Monday, December 24, 2012

Duo of Tyranny

Seven weeks ago we voted in a new Congress and re-elected a president, but two of the most powerful and influential men in the land rule despite a majority of Americans disagreeing with their stands. Grover Norquist and Wayne LaPierre hold such sway over elected officials that they stymie any attempts to impose rational thought on issues affecting national priorities.

President Obama ran a successful campaign based on higher taxes for the wealthy. Democrats narrowed their minority position in the House of Representatives. They increased their majority in the Senate. Opinion polls repeatedly show some 60% of Republican voters believe higher taxes on the rich should be part of any negotiated settlement of our budget crisis.

Yet Republicans are so cowed by Norquist’s anti-tax pledge that they fear voting for any bill that includes any marginal tax rate increase, even if it affects just millionaires (could it be that since many GOP congressmen and senators are millionaires they are in no mood to pass anything that would up their own taxes?). 

Norquist also is a board member of the National Rifle Association, of which Lapierre is the vocal executive vice president who, one week after the Sandy Hook massacre, refused to soften the NRA’s position on any form of gun control. Again, polls show most Americans favor background checks and assault rifle bans. Instead of acknowledging the prevalence of guns contributes to mass killings, LaPierre blames our culture for breeding a climate of violence. His and the NRA’s solution is more guns in the hands of good guys will stop guns in the hands of bad guys. 

I’ve never owned a gun. Heck, I’ve never even pulled the trigger of a real gun. But am I now a candidate for NRA membership because, like LaPierre, I believe schools should be protected by armed security?

Gilda vehemently disagrees with me. She sees no benefit from introducing guns into school settings. After all, she points out, an armed guard didn’t stop the killings at Columbine. Gilda favors doing away with assault rifles and semi-automatic hand guns, And large capacity ammunition clips. So do I. Unlike LaPierre, I don’t believe solving our epidemic of violence can be achieved by arming as many people as possible. I prefer a country where semi-automatic guns are not protected by Second Amendment rights. But I’m also a realist. Until we resolve our self-inflicted crisis of too many guns and too many bullets available to too many unstable people, we need to establish at least minimal safeguards. 

Yes, it will cost lots of money to staff, train and deploy security personnel, not just at schools but also at other public facilities, such as hospitals and houses of worship. Some might think I am extending the killing zone. But evil will look for weakness, as it did at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin. 

Our culture somehow has devolved into a dark video game. I’ve never played video games, never comprehended the fascination with mock killing and dismembering. I cannot fathom the depths of any mind that would exult in the deaths of innocents, especially the young. But as the troubled mind seeks greater and greater proportionality of fame and havoc, I cannot help but envision scenarios that undermine the very humanity of our culture. We claim to be better than other countries, but no other nation not at war with itself (as in Congo, Syria or Afghanistan) inflicts so much brutality on its fellow citizens.

Our national dialogue must include recognition that mass violence will not be contained overnight. So we must protect in the near term what we cherish. From where will we get the manpower to staff security at schools, hospitals, churches, synagogues and mosques? We have, regrettably, on top of his tax relief for the wealthy, another Bush-era legacy—a sizeable supply of personnel trained in the art of war. Thousands of qualified, stable military veterans need jobs. They could be hired to protect the vulnerable.

It’s not a solution without challenges. I’m embarrassed to have to put it forward. But deterrence may work in the short term until we regain our senses and devise a sensible gun control plan as well as a workable mental health plan and a rational tax plan and stop letting two myopic men set national policy.