Immediately after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, out of control and often nonsensical debate about gun control made national headlines. After being silent for days, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre held a press conference at which he did not accept any responsibility for the role played by firearms availability and “gun culture,” a culture heavily supported by the NRA, in the mass shooting that took the lives of 20 children, 6 adults, the shooter, and the shooter’s mother. Instead, LaPierre suggested that violent video games and movies are to blame, and that everyone would be safer if there had been more guns in the schools, including armed teachers and armed guards. This is certainly a proposal that the firearms manufacturers that fund the NRA, and whose executives sit on its board, would wholeheartedly support.
The “violent movies and video games” argument is particularly disturbing, not only because it shifts the blame away from real issues, but specifically because the argument LaPierre is making has been debunked in academic settings. I would encourage Mr. LaPierre to look at the work done by University of Massachusetts Professor Michael Morgan on media violence, and the Media Education Foundation documentary Mean World Syndrome, about which I’ve interviewed Professor Morgan on my show. The film outlines the clear reality of media violence: It doesn’t make people more violent, but it does make them more afraid.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the NRA wants to make a case for more guns rather than less. The NRA is simply a lobbying group for gun manufacturers. Their objective is not gun safety or reducing shootings, but rather getting good reviews from their clients – the companies that make guns. There is only one way that this happens: With more guns being sold. It is more accurate to think of the NRA as a sort of US Chamber of Commerce for guns.
The idea that shootouts in schools where the “good” gun owners shoot “bad” gun owners are a solution is so patently absurd that it doesn’t require further discussion here. However, there have been a number of uninformed ideas about gun control circulating in recent weeks. While I absolutely support gun control, regulation, and screening, we must not be distracted by the idea that so-called “assault weapons” are the problem. Most mass shootings, but more importantly, most gun-related individual homicides, which make up the overwhelming number of gun deaths in the US, are committed with handguns that would not be affected by an assault weapons ban like the one that expired a few years ago. Senator Diane Feinstein’s upcoming gun control bill plans to include some handgun regulations, but we will have to wait and see whether they will be at all significant.
Going back to the NRA press conference, Mr. LaPierre also suggested a national mental illness database as a possible solution to firearms violence. Putting aside potential HIPPA violations, it is indefensible to argue against full firearm and ammunition purchase documentation, 100% background checks with waiting periods, and closing the gun show and private sale loophole, while simultaneously arguing that a list of all people who take anxiety medication or see a therapist is needed and would prevent gun violence. By the way, this so-called “mental illness gun check” already kind of exists, and already doesn’t work.
As the Wall Street Journal has reported, during Bill Clinton’s first term Congress did pass a law that required states report mental health records to the FBI, so they could then be used to prevent those individuals from purchasing guns. However, the Supreme Court in 1997 threw out the mandate, saying states could choose to share or not share whatever information they wanted to. In short, most states are providing almost no records to the FBI, even though they presumably do have them. Further, 19 states have received “waivers” from the Justice Department that permit certain individuals to purchase guns, even though they’re on “the list.” Lastly, most individuals who commit shootings would never even meet the requirements to make it on the list in the first place, often never interacting with the mental health or legal systems. In short, we already have a version of LaPierre’s suggestion, which the Supreme Court told states not to worry about, which states ignore, and which individuals can circumvent to obtain guns anyway.
The solution is only partly in gun control. In the long term, a total paradigm shift is necessary when it comes to American culture and society such that people’s life expectations and experiences do not come together in a way that leads them to even get the idea of committing any kind of homicide, including the mass shootings at issue here. This is a longer discussion that can’t fit into 800 words.
David Pakman, host of the internationally syndicated political talk radio and television program, "The David Pakman Show," writes a monthly column. He can be reached at www.davidpakman.com.