Tag Archives: Newtown

I Think the NRA is Missing Something with this “National Model School Shield Program” Thing

2 Apr

On December 14, 2012 I walked into the laundry mat near my house and was faced with the same gruesome news report that people all over the country, the world even, were greeted with: the deaths of 20 first graders and 6 educators at the hands of a 20-year-old man suffering from a mental disorder who then, as is the norm it seems, killed himself.  And all this after he had put a bullet in his mother’s head. It was horrific.  It was one of those days that really just makes you wonder what is wrong people that they are capable of such atrocities.  It makes you question the idea of ever having children if having them means they will to enter a world in which this sort of event happens.  It was heartbreaking and nauseating and continues to be so today, 3 1/2 months after the event itself.  It also spurred those words that I have begun to hate so much for their lack of meaning:  never again.  It’s almost like that’s the thing politicians have to say to make the public believe they are actually going to aggressively go after an issue, and the comment they can reflect back on when they try to convince themselves and the country that their completely impotent, sorry excuses for policies that in reality do absolutely nothing were worth the months of useless, partisan conversation we had to endure.  And so here we are again.

I honestly am at a loss today.  I have reflected back on Newtown and the idea that maybe we need to consider the state of our mental health infrastructure and the way in which we have been raising our boys here.  And then I talked a little bit about gun control legislation here.  And so now today I am going to do what I should have done months ago when Wayne LaPierre made a statement regarding Newtown following a week of complete and total silence from the NRA. (Silence which, by the way, he claimed was out of respect for the victims and their families but really, I would venture to make a guess, has more to do with benefiting the NRA than anything else.) For those of you who aren’t masochistic and didn’t listen to the entire press conference the day it was given, and for those of you who can’t, or won’t read the complete transcript I linked above, I will give you a series of small quotes from which you can glean the basic gist:

“How do we protect our children right now, starting today, in a way that we know works?… We care about our money, so we protect our banks with armed guards. American airports, office buildings, power plants, courthouses — even sports stadiums — are all protected by armed security…The only way to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved and invested in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun…. With all the foreign aid, with all the money in the federal budget, we can’t afford to put a police officer in every school?… I call on Congress today to act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school — and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school in January.”

Okay.  So, we all laughed and we all thought he was crazy, but in the back of our minds we were thinking, well, I was thinking anyway, what if this idea gets some traction?  What if people actually think this is reasonable?  And, surprise!  Today the New York Times published an article entitled “Under Heavy Security, N.R.A Details School Guards Plan.”  This plan is a 225-page document full of proposals to improve school security, including the suggestion by LaPierre —  who, by the way, was not present at the press conference — to have security stationed at schools.  At this conference, for “safety,” was a bomb-sniffing yellow lab and a dozen officers in both plain clothes and uniform, one of which admonished photographers to “remain stationary” until the press conference was over.  (Sounds to me like a little paranoia if I’m being completely honest.)  Is this what they want for our schools? Is this what they want for our students?  For our children?  I think that even in the effort to theoretically make our children more safe, the presence of all of this fire power and all of this assumption of danger makes for a slightly scarier, more sinister learning environment.

But let’s just say that we say, yes!  Let’s put guns in the schools!  But then we would have to ask the smart Mr. LaPierre where all that money would come from.  It’s true, the US does spend a considerable amount of money, about $50 billion annually, on foreign aid.  And guess what countries receive the lion’s share of aid.  Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt, Mexico and Columbia.  Thinking about what we have put those countries through in the last decade or so with our preemptive actions and our wars on drugs, we owe them a few billion easy.  And all the money in the federal budget? I’m pretty sure we’re actually in a situation where we have to decrease our budget by something like $1.6 trillion.  In order to do that do you know what’s getting cut?  Are we significantly going to cut our defense budget?  Are we going to raise taxes considerably on the richest Americans?  Are we going to deal with the expensive and unfair add-ons to so many bills that make their ways through congress?  I’d venture a guess and say no.  What we are going to do is cut down on social spending.  We’re going to pull money out of welfare, infrastructure, Medicare and Medicaid, the US Postal Service and, you guessed it, education.  So then what are we supposed to do?  Not buy new books, cut teacher’s salaries, get rid of free busing?  Or are we going to put it on the school district itself to decide whether and how to employ these security guards at schools?  And if we do that, what happens is that the wealthiest neighborhoods that, normally, don’t experience violence on a regular basis are going to have security guards and schools in neighborhoods in places like Chicago’s south side,* districts that lose students to shootings every single year, will likely go without.  So if we do go ahead and support this plan, which I personally think is an insultingly obvious play by the NRA to increase its own power and revenue, what we will end up with is a ridiculously classist and racist band-aid response to an issue that really should have spurred an assault weapons ban, a limit on magazine size, a discussion about mental health in this country, an understanding of how our gendered approach to, well, everything is incredibly damaging to both men and women and how our capitalist system has resulted in an incredibly individualistic culture that just exacerbates all the problems I just listed.

Or we can just take the easy way out and do absolutely nothing of any significance, like usual.  Never again my ass.

*Probably some schools in this neighborhood actually do have security given the recent history of gun violence in the area but a very brief search on the topic yielded no definitive information.  The point is that if the onus of responsibility for providing armed security lies on the schools, then many schools with less available funds will opt not to provide it.  For those that do, it necessarily means that the money has to come from somewhere else.  Schools in inner city areas, ie schools in areas with lower property values and therefore lower taxes, tend to have lots more students and much less funding than public schools like the one I went to in New Jersey, and so if they do opt for security the money that they do allocate for that purpose has a bigger impact because there was no extra money to begin with.  So access to money for, well, teaching significantly decreases.

At which point I am (not) surprised that we will continue to not ban assault weapons

21 Mar

Sometimes I am left wondering about the overall sanity of this country.

I just read an article in The New York Times about the ongoing attempts of California Senator Dianne Feinstein, who is pretty much my hero, to reinstate the ban on assault weapons that W. let expire in 2004.  Her journey, according to the article, ended on Monday when she stormed from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s office after he informed her that the ban would not be included in a gun-regulation measure that is to hit the Senate floor in April.  The conversation surrounding this ban catapulted into mainstream conversation after the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut this past December that left 20 young kids dead along with 6 staff members as well as the killer, Adam Lanza.  You can watch a rather moving report about recent information that was released concerning the mass shooting here, presented by Rachel Maddow.  Beware.  This is not happy-making.

Anyway, the point of all this is that this bill on assault weapons had basically no chance of passing.  None whatsoever.  Despite support by both President Obama and Vice President Biden.  Honestly, I just don’t understand what the big deal is.  Banning assault rifles does not mean people can’t hunt.  It does not mean people can’t protect themselves and their families.  It does not mean people can’t collect some of the other hundreds (thousands?) or kinds of available weaponry.  It simply means that people won’t be able to legally purchase a gun that would then allow them to walk into an elementary school (or a movie theater, or a mall, or a high school) and kill dozens of people in mere minutes.  I mean, to me, and maybe I am just being crazy here, that doesn’t seem like such a big thing to give up.  Like, at all.  So here are a couple of arguments (okay, maybe just the same argument) that I read a lot and hear a lot and that I think are stupid.  So I am going to talk about them.

Argument:  It’s our Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.

Answer:  Okay, so, the first thing is, and I know we have all heard this a kajillion times and so probably I am wasting my breath, but when that was initially written into the Constitution I am pretty sure that “arms” basically ended at things like muskets, and cannons, and bayonets, and the flintlock pistol (which I had never heard of but then I Googled “weapons used during the American Revolution” and there it was).  People used to fight in formation, for crying out loud.  So, back then when it was written, it made sense, given the recent history, to write a provision into the Constitution to address the legitimate concern of the people that they might have to protect themselves from their own government and also that they actually stood a chance of winning.  But now, here in 2013, even if there was a legitimate concern that we would have to protect ourselves from our own government, we would most certainly lose.  Because you know what? Even with all the assault rifles we still would not be as well trained, or as well armed, as the United States military.  In 2011, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the United States spent $711 billion, or 4.7% of GDP, on defense.  A lot of that money was spent on, you got it, weaponry.  So, honestly, if People with Unnecessary Guns were to decide that they were going to stand up to the United States government in an attempt to topple it or whatever the fuck, those People with Unnecessary Guns would not stand a snowball’s chance in hell.  They would be blown to smithereens, and a Bushmaster .223 would do nothing to save them.

Argument:  It’s our Second Amendment right to have guns!

Answer:  I know, I already said that.  I know that’s not the only argument (it can’t be, right?!) but it seems to be the only one I ever hear).  But, I have another response!  How about people’s rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?  I am pretty sure that more often than not you get none of those things after you have been shot in the head multiple times.  I just don’t understand how this argument that people have a right to guns seems to always trump the argument that people have the right to actually live.  Because, last time I checked, you do need to actually be alive to even be able to appreciate your right to have guns, am I right?  It just seems like when someone who is unbalanced, or vengeful, or whatever gets some crazy scary, fast-shooting, so many bullets gun and goes into some venue full of people and shoots them all, we hear from all these people who are all

“No!  But if someone had a gun then none of this ever would have happened!”

which is patently false because, most of the time, when people have guns in circumstances like these, they don’t use them because they are afraid of being identified as the killer, or shooting someone by accident, or maybe they are too busy protecting themselves or others using their bodies or whatever else to really think about it.  That’s why usually these things end in the killer killing himself, not being killed by a potential victim. Anyway, we also hear about how scary it is, and sad, and unnecessary.  What we don’t hear enough of is that, because people can get guns, powerful guns, with such ease and in such great quantity, other people, sometimes even children, are stripped of their right to life.  To me, life seems like the trump card.  The right to life should just win.

You want your Bushmaster?  Well, guess what?  I want my breath, and the use of my legs, and a full functioning brain.  Settle for a fucking handgun.

A Response to Newtown

17 Dec

I have really been trying to avoid writing about this because, honestly, what can I say about it that hasn’t already been said and thought about countless times over.  But after spending yet another hour in front of my computer, reading article upon article about the horrible tragedy that occurred in Connecticut this past Friday, I just can’t help myself.  Personally, I am not really sure how to deal with all the feelings I have been having over the past few days (including crying myself to sleep two nights in a row) so I figure I will work it out here.  You can either choose to go ahead and read or spare yourself…the latter would be beyond justified.

I found out about the event via a New York Times emergency update on my phone.  Pretty much nothing good ever comes from seeing that little script “T” appear on the top right hand side of my screen.  I opened it and read the headline and my immediate response was

What the fuck is wrong with people?!

I realized the carnage had happened in an elementary school.  I logically understood that many of the victims were children.  I just think my brain was literally incapable of understanding it.  My brain just rejected the information.  I ate lunch.  I drank some more coffee.  I took a shower.  I got the laundry together.  I went down to the Clean Rite to throw the pounds and pounds of dirty clothes, sheets and towels in the wash and was surrounded, literally surrounded, by televisions on different news stations – 2, 4, 5, 7 — all reporting on the events in Newtown.  My boyfriend was there and so, to avoid allowing the reality of it all to crash down on us, we chatted, joked, and divvied our laundry into three different washers.  While the clothes were washing, we ran some errands and then, while he showered, I went down to change the laundry into the dryers.  I couldn’t avoid listening to the news, the interviews with children as they left the scene, with parents who’s kids were spared, to newscasters who were literally unable to keep it together (and who can blame them?).  I got teared-up in the Clean Rite.  My eyes and my lower lip burned.  I kept it, at least right then, to a minimum of tears.  The rest of the evening, spent largely alone with my cats, was spent trying as hard as possible to avoid the news.  I knew what I would find there and I know myself.  I would spend all night, into the wee hours, scouring every news site in an effort to understand something, anything.  I did a relatively good job but still, lying in bed by myself, I couldn’t help but think about the parents who were missing children for the first night, families who were missing those who worked at the school.

I woke up the next morning and walked to work.  I wrote a message on the outside board about the need to discuss gun violence in wake of this most recent tragedy.  There were a few conversations about it during the day but I think, mostly, people just couldn’t deal.  I think they went to the bar to get away from the news and the wondering and the thoughts and the tears and I certainly wasn’t going to take that away from them.  When work ended and I arrived back home I, stupidly perhaps, turned my computer on and there was the New York Times website, my home page.  And there on the first page was an article that revealed that the shooter’s mother didn’t even work at the school.  I had been sad and confused about this event before but for some reason this made it all worse.

But why?

The result was the same.  The kids and the educators were dead.  I guess there was some part of my brain that had previously believed, taken some weird form of comfort in, the fact that maybe this guy went to kill his mother and got carried away.  That despite the incredible amount of fire power he brought with him that maybe he snapped in that moment, that people got in the way, that he got scared.  Something.  Anything.  I wanted to believe, even though I think logically I knew it wasn’t true, that it was an accident.  That he didn’t mean to kill all those kids.  To think that he killed his mother at home and then drove to an elementary school and opened fire on a group of mostly first graders just…I don’t know.  To think of walking into a school full of young people who are still more or less unaffected by horror and tragedy and to massacre them is just unfathomable.  To think that that was the point of his journey there.  The point was to go in and destroy the lives of countless people.  The point was to look at these little guys that weight 40?  50? pounds and rip their bodies apart with not 1, not 2, but up to 11 bullets.  The point was, what?   I doubt we’ll ever have an answer to that.

In the aftermath of all this I have seen a lot of people talking about gun control.  A lot of people talking about better care for the mentally ill.  A better infrastructure to identify and treat, or at least help, those who are risks to themselves and others.  I’ve seen people warn that by focusing on the mental state of this particular person risks further stigmatizing a group of people who, for the most part, are not violent.  I think these are all valid points.  I think we need to talk gun control.  I think we need to talk about not shutting mental illness up in a closet because it is too sensitive to talk about.  But I also think we need to address our culture’s ideas about masculinity and power and privilege.  I don’t think it is a coincidence that almost all of the mass shootings that have occurred recently, and in history, have been perpetrated by men.  And I don’t think it’s a coincidence that more often than not those men have been white.  I think we need to talk about how we raise our boys.  We need to talk about the way we advertize and how we define what makes a person “manly.”  We need to realize that the shifting demographics in this country not only make it increasingly difficult for any candidate to run on a ticket geared only to white men, but also represent a challenge to our carefully constructed reality.  We need to shift our norms.  We need to shift our values.  When we spend a good deal of our time – in television shows and movies, in commercials, in conversation, in classrooms – putting white men on a pedestal and then they go out in the world and their privilege is challenged and maybe their opinions don’t matter more than everyone else’s solely because they have a white penis, well, what do we expect?  As a woman, yea, society has told me that I am worth less, that I deserve less, that my body is not mine, that I am the cause of my own abuse.  But also as a woman I was taught to fight back, to answer these attacks with reason and truth, to join together with other women and allies, to not allow words and actions to define my worth.

I guess what I am saying is what if I expected everything?  What if I was born and the world was mine and, although life wasn’t easy, things were designed and created with me in mind?  How might I respond to others questioning my power?

I think our boys lack tools to deal with adversity.  I think we, as a culture, build them up so much and at the same time infuse them with an unattainable, and oftentimes violent, idea of what manhood is.  It’s not sustainable.  It’s like a child whose given everything he asks for, and even things he doesn’t, and all of a sudden hears the word “no” only rather than throwing some toys he shoots some guns.

I am certainly oversimplifying.  I will certainly think more about this in the coming days, weeks, months.  I guess the thing is that I don’t think it’s just access to guns, or lack of access to proper care, although those are certainly part of the problem.  I just really think we need to start talking about how we prepare our boys for the world.  Obviously not all of them go out shooting.  Not even most of them.  But it would be nice if none of them did and I strongly believe that an honest and open dialogue about cultural norms, power, privilege and masculinity is in order.  It might actually help more than a reevaluation of the second amendment or  better and more affordable mental health care.  We need to better prepare our boys for the changing world.  We need to teach them to respond to adversity not with anger and violence but with information.  Just a thought.