could impact the rates.

    And finally, Frank, I do not agree with your characterization of hunting or that enthusiasm for guns should be societally discouraged and stigmatized. We have more than enough discord in our life and frankly the vast majority of gun owners do not deserve it. But I do think there should be a balance of freedom combined with responsibility.

    By the way, as you may gather, I am not a super popular guy at my gun club.

  4. Scott Perlman Says:

    One other thing about the Newtown tragedy. There has been a great deal of discussion by the media regarding how to tell your young children about it. I have very definite ideas about this but could not state them any better than Penn Jillette did on his Podcast, Penn’s Sunday School. You can find it at http://pennsundayschool.com/page/episodes. It is the episode from 12/23 titled Suck it up: Condensed vs. Evaporated Milk. Fast forward to the 37:25 minute part of the show and give Penn a listen to about the 45:00 minute mark (you can stop listening when he starts to talk about almonds). For those that care he does use profanity. But the essence of what he said is very, very spot on. Listen to it and then go take a look at the spot he was on at The Wendy Williams show, which is what he refers to in his Podcast. With the exception of what Penn said on the show, I found the other participants to be ill informed and overly simplistic. The segment is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1KvtS0QHnAc.

  5. rationaloptimist Says:

    Thanks particularly to Scott for taking the trouble to address the topic in such depth. Needless to say I mostly agree. But I will venture just one thing. Scott, knowing you to be a “good guy,” why do you find it enjoyable to shoot birds?

  6. Scott Perlman Says:

    Why do I enjoy shooting birds? Well first, I shoot many, many more round orange clay discs than birds. And you did not ask anything about them? Yet you go about your daily life obtuse to the fact that I am contributing to your overall safety. When have you last been attacked, or even threatened, by a round orange clay disc? I dare say never. And yet you sit there and ask questions about why I shoot birds while you enjoy the safety I provide? I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom that I provide, and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said thank you, and went on your way,

    OK, thank you to “A Few Good Men” for that last line and now I will answer your serious question in a serious way.

    Frank, I assume you are not a vegetarian. If you are and the question is why I eat meat, then it is a simpler response. I choose to be an omnivore and you do not. But I think your question is why I enjoy shooting birds versus buying them at the grocery store. What is it about the specific act that provides pleasure? I am assuming you believe the act of hunting is more traumatic to the bird than being “harvested” by a commercial farm.

    I want to qualify my hunting by explaining that I hunt on private land at private clubs. The birds are raised at these clubs for the express purpose of hunting. In a sense, if we did not choose to hunt these birds would not be raised. I am not rationalizing anything, just explaining the circumstances.

    I could list all the things that make hunting fun. I hunt with my best friends. I walk in beautiful areas that are what picture postcards are made from. I really enjoy the walk and the exercise. I love working with the dogs. These are the most amazing canines and are incredible to hunt with. A day hunting is a day spent isolated from everything back in the “real world.” No calls, no cell phones, no anything. Just the pleasure of being with people you care deeply about in a beautiful environment focused on a specific task.

    That said, I could do all those things and not shoot anything. A camera safari would be an example of a similar activity.

    So back to your specific question as to why I find it enjoyable to shoot birds. I cannot give you a rational answer. I can say that many commercial farms are far harder on animals than we are in a hunt. But even if that were 100% true, one could still say that two wrongs do not make a right. Develop a way to humanly treat animals raised for food and stop hunting.

    I could claim that it is responding to some basic instinct that resulted from thousands of years of having to kill your own food. But that would fly in the face of my belief that we are constantly evolving in many ways and can choose to act responsibly and ethically.

    So again, back to your question. The most honest answer is I do not know, but will give it some thought.

  7. rationaloptimist Says:

    Scott, sincere thanks for a serious reply. These are never simple questions. No, I’m not a vegetarian, and do eat meat. But i recognize the moral issues involved, and am troubled by them.

  8. Scott Perlman Says:

    A new report indicates that no “assault rifle” was used in the tragedy at Newtown. He used four separate pistols. If you recall in my response, I said I could do a great deal of damage with one pistol and many 10 round magazines. Four different pistols would be equivalent, if not slightly faster based on training and practice. Furthermore, he tried to buy an assault style weapon but could not due to CT law. It would appear that every new law that is being considered would not have stopped this from happening.

    In light of this I would not change anything I have said in my previous response. I did qualify my recommended responses by saying that they would be virtually ineffective in stopping anything like this from happening again. This report supports that. My intent is to create an environment that would allow us to start talking about the real issues we face. All of “us” should give up something for the hope that it would encourage a more rational discussion. By “us” I mean the various sides. And by giving up something I mean that the gun advocate side should realize that closing the “gun show loopholes” or even, perish the thought, minimizing the size of magazines, should be in play. And the other side may have to face that fact that there is a significant part of our community that believes in the 2nd Amendment without qualification. Not that they can have that, only that they value that. If we start to focus on interests rather than positions there is hope for substantive exchange of thoughts and ideas.

    I want a rational place where we can determine those things that will have the most impact on what we believe is important. Going back to an earlier comment by Lee, if children’s lives are high on the Pareto analysis (and who would not put them there) then let’s focus on seat belts. Likewise, there are a myriad of “non-gun” things we need to work on that will be more impactful than this type of legislation. But if coming up with some form of gun control law will get us to the table to talk like civilized people, I am all for it. But I am not optimistic.

    To see the report about the weapons used, take a look at this link.

    http://video.today.msnbc.msn.com/today/50208495#50208495

  9. rationaloptimist Says:

    I did note in the original post that Lanza did not use “assault” weapons.
    I agree with Scott that no conceivable gun control will actually make very much difference in kill rates. I also noted in the the original post that far more kids are killed by cars than guns. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t even bother to have rational gun laws. But frankly if the Obama administration makes gun control the centerpiece of its 2013 legislative agenda, that’s a distraction from what is really a far more potent set of challenges facing America, that unfortunately the administration has no appetite to tackle.

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