In ten days since the mass murder in Connecticut, the battles lines being drawn in the debate over gun control are becoming clearer. Beyond the cries and disgust over the killing of first graders and teachers, we heard the ‘banshee’ calls for a ban on assault weapons. Finally, on Friday we heard from Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
To the surprise of few, LaPierre called on Congress to enact legislation that would place armed police officers in every one of the nations 90,000 schools. In speaking for the 4 million dues paying NRA members across the nation, his line in the sand will most probably be restated by so many lockstep, GOP members of Congress, who represent over 150 million Americans.
LaPierre blamed the violence depicted on film, in music videos and video games and focused on ‘a much more lethal criminal class-killers, robbers, rapist and gang members’ as part of the great undoing of a safety that Americans believe used to exist in this nation. In deflecting criticism away from the NRA and gun owners’ right to self defense, he attacked the mass of media who air violent programs ‘like propaganda loops on Splatterdays’.
In rereading LaPierre’s statement over and again, I find myself strangely attached to some of it’s meaning. While I disagree in every way with his reactionary notion of greater arms in the hands of police and civilians, still I am thankful he exposed a very real fear that runs as deep in our ethos as our hopeful expectations as a free society. It runs deep in the town and the city too.
In its essence, Wayne LaPierre expressed a form of surrender I see everyday in Baltimore, the 7th most dangerous city in America. Freeing all segments of society from that surrender to fear, that obtuse reaction to grab for the gun, will require much more than simply the assault weapons ban this Congress should immediately vote into law.
In Baltimore, 83 percent of the 214 murders so far in 2012 were committed with firearms. Of the dead, 66 percent were under the age of 35, with over 90 percent of those dead by gunfire, including children. Most of those who commit murder in Baltimore will, if charged, be largely of the same age and socioeconomic demographic as those they murdered. When LaPierre talks about ‘gang members’ being ‘lethal’, he is talking about cities like Baltimore.
With the rash of shootings along the Greenmount Avenue corridor in November that left two teenagers dead, two others paralyzed and still more in hospitals, we can see where another segment of society has also taken to arms in fear. We can see how, because the streets of Baltimore are still ruled by drug gangs, young men carry weapons in defense against other young men who would kill. Like so many advertisements at gun shows and on gun websites, we in Baltimore live a Wild West reality that is more lethal than any film or video game.
Where the NRA, in refusing to hold itself to account for legally owned guns used by a supposed lunatic in the Connecticut massacre, we in Baltimore still ignore so many of the warning signs, such as addicted, absentee parents who have the greatest effect on a young man who will eventually become a teenage killer. The lunatic, often using either shotgun or assault rifle kills in clumps at theaters, stores and schools. In Baltimore, most killings occur one or two at a time with semi automatic pistols, often legally purchased then used on our streets.
While Mr. Lapierre defended NRA members rights to self defense as paramount, his point misses the mark when it comes to whom such violence is most inflicted. Of the more than 10,000 deaths by firearm that occur annually in the U.S., most do not occur in places like Aurora, Colorado, Oak Creek, Wisconsin or Newtown, Connecticut. They occur in west Baltimore, many parts of Memphis and beyond downtown Detroit.
Murder rates in these urban centers should provide proof that greater armed police presence does little to hinder the killing actions of the few. Offering private citizens the right to arm themselves will only create more situations like the Bernard Goetz incident, that occurred on a subway train in New York City in December of 1984.
At the same time, posting armed police to such remote and relatively safe communities like Newtown, where crime is rare and the attack on Sandy Hook Elementary in effect so random, is a waste of resources and applied sensibilities. As urban gun violence and mass shootings are different parts of the same equation, reducing the numbers of each requires accounting for current practices.
Baltimore Love is rapper 50 Cents’ description of the addicts insidious love for heroin. NRA Love could equally describe many gun owners love for their weapons. Both have gone Balkan. Like the heroin addict, the NRA’s is a love that is blind to the consequences that too often go along with such unhealthy addictions. That the killer in Connecticut used guns owned by his mother is singular proof of this. Still the NRA, like too many leaders in Baltimore, are unwilling to resolve to get both guns and heroin off our streets.
Many NRA members and Baltimoreans feel that some laws are weak and others not properly enforced. Each has an overt mistrust of both police and civil authority, in turn surrendering that trust to supposed surety of the gun. While one group feels the fear more indirectly, the other experiences it with each child who walks out their door on the way to school. For ghettoland and the heartland, for white and for nonwhite and the greater good, this mindset must change.
The options are clear. Should we further arm ourselves in the hope that mutual weaponry is seen as a deterrent to both mass murder and the more prevalent urban gun violence? Or, should we ban assault rifles and severely curtail the ease with which so many Americans, the lawful and the lawless, can purchase any type of firearm?
Either way, we cannot allow a continued disengagement of various segments of our nation and expect a safer society. The words and feelings of Wayne Lapierre has exposed how low we’ve sunk in accepting the violence of gangs and mass murderers without really addressing the differing reasons that each continues to occur.
His and the NRA’s approach, to lump both massacres and urban violence as one, is a simplistic attempt to deflect attention from the role his organization can play in our nation. Equally, civilian authorities in cities such as Baltimore would do well to stop accepting the bad behavior of the few to control the lives of the many.
Civilian leaders would do well to tackle drug addiction with actions more than words to bring down the numbers of irresponsible parents. They should also stop expecting police departments to be the only response to gun violence. And they should have learned by now that few investors will bring jobs to a city like Baltimore without the city first laying down the law so that all may rise together.
LaPierre’s response is a feeble ruse to release he and his fellow NRA members from any mutual responsibility we must all undertake for our mutual security. I stand on the side that finds so much of LaPierre’s rhetoric to be riddled with excuses and finger pointing without saying he is just plain scared. Even so, the reader is reminded that we all live in glass houses in this free republic.
In 2011, before the President spoke in Arizona in the wake of the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords that left 18 others shot with six dead, the music playing in the hall was Aaron Copeland’s ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’. Wayne LaPierre and the NRA’s nihilistic surrender to fear speaks in opposite to Copeland’s hopefulness and not only for the heartland. Sadly, he speaks also to the poor, the nonwhite and the still fearful in cities like Baltimore.
Robert Emmet Mara has been in Baltimore since 2006. A native New Yorker, Robert came to Baltimore to do three things: work with kids, renovate houses and write a second book of fiction. Since his arrival, he has managed to do all three and more.
He has sought better oversight for his still blighted Harwood neighborhood from the city and has been asked to speak to various community association leaders on the subject of city agency relations.