Newtown, NFP and the NRA

By Paul A. Olson

Nebraskans for Peace has long endeavored to stem local violence and violence against and among youth. In the 1990s, we worked on teaching students mediation and problem-solving. We continued that thrust into the early 2000s as we endeavored to get schools to offer mediation training to kids and lobbied the Nebraska Department of Education to encourage the same effort. We labored the longest and hardest on anti-bullying policy—first with the Nebraska Board of Education and then, in 2008, with the Legislature, when we succeeded in getting a bill. Last year, we, with others, succeeded in including an anti-bullying policy in the accreditation policies for local schools put out by the Nebraska Department of Education. We have testified consistently against the extension of concealed carry and were greeted with sublime indifference by the Unicameral. In earlier times, we endeavored to stop the authorization of military-style weapons for street carry. Our “Turn Off the Violence” committee is constantly looking for ways to create new interventions to reduce our faith in violence at home.

Except in the bullying efforts, we have largely failed.

Nebraska’s three congressional representatives and two U.S. senators (Nelson included) carry an A or A+ rating from the NRA, and have been as supine in voting for the provisions that enabled Newtown and the thousands of mass and individual gun murders in our country (32,000 per year as compared to 50 in England and Wales which have strong gun laws) as any congressional delegation. They did not change their tune at the time of the Omaha shopping mall killings, and one doubts that Newtown will change their perception of the Almighty gun.

This is ironic. They all profess to be devout Christians, but apparently their Jesus does not tell them, “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword,” or “He who lives by the gun will die by the gun.” Our representatives primarily belong to churches that honor patristic Christianity, but they apparently do not know that early Christians—for the first 300 years—refused military service and all other forms of violence (see Roland Bainton, “The Early Church and War.”) Most of all, they do not honor the history of our state whose pioneers were mostly European peasants who had no use for guns beyond hunting and who resisted military conscription and intervention. This pioneer mindset was epitomized in the statesmanship of George W. Norris and William Jennings Bryan—America’s most distinguished early critics of our culture of violence.

A recent letter to the editor (12/18/12) in the Lincoln Journal Star alleged that “Guns gave us our freedom and will keep our freedom.” But it was not guns that gave us our freedom. It was people who knew when to use guns and when to put them aside, always to use them at the behest of the larger society and with limited and publicly approved goals. If you think that guns create freedom, ask the parents of the twenty dead children what freedom guns gave them.

The NRA represents itself as a grassroots group of innocent hunters, but its legislative agenda is massively supported by those companies that have everything to gain from promoting fear that one will be naked before terror without a gun.

According to a 2011 study by the “Violence Policy Center,” the NRA has received between $14.7 million and $38.9 million from the gun industry since 2005: from Blackwater (now Xe), Arsenal, Inc.; Benelli; Beretta USA; Browning; DPMS Panther Arms; FNH USA; Glock, Inc.; H&R 1871, LLC; Marlin Firearms; Remington Arms Co., Inc.; SIGARMS, Inc.; Smith & Wesson; Springfield Armory; and Sturm, and Ruger & Co., Inc. Twelve of the NRA donors manufacture assault rifles.

Beretta gave the NRA a million dollars to work to overthrow gun control laws. In addition, the NRA and the Koch Brothers have allied to fund the “American Legislative Exchange Council,” a group that promotes ‘stand your ground’ laws, guns on campuses, immediate firearms purchases, and restrictions on local gun control laws. The NRA has also opposed treaties regulating the international guns dealers whose weapons our soldiers face almost daily on overseas killing fields.

Now the NRA claims it will help solve the problem. In the past, when massive school shootings have occurred, the NRA has first told us that it would pray for the gun victims and their relatives and later asked us to believe that the time to consider gun policy was not right because emotions were too raw. Today the organization knows that it cannot use such delaying tactics. Hence, it has made its ‘constructive’ contribution to the gun debate by urging us to post armed security guards at every school, thereby turning all schools into forts.

As Senator Diane Feinstein has observed, there was armed security at Columbine when 13 people were killed and 27 injured. The killer at Newtown shot his way into the school, and he could easily have killed any security. We are asked by the head of the NRA to believe that another wave of arming ‘good guys’ will emasculate the ‘bad guys,’ but life is not a Western movie. The killers have a variety of maladies, and they acquire access to public places through a variety of stratagems not identified by black hats and white hats. Since the gun industry funds the political functions of the NRA, its return payment to its funders is to try to create conditions, even in schools, where guns and fear are everywhere and gun sales go up. No amount of arming security can protect all public places of the kind where massacres have occurred—college campuses, street corners, movie theaters, department stores.

Much attention has gone to the question of what to do with disturbed individuals. Obviously we need better procedures to get to keep firearms out of the hands of the mad and the mixed-up. However, even the disturbed have been taught to trust in violence. All of the shooters were men, and our culture—save for that in the ‘historic peace churches’ like the Quakers and Mennonites—teaches young men that one of the things that makes them manly is a control of the tools of violence. The Swedish method of teaching young males what it is to be a man and what it is to use a gun responsibly is very different from ours, as are the Swedish media, and we should study how Sweden handles these things for its history with guns is radically different from ours.

NRA President Wayne La Pierre and many other analysts argue that violence in the media teaches a destructive faith in weapons. But in fact it is not the violence itself but the outcome—the logic—of the violence that teaches. Shakespeare is violent (consider Macbeth) but there violence creates tyranny, loss, and chaos in society, as it does in real life. On the other hand, the violence that dominates our media, starting with Owen Wister’s Virginian and growing steadily since, has given us the hero who wears the white hat and kills for good causes—they create a cleansed society (Wayne La Pierre’s ‘good guy’): the cowboy hero, the superhero, the detective or cop on the street, the spaceship commander who can shoot to kill to create the ‘Peaceable Kingdom,’ even the generals in historical films. The narrative of redemptive violence pervades our violence-centered movies, video games, TV and historical representations. Disturbed people will appear in any society, but in our country, they have iterative and easy access to the tools of war to use on our schools and public meeting places, and they are fed the fantasy that they will save themselves and the world when merely murdering.

The gun industry is presently buying our government. We are paying for it with the blood of our children. In this season of the massacre of the innocents, we should remember all of the Biblical ‘Rachels’ crying for their children due to the complaisance of our senators and representatives. Call your senator or representative to reprimand him for his NRA “A” rating. Write a letter to the editor. Call your TV station, film theater, or videogame store to protest the latest picture that valorizes redemptive violence. Visit your local gun store and ask the owner to quit selling anything but guns clearly intended for hunting. Or even stand for election yourself to start politically opposing the blood-dimmed tide that is loosed upon us. Until we change our public policies regarding gun ownership and use, we are kidding ourselves if we claim to have faith in anything but violence as a route to the good life.

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