Some of my European friends are amazed that our President could even suggest that our teachers should be locked and loaded in the classroom. What's next they say, churches with ministers carrying concealed while they preach non-violence? I tried to explain to one particular friend that America ain't what it used to be and that violent behavior has spread to all corners of our society and that we must protect ourselves from as much of it as possible...and that includes arming those who need to protect the most vulnerable among us.
That argument really didn't work with her, a hard-core opponent of all firearms. She told me, "That's what the police are for." I explained that I lived in the mountains and that a call to the police about a home break-in would get them here within maybe 15 minutes. By that time it would be too late. We would either be robbed or killed if the thief was on hard drugs or just didn't give a damn about human life. At that she said, "Surely there can't be that many of that type of thief around!" I began to cite some crime and murder statistics and she countered with, "What about all those people who are killed by firearms every year in your country?"
To that I said, "There are about 34,000 deaths by gun in the U.S. every year, and while that is tragic, over 20,000 of them are suicides; around 600 are accidents and that leaves about 13,000 that are murders for a country of 300 million." I agreed that we have way too many deaths by gun and that the latest mass shooting in Florida is a stark reminder that something must be done.
My friend is a sensible woman but she is not versed in the 'gun culture' in America. Like a typical European (and many liberals here), she believes that guns kill people instead of people killing people. I told her that the incidence of violent crime in the USA is lower than her country and the average of 15 of the world's industrialized countries by about 1percent. It's just that other countries' citizens use different weapons than guns. We cannot blame murders on the weapons, but it is high time we do something about the crazy people that commit them. She told me that her country had mental health screenings and treatment centers for the truly disturbed and early education about conflict resolution and that is why (along with a prohibition of handguns and limits on rifles for hunters or target shooters) there are so few murders by gun.
I had to agree that that combination seemed pretty effective in weeding out the potential killers in the community but told her that there will always be an 'outlier' like the Norwegian mass murderer of 77 people, Anders Breivik. In July of 2011, he packed some explosives in a van and parked it outside the Norwegian Parliament building. He then lit a fuse and killed eight people. Afterwards, he traveled to a popular Norwegian summer youth camp and killed 69 more people, mostly teenagers. "That was an exceptional case. Your recent shooting in Florida was 'normal' for your country. Anybody can buy an assault weapon and walk into a school and kill people," she opined.
A long discussion about background checks, weapon types (I corrected her on the 'assault weapon' statement; she now knows they're semi-automatic weapons), mental health screening and the vulnerability of schools followed. "Do you think that teachers should be armed?" she said. I told her I was of two minds on that issue. While school districts in the U.S. have the right to do so, I am not sure that weaponizing 20 percent of the teachers as the President recently suggested was the answer. I am in favor of armed security personnel at schools and perhaps the occasional teacher who wants to carry a firearm and who has been vetted, cleared and trained in gun safety and defensive tactics.
"Finally, I said, our teachers have enough trouble just trying to hold their students' attention and teach them something of value let alone having to protect them from insane gunmen with weapons." My friend then suggested that we should disband the NRA, or in the least, prohibit them from influencing so many Congressmen and Senators with their 'propaganda.' I then surprised her by saying that I am a member of the NRA along with five million other people and that there are approximately 80 million gun owners in our country, the vast majority of whom are law-abiding citizens like myself that only have own firearms for protection. At that point, I felt I had gone as far as I could go with lesson number one on America's gun culture. We agreed to talk again.
Stephan Helgesen is a retired U.S. diplomat and now political analyst and author. He has written nine books and over 800 articles on politics, economics and social trends. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org