Politicians and commentators continue to react to recent comments by National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. He broke the NRA’s weeklong silence following the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting with a December 21 speech (falsely billed as a "press conference") and an appearance on NBC’s "Meet The Press" two days later.
LaPierre rejected any new restrictions on guns or ammunition and blamed a wide range of cultural influences for mass shootings. He suggested that Congress should respond by funding armed security officers in every school in the country.
This thread is for any comments about the root causes of violence or policies that could prevent future gun-related tragedies. I’ve enclosed lots of relevant links and analysis after the jump.
The Washington Post published the full text of LaPierre’s remarks on December 21. His case boiled down to a few points:
1. Making schools “gun free zones” entices insane killers to target schools. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” so every school should have armed guards. “I call on every parent. I call on every teacher. I call on every school administrator, every law enforcement officer in this country, to join with us and help create a national schools shield safety program to protect our children with the only positive line of defense that’s tested and proven to work.”
2. We need a national database of the mentally ill because “our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters. People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons, that no sane person can every possibly comprehend them.”
3. The entertainment industry, dominated by a few media conglomerates, “compete with one another to shock, violate, and offend every standard of civilized society, by bringing an even more toxic mix of reckless behavior, and criminal cruelty right into our homes.” LaPierre offered a strangely outdated list of violent video games and movies that, in his view, encourage fantasies about killing people.
As many people have pointed out during the past week, Japan experiences very few gun-related deaths despite a large population of children and adults who play violent video games. (Japan has some of the world’s most restrictive gun laws.)
Still, I don’t think it’s ridiculous to be concerned about violent media content. I have no idea whether Sandy Hook shooter Adam Lanza was immersed in this part of American popular culture, but several studies have indicated that violent video games can desensitize people to real-world violence. The American Academy of Pediatrics has pointed to extensive research showing “media violence is 1 of the causal factors of real-life violence and aggression.” I agree with the academy’s suggested approach to this issue:
Exposure to violence in media, including television, movies, music, and video games, represents a significant risk to the health of children and adolescents. Extensive research evidence indicates that media violence can contribute to aggressive behavior, desensitization to violence, nightmares, and fear of being harmed. Pediatricians should assess their patients’ level of media exposure and intervene on media-related health risks. Pediatricians and other child health care providers can advocate for a safer media environment for children by encouraging media literacy, more thoughtful and proactive use of media by children and their parents, more responsible portrayal of violence by media producers, and more useful and effective media ratings. Office counseling has been shown to be effective.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution precludes any sweeping law to limit depictions of violence in popular culture. Government action may be possible in the other areas LaPierre mentioned, though.
LaPierre refused to take questions at his fake “press conference,” so no one was able to point out that Columbine High School’s armed security officer was unable to prevent the tragedy there. The many armed military personnel at Fort Hood also failed to prevent a mentally ill gunman from killing a lot of people there.
On “Meet The Press,” LaPierre stuck to his ground:
If it’s crazy to call for putting police and armed security in our school to protect our children, then call me crazy. I’ll tell you what the American people— I think the American people think it’s crazy not to do it. It’s the one thing that would keep people safe.
And the N.R.A. is going to try to do that. We’re going to support an immediate appropriation before Congress to put police officers in every school. And we’re going to work with Asa Hutchinson, who has agreed to work with us to put together a voluntary program, drawing on retired military, drawing on retired police, drawing on former Secret Service, and all these people that can actually go in and make our kids safe. That’s the one thing, the one thing that we can do—
The one and only thing?
You don’t think guns should be part of the conversation?
I think that is the one thing that we can do immediately that will immediately make our children safe.
LaPierre deflected Gregory’s line of questioning about Columbine by blaming flawed police procedures for handling that situation.
On the same program, LaPierre also claimed that Israel had put an end to school shootings by putting armed security in every school. The Israeli Foreign Ministry quickly debunked that notion:
[Foreign Ministry Spokesman Yigal] Palmor told the [New York Daily News] paper, “We didn’t have a series of school shootings, and they had nothing to do with the issue at hand in the United States.” He continued, “What removed the danger was not the armed guards but an overall anti-terror policy and anti-terror operations which brought street terrorism down to nearly zero over a number of years.”
He also explained that gun control laws in the Middle Eastern nation have been strengthened: “Israeli citizens are not allowed to carry guns unless they are serving in the army or working in security-related jobs that require them to use a weapon.”
School administrators in Connecticut don’t support increasing the number of guns on school grounds. Iowa Department of Education Director Jason Glass told WHO-TV,
“We have no proposal for armed guards in schools, and we do not intend to pursue one. If we are to put armed guards in our schools, then those individuals need to be certified and specially trained for these roles. The best approach to making our schools safer is through thoughtful, rational discussion followed by decisions that are in the best interests of children and the education professionals who serve them.”
Glass didn’t rule out increasing the presence of armed police officers in Iowa schools, though.
Glass said he will not formally propose the addition of armed officers at all Iowa schools, and neither will Gov. Terry Branstad. But it’s possible a state lawmaker will, Glass said, noting he doesn’t know of a firm proposal in Iowa yet.
“I am cautiously interested in that idea,” Glass said. “It’s a far better idea than ‘let’s arm teachers.’”
It’s also an idea that would need considerable local vetting in a state where school districts are run by autonomous local school boards, Glass added.
“Before we jump on board for this proposal from NRA we would want to see specifics and talk to schools,” Glass said. “We want to always put the safety of the students and teachers first, and try as much as possible to keep it out of the political and ideological arena.” […]
Glass couldn’t offer a statewide estimate of what it would cost to station officers at all Iowa schools. But if a school paid $60,000 average per full-time officer, including benefits, the tab for Iowa’s 1,434 buildings would be $86 million a year.
Iowa Public Television’s latest edition of “Iowa Press” featured a school security discussion among Iowa Homeland Security Director Mark Schouten, School Board Association Director Tom Downs and Aplington-Parkersburg Superintendent Jon Thompson. They opposed arming teachers and didn’t consider armed guards in schools the first line of defense.
Henderson: Mr. Downs, do you think that that is the answer in this instance?
Downs: I had that conversation last Friday afternoon moments after learning the tragedy when I heard one of our local Des Moines media talking heads suggest that 20% of all teachers should be armed. And I texted the producer of that station and reminded him that he ought to tell the celebrity that I would see two outcomes of that. Number one, be more school shootings. And umber two, there would be more dead teachers. Teachers focus on instruction. They are trained as educators. They’re not trained as law enforcement people. To have more guns in a school whether they are in purses or on the waists of adults I don’t believe is in the best interest of securing schools. No, I would be hugely opposed to any effort to arm educators.
Henderson: Mr. Thompson, there are schools in Texas where there are armed teachers and armed superintendents. It’s part of their culture.
Thompson: I’ve never even went hunting so I would not be the right option there. I’m along with Mr. Downs agree totally against that. I just think it would lead to more problems than it would solve.
Lynch: We’ve talked about armed guards or having armed school personnel but should arming personnel in the school be the first step in school safety? Or are there other steps that can protect the students and teachers from a Sandy Hook situation?
Borg: Mr. Schouten?
Schouten: I would think perhaps the first step is to review the layout of the school, review the safety plan, have your local emergency management coordinator, have your first responders do a walk through, do a vulnerability assessment to see what changes, what tweaks can be made in your layout, what changes can be made in how your doors are locked, which doors are locked. Do that first and then turn to that second question.
Lynch: Do we need metal detectors at the doors? Do we need the TSA patting down kids as they come and go from school?
Schouten: I would hope not.
Lynch: Is that workable?
Downs: No, it’s not in keeping with the kind of environment we want to create for kids.
Conservative gun advocate Thomas Basile was dismayed by LaPierre’s stance.
The bizarre school security solution framed in a kitschy sound bite about “good guys” and “bad guys” was a dangerous and unrealistic notion. It was the kind of thing that doubtlessly left gun-owning libertarians scratching their heads. It sounded more like something out of a police state than an America where people can protect themselves and live free from fear.
There are nearly 100,000 public schools in the United States and apparently the NRA thinks that before our kids return from Christmas break, Congress should put an armed guard in all of them. Congress can’t agree on what day it is, but Wayne LaPierre thinks they should create what would be a multi-billion-dollar government funding mechanism to aid already overburdened school districts with hiring security personnel. That’s 100,000 schools plus funding to help private and parochial schools have similar levels of security, particularly in the inner city.
If you hire security personnel, then you have to train them. Then you have to equip them. Then you have to institute standards and review. Of course, since one guy with a gun in a school with hundreds of students, faculty and parents coming and going all day isn’t going to prevent anyone from carrying weapons onto the school grounds, you have to establish a search protocol for everyone. Pat downs and metal detectors perhaps? Once you’ve done all that, you have created a new bureaucracy, massive new government interference in education, new fees and taxes to be passed along to property owners and irreparably damaged the learning environment for our kids.
With Congress looking for ways to cut non-defense domestic spending, LaPierre’s proposal will go nowhere. There’s no magic pot of money for police in every school and no influential legislator to champion the cause.
I will say this, though: LaPierre may have succeeded in creating the illusion that the NRA is “for” something to prevent gun violence rather than just against gun control.
Improvements to mental health services
The extent of Adam Lanza’s mental health problems are not yet clear, but several other mass shooters have had significant, untreated mental health problems. Radio Iowa recently interviewed Iowa psychiatrist Walter Duffy about the challenges in delivering mental health care:
“Access is a difficult issue in various places because there’s not enough mental health providers to go around,” Duffy says. “Especially in the Midwest, psychiatry is very depleted, especially if you talk about child and adolescent psychiatry services.”
Duffy says even where service is available, there can be another obstacle – the willingness of a person to get the help they need. “If you do not have people onboard with wanting to obtain services, it’s very difficult in this country to make somebody take services,” Duffy says. “If you look at, like emergency protective custody where the courts take over and say you have to receive services. That’s only for people nowadays who are acutely suicidal or acutely homicidal.”
Sheena Dooley of the Iowa Watchdog site wrote a personal essay about how hard it can be to receive mental health services in Iowa.
Iowa earned a D for its mental health services in the most recent National Alliance on Mental Illness evaluation, which was released in 2009. It earned an “F” in consumer and family empowerment, one of four areas assessed by the national organization. The report estimated nearly 105,000 Iowans suffer from a serious mental illness at a time when there are only about 1,000 psychiatric beds among public and nonprofit providers. The shortage is so severe that the state has to ship its most needy patients hundreds of miles to other states for treatment.
Earlier this year, Iowa lawmakers passed a measure to reform the state’s mental health system. It does away with a county-by-county system, in which property taxpayers are on the hook to pay for the services, and replaces it with a regional state-funded system starting next summer. But it fails to address the state’s most pressing issues, including funding and a shortage of psychiatrists and other mental health workers, which leads to long waiting lists. It also lacks the outreach the mentally ill need to find their way to the proper resources.
Similar problems affect most other states.
LaPierre may not realize that the U.S. already has a federal database of people considered too mentally ill to own a firearm. Sarah Kliff explained here,
Thirty states (including Virginia) now either authorize or require reporting mental health records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS. Those are the states in dark red below. Another eight states, in lighter red, authorize or require reporting of mental health records to a separate, state-level database. […]
The federal government does not have the constitutional authority to require state agencies to report data. The most it can do is offer funding – or withhold dollars – in an attempt to entice states to participate, just as they did with the law after the Virginia Tech shooting.
Many anti-gun advocates push for better mental health reporting, including Mayors Against Illegal Guns. It recommended in a November 2011 report that “Congress should significantly increase both the federal funding available to assist record sharing and the penalties for states that do not comply, and tie them to far more ambitious reporting targets.”
Even if this system worked perfectly, mentally ill adolescents or young adults might still have easy access to guns legally purchased by their parents and stored at home.
Under NRA-backed policies like Iowa’s 2010 “shall issue” law, county sheriffs no longer have discretion to deny a concealed weapons permit to people who may suffer from a dangerous mental illness. Since 2010 the number of Iowans licensed to carry a concealed weapon has more than tripled to nearly 5 percent of the population. The Associated Press reported last weekend,
While the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits mentally ill people from possessing firearms, it specifies that people can be deprived of that right only if they have been declared mentally unfit by a court or have been committed to an institution for the mentally ill.
The FBI database, which is used for background checks on applicants for permits to own and carry weapons in Iowa and other states, flags applicants with the two disqualifying mental health statuses.
During 2011, Iowa clerk of court offices transmitted to the FBI database 2,369 mental health disqualification records, said Ross Loder, bureau chief of the Iowa Department of Public Safety. As a practical matter, the system includes few such records generated before 2011, he said.
Linn County Sheriff Brian Gardner said, “Absolutely that is a concern. Mental illness is a key factor in most of the mass murders” such as the fatal school shootings Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn.
Johnson County sheriff’s Maj. Steve Dolezal said the limitations that the “shall issue” law places on sheriffs’ discretion in issuing gun permits is especially harmful in the case of applicants with mental health issues.
“We’ve lost the ability to take input from family, friends, neighbors and employers – the people with the best insights into an applicant’s mental health status,” Dolezal said.
Gardner said jail and prison populations include a high percentage of people suffering from mental illness. In most cases, he said, “they don’t get any treatment until they come to me.”
Politicians will talk a lot about improving mental health services, but at a time of fiscal austerity, I’ll be surprised if Congress allocates significant new resources to this problem.
We’ll know which Iowa politicians are serious about tackling this issue during the coming legislative session. Our state’s reserve accounts are full, with a strong budget surplus projected for the next fiscal year. Who will support increasing funding for mental health care, and who will say we “can’t afford” it while proposing hundreds of millions of dollars in tax cuts?
During the past 30 years, most mass shootings in the U.S. have involved guns obtained legally, in most cases semiautomatic handguns or assault weapons. High-capacity ammunition clips have enabled some shooters to kill many people before needing to reload. Australia experienced “faster falls in firearm deaths, firearm suicides, and a decade without mass shootings” after a 1996 massacre inspired stricter gun laws. Could anything like that happen in the U.S.?
LaPierre ruled out any additional restrictions on the ownership of guns and ammunition, but some people believe his tone-deaf performance made gun control more politically achievable.
I don’t care how many public relations professionals or other people mocked LaPierre’s speech. I will eat my hat if any significant gun control passes in the coming year or the coming decade, for that matter. My money’s on no assault weapons ban, no ban on high-capacity magazines for otherwise legal guns, no closing the gun show loophole, no improvements current law on background checks.
Democrats in the U.S. House and Senate have vowed to try to reinstate the assault weapons ban that was in effect from 1994 to 2004, but the NRA has an iron grip on all Republicans and some Democrats in Congress and most state legislatures. To my knowledge, no prominent political figure has resigned from the NRA over LaPierre’s absolutist position following the Connecticut shooting. (In contrast, former President George H.W. Bush resigned his NRA membership shortly after the deadly 1995 bombing at a federal building in Oklahoma City. Bush objected to LaPierre’s “vicious slander” of federal agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.)
Conservative dissident David Frum noted that “it’s not hard” to buy a gun in Canada, “Yet these few barriers cut rate of gun violence by more than half.” This one-page website outlines how to get a gun license in Canada.
Basically you just need to pass a short (though important) safety course, and then mail away for a license. When you’re approved you’ll get it in the mail and you can go shopping.
The course you will take is called the CFSC, that’s short for the Canadian Firearms Safety Course, and the license you’ll get is called a PAL short for Possession and Acquisition License. […]
If you want to own a handgun, or other “restricted” firearms in Canada you need to pass a second course called the CRFSC (the R is for Restricted,) and pay a bit more on the application to get a “special kind” of PAL which allows you to buy restricted firearms. Generally it’s called an RPAL, you can guess what the R in front is for. Although an RPAL is just a normal PAL which says “Restricted” on the back under the sections that list what types of firearms you are allowed to acquire or possess. […]
Most people simply take a one day class (usually a Saturday), that includes watching a video, listening to an instructor, and going over a book. You know, typical classroom sort of stuff. It’s pretty low key, and most people have a lot of fun. It’s usually costs around $75, though the price can certainly vary, particularly from province to province. I think my wife paid only $20.
I find it depressing that these common-sense safeguards are so far outside the bounds of American political discourse.
Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.
P.S. Steve Marmel made a good point:
Can you imagine if the “scary black president” had suggested putting an armed guard at every school or proposed an $18 Billion dollar plan without an idea how to pay for it?
We’d be hearing “Marxism!” “Police State!” “Debt!”
But it wasn’t Obama. It was the ghoul mouthpiece for the NRA, so the GOP is silent.