Oh say, does that Star-Spangled Banner yet wave
O’er the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave?
Not according to Wayne La Pierre of the NRA, it doesn’t. He has a vision of a nation imprisoned and afraid, an America I simply cannot recognize. His call for a new security regime with armed guards posted at every school, every place where the vulnerable cringe with fear from gun violence, has drawn detractors from every corner of the country. That’s only reasonable, of course. But I have to thank him for starkly painting the picture as to exactly where we are going if there is not a change of some kind.
A school in Connecticut, a church in Pennsylvania, a trap set for fireman in New York – every week it seems there is another event or two. The corrosive action of fear creeps in like rust, never sleeping and eating its way gradually to our core. A change must come because this is intolerable. The change, however, must not just be one of law. The change has to be one from deep inside us as a people.
The LaPierre plan calls for fighting gun violence with more guns. It ignores the simple fact that many infamous shootings, including Columbine, Fort Hood, and Virginia Tech had trained, armed men posted who could not prevent the spasms of violence. The press conference was drenched with denial and as unrealistic as it was horrific.
The responses have come from the most usual quarters, especially in the form of new laws to regulate guns. But it has also generated poignant and thoughtful alternatives from Michael Moore and even Rep. Ron Paul, who said “School shootings, no matter how horrific, do not justify creating an Orwellian surveillance state in America.” Both men, who rarely agree on much, agree that the problem is not with guns as much as it is with something very deep in our culture.
What are we so terribly afraid of?
There is little doubt that the horrors that we confront so constantly will create new laws of some kind. Some of them will be useful reforms that will save lives when things go horribly wrong, such as banning clips of more than 10 rounds. Some will be difficult and unrealistic, such as attempts to ban the largely cosmetic differences that constitute an “assault rifle”. I have come to believe that it is time that we regulate guns the way we do cars – requiring a license to own one and registration for every weapon. This may sound like a bizarre reach, but it comes from how I have come to see the problem.
Laws, by themselves, do not prevent terrible behavior. Where decency fails and people do awful things to each other there is usually a call for more laws – as if we live our lives by first consulting an attorney with every move. When what we need is more appropriate behavior laws might comfort those who were victims, but they rarely change much on their own. They are only useful to the extent that they push a reset button of some kind and encourage decency and thoughtfulness.
To some extent, the problem we face is similar to drunk driving. Cars are useful things in and of themselves, and drinking, while fraught with problems at the extreme, helps people to come together and get beyond their everyday anxiety. Put the two together and there is a serious problem. Some years ago a cultural change had to be made when the death toll started to rise, and new laws were the start of that – but only the start. Bars had to change their behavior and encourage the use of cabs, and eventually companies like Anheuser-Busch got into the promotion of safe drinking. It would have been better if people had simply stopped driving while too far over the limit on their own, but it was not happening.
Similarly, “Guns do not kill people, people kill people.” But guns in the fists of the deranged, scared or very angry make the killing far too easy. An ordinary citizen would never do such a thing and should never have their rights curtailed, but a change must be made. The ultimate change is cultural, and a new law should encourage that change. We must remove the ideal that violence, particularly with guns, solves problems.
Some may bristle at new laws, but encouraging the right behavior is important. If nothing else, the hardware is one thing but the training and will to use it are another – this is not about guns but how they are used. Universal registration will encourage the proper training and personal examination that is necessary to use them properly in a time of terrible crisis.
No matter what, the line has been drawn clearly. Are we going to remain prisoners of our own fear or are we going to do something positive? The NRA has taken their position, and proven that they have nothing to say of any importance in this debate, which is pathetic and unproductive. But thinking people understand what needs to be done and we all need to examine just what that means.
We can do that and remain true to our rights and our roots. In fact, I think those are the instincts that will help us the most as we bravely work to understand what it means to be free.