The National Rifle Association has come up with a truly stupid idea the nation cannot afford to protect children in America's schools. It is almost as bad as President Barack Obama's suggestion that the Newtown, Conn., tragedy could have been prevented by a new layer of gun-control bureaucracy. But both are illustrative of a far bigger problem in this country.
A nation born on the ideas of individual freedom and responsibility, we have become a nation that turns to government for a solution to every crisis. Long gone is President John F. Kennedy's 1961 admonishment to "ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country.'' In its place is a sense of entitlement that governement should take care of individuals.
Right, left or center, political ideology doesn't seem to matter. Everyone wants the government to fix things, to take care of people, to ensure that none of us die before our time, and it is drowning the country in debt. The U.S. Treasury simply cannot afford to play Big Brother for Americans, let alone for the world. Yet it tries.
We are tied down in a costly war in Afghanistan. We are still trying to disengage from a costly war in Iraq. We are spending vast sums on health care and retirement for Americans who've reached the magic age where government has decreed you don't need to work anymore. In the wake of 9-11, we have created a costly new air-safety system aimed at countering terrorism even though air travel in the year of 9-11, even counting those tragic deaths, was as safe as it has ever been.
And now the NRA wants an armed guard in every school? How much is that going to cost.
Schools pretty safe
Isn't it enough that we have small legions of armed guards in the federal buildings of this country already to separate the people from government officials? Is this really the democracy we want?
We seem to have lost touch with reality -- or simply don't want to face it. There are problems with gun violence in this country. They are not the problem about which we are worried. Our schools are already pretty damn safe. If you're a middle-class or upper-class American, the odds of your child being shot and killed are low -- about 2.3 per 100,000 kids.
The odds of that happening at school are even lower.
The odds of it happening because a random gunman showed up and started shooting?
They are infinitesimal, which is what made the Newtown Massacre such a big news. It is an aberration. It is a horror story so far out of the norm as to be almost unbelievable if it hadn't happened. We are drawn to it by the human desire to try to comprehend the inexplicable. How could this happen?
The answer to that is simple. Newtown happened because no one did anything.
Warning sign, red flag
As the picture has become clearer since the shooting, it is obvious that the 20-year-old shooter was disturbed.
He appears to have withdrawn from society, gone anti-social. Anti-social is never a good thing. Humans are a social species. The retreat from human interaction is a warning sign, a red flag.
If you know someone like this, you should talk to them. If after that something seems wrong, try to get them to help. If they won't get help, try to find someone to help them.
And how many of us do that?
There are indications the shooter's mother, now dead at his hands, was trying to get her son help. There are various reports Nancy Lanza was talking about moving from her Connecticut home to put her son in a what has been described as a "school or center.'' That she wasn't overtly public about it is understandable. There remains a huge stigma attached to mental illness in this country. It is why instead of trying to get people help before something horrible happens, we witness the horror and then try to do something about it even if there is nothing we can do.
Does anyone really think a guard in every school is going to stop a determined madman bent on destruction?
Does anyone really think gun control is going to stop such madness? Then consider this horrible story:
"Fifteen people have been killed by a teenage gunman who went on a rampage, officials say. "Among the dead were nine pupils, eight of them girls, and three teachers at the Albertville secondary school in the town of Winnenden...The gunman, a 17-year-old former pupil named Tim Kretschmer, entered the school at about 9:30 a.m. in black combat gear and began shooting. He fled in a stolen car, but killed himself after being cornered by police."
The shooting happened only three years ago in Germany. Germany has stringent gun-control laws. It also has an enviably low homicide rate of 0.8 per 100,000 people -- among the lowest in Europe where homicide rates are generally low, especially for children. The latter, in large part, is due to the fact that infanticide is rare in Europe. It is not in this country.
Bigger problem: child murder
The greatest threat to children in America isn't a random gunman at a school; it is parents at home. Child Trends, an advocacy organization, pegs the child death rate at 7.9 per 100,000. It is much higher than the aforementioned death rate of 2.3 per 100,000 kids.
There is a problem with child murder in this country and with the murder of young men, but it is a predominately African-American problem about which no one wants to do anything. According to "Homicide Trends in the United States, 1980-2008 (Annual Rates for 2009 and 2010), a study from the U.S. Department of Justice published in November, the homicide rate for "black children under age 5...(is) 7.2 homicides per 100,000 in 2008,'' more than twice that for white kids.
Overall, the report says, "the homicide victimization rate for blacks (19.6 homicides per 100,000) was 6 times higher than the rate for whites (3.3 homicides per 100,000)."
The problem is such that it significantly drives up the homicide rate for the whole country. That rate of 3.3 per 100,000 for white folk isn't that all far out of line with the European norm of about 1.5 homicides per 100,000 continent wide. If this country wanted to do something about violence, and gun violence in particular, it would focus a lot of time and money on trying to make life better for the innocent and vulnerable majority in this country's inner cities.
Where's the NRA?
Most of those people are African-Americans. Many of them live in what can almost be considered war zones. Nothing gets done about it because it is accepted as the something of the norm, unlike Newtown -- because it's a "black problem'' and white folk shouldn't be expected to pay the cost. You will not find the NRA out there proposing government pay to put an heavily armed police man on every corner in every 'hood, though there have been situations wherein cities -- most notable Los Angeles -- have shown a lot can be done with community policing.
And then there are other places where a lot needs to be done, but nobody ever talks about it. Somebody was likely murdered in Detroit today. The death rate there is nearly a person per day.
But most of the dead are black men, or at least young black men, and that's a problem below the nation's radar screen, because white folk in America really don't want to talk about exactly how to drive down homicide rates.
White folk in American want to talk about how to make their neighborhoods -- and schools are part of the neighborhood -- safer even though most of the people doing the talking already live in the safest neighborhoods in America. It's tragic when children die. It's horrible. But do we focus our attention how solve the rarest of problems that might have no solutions while ignoring the common problems that do have solutions?
Is that how we get ahead as a nation?
Contact Craig Medred at craig(at)alaskadispatch.com