Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Saturday

December 29, 2012

Debate predictably turns to gun rights

A lot of people were wondering what the National Rifle Association would have to say about the Newtown, Conn., massacre. And the NRA wanted it that way.

Maintaining official silence for a week after a shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School killed 26 people including 20 students, the gun rights organization promised a plan that would seriously address this sort of violence.

As it turned out, the answer, according to the NRA, is to post more armed guards at every school in America. The cost, by the way, has been estimated at upward of $2 billion a year.

Not surprisingly, NRA leaders flatly rejected any suggestion the Newtown incident warrants tightening gun laws. Instead, the organization's executive vice president, Wayne LaPierre, pegged much of the blame on American culture, including a bleeding-heart news media that goes overboard with coverage of such tragedies, entertainment outlets that produce violent video games and movies that encourage bloody rampages.

So I guess I'm doubly to blame for what happened in Newtown. Not only am I a journalist, I'm someone who has watched more than his share of violent movies.

Funny thing, though. Despite my film-watching habits, I have never — ever — had the slightest desire to shoot up an elementary school or any other venue for that matter. Is there something wrong with me?

Actually, the problem here is that LaPierre is another one of those gasbags more interested in protecting his turf than addressing the problem. Watching a violent movie does not prompt someone to kill. That line of logic is about as silly as saying someone who owns a gun is a monster in the making.

LaPierre also declared that America needs to come up with a national database of mentally ill individuals, and implied that more of them need to be put away for the safety of those not so categorized.

Then he went on to talk a little more about the importance of freedom — at least, the freedom of gun owners. Freedom for the mentally ill is another matter entirely.

Maybe we can't blame LaPierre for his statements. After all, he's doing what he's paid to do, just as the leaders of gun control groups are doing.

Meanwhile, those of us who live in the real world are left wondering what happens from here.

So far, the trend is predictable. Along with the assorted political finger pointing and rationalization, school districts are responding the only way they know how — by beefing up security.

Maybe this helps calm nervous students and parents. But you have to wonder how this can be a deterrent to folks like the Newtown shooter, who apparently intended to die in his assault.

Besides, what happens if school security is indeed so tight that it thwarts such attacks? Do the emotionally unbalanced suddenly get better? Or do they find other unprotected targets for their final acts of mayhem?

What is the solution? Sadly, the situation is far more complex and nuanced than anything being discussed. And while I don't claim to have the complete answer, much of it involves helping the mentally ill and their families with their problems.

Unfortunately, it seems to be quicker and easier to gradually turn America into an odd combination of armed camp and massive airport screening system. The trend is one of increased security, despite its cost and dubious effectiveness.

Mitchel Olszak is a columnist for the New Castle (Pa.) News.

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