Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Gun Violence: Trump's Non-Solutions and Some Real Solutions

by Neil H. Buchanan

In the uncharacteristically extended political aftermath of the February 14 school killings in Florida, we have seen a surprisingly wide range of proposed solutions and an even more surprisingly naked display of Republican lying and cowardice.  Although I continue to suspect that nothing meaningful will ultimately be done, it is impossible not to perceive a distinct ray of hope that has not been visible in the five years since Sandy Hook.

Moreover, even if no laws are changed, the revelation of Republicans' stark dishonesty might itself be helpful in leading to better results in the future.

On guns, as on so many things, Donald Trump is not a man who (as many pundits would have it) pulled off a hostile takeover of the Republican Party.  It has become ever more obvious that he is what movement conservatives have always been, and his rise has simply allowed the Republicans to boot out the few remaining voices of quasi-sanity in favor of those who embrace the worst kind of ruthlessness in both methods and policies.

The raging paranoia of the gun lobby's spokespeople makes it clear that guns are only a small part of their concern.  It is about "socialism," whatever they might mean by that.  They also say, weirdly, that it is about people who will not allow kids to be spanked.  As Jennifer Rubin archly commented after Wayne LaPierre's speech at a conservative conference this week: "If someone were mumbling like that at a bar, the bartender would be obligated to cut off his drinks."

LaPierre claims that he is not talking about armed rebellion, but he is sure that Democrats want to invade conservatives' homes and take away their deadly weapons.  Either his followers truly are holding their guns for the purpose of fighting the government, or they believe that liberals want them to die at the hands of home invaders.  Which dystopian fantasy is more disturbing?

But for the rest of us, the debate now truly is about guns not as a proxy for white-supremacist grievance but as a question of public safety.  Trump and the Republicans have offered some ideas on that subject, and they are all nutty.

I wrote last week about the idea of putting ex-military personnel in schools as guards.  (One version of that proposal would have such guards serving as volunteers, which adds to the sense that this is all detached from reality.)  Although it is in some ways grotesque to talk about these suggestions as if they deserve to be analyzed seriously, I thought it was important to make the practical point that this would be ridiculously expensive.  (The "colossally stupid" idea of arming teachers would be even more prohibitively costly, notwithstanding Trump's claim that it would be "very inexpensive.")

Why would it be so costly?  Because it is not possible to simply say to any veteran who wants to sign up: "Hey, it's great that you know how to use guns, and you've served in a war zone.  Now go guard those kids over there, OK?"  My anonymous source, a highly decorated veteran with years of experience as a military police officer whom I called Mr. Z, explained that there are just too many ways in which that could go badly.  At the very least, we would need "extreme vetting" to weed out people with PTSD and other issues, and we would then have to train the people we do hire how to handle themselves around the hormonal and impulsive human beings known as children.

After I wrote that column, an op-ed appeared in The New York Times in which a war hero who now teaches at West Virginia University announced that he would quit his job if that state's Republican-dominated legislature goes through with plans to prohibit schools and colleges from designating themselves as gun-free zones.  Why would he resign?  The Marine combat veteran put it simply: "I will not work in an environment where professors and students pack heat."

He also offered some information that enhances the point that I made about how expensive this all would be, describing in detail the intense training that he received while working only with an unloaded gun and the further training and precautions taken when he was given live ammunition.  This is the kind of training that needs to be constantly reinforced and updated, because human beings lose their edge if they fall out of practice.  Think about athletes who try to return from even short retirements.

And it is not the shooting skills but the need to think clearly under pressure that matters the most, and that training needs to be constantly sustained.  At great expense.

But perhaps Donald Trump has actually pointed the way to a solution.  Trump, with typically shameless bravado, claimed that he would have rushed into the high school in Parkland to save the kids.  This lie was offered as a matter of condemning the officers who are now being blamed (perhaps unfairly) for not intervening as we wish they had, and Trump upped the ante by saying that "I really believe I’d run in there even if I didn’t have a weapon."

Stop laughing.  Ben Carson, who is now (inexplicably) the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, responded to one of the countless previous mass shootings in the United States during his somnolent attempt to win the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.   His solution?  He wanted to "plant in people's minds" the suggestion that unarmed people should rush the shooter.

As Trump did this week, Carson offered himself as a hypothetical leader and hero.  He said that he "would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, 'Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me but he can’t get us all.'"  Shooters with high-capacity magazines and assault weapons that have been turned into automatic weapons might beg to differ.

But we do now have Trump and one of his current compatriots pointing the way toward a response.  We do not need people to have guns, because even unarmed people are going to win against a shooter.  That is great news!  We do not even need to have armed policemen anymore, because people will be do-it-yourself superheroes.

Consider also the Republican talking point that potential shooters will respond rationally to the idea that they will die if they ever attack anyone (ignoring the idea that nearly every one of these shooters either dies during the event or survives but says that he expected to die).

Trump and others have repeatedly claimed that we need to let it be known that schools are armed fortresses.  As he put it: "We need to let people know, 'You come into our schools, you're gonna be dead, and it's gonna be fast."  (Presumably, "people" in that sentence does not include the schoolkids or their teachers.)  But if the fear of death and defeat is enough, then all we need is enough people with Trump's (and Carson's) willingness to run unarmed toward danger, and that will solve the problem.

I suppose that is enough sarcasm for the time being.  The point is that Trump and the Republicans are trafficking in non-solutions that are transparently designed to distract from real solutions.  What would real solutions look like?  I have some of my own ideas, but I will offer here some further thoughts from Mr. Z, the former military police officer and security expert:
"In my Utopian world to make a dent in this crisis of unnecessary slaughter, I would consider the following:

"1. Ban the gun lobby, in any form, from contributing to any candidate's campaign. They wield too much influence over politicians who should be representing us.
2. All guns should be required to be registered and licensed, with an annual renewal--just like I have to do with with my car and dog.
3. Gun owners would have to carry liability insurance for every gun they own. Let the free market and the insurance companies determine the true risk of gun ownership.
4. To purchase ammo for a weapon, proof of license and liability insurance would be required and shown upon purchase.  (I have to show my license to purchase cold medicine...)
5. Heavily tax the purchase of ammo and ammo-making components. This tax would go toward gun safety and education classes.
6. Require gun safety and education classes, paid through above.
7. Enhance background checks for gun purchases to include private sales.
8. Ban semi-automatic weapons and component modification kits that allow for weapons to fire as such.
9. Limit weapon magazines to 10 rounds,  7 rounds would be ideal."
Because Mr. Z is not a lawyer, his suggestions will strike many people who read this column as unrealistic.  In fact, all of his suggestions are unrealistic as long as the Republicans are in league with the gun lobby and gun manufacturers -- and as long as those Republicans are in the majority in Congress and the statehouses.

The supposedly big, bold move that we have seen recently is that some Republicans are willing to talk about increasing the age of legal purchases of assault weapons from 18 to 21 years of age.  Whether or not that particularly timid idea would survive the current Supreme Court's review, the point here is not to say what is currently politically possible but what could become possible.

The Republicans are currently failing with their usual playbook -- denounce the "politicization" of a shooting, offer thoughts and prayers, propose even more violent pseudo-solutions.  That failure tells us that something might change.

If movement is possible, every solution should be on the table.  But if Trump decides to do nothing, as he almost certainly will, then we should brace ourselves for further atrocities.