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Doc Cleveland: Police, Danger, and the Social Contract
Maybe Wayne LaPierre is onto something. So suggests DF in his latest blog, What Can We Do to Stop Massacres? Isn't it at least worth considering, he asks, LaPierre's proposal to station armed "responders" at our schools?
It is worth considering. An armed officer presents a defense and a deterrent. It seems indisputable that LaPierre's proposal would help protect our schools against violent attacks.
But would it stop massacres? Not unless we placed multiple armed responders at every park, playground, pool, day camp, playing field, Sunday school, daycare center, shopping mall, or any other place where children gather.
Perhaps we can set out sights a little lower, so to speak. If we cannot stop massacres, at least we can reduce the body count by stationing responders at the most vulnerable locations. The question then becomes a calculus. How do we apportion our tax dollars and tuition fees to save the most lives--get the most bang for the buck, so to speak?
But when you start counting bodies and bucks, the proposal makes no sense at all. Statistically speaking, the average child has an infinitesimal chance of dying at the hands of a deranged killer. Better to spend the money on crossing guards.
On the other hand, it's not really the body count that matters, is it? It's the flash of horror we feel when we read about child murderers--Is this the sick society we live in? It's the ache of fear we suffer when our children leave our of sight--What could happen to them?
But I doubt that LaPierre's responders can help us with these troubles either. Employing armed guards only treats the symptoms of social dysfunction. The society that requires such protection is still sick. As for the fear, the guards may seem reassuring, but they remind us how vulnerable we really are. Imagine how secure you will feel when you send your children into that armed fortress. Now think about how you will feel when they leave that sanctuary for soccer practice. The more we entrust ourselves to the protection of firearms, the more we begin to see the world as Mr. LaPierre sees it: full of dangerous criminals, terrorists, and lunatics who prey on the defenseless. Armed guards offer a defense from violence, not a defense from fear.
Not that liberal proposals to ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines address these problems either. When it comes to horror and fear, it's not the body count that matters. Do you really feel safer knowing that a crazed murderer can only attack your children with a Glock instead of Bushmaster? China has suffered a rash of school attacks by knife, hammer, and boxcutter-wielding killers, the most recent one on the same day as the Newtown massacre. Are these acts less horrifying for being less deadly?
When we ask "What can we do to stop massacres?" I suggest that we're not really looking for a world with smaller massacres. Nor do we seek a world in which children have to travel from gated communities to fortified schools in armored buses. What we really want is a world where massacres do not happen or at least do not happen so often, a world where the news does not regularly overcome us with horror and fear.
To achieve that world, we would have to cure the disease itself--a much more formidable challenge. Most commentators who address the source of mass-violence focus on easy culprits--videogames, gun culture, bad parenting, SSRIs, movies, social isolation, moral decline, bullying, or the military industrial complex. Which culprit you select probably depends on your political and cultural biases, but there is little enough compelling evidence one way or the other.
My own sense is that violence, like most cultural phenomena, is self-perpetuating. The killer creates the fear, and the fear creates the killer. In China, they use knives. In America, they use assault rifles. In either case, the murderers emulate one another and thrive on the negative attention these acts invariably attract.
I cannot see how to reverse the cycle of viciousness, but I do suggest that we step back for a moment from the horror of Sandy Hook. In our headlong rush to find some way to avert or repress these acts of violence, it is worth asking: What exactly are we trying to achieve? What price are we willing to pay for it?