The United States reached a defining moment on Friday when Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association, described his organization's vision of the country in a news conference carried live on television.
Only in the past week, since the massacre of 20 small children and six adults at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., has the U.S. begun to recognize the magnitude of its problem with guns. It took a tragedy of that scale to do so.
And what was Mr. LaPierre's answer? To post an armed police officer in every school. To organize communities into what sound like vigilante teams or militias for children's protection. To call for an "active national database of the mentally ill." To lament make-believe violence in video games and films, while failing to address the plague of real-life gun violence in the U.S. And to attack the media for what he described as a cover-up of the dangers of violent video games played by children.
Mr. LaPierre did Americans a service. He gave them a chance to see the face of gun culture for what it is – fear-mongering and demagogic. He railed about the injustice of leaving an unarmed principal to die at the hands of an "evil monster." He asked why banks have armed guards but not schools. His answer to the threat posed by guns is more guns, in the hands of "good guys."
He would turn America into an armed camp. Why stop at armed police in front of schools? What about daycare centres? Summer camps and swimming pools? What about playgrounds? Universities? Hospitals? Churches? There have also been mass shootings at fast-food outlets and movie theatres; what about armed guards there too?
Mr. LaPierre says, "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." Has it really come to that? Is the only way to protect American children to raise them in the shadow of gun-toting lawmen? And does the threat of good, old-fashioned shoot-'em-ups in the hallways make them any safer? Is this the "blanket of safety" to which he refers?
Amazingly, he offered in a spirit of seeming generosity to "make this program available to the world." As if the United States had anything to teach the world about guns. What country would wish to emulate its gun policies? Or for that matter the resulting gun-related death statistics, the highest in the developed world? Americans are 20 times as likely to be killed by a gun as a person in another developed country. Is this something any other developed country would aspire to? The United Kingdom? It has a near-complete gun ban. Canada? Almost impossible to own a handgun for personal protection. Germany, France, Japan? Guns are highly restricted.
One country we're aware of with something like the ubiquitous armed guards he describes is Haiti. Is that what Americans want – to be more like Haiti?
Adam Lanza, the 20-year-old loner who shot and killed his mother and then the 26 victims at the Newtown school, got his guns from his mother – who was treated by the system as a "good guy."
An "active national database" or registry of "the mentally ill" is a twisted concept. Instead of registering and controlling assault weapons and handguns, you register and control people. There is something totalitarian in the suggestion – as if the country were divided into "the good guys" and "the mentally ill," and the state's role were to protect the former from the latter. There is no such division of humankind.
How would Mr. LaPierre define "the mentally ill"? Whom would he place in such a database? People suffering depression? Anxiety? Half the country could end up on such a list. Who knows, a few of them might be card-carrying NRA members. Nor would registering the mentally ill make much of a dent anyway. There is a far greater correlation between gun violence and alcohol, than with mental illness, for example. Sometimes even good guys with guns can turn into bad guys with guns after a few beers.
Mr. LaPierre and the National Rifle Association, through a war chest that generously funds the campaigns of many members of Congress, especially Republicans, have been holding America hostage to the gun. And now Mr. LaPierre has given Americans a chance to see the true face of the U.S. gun lobby, and it is a frightening one. Do Americans really want to live in the kind of country the NRA envisions? It would no longer be the land of the free, or home of the brave. It would be a nation in lockdown.