One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it.
—Anton Chekhov, Letter to Lazarev-Gruzinsky
Once again we are confronted with a school shooting, the 45th in 2015 and the 142nd since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. We have, of course, grown accustomed to shootings in which four or more people are killed in one incident. Those events are considered to be mass shootings by Mass Shooting Tracker, a group that studies these events. After each mass shooting followers of those events await words of comfort from the NRA, since many in the country attribute the frequency of those events to the zealous support of gun rights by the NRA. Being the guns’ best friend, no one is in a better position than that organization to reassure the country that lenient gun laws have nothing to do with the frequency of these tragedies.
As eager as we are to receive reassurances from the NRA’s executive director, Wayne LaPierre, following these events, it is unrealistic to expect him to offer words of comfort after every mass shooting. Given the fact that there have been 295 mass shootings in 2015 alone, if we expected Wayne to offer solace after each of those events he would have to hold press conferences almost every day of the year and come up with different words of sympathy for the victims and those traumatized by these events. Even if he were to only comment after school shootings, the need for him to appear publicly would be unnecessarily burdensome and deprive him of the opportunity to do other meaningful work for the NRA. Since there have been 45 school shootings in 2015 alone, that would mean more than 4 press conferences a month and at some point people might start to think that if Wayne has to explain away each such tragedy perhaps the problem is really the omnipresence of the gun rather than the mentally unbalanced shooter. And, of course, if it’s comfort we want we can always go back to his historical comments about school massacres.
Following the Newtown school massacre, the NRA’s first response, issued four days after the shooting, was quiet and reasonable. It simply said: “We were shocked, saddened and heartbroken by the news of the horrific and senseless murders in Newtown. Out of respect for the families, and as a matter of common decency, we have given time for mourning, prayer and a full investigation of the facts before commenting. The NRA is prepared to offer meaningful contributions to help make sure this never happens again.” Three days later, a full investigation having apparently been completed to the NRA’s satisfaction, Wayne held a press conference in which he announced the NRA’s meaningful contribution. He suggested that to avoid future school shooting there should be armed police officers in every school in this nation. That has not happened and explains why school massacres continue to occur.
There have been no formal announcements from the NRA following the South Carolina or Oregon massacres. Following the Charleston massacre, NRA spokesperson, Jennifer Baker, said the NRA would have nothing to say, “until all the facts are known.” All the facts are still not known by the NRA and it has nadnothing further to say about that massacre. The same is true for the Oregon massacre. Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesperson for the NRA was asked for a response to President Obama’s criticism of Congress for its inaction with respect to the manufacture and sale of guns. Mr. Arulanandam used the same words the NRA spokespeople had earlier used saying that the NRA’s policy is “not to comment until all the facts are known.” Although the rest of the country thinks all the facts are known, the NRA does not, and neither Wayne nor his spokespeople have issued any comments. (One person has commented, however-presidential candidate and neurosurgeon, Ben Carson. He suggested that President Obama was politicizing the Oregon massacre by embracing the families of the dead. In a Facebook question and answer session described in the New York Times he offered his version of comfort to the families of the victims saying: “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away.”)
Here is one bit of trivia that may have escaped readers’ notice and give them comfort. Following the Sandy Hook massacre, NRA membership dues income increased from $108 million to $176 million, a 62% increase. The organization’s surplus went to $57 million. Since the NRA is a 501©(3) organization it pays no income tax. If history is an instructor, we can be confident the Oregon massacre will boost membership in the NRA and increase the number of citizens of walking around with guns. That, the NRA would say, makes us all safer. Readers may decide for themselves whether it’s right.
Mea culpa. Thanks to readers who observed that I did not seem to know the difference between Beatles as a musical phenomenon and beetles from the insect world in titling last week’s column.