In the wake of Aurora’s theater slaughter the crime tape had not even come down when folks on the Pro-Gun side of the conversation about gun violence started filling the fora of the Internet with claims that “if only one person in that theater had been armed this would not have happened”…It was not a new offering, but with the size of the headlines and the spotlight on the gun enthusiast community, it was louder. We don’t know if anyone in the theater was armed…and maybe chose to not draw or didn’t have a clear shot in the panic…but the drumbeat continues…”If only…”
One further point on “if only one person had a gun, this would not have happened.” In November 2009, in a suburb of Seattle four Lakewood Police officers were shot and killed as they began their shift. They had guns, they were trained, they were on duty…they were dead.
Fast forward five months and, before the first media special that capitalized on Sandy Hook Elementary School’s massacre the same voices were expounding on the same solution…”If only a teacher had been armed this senseless tragedy would have been avoided.” But this time the solution had been amp’ed up, this time the solution was to have ALL teachers arm themselves. A Maginot Line of teachers, stretching across 100,000 public schools and 30,000 private schools to become the first and last line of defense against danger. Four Million or so teachers protecting 76 Million students.
At no point as this solution is being marketed do the folks who are selling it provide the details, the functional tasks necessary to make that happen. Liability insurance, on-going training and certification, proper stowage of firearms while in the school to protect against theft and prying little hands, and most important a re-prioritization of teacher duties. Instead of first protecting the children by getting them out of Harm’s Way, the first task would be to retrieve their weapon and maybe then look to get the children out of the line of fire. It might work flawlessly…it might fail completely.
Back in the late 1940s the United States and the Soviet Union began an arms race to both intimidate the opposition and to protect their own borders. Every time one side raised the ante…the other side matched that bet and raised. The forty-five year policy became known as Mutual Assured Destruction [MAD]. You kill us, we kill you back. Nobody wins.
While the doctrine did work as planned – we had zero nuclear exchanges throughout the history of the Cold War it came at a cost…constantly escalating weapons technology and growing numbers of weapons. And along with that came an increased chance for error.
And that brings us back to the present and the raised ante of weapons being used against schools. Extremely efficient killing machines allow those who want to kill to do so quickly, with extreme power and, because the newest generation of high powered weapons can accommodate magazines of 30-100 rounds before reloading, the death tolls can escalate quickly. As people across the country find that their schools, theaters, malls, cafes, and hospitals are not safe they demand a solution. Arming teachers, citizens, mall employees is proposed. But armed with what? Many gun enthusiasts would not go into a gun battle against an assault rifle with a pistol any more than they would “take a knife to a gunfight.” So that brings us to HOW to arm the Maginot Line of teachers. Easily concealed revolvers? High capacity pistols? Equal AR-15 semi automatic assault rifles? Mutual Assured Destruction. As an perceived attacker’s weapon changes…should the teachers and clerks and part time theater employees escalate?
An alternative solution is one that builds a cadre of guards and metal detectors to envelop our schools, shops, entertainment complexes. As we saw at Sandy Hook, where the doors were locked and security in place, a gunman with intent can blow through doors and begin his slaughter before guards or police or even teachers can be called to defend…two minutes is a long time to shoot, not a long time to react, unless the guard happens to be at the right place at the right time.
And there is the cost. For the 100,000 public schools, with one guard that is paid $30,000 the cost would be $3,000,000,000. And those same 100,000 schools would have to buy $4,000 metal detectors…for each door. $1,200,000,000 for schools with just three doors. And right now teachers have to buy their on teaching aids because school districts can’t raise taxes to fund schools properly. So add $3Billion per year for a guard and $1.2Billion for metal detectors to the already strapped budgets.
If only there were other solutions besides making teachers and civilians the last line of defense against those who want to harm their charges, their clients, their patrons. Well, there are…but they require changes in how we think about guns in the 21st Century while having our decisions constrained by those who firmly grip an 18th Century philosophy.
Mutual Assured Destruction. Currently the main argument for keeping semi automatic assault rifles available to the general public is 1) because Constitution, 2) protecting the home against marauding hordes, 3) to stand against a “tyrannical government.” And tyrannical government is loosely defined as “any government different than my personal political views.” It is possible that there is a fourth, 4) defense from zombies – but that is still up in the air.
To the reality of Mutual Assured Destruction, every 30 round magazine for semi automatic assault rifles [or as the National Shooting Sports Foundation lobbyist like to call them “sporting rifles”] across the nation sold out in the three days since Sandy Hook.
In case you are keeping score of this “sport”, this year the score is 48 killed/82 wounded in just six major attacks and ZERO maundering hordes, tyrannical governments or zombies stopped.
About the element of mental health in this escalating violence. Whenever the shooter is white, and even better – affluent the discussion always moves to addressing mental health care in this country. If the shooter is black, Hispanic or Middle Eastern, we NEVER hear the concept of mental health brought up. Yes, mental health care needs to be addressed as one element of solving this extremely complicated puzzle. But it needs to be addressed for everyone…and that brings us to costs. We have been systematically cutting mental healthcare budgets for years. We have to decide just how important they are.
As we wade through this myriad of options to define solutions for mass shootings, let’s see if we can’t avoid the Destruction part of MAD. We have to get this right, for everyone, not just the fringe elements of the conversation.