Commentary: The NRA, guns and 'evil fame'

The Rock Hill HeraldJanuary 13, 2013 

20070504 Gun control


Two weeks ago the subject of this column was how soon America consigned mass shootings to history’s dustbin, a factor in the gun lobby’s ability to stifle debate over sensible rules on gun ownership.

True to form, the NRA didn’t wait for the dirt to be shoveled on the caskets of the six- and seven-year-olds slaughtered at Sandy Hook Elementary School before blaming the atrocity on having too few guns in schools!

NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre demanded that Congress act immediately to place an armed security guard in every school in the country. In addition to sidestepping the question of who should foot the cost of stationing guards in every U.S. school, LaPierre took potshots at the media for following the liberal line on gun control.

He also mischaracterized perpetrators of such attacks as raving lunatics, implying that it would be a relatively straightforward task to prevent such people from acquiring weapons.

The notion that armed adults – whether police officers or teachers – would make our schools safe sounds good until you realize that both Columbine High School and Virginia Tech were protected by armed guards prior to two of the deadliest attacks at education institutions in U.S. history.

Indeed, if the culprits in most of these shootings fit commonly held views of insanity, posting an armed guard at the entrance at every school might work. A crazy person wouldn’t hesitate to engage in a shoot-out with a cop. Even if the shooter killed or disabled the guard, their gunfire might give teachers enough warning to be able to lock and barricade classrooms.

Unfortunately, the gunmen responsible for these mass shootings usually aren’t insane. Many times they are of above-average intelligence and appear to have methodically planned their mayhem. If the shooter knew that a cop was stationed in the foyer of a school, how hard would it be for him to figure out that the cafeteria was unprotected or that children could be targeted on the playground during recess?

And while it may be comforting to think that mental health experts can identify every potential mass murderer and that taxpayers are willing to pay to test everyone, the NRA is not about to support mandatory mental health screenings for gun owners. That would be tantamount to registration, which is anathema to gun-rights advocates.

Many have faulted the mass media, especially TV programs and movies that glorify violence, for inspiring mass shootings. Indeed, it’s tempting to extrapolate from gruesome video games and suggest that gamers endlessly exposed to depictions of severed limbs and exploding heads are prime candidates to become mass murderers. In truth, no one has found conclusive evidence that game players pose a greater threat to society than non-players.

Nevertheless, common sense tells us that these incidents don’t take place in a vacuum.

In recent days, news outlets have regaled us with graphic illustrations of the worst mass shootings in recent years. With 27 dead, including seven adults, the Sandy Hook slaughter ranks second behind the tragedy at Virginia Tech. One shudders to think about other disturbed individuals reading such charts and wanting to add their names to the list.

Imagining a society where such crimes could not be publicized raises constitutional questions thornier than Second Amendment limits on gun regulation. Even if the mainstream press could be muzzled, Facebook and Twitter would still alert the world about the next mass shooting even before the echo of gunfire had subsided in school corridors.

In the wake of the Newtown shootings, a headline in The New York Times stated that the gunman had lived a life of obscurity but had achieved infamy in death.

Andy Warhol promised that one day each of us would be famous for 15 minutes. So far as I know, he didn’t say anything about infamy, but the two are sides of the same coin.

One definition of infamy is a “state of extreme dishonor.” President Franklin D. Roosevelt said Dec. 7, 1941, the day Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, would forever be known as a “day of infamy.”

Another definition of infamy is “evil fame.”

Clearly, the latter definition applies here.

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