The Newtown massacre, as it’s being called, which recently claimed the lives of twenty-six children and adults, when a young man went into a school and began shooting, has sparked off an international debate on gun control and has incited the National Rifle Association in America to respond by giving a speech today at a news conference at the Willard Hotel, in Washington, DC.
The speech, by the NRA’s Vice President, Wayne LaPierre, calls on the US government to place armed police officers in every school. Until now, Barack Obama has rejected the call to introduce the presence of guns on all school campuses in America, but will that change? We don’t think it will, not just based upon Barack Obama’s brilliant speech shortly after the events at Newtown, or the rather less bullet-proof speech given by Mr LaPierre himself, but because the real problems must be addressed by looking at both prevention and cure. And unwittingly, LaPierre’s speech advocates for such change, despite trying to push the NRA’s agenda.
LaPierre’s central argument is powerful: we protect the very things in society which are dearest to us, through the controlled use of weaponry. Banks are secured using armed guards, presidents and prime ministers are all protected by gun-carrying officers and agents and soldiers deployed around the world to fight against things like terrorism, all use guns to defend nations and states. The fact that LaPierre is careful to highlight the use of guns in a ‘controlled’ fashion, makes the argument all the more clever. He even makes the point that if there had been an armed police officer present at Newtown that day, those lives that were lost may have been saved, under different circumstances. Circumstances which would mean every child going to school in the morning would be greeted by a gun-carrying police officer.
This is the point at which LaPierre’s argument begins to falter. He makes no mention of the fact that a culture in which children grow up seeing guns at school, even in a controlled environment, would lead to a culture of fear amongst our children; a fear of an event, which whilst seemingly endemic to the United States, is still a rare phenomenon: since 1966, in America, there have been 90 school shootings, resulting in 231 deaths, with 13 of those 90 shootings being fatality-free. That’s less than two shootings a year, not all of which result in loss of life.
LaPierre does though, make some interesting points and his sentiment that guns are inherently inanimate objects that cannot directly cause loss of life, because they need a human being to pull the trigger, is a fair point, but he goes on to dilute his own argument by deflecting the increase in violent crime on things like video games and movies, which have all been inspirations for some of the most awful copycat killings in America in recent years. By pointing the finger at other inanimate objects and targeting other industries, LaPierre manages, with awkward efficiency, to cause the reader to reflect on the sincerity of his own sentiments regarding gun culture and the part it has to play in violent crimes which claim the lives of young children and adults, in places like Newtown.
But it’s not just the wobbly moralising, or the cock-eyed rhetoric which spoils this interest-driven speech. It’s the tacky attempts at trying to soften the image of the gun industry, to give it heart. LaPierre chooses to talk about the NRA’s membership, which is 4 million strong but he elects to detail the membership by mentioning mothers, first. It’s a heavy-handed approach as far as starting speeches of this nature are concerned and lacks all the finesse a considered and cautious man might possess.
If that wasn’t enough, LaPierre uses the tired old trick of instilling fear into his listeners (or readers). He talks of a society that is “populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters“, people, he tells us, that are “so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day. And does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school he’s already identified at this very moment?”
But he doesn’t stop there. LaPierre goes on to ask how many more killers are out there: “A dozen more killers? A hundred? More? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?” His lack of understanding on other issues comes to the fore, as he ruminates over national databases, presumptions over the current decrease in federal gun prosecutions and debatable conclusions about hurricanes and their impact on violent crime. His piece de resistance though, has to be this quote; that “A child growing up in America witnesses 16,000 murders and 200,000 acts of violence by the time he or she reaches the ripe old age of 18.”
LaPierre doesn’t clarify where these scenes take place, but we would imagine the vast majority of these events are viewed through the TV screen or movie theatre.
This brings up another Achilles Heel in LaPierre’s argument. Whilst LaPierre and the NRA would have us believe that guns are not part of culture and are merely on the sidelines of this debate, he draws in the comparison between guns, video games and films, as well as a culture which suffers with mental illness – all topics and issues which affect plenty of other nations and states across the globe. But what makes America’s plight so much more poignant is that like for like, when size and population are taken into account, America is still one of the most deadly when it comes to gun crime. And that is down to one simple fact – guns in America, unlike some other parts of the world, are widely available to members of the public.
This debate then, has to be about culture first and foremost; instilling good structures in place to help members of society who need help, not to feel alienated and alone and to ensure that everyone has access to care and a community they can be a part of. But the presence of guns in America cannot be ignored, and LaPierre and the NRA would do well to acknowledge the part guns play in a culture which seems all too ready to pull the trigger.