Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Returning to normal times

Liturgically it's still Christmas. The calendar says it's December 26th. My heart cannot listen to Christmas carols anymore. Therefore, Christmas is over and we can return to normal life.

Though the news is a bit stale, I feel compelled to comment on the National Rifle Association's press conference from last week, the one in which they mentioned the idea of thwarting acts of terror in schools with armed guards.

What an awful idea. It would make schools feel like police states rather than safe harbors for adolescents and children. It would increase the chances of an accidental firearms discharge. It would do little to thwart an armed-to-the-teeth intruder set on doing massive harm. And, economically, it makes almost no sense. Schools have hard enough time fighting for funds as it is. Taxpayers aren't willing to support the salary and training necessary for well-trained armed security at our schools.

Stepping away from my reactions as a teacher, I can't help but think the NRA squandered a chance to advance 2nd Amendment freedoms. There are 300 million firearms in the country, nearly one for every citizen. We stand a better chance making tragedies like last Friday's less common if we elevate the expectations and standards for gun ownership. The operation of a firearm requires sophisticated training: not just in the use of the weapon but in understanding when it should be used. Why can't the NRA back some sort of extensive training for the purpose of gun ownership licensure? Shouldn't the standards for owning and operating a firearm be commensurate with the level of training we expect from truck drivers or heavy equipment operators or airline pilots? Wouldn't professionalizing firearm ownership lend credibility to those who want to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights.

And wouldn't such a system of licensing make the NRA look like legitimate problem solvers rather than zealous adherents to a gun-rights orthodoxy.

Of course licensing isn't something anyone could afford in terms of time or money. So be it.

The NRA's reaction is ordinary in the context of our political times, however. Politicians of all stripes seem to adhere to orthodoxies that trump any pragmatic consideration of a middle ground on important debates. Ross Douthat commented on this sad, dysfunctional trend last week in The New York Times. Ways to minimize tragedies, either spectacularly awful ones like those in Connecticut or suffocatingly boring ones like managing our nation's resources, will elude us as long as the politicians we elect adhere to polarizing fundamentals.  

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