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Holly Swanson: NRA Misses the Mark on Violence Prevention

by on January 02, 2013 6:00 AM

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

We’ve heard that sound bite several times since it was first delivered by the National Rifle Association’s vice president Wayne LaPierre in the group’s response to the recent shooting in Newtown, Conn.

But, with all due respect Mr. LaPierre, that’s not good enough.

Speaking on behalf of the NRA, LaPierre outlined the group’s recommendations to put a stop to school shootings. The main initiative it suggested is to put armed guards in each of our nation’s schools. Unfortunately, there are many reasons why this isn’t going to work.

For starters, most schools have multiple entrances and access points. Think about your own elementary school. Mine had three main entrances plus a side door. To fully protect that building, at least two guards would need to actively patrol the school’s perimeter. There are close to 99,000 public schools in the country, not including private schools or charter schools. Providing each of them with one or two guards would be financially crippling at a time when education spending is being cut. Some school districts are no longer able to provide art and music programs due to budget deficits, but the NRA would like to further stretch local taxes to provide security. LaPierre suggested in his remarks that the NRA could help pay for the cost but did not provide any solid figures on how this would work.

The other problem is that armed security has been ineffective at stopping past massacres. Columbine High School had an armed deputy on its campus the morning of the mass shooting. The deputy fired at one of the shooters but failed to stop him. Another officer who arrived within minutes shot at the same gunman, also to no avail. Though there are more guns being carried by law-abiding citizens than in the past, there is little evidence that any mass shooting has been prevented by a good guy with a gun.

If it would really make a difference, I’d give every dollar I have to put an officer at my son’s school. But the good guys can only shoot back. A police officer standing at a school entrance isn’t able to identify a would-be shooter until the first shots are fired. We need to find a way to prevent the bad guys from shooting in the first place. When an armed guard is shooting back at the bad guy, it’s already too late to stop the violence. It may be lessened, but not stopped.

The NRA makes it clear that, in its opinion, guns are not to blame for these recent tragedies. In addition to suggesting that the way to prevent school shootings is arming our schools, it also pointed the finger at video games, movie violence, and the media. But it’s not the video games, it’s a person’s reaction to the video games that should be a red flag.

Incredibly, it would also like to create a national database of the mentally ill, which sounds somewhat Orwellian and would generate valid concerns about civil liberties and privacy.

Most people I’ve talked to about this, both gun owners and non-gun owners alike, are able to see the middle ground, something that the NRA seems unable to do. It’s not enough to limit gun sales, but it’s also not enough to blame mental illness. While I think it’s safe to assume that all mass shooters suffer from some form of mental illness, very few people diagnosed with a mental illness become murderers. The same can be said for gun owners — the vast majority are responsible citizens who should be allowed to purchase and keep firearms.

The NRA is large, wealthy, and powerful. But with this privilege comes responsibility. The NRA would be better suited to finding ways to prevent guns from getting into the hands of would-be shooters, not reacting once they already have the guns.

(Note: after my last column, I received an email from a member of the military with his thoughts on gun control. His email was accidentally deleted before I could respond, but I invite him to contact me again.)

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Holly Swanson is a State College-based freelance writer. She is on Twitter @statecollegemom and can be reached via email at [email protected]
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