When I was growing up in the Cold War era, teachers instructed their pupils in the fine art of ducking under the desk as a shield against a strike from an atom bomb. That was a futile exercise, of course: A desktop provides no protection from the powerful destructive capacity of a nuclear weapon.
But it allowed teachers and their charges to pretend to have a defense against a frightening communist enemy whose might nearly equaled our own. It created a psychological barrier against helplessness.
These days, teachers train to protect their students from armed madmen who shoot up schools. They are taught to recognize not just the sound of gunfire in the hallway but also to hear the bone-chilling thump of an empty clip hitting the floor. They learn to hide their students; they memorize escape routes; they practice throwing ordinary classroom tools, like staplers, at an armed assailant.
As schools search for solutions, a manufacturer’s spokesman said sales of a product called the “Bodyguard Blanket,” a bulletproof covering that might offer a bit of protection from a school shooter, have been surprisingly strong. Why wouldn’t it sell quickly? Since the December 2012 Newtown massacre, there has been, on average, a similar incident every five weeks, according to CNN.
However, there’s a huge difference between the dangerous enemy we confronted in my youth and the current menace: Average citizens could defeat the lunacy now threatening our children. We are not helpless. Instead, for reasons that I simply cannot fathom, we are paralyzed by a crazed gun lobby.
It’s difficult to adequately describe our sense of defeatism in the face of the firearms fanatics. We don’t fight back when they insist on laws allowing guns in schools, in bars, in churches. We throw up our hands when they resist background checks. We shrug when another child is gunned down at school.
Oh, polls show our support for common-sense measures that would curb the death rate. After Newtown — when 20 small children and six adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School — 91 percent of Americans supported background checks for firearms purchases at gun shows and private sales. Yet the Senate could not manage to pass a bill that closed the “gun show loophole.”
It’s unlikely that any of the senators who voted against the measure will be called to account in the only way that matters — with defeat. While 41 Republicans (and five Democrats) voted against the bill, the GOP is expected to gain seats in November’s elections. What kind of message does that send to the gun fanatics?
Meanwhile, the gun lobby’s favorite arguments for its positions have been, well, gunned down. Gun advocates claim that widespread firearms ownership by responsible law-abiding citizens would help to stop the carnage. They insist that a would-be school shooter, for example, would be killed before he could hurt anyone if only teachers were armed.
Experience shows it rarely works that way. Earlier this month, anti-government extremists, husband-and-wife team Jerad and Amanda Miller, killed two police officers in Las Vegas, ambushing the officers as they ate lunch. The couple then went to a nearby Walmart, where they encountered an armed citizen, Joseph Wilcox, who spotted Jerad and tried to stop him. Wilcox, too, was shot dead.
Facts, however, don’t faze the National Rifle Association and its allies, who have long since descended into a lunacy that rivals parody. Consider this: Recently, gun fetishists in Texas have begun demonstrating their support for “open carry” laws by carrying their heavy-duty weapons into restaurants. They’ve posted pictures of themselves with their assault-style weapons — civilian versions of rifles such as the AK-47 — strapped to their backs as stunned diners look on.
The NRA posted an opinion piece on its website discouraging those antics: “It makes folks who might normally be perfectly open-minded about firearms feel uncomfortable and question the motives of pro-gun advocates,” the writer said. Guess what? Within a few days, a backlash ensued from the gun cult, and the NRA disowned the commentary.
This is Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole madness. What does it say about the rest of us that we allow it to rule?
(Cynthia Tucker, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a visiting professor at the University of Georgia. She can be reached at [email protected])
AFP Photo/Karen Bleier