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Monitoring Our Gun ‘Conversation’

Terry H. Schwadron

Feb. 25, 2018

It seems only right to congratulate the president and our elected officials for fomenting a national conversation about guns. It may not be the one he wanted, but it is a conversation.

As we know, the president’s contribution — as donated to him by the National Rifle Assn. — has been the proposal to arm selected teachers and others already on school campuses to carry concealed handguns to stop lunatics with semi-automated rifles. It was a proposal bound to draw opinions for and against, well, mostly against, but it has indeed generated a kind of conversation.

Where there is sustained public involvement, there can be some kind of concerted effort to better protect schools, students, concert arenas and churches, and, maybe, just maybe, start creating a more sensible, less ideological corral around gun sales, gun operations and gun safety.

Examining a variety of comments from across the public marketplace might just give us a sense of where we find ourselves not only in the perennial search for “school safety” issues, but, more generally, about our societal values.

The best and most supportive arguments about the president’s announcements of his opinions about arming selected teachers are that as a society, we (or someone private) collectively pay for armed guards for banks, government buildings, celebrities and stadiums, but not schools. It is a sobering thought. Of course, we don’t have armed guards at the public library either, but so far, gun-armed nuts have not decided to shoot the people holding up the borrowing line. Nor do we really guard the subway, which is a far more likely candidate for outraged shooters to try to put in their crosshairs.

Still, I’ll accept the president’s contribution at his word to say we should do a better job of protecting our schools. Of course, I would also add that having, say, heat in schools, which we did not in cities like Baltimore this winter, would also be a good reflection of our societal values, and having teachers paid so that they can afford to live in the cities where they teach would be a good expression of value. But maybe I’m been too harsh or arch: I seek Things That Make Sense from my public officials. Also, Things That Actually Work.

It’s this latter notion that seems to have the Internet humming with criticism for the advice from Trump and the NRA.

“Can you imagine a black teacher with a handgun greeting police who have responded to a shooting report?” reads one circulating criticism. “I’d remind all that Philando Castile worked in a school. He had a legally purchased gun” and was shot by a police officer. Can you imagine getting to people working in schools trying to get to work every day while being Black with a gun?” read another.

As always, it takes about three seconds for some aspect of race to arise as a key question in our conversations.

Others suggest that teachers, already underpaid and overworked, might not be at their most reliable selves in a panic situation, and might have just a bit of trouble aiming a lethal weapon at a student — or ex-student. Add to that tons of comments questioning the logic of students finding themselves in multi-directional bullets in a firefight and the futility of both keeping weapons hidden and safe while having them at the ready in the case of an instantaneous emergency.

Essentially, these are arguments about whether proposed solutions work.

One legislator from Texas said that the nation was looking at the Texas bill that authorizes exactly such training and concealed weapons permits for teachers, and notes that Texas has not had a fatal mass school shooting incident since. No, but they have had a mass shooting at Ft. Hood, a military base with lots of good guys with guns, and college campus shootings.

Still, I am recognizing if not enjoying the attempt at putting emotion into language either to persuade opponents — which is unlikely — or in an attempt to whip up fervor for a public response strong enough to counter the influence of the NRA on legislators and any gun control measures that may actually advance.

We should be grateful that all parties at least want to improve background check information and coordination among states — in the Northeast, four governors have agreed to share background information — and possibly to raise the minimum age for legal purchase of weapons, all without interfering with perceived Second Amendment fealty.

There is more general criticism for the NRA, typified now by the widening campaign to boycott non-gun partnerships with general businesses who have looked to lure NRA members with special deals and discounts. So, airlines, car rental services and others are now ending their financial relationships with NRA members as a generalized expression of concern that the NRA has been flouting American values in its zeal to protect gun owners from any regulations at all.

“Consider that gun manufacturers are the only group that cannot be sued in the U.S. Let that sink in,” wrote one of the more reasoned Facebook critic.

Most of the “conversation” isn’t, of course. In place of persuasion, we have ridicule, sarcasm and derision of the other side. And again, even everyday happenings are re-invested to fit the narrative. “If Teachers Have To Carry Guns, Presidents Have to Read Books,” seemed a good example.

The desire to purposely twist events appears to explain any to-do over the CNN “Town Hall” on guns, where a CNN producer either tried to “script” a question to be posed by a student shooting victim, or merely pointed out that this particular Town Hall format was not a good one for speeches and tried to present the student with a boiled down version of his argument as a question. If you’re Breitbart, you see leftist conspiracy; if you’re MSNBC, you see a rightist conspiracy to entrap CNN.

If you’re the rest of us, this is not pertinent to the main issues, which will continue to circulate roughly in the pool of American political conversation before anything firm emerges.

Meanwhile, there are interesting arguments off to the side about the nature of mental health limitations and questions about examining, confining and locking up suspects based on their utterances or previous acts. And there are arguments about why these mass shooters all are male and depressed.

There is pitifully little discussion about eliminating sales of actual classes of semi-automated weapons.

The question, as always, is whether we can learn anything from all the gum-flapping.

#Make America Listen.


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