More Guns Not the Answer

Gays Against Guns’ John Grauwiler called for continued civil disobedience at a Lincoln Center rally. | COVER PHOTO BY DONNA ACETO/ DESIGN BY MARCOS RAMOS

Facts contradict the National Rifle Association’s belief — shared over the past week aggressively by President Donald Trump — that arming more citizens will curb gun violence.

Real-life episodes disprove this movie Western version of reality, and Gays Against Guns, a group that emerged after the Pulse nightclub tragedy two years ago, is working to help the public understand that.

In Dallas on July 7, 2016, an armed man shot five police officers during a Black Lives Matter protest about police shootings of civilians. The cops didn’t go near the shooter; they were able to send a robot with a bomb to blow him up because he had holed himself up in an isolated location. This would not, of course, be the recommended response to a chaotic school shooting scene.

ANALYSIS: Standing up to the NRA’s efforts to add to the proliferation of killing machines

The following year in Las Vegas, a huge crowd attending a country western concert, many no doubt supporters of the NRA, were helpless when a millionaire shot them from the 32nd floor of a nearby hotel. He fired at will, sending more than a thousand bullets into the crowd and hitting 909 individuals, 58 of whom died. Even if a concertgoer last October 1 were packing a side arm, they would have been helpless against the shooter safely ensconced in his high perch.

On June 12, 2016, less than a month before the Dallas massacre, 107 revelers were shot at Orlando’s LGBTQ Pulse nightclub, which was hosting a Latinx night, by a man with an assault rifle. Forty-nine people died. No police officers charged into the nightclub to save the wounded and stop the shooter. They assembled a swat team, and three hours after the slaughter started they killed the gunman.

Omar Mateen 29, the Orlando shooter was the son of Afghan immigrant refugees and Muslim extremism may have led him to target the LGBTQ community, but we won’t know because the police killed him. Micah Xavier Johnson, the Dallas shooter, was a veteran of the Afghan war. In addition to the five police officers he killed, 11 others were wounded including two civilians. Like Mateen’s, his motives remain obscure. Police were everywhere at that Dallas Black Lives Matter protest, but they never stopped the shooting. They never even approached Johnson directly. For the first time ever, law enforcement in the US decided that a robot could best do the job for them.

Gays Against Guns marched on the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center, named for a major NRA funder, the evening after the Florida school shooting. | DONNA ACETO

During the six minutes police say it took Nikolas Cruz to shoot 31 people in a Parkland, Florida, high school, there was an armed deputy sheriff on duty. He didn’t play Wyatt Earp and approach the gunman. He ran toward the location of the shooting but stayed safely outside away from the gunplay. That officer, Scot Peterson — who has since resigned and been slammed by Trump as a “coward” — never realized the shooter fled the school with panicked students in a headlong rush to get away from the gunfire. Once other officers arrived, it took them 20 minutes to realize there was no shooter on the school grounds.

The other solutions that the NRA and its supporters talk about — beyond arming everyone to the teeth — are similarly unpromising. It’s not likely that metal detectors would have stopped the slaughter. Cruz allegedly appeared as the school day was ending when the halls were crowded and non-students had already arrived to provide transportation.

Nor will early identification of “mentally ill” people necessarily prevent future slaughters — you don’t have to be mentally ill to kill. The website visits of the Pulse shooter had come to the attention of authorities. Cruz, during his time at the Parkland’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, was the subject of constant attention and eventually expelled. We now know that both local police and the FBI had received actionable warnings about him. Yet he had no trouble buying an assault rifle. Researchers have established markers for the early identification of juvenile offenders and can make reasonably accurate predictions. But they have never found a way to stop the behavior they predict.

Nor, we need to acknowledge, is it likely that the conservatives talking about mental health interventions are really interested in providing the social services —standard in European social democracies — that would be needed to get a handle on the pathologies out there in society. In Finland, psychologists are part of the faculty at its schools, providing daily assistance to teachers and students. For the US to provide these supports, far greater educational spending would be needed.

The only answer the NRA is really interested in is selling more guns to more people. The group, incredibly, has no agenda to prevent mass shootings. Instead, it advocates a violent response after a shooter has already begun his — and it’s essentially always “his” — carnage. But unlike the Hollywood movies the NRA hopes the American public will keep in mind (the president certainly does), the recent history of mass shootings shows that even armed peace officers confront them only with extreme caution.

Prevention, in the NRA’s book, is possible only if we infringe on the “freedom” of assault weapon owners. Removing assault weapons from civilian hands is not a ban on guns. It doesn’t infringe on the right of households to own a gun, but it will make our movie theaters, concerts, schools, and streets safer. But for the NRA, that is “socialism.”

GAG demonstrators in Senator John Cornyn's office on February 14 protesting the proposed Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act. | DONNA ACETO

At this critical juncture in the gun debate, Gays Against Guns is warning that the NRA might be on the verge of a major victory in the proliferation of guns. H.R. 38 is a bill in Congress that would make it legal for a person to buy a sidearm in Texas and then carry it in concealed fashion on the streets of Manhattan, thereby gutting sensible and needed gun control measures at the state and local level. GAG is urging people to write to Federal Express demanding the company end its discount program for NRA members who ship guns.

GAG is also targeting John Faso, a gun-slinging Republican member of the House and a loyal NRA supporter. He represents all or part of 11 upstate counties, including places like Kingston, Peekskill, Delhi, and Kinderhook. H.R. 38, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, is not just an NRA dream. It passed the House of Representatives in December on a 231-198 vote. John Faso voted for it.