Today the National Rifle Association broke its silence on the Sandy Hook massacre, and its strategy seems to be fighting anti-gun hysteria with pro-gun hysteria. The statement delivered by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, which is liberally sprinkled with italics and exclamation points, features passages like this:
When it comes to the most beloved, innocent and vulnerable members of the American family—our children—we as a society leave them utterly defenseless, and the monsters and predators of this world know it and exploit it. That must change now!
The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters—people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day. And does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn't planning his attack on a school he's already identified at this very moment?
How many more copycats are waiting in the wings for their moment of fame—from a national media machine that rewards them with the wall-to-wall attention and sense of identity that they crave—while provoking others to try to make their mark? A dozen more killers? A hundred? More? How can we possibly even guess how many, given our nation's refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?
Not exactly the voice of calm reason. LaPierre evidently wants people to panic, as long as they stampede in the direction he prefers. Yet the fact remains that mass shootings of any kind, let alone mass shootings at schools, are rare events, and we should be cautious about making any major policy changes in an effort to reduce an already tiny risk. I don't know what LaPierre means by "an active national database of the mentally ill," and I'm not sure he does either. But since there is no indication that Adam Lanza was ever declared mentally incompetent or committed to a mental institution, such a database could prevent people like him from buying guns (leaving aside the fact that he used his mother's weapons) only if the criteria for rejecting buyers are expanded to cover many people who pose no threat of violence (potentially including half the population, if a psychiatric diagnosis is all that's required).
LaPierre wildly shoots at several other targets, including our allegedly lenient criminal justice system, which supposedly coddles "killers, robbers, rapists and drug gang members"; "vicious, violent video games with names like Bulletstorm, Grand Theft Auto, Mortal Kombat and Splatterhouse"; and "blood-soaked slasher films like 'American Psycho' and 'Natural Born Killers'" (which were released 12 and 18 years ago, respectively). There is some sense in there too (about the "assault weapon" bogeyman and the puzzling progessive aversion to armed self-defense), but it is drowned in the flood of foam flying off LaPierre's lips. And while letting teachers or other staff members with concealed carry permits bring their guns to school seems like a better policy than advertising "gun-free zones" to armed lunatics, the National School Shield Emergency Response Program that LaPierre recommends, featuring "a protection plan for every school," a potentially smothering "blanket of safety," and congressional appropriations, including "whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school," seems utterly disproportionate given the level of risk that children (yes, including my own) actually face when they go to school.
Last night I suggested that Piers Morgan's televised faceoff with Larry Pratt "pretty accurately reflects the general tenor of the current gun control debate, with raw emotionalism and invective pitted against skepticism and an attempt at rational argument." The NRA and Wayne LaPierre seem determined to prove me wrong.