"No experiment can be more interesting than that we are now trying, and which we trust will end in establishing the fact, that man may be governed by reason and truth. Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues to truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions." --Thomas Jefferson to John Tyler, 1804.

Why we can’t solve our problems

Martin Peterson
From Idaho

When Wayne LaPierre, the National Rifle Association’s million-dollar-a-year executive director, held his press conference on December 21 responding to the Connecticut school shootings, the national response was quick and largely negative. However, what was overlooked by both the
media and the public was the fact that in his response, LaPierre did a fine and concise — although entirely unintentional – job of demonstrating three of the major ills that are keeping this country from solving many, if not most, of the major problems it faces.

The first ill is to always blame someone else and ignore any contribution you may have made to creating a problem. We hear it day-in and day-out in the halls of Congress. Republicans blaming Democrats and Democrats blaming Republicans. Never accept personal responsibility for a problem when you can point the finger at someone else. Assault weapons and large capacity clips didn’t create this problem, according to LaPierre. It’s video games, movies and lack of armed guards that are the problem.

The second ill is to identify a problem and then ask the federal government to pay for it. That is the mind-set that has helped lead us to the serious fiscal problems the federal government currently faces. The NRA offices in Washington must be in a soundproof bunker. Apparently LaPierre is unaware that Congress and the President are currently dealing with serious budget issues that will likely make it impossible for them to consider his proposal that the federal government fund armed guards at every school building in the United States. If he is really serious about obtaining the support of Congress and the President for his proposal, and he really thinks that those guards will eliminate school shootings, while protecting second amendment rights, he should consider recommending the means of paying for it.

Two privileges the government gives me that I enjoy are driving motor vehicles and fishing. I drive on roads that are largely funded by persons like me who use them, with fuel taxes and registration fees. The same with fishing. I buy an annual license and those fees are used to support the state’s fisheries program. If you don’t want to enjoy the privileges of driving or fishing, you don’t have to pay. The same could be true with the proposal to protect the rights of gun owners by using armed guards at schools.

Place a federal tax, similar to Idaho’s personal property tax, on every privately owned firearm in the U.S. The FBI estimates there are 200 million, so the annual amount of the tax would probably be quite low. Similarly, a nominal tax could be charged on all ammunition sold. Estimates are that around 10-billion rounds a year are sold in the U.S., so that tax would probably be quite low as well. But, if Mr. LaPierre is correct and the funding of these armed guards would deter future school shootings, then I’m sure gun owners and ammunition buyers would agree that it would be well worth the additional cost. And, like driving and fishing, if you don’t choose to own guns or buy ammunition, then you wouldn’t need to share in the burden.

The third ill is the Jimmy Swaggart syndrome, “do as I say and not as I do.” The NRA has built its power base by being among the staunchest of all constitutional defenders. They, more than anyone else, make it possible for every American to own an assault rifle, large capacity clips, and cop killer ammunition and they gladly take credit for that. But now we find that apparently their constitutional support only applies to the second amendment, and not the first. Rather than even remotely recognizing that there may be some blame for all of the unchecked shootings in this country on the shoulders of the most rabid defenders of the second amendment who believe in every American’s right to own an assault weapon, LaPierre says that it is those staunchest defenders of the first amendment, the media and entertainment industries, who are to blame for all of this.

I don’t disagree with him that the makers of violent video games and motion pictures need to share some of the blame for these shootings. Just as I think that the manufacturers and sellers of civilian assault weapons share some of the blame. But, were these first amendment defenders to steal a page from the NRA, their best defense would be to plaster the country with bumper stickers stating that “Video Games Don’t Kill People. People Kill People.”

We have a problem in this country and it’s too bad that the NRA leadership isn’t interested in making the kinds of compromise that are always essential in solving major problems. It would be good to have them play a productive role in developing realistic solutions, rather than the kind of claptrap mouthed by Mr. LaPierre. Until he’s ready to play a more reasonable role in the efforts to reduce the risk of classroom shootings, he needs to crawl back into his bunker and stay there.

Marty Peterson grew up in the Lewiston Clarkston Valley. He is retired and lives in Boise.

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