Last Friday, one week to the day after the horrible mass killing at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, the National Rifle Association (NRA) ended its self-imposed media blackout when the organization’s President, Wayne LaPierre, held a press conference to discuss the tragedy. Given that the NRA has long been the problem when it comes to U.S. gun violence, it should come as no surprise that LaPierre specifically refused to support any form of gun safety legislation. Instead, LaPierre blamed the media and gun control advocates for the epidemic of gun violence in our nation, and proposed putting armed guards in every school as the “solution” to this problem.
Many commentators expressed surprise and dismay at the NRA’s extreme stand. But they should not have been surprised, as the positions espoused by LaPierre were not only par for the course for the NRA, but also fully consistent with the dangerous black-and-white, “us vs. them” world view that is endemic to much of today’s conservative movement. It is a view that ignores gray areas, dismisses potential solutions, and inherently leads to conflict and violence. And it is a view that must be overcome if we are to achieve a more peaceful and stable society and world.
The dystopian view of our society offered by the NRA is well-defined by the following excerpt from LaPierre’s press conference:
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? And the fact is, that wouldn’t even begin to address the much larger and more lethal criminal class: Killers, robbers, rapists and drug gang members who have spread like cancer in every community in this country. Meanwhile, federal gun prosecutions have decreased by 40% — to the lowest levels in a decade.
So now, due to a declining willingness to prosecute dangerous criminals, violent crime is increasing again for the first time in 19 years! Add another hurricane, terrorist attack or some other natural or man-made disaster, and you’ve got a recipe for a national nightmare of violence and victimization.
Or, as LaPierre explained more succinctly on Meet the Press, his views on the issue of gun violence can be summed up by the claim:
“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
If the sentiment behind this statement sounds familiar, it should; it is the same one that has largely motivated the “war on terror” response to the September 11, 2001 attacks. Soon after those attacks, then President George W. Bush infamously framed the war on terror as “either you are with us or you are with the terrorists.” Other Republicans and conservatives have been even more explicit in what was behind the approach to the “war on terror,” describing it in terms of a “clash of civilizations.” While the contexts are different, the approach taken towards both gun violence and terrorism by the conservative movement is largely the same – the problem is bad violent people and the solution is stopping such people with violence of our own.
Now, there is a kernel of truth in the black-and-white view. It cannot be disputed that there are bad and violent people in the world and that sometimes either police or military force are necessary to prevent such people from causing serious harm. But that view also far too frequently blinds people to the the nuances that characterize many situations and the existence of numerous other potential solutions that can minimize or even entirely avoid violence and bloodshed. In fact, with regards to both gun violence and the”war on terror,” experience shows that the black-and-white world view taken by many conservatives has been an utter disaster.
In the realm of foreign policy and national security, this black-and-white world view resulted in an unnecessary war in Iraq, launched on false pretenses, that led to the death of thousands of American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, the wasting of nearly $1 trillion, and the frittering away of our international leadership role. And by portraying the world as filled with bad guys who must be stopped at all cost, our society has accepted the dismantling of civil liberties here at home (that, unfortunately, has largely continued under President Obama), under the theory that suspects in a diffuse “war on terror” are not entitled to basic protections of the Bill of Rights.
The black-and-white world view as espoused by LaPierre and the NRA has been similarly disastrous when it comes to the topic of guns, as it has made our nation unable to act in the face of an epidemic of gun violence. Even as guns claim more than 11,000 lives every year and mass killings such as the one at Sandy Hook occur regularly, we have so brought into the false notion of needing guns to be able to protect ourselves from violent perpetrators that we have been unable to take common sense steps such as reinstating the assault weapon ban, fixing the gun checks system, closing the gun show loophole, banning ammunition clips that hold more than 10 rounds, making it easier for police to trace guns that are used in a crime, and revoking the licenses of corrupt gun dealers.
It is right for LaPierre’s belligerent performance at last week’s press conference to be pilloried as offensive and out-of-touch. But let’s also keep in mind that LaPierre’s speech offered a look into the mindset of the wider conservative movement that is trapped in a bubble of black-and-white, us vs. them thinking. Bursting that bubble, and bringing a dose of commonsense focused on evaluating a full range of causes and solutions to, not only gun violence but a wide range of domestic and international issues, is critical to ensuring that we do not continue to repeat the mistakes of the past and, instead, move forward toward a less violent society.