by Patrick Vecchio
National Rifle Association Chief Executive Wayne LaPierre is not a gifted public speaker. At yesterday’s press conference—the NRA’s first statement after the Sandy Hook school massacre—LaPierre’s head bobbed distractingly as he read from his notes.
I mention this because in their account of LaPierre’s speech, Eric Lichtblau and John Cushman Jr. of the New York Times described LaPierre as “angry and combative” with a “defiant tone.” I wanted to see if these descriptions were true, so I stopped reading the Times, decided not to read any accounts of the speech at all, and then watched a video of the entire press conference. Instead of seeing a combative man, I saw a man for whom the word “glib” doesn’t exist. I also saw a man oblivious to the $4 billion cost of a plan he was proposing (more on that in a bit).
The first thing I noticed, though, was a man whose version of a persuasive speech was so flawed that I would expect more from an eighth-grader. Middle school students are taught (or should be taught) that compromise is an essential ingredient of a persuasive essay. You acknowledge the other side has points worth addressing: some of them very good and worth serious consideration, or even implementation; others of the “your idea sounds good, but I disagree—and here’s why.” Even bad ideas should be politely dismissed.
LaPierre delivered none of that yesterday. He blamed random mass shootings on violent video games, on bloody movies, on the bloodthirsty media—on anything but guns. In fact, he spent so much time bashing the media that it began to sound like his strategy was to hammer the “media: bad” idea so many times that it could be turned into truth through sheer repetition. He did everything but accuse reporters of buying the guns and bullets.
LaPierre’s opening act of “blame the messenger” took up seven of his speech’s 10 pages [transcript here]—a mélange of prevarication ineptly designed to distract people from the legitimate idea that maybe the availability of guns also has something to do with school shootings. He never addressed this point, which was about as predictable as the fact that the world indeed did not end today, despite Mayan prophecy. Instead, at the top of page 8, LaPierre called on Congress to “act immediately, to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school—and to do it now, to make sure that blanket of safety is in place when our children return to school in January.”
If that idea were the Titanic, it would have sunk immediately after leaving the pier. The National Center for Education Statistics reports there were about 99,000 public schools in America in 2009-10, the last year for which the center has statistics. LaPierre is suggesting armed guards can be stationed in all of those schools in less than two weeks.
In giving a persuasive speech, the speaker should want to sound credible instead of sounding like someone whose version of reality is as credible as a plan to raise the Titanic with dental floss. LaPierre thinks armed guards can be hired in less than two weeks during the holiday season. I suggest that by Monday night, America should deploy mutant reindeer that really can fly.
As for the cost of a guard-per-school program, how much skin does the NRA expect to have in the game? LaPierre’s speech said the NRA will provide training expertise, knowledge, dedication and “resources,” which do not appear to be resources of the financial variety.
So, just for curiosity’s sake, let’s do the math to see how much an armed-guard-in-every-school program would cost. For starters, there are about 99,000 schools in America. Are all of those schools so small that one guard will be enough? Probably not, so let’s assume about 1 percent of those schools will need two guards. That brings us to an even 100,000 guards.
Now, picture yourself as a trained, proficient, law-abiding citizen (a category into which I put all but a sliver of a fraction of gun owners). How much are you going to want to earn for being singlehandedly responsible for defending 500 students: $25,000 a year? $35,000 a year? $40,000?
Using those figures, the cost for implementing LaPierre’s plan ranges from $2.5 billion to $4 billion. This is in an era of widespread aid cuts to schools—cuts that have resulted in larger class sizes, fewer teachers, fewer school nurses and counselors, and fewer resources, extracurricular activities, and programs. And now LaPierre proposes that Congress—which can’t agree on the phase of the moon—come up with $4 billion in less than two weeks. Yes, that will happen, and I will go bowling on Christmas Eve with Pippa Middleton.
As long as we’re in crazy ideas territory, let’s pretend the money can be found. Will it pay for 100,000 safety officers whose aim is true? Consider this: In late August, a shooting occurred at the Empire State Building. Two people died; nine were wounded. All nine were hit by stray police bullets, fragments of bullets, or ricochets, the New York Times reported.
One might think New York City police officers are well-trained in handling firearms, given the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Yet in a fast-moving situation on a crowded street, police officers whose lives or deaths can depend on their shooting skills managed to wound nine bystanders. Enough said.
I had hoped the Sandy Hook tragedy would prompt the NRA to reconsider its unwavering stance on firearms restrictions. Instead, LaPierre came out with a proposal so ludicrous that it’s fair to ask whether he cares at all about public safety. We waited a week for this? Armed guards in public schools?
Well then, sir, what do we do about shopping malls, movie theaters and college campuses?
Illustrations: Paul Szep