A few days back Donald Trump put on another display for public consumption regarding the massacre of students and teachers at Parkland School in Florida. In a meeting at the White House he said he was ready to do something about the curse of easy access to high-powered assault rifles and other military grade firearms that were typically used to kill large numbers of people in a few minutes. From the White House website: “It’s not going to be talk like it has been in the past. It’s been going on too long; too many instances. And we’re going to get it done. The press was giddy with excitement at the thought, the “fact,” that Trump was going against the National Rifle Association, was in favor of enhanced background checks, confiscation of certain weapons when necessary and limiting the age at which “rifles” could be purchased.
As if usually the case when Trump speaks extemporaneously, unscripted, this appeared to be a change of course, induced, at least in part, by the aggressive public pressure by the surviving Parkland students, still grieving even as they declared “Never Again.”
Trump loves being the center of attention. Indeed, the evidence is overwhelming that he will say and do almost anything to assure that in any situation, he is the dominant personality, the critical actor, the driving force for whatever agenda he has at the moment.
Of course, skeptics were …. skeptical. Those how have learned from experience, one of the hallmarks of intelligence and education, were concerned that Trump’s conversion was no more authentic than the hundreds of other times when he had either lied outright or quickly reversed himself only minutes or hours after some attention-grabbing maneuver. They were right.
It took almost no time for Trump’s newfound moral compass to gyrate itself into a hole leading straight to Hell. Trump has now disavowed virtually everything he said just days before. Now the White House website displays a four-point “master plan” for protecting students in schools:
First, “Hardening our schools: The Administration will make sure our schools are safe and secure—just like our airports, stadiums, and government buildings—with better training and preparedness.” [Italics mine]
Think about that for a second. Is the President proposing to create a School Security Administration like the Transportation Security Administration that inspects luggage and performs body scans on every airline passenger and compels visitors to the U.S. Capitol and other federal agencies to remove belts and shoes and pass through metal detectors? Will children attending schools be treated that way every day? What is that going to accomplish when, courtesy of the National Rifle Association, the next shooter appears with an AR-15 and immediately guns down the inspectors before entering the school to kill students and teachers?
Or, is the President proposing to set up military-style gun emplacements around every school entrance so that anyone entering the area can be challenged and, if necessary, shot before doing damage? Bear in mind there are about 90,000 public and private elementary schools in the United States with more than 33 million students attending. That’s just elementary schools. Compare that with 5,145 public use airports.
“Hardening” schools as a protective measure seems like a ridiculous idea.
Two, “Strengthening background checks and prevention: President Trump is supporting legislation and reforms to strengthen the background checks system and law enforcement operations.”
Grand. Other than the NRA, who would oppose such a plan? In fact, we understand that most members of the NRA support improvements in the background check system, though exactly what that support really looks like has not been tested because the NRA continues to use its cash and lobbying force to cower the Republicans who control the Congress. And, as is usually the case in this Keystone Kops administration, there are no details and this one, of all the ideas, should have been easy to flesh out with specifics. And, spoiler alert, the NRA isn’t about to roll over for any changes that could interfere even slightly with what they claim is their God-given right to free and immediate access to the firearms of their choice.
Three: “Reforming mental health programs: The President is proposing an expansion and reform of mental health programs, including those that help identify and treat individuals who may be a threat to themselves or others.”
This is the well-disguised ruse that says that the United States, a country of about 324 million people spread over 3,800,000 square miles, is going to establish a comprehensive and effective program for detecting individuals with mental conditions that might lead them to violent acts against school children (and presumably, present and former co-workers and employers, neighbors, etc.). This program will then, with or without compliance with constitutional guarantees related to due process and personal liberty, remove such persons for “evaluation and when necessary treatment” even if against their will or the will of their parents, guardians, etc.
Again, the plan based on pouring more money into mental health programs as a solution to gun violence, while it may be well-intentioned, is utterly useless as a real-world practical solution even in the long run.
Finally, Four, the capstone: Keeping the conversation going: In addition to these immediate actions, President Trump is establishing a Federal Commission on School Safety, chaired by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, to recommend policy and funding proposals for school violence prevention.” [italics mine]
Of course! Why didn’t we all think of this? Keep the conversation going. Start a commission to study the problem and issue a report. In a year, or two or three. No rush. How many will die in the meantime? No matter. In the Republican calculation, those are what the military calls “acceptable losses.” Of course, the military was organized and staffed to fight and win battles and they understood there would be casualties as the necessary price of winning. That was an inescapable, if grisly, feature of the activity in which they were forced by history to engage.
So, do we just accept the President’s side-door escape from the harsh truth of gun violence and go with a study commission so we can defer the hard questions to another day. Doesn’t that play right into the hands of the NRA-funded chorus that always says “this isn’t the right time to address the issue.”
And of all people in the United States to put in charge of such a commission: Betsy Devos? She has repeatedly shown she knows little or nothing about education policy, is ignorant of the state of public education in her own state of Michigan, is solely devoted to promoting charter schools for white well-to-do kids at the expenses of the public-school system she appears to loathe.
What the Hell does Betsy Devos know about gun violence or security? How can she possibly chair an effective committee on the subject of protecting schools, students and faculty from armed violence? This “commission” is going to be like the so-called Voter Fraud Commission that Trump appointed, with the real purpose of imposing obstacles to people voting, especially in Democratic-leaning districts. The Devos commission (I choke on the idea) is simply a scheme to put off dealing with the issues indefinitely. The NRA bought and paid for this outcome. They met with Trump and everything changed.
We don’t have to accept this. The Parkland students are not going to accept it and everyone of good will should support them. Support their right to 17 minutes of silence on March 14 to honor the Parkland victims. March with and for them on March 24 wherever you are on that day. Relentlessly demand an end to the gun violence.
There is only one common denominator in all this and we don’t need a national commission to figure it out. The common denominator, one we can quickly do something about, is the ready access to assault-style military grade weapons, high-capacity magazines and any devices, however, described or operated, that convert those weapons into automatic-fire mode.
Surely, many gun “experts” will jump up and down like burned rabbits, complaining that people like me don’t know what an “assault” rifle is. Sorry, but you can’t win with the argument that this is about technicalities. This is not that hard, despite persistent efforts to make it seem like rocket science only a few elite gun experts can truly understand. And, in any case, we should err on the side of public safety. If we err and inadvertently bring a few non-assault weapons into a ban, we can fix that later. Right now, the emphasis should be on human safety, not about which precise weapons can fire at what rate of speed.
So, if you possibly can, on March 14 at 10 am, stop what you are doing for 17 minutes to honor the fallen students and teachers. Then, join me and hundreds of thousands of others on March 24 to March in the streets and tell the Trump administration that the time to act is NOW. No more excuses. We will wait no longer for our government to put an end to this curse.
The 2018 election season is underway. Prepare to vote. If you know someone who is not registered, offer to help them. Drive them to the polls if necessary or contact the local Democratic Party to get that done. Nothing is more important than reversing the descent into Hell that was started when Donald Trump was elected president.