Saturday, December 22, 2012

I'm Going To Say This Once

I've been almost silent online about the Sandy Hook shootings. I haven't felt it's my place to comment. It was a horrific tragedy and I'm unlikely to say anything that would reach or provide comfort to anyone affected by it. (If by some chance this post does reach anyone affected by a school shooting, you have my deepest condolences.)

But as time has passed and people have started debating how we can prevent this sort of tragedy from happening again, I've been tempted more than once to get into an argument over opinions I disagree with. And, again, I've refrained, because frankly I'm not interested in getting in a meaningless fight that'll piss me off, piss somebody I like off, and end with acrimony and nothing useful coming out of it.

Then I read the NRA statement that came out yesterday, and decided that yes, I need to write something about this.

For the record, I support the Second Amendment and I'm in favor of responsible gun ownership. I have a lot of hunters in my family, who've owned guns for years (hell, generations) without incident. I was, in high school, a member of the Annapolis High School NJROTC's Rifle Team for four years, headed* the damn thing for two, and earned an Expert marksmanship medal. (And my dad likely still wouldn't trust me with a rifle in the woods. I'm not going to argue with him.) I like guns and I think they're a fine thing for sportsmen and hunters to become familiar with.

With that said… I part company with the NRA in a lot of ways. I'm not sold on the idea of owning a gun for home defense: making said gun accessible enough to be useful means that it's not locked up well enough for me to feel secure having it in the house. I don't have anything against gun control in the practical aspects: I'm fine with more background checks, I don't care what size my ammunition clip is, and I can imagine a few semi-automatic weapons** that nobody really needs to own, at least without providing significant proof that they're competent enough to handle the weapon.

Now, I didn't expect the NRA to come out in favor of gun control. But I thought they might at least acknowledge that there is a debate to be had on the issue. I was, of course, thinking of the NRA of the actor Charlton Heston, and not the somewhat more batshit one of Wayne LaPierre.

Here is the full NRA statement for your reading convenience. It starts off on a strong note, acknowledging the tragedy and the NRA's silence up until now out of respect for the victims. But then it veers over a fucking cliff and demonizes the media, the mentally ill, the media, video games, Hollywood, the media, the President, and the media amid calls to put an armed guard in every school in the country.

Um… what?

Let's start with the main point, which is the armed guard thing. A lot of schools in America already have armed guards on the property, and I'm sad to say that they don't always prevent mass shootings. Columbine is one example. Fort Hood, a military base, could be considered another. There's also the fact that it would cost billions of dollars to keep enough guards employed to do a job that, thankfully, doesn't actually need to be done all that often.

And maybe it's just me, but I'm miserable about the state of schools in this country as it is. I don't like the idea that we need to put guards and metal detectors in schools to keep them from exploding with violence. School, particularly middle school, already felt like a damn prison half the time when I was attending. I don't want to send my future children to some place with the look and feel of Blackgate.

So I'm not in favor of more guards. There was also an implication in the statement that we should start a national registry for people with mental illnesses. It's a vague idea to start with, and I'd tend to oppose it on the grounds that it would be open to abuse by employers, neighborhood communities, and anyone else who got access to it. It also doesn't actually do anything to treat mental illness.

I think that improving mental illness treatment across the country ought to be a priority now, in addition to taking a serious look at gun control. None of the gun control measures I noted above, for example, would have done a damn thing to stop Adam Lanza, who stole a gun from his mother and shot her with it before he went on his rampage. Getting Lanza into treatment earlier might have stopped him before he started. Then again, a gun safe might have done the same thing.

What we don't need to do is get another Inquisition started against the "callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry" that makes video games. Nor do I give one shit about "Splatterdays" or the race to the bottom of "media conglomerates". (Well, I do give a small shit about that last one, but Jersey Shore has been canceled.)

The entertainment industries get trotted out as whipping boys at least once a decade to answer for the crimes of mentally ill people who might have had a passing familiarity with some violent game or show. The evidence of any actual influence is always spotty at best. (There's also the First Amendment issue, which Penny Arcade covered much more eloquently than I could, per the image above.)

And it's fairly obvious that Wayne is bringing up the evils of media to deflect attention from the NRA. Why else would he keep talking about how the media is "rewarding" killers, concealing "dirty little truths", and working to "demonize legitimate gun owners"? He's trying to make it as clear as possible that the media ought to be concentrating on MTV and >snerk< Bulletstorm, and that anyone talking about the NRA is flagrantly biased against it.

Which is, to be fair, his job. But it's not in the country's best interests to pretend that we don't even need to have a debate about gun control. And it's a farce to paint the NRA as an embattled organization being assaulted on all sides.

Gun control needs to be on the table. So does providing better treatment for mental illness. I don't agree with putting more armed guards in schools, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't consider it. Wayne said it himself: "there is no national, one-size-fits-all solution to protecting our children." We have a very clear problem that our leaders need to address: I encourage them to do so quickly and thoughtfully.

What we should not do is let the NRA or any other lobby put their interests before the interests of the citizens of our country. We should not let pundits and lobbyists spread disinformation, anger and bullshit to cripple even the most common-sense regulation. We should not let a desire for austerity prevent us from funding programs that have can prevent future tragedies and improve the lives of American citizens. Above all else, we shouldn't let this become yet another partisan exercise to score points for the next election.

We have an opportunity, in the face of this shooting, to take real actions to prevent future tragedies. Those actions won't be perfect; they can't be. But we can't afford to let the NRA keep us from taking any action at all.

I'm going to ask you, if you haven't already, to contact your Senators and your Representative, and urge them to act. I'm not going to be particular on what you urge them to do; as I've said, no one solution is perfect. But an imperfect solution is still better than failing to address the problem.

* In reality I was a figurehead. The program was run by Mrs. Miller, a parent volunteer who brooked no trespass of the range safety rules, i.e using a student's head as a gun rest. I salute her both for keeping us competitive and for ensuring that we suffered no injuries.

** Ignore anyone who talks about an "assault weapons ban" without qualifying what they mean. The term is ill-defined bullshit that can cover automatic weapons (which are already heavily restricted) and semi-automatic weapons (which covers any gun that doesn't require you to chamber each round by hand - that is to say, the vast majority of them).

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