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Paul Rosenberg
Paul Rosenberg
Paul Rosenberg is the senior editor of Random Lengths News, a bi-weekly alternative community newspaper.

Teachers are heroes; politicians have blood-drenched hands

The heroism of teachers sacrificing themselves to save young lives contrasts dramatically with the political system.
Last Modified: 17 Dec 2012 14:26
On Dec 14, 27 people - including 20 children - were killed when Adam Lanza opened fire at an elementary school [EPA]

"Out, damned spot! ... [W]ho would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?"

-- Lady MacBeth, MacBeth, Act V. Scene I.

The NRA has the blood of innocents on its hands. And not just the NRA, but every politician in the USA who does their bidding, whether through fealty or fear. And not just a single tell-tale blot, but buckets of innocent blood. No, not just buckets... The NRA has tanker trucks of innocent blood on its hands. It's not just the 20 young children, mostly five or six, killed Friday in Newton, along with the six heroic women - teachers and staff - who gave their lives protecting them.

As a massacre unfolded, the teachers of Sandy Hook were the heroes of the hour.

They hid their small charges, remained calm, and quietly led them outside - instructing them to close their eyes so they would be shielded from the carnage.

One of the most damning aspects of this tragedy is that the teachers knew immediately what was unfolding: another school shooting.

They also knew that, if found, they'd be executed without mercy, as would the children in their care.  

-- Sydney Morning Herald

It's not about any one single incident, no matter how horrific each one is. Or even just about mass shootings - 16 of them this year alone. It's about the whole broad blood-drenched tide of gun violence that America has long been subject to, but, without the courage of those women, has found itself powerless to protect itself against.

After gunman Adam Lanza broke through the school door, gun blazing, school psychologist Mary Sherlach and principal Dawn Hochsprung ran toward him, Robinson said. Hochsprung died while lunging at the gunman, officials said.

The 56-year-old Sherlach, who would have been tasked with helping survivors cope with the tragedy, died doing what she loved, her son-in-law, Eric Schwartz, said.

-- The Stamford Advocate

Gun violence isn't limited to America, of course, but we are the world leaders among advanced industrial nations by such a large margin that you can't even see second place from the blood-drenched pedestal where we stand. As described in one graphic, which went viral on social media after the Newton massacre, "Last year, handguns killed 48 people in Japan. 8 in Great Britain. 34 in Switzerland. 52 in Canada. 58 in Israel. 21 in Sweden. 42 in West Germany. 10,728 in the United States. God bless America."

The "last year" referred to is actually 1980, but the US has been an extreme outlier in gun violence for decades on end now, as far back as well-organised data goes. Of course, the US has a much larger population than these other countries. On a per-capita basis, we would only lead Great Britain by about 300-to-1 rather than more than 1000-to-one. 

The intense violence lasted about 10 minutes. Lanza fired at least three, 30-round magazines with deadly accuracy. Two of the people he shot survived. All of the victims were shot multiple times.

"I did seven (autopsies) myself with three to 11 wounds apiece," Chief State Medical Examiner Dr. H. Wayne Carver III said Saturday. "Only two were shot at close range. I believe everybody was hit (by bullets) more than once."

-- The Hartford Courant

Okay, that may be an extreme comparison, from more than 30 years ago, though we're always told how uniquely similar the US and Britain are. But more broad-scale, long-term studies also show the US in a class all by itself. A study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology in 1998, making a one-year comparison of 36 countries, based on data from the early 1990s, found that "The rate of firearm deaths in the United States (14.24 per 100 000) exceeds that of its economic counterparts (1.76) eightfold and that of UMI [upper-middle-income countries] countries (9.69) by a factor of 1.5."

Duke University sociologist Kieran Healy graphically compared OECD data for deaths due to assaults from 1960 to the present for 24 countries. This does not distinguish guns from other implements, such as knives, nor does it account for suicides, which constitutes the largest share of gun deaths in the US (most people only attempt suicide once - after that, they get help... if they survive, which is far less likely for those who use guns to kill themselves). Still, the US stood out dramatically. Although US assualt deaths per capita are only about half what they were at their late 1970s peak, the US rate is still roughly five times the average of all other countries, and two-and-one-half times their maximum.

The hero music teacher who saved 20 children from being shot dead by the Newtown killer has revealed that she kept them quiet by saying prayers and telling them: "I love you."

Maryrose Kristopik said she barricaded herself in to the closet with the nine and 10-year-olds while gunman Adam Lanza, 20, reportedly battered on the door screaming: "Let me in! Let me in!"

... Mrs Kristopik said: "I did take the children into the closet and talked with them to keep them quiet. I told them that I loved them. I said there was a bad person in the school. I didn't want to tell them anything past that."

 -- The Daily Mail

"Guns don't kill people, people do," we're told by the NRA and its mindless robot retweeters. Well, yes, of course. And in China that very same day, another crazy person carried out a similar school-based attack - with a knife. Twenty-two child victims were injured... not killed.  Guns do make a difference, and no sane person would argue otherwise. But sane people are not in charge in America.

Which brings us to the nub of the problem. As with most other issues these days, American gun politics is dominated by well-organised madness - more specifically, by mass madness well-organised in the service of wealthy elites... in this case, the gun manufacturers whose money fuels and directs the NRA.

Mrs Kristopik told MailOnline there were 20 kids in the closet and there wasn't enough space for them. One door had several instruments, including big xylophones, blocking it, she said.

Mrs Kristopik said she was standing in front of the other door and holding the handle to keep the children out of harm's way. "I was just trying to be as strong as possible," she said.

-- The Daily Mail

First off, we're told that there's an unvarnished, explicit constitutionally protected right to own guns, which the NRA exists to protect. This is false in its two main claims. There is a constitutionally protected right to own guns - but it's not explicitly in the Second Amerndment, with its inconvenient and routinely disparaged qualifier about a well-regulated militia. For well over 200 years, no federal court seriously took the Second Amendment to encompass such a right. It's only the conservative judicial activism of the past 30-plus years that pretends otherwise, ignoring centuries of precedent to the contrary. Instead, the right to own guns is implicitly there in the Ninth Amendment, right along with the right to drive a car.

In sharp contrast to the tortured language of the Second Amendment, the Ninth in its direct simplicity reads, "The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people." The right to travel freely without being called into account by the government is a perfect example of such a right. By longstanding common practice, it can only be violated in cases such as house arrest, where rights have been forefeited more broadly via a carefully controlled and limited legal process. In today's world, that right to travel translates into the right to drive a car. But it's not without reasonable limitations and regulations - we license and police that right quite vigorously, as well we should, since countless thousands, nay millions of lives depend upon it. And the exact same logic clearly applies to guns as well.

Another quick-thinking member of staff was Kaitlin Roig whose ''happy'' morning meeting with her 14 students was suddenly interrupted by the unmistakable sound of rapid gunfire.

Ms Roig, 29, said she leapt up, closed her classroom door and then ushered the children, aged six and seven, into the adjacent bathroom. It was so tight some of the pupils had to be balanced on top of the toilet so they could all squeeze in. She then jammed a wheeled storage unit in front of the door and hoped for the best. ''We all got in there. I locked us in,'' she told America's ABC Network. ''I don't know if [the gunman] came in the room... I just told them we have to be absolutely quiet.

''If they started crying, I would take their face and tell them, 'It's going to be OK','' Ms Roig said. ''I wanted that to be the last thing they heard, not the gunfire in the hall.'' While staying strong for her pupils, Ms Roig was convinced they were ''all going to die''.

 -- Sydney Morning Herald

It's equally false that the NRA exists to protect gun rights. Once upon a time - prior to 1977, to be exact - it partly functioned to do just that, much as organisations such as AAA function partly to protect the right to travel. But the NRA then operated much more like AAA now - it supported reasonable limits on any individual exercise of rights, in order to promote the fullest exercices of those rights by all. Thus, AAA doesn't lobby to abolish speed limits, seatbelt laws and the like, and the pre-1977 NRA didn't push for unlimited individual gun rights, either. As I wrote in a column last April, "Throughout most of its history, the NRA supported gun control legislation - even helping to write it - and viewed the Second Amendment as unconnected with its concerns. What the NRA now portrays as a defining eternal right, its own history shows to be nothing of the sort."

What happened in 1977 was the NRA was taken over by an extreme ideological faction, which over time became entirely wedded with gun manufacturers. To keep its membership loyal and in line, the NRA floods its membership with paranoid warnings, and promotes ever-wilder ideas as litmus tests for its support. Yet, despite all this - even when persuaded, falsely, that Democrats are out to steal their guns - the NRA's membership remains supportive of a wide range of sensible, AAA-style measures for gun safety which the NRA violently opposes. This was clearly demonstrated in a 2009 poll, sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and conducted by conservative pollster and message-meister Fank Luntz. Gun-safety measures NRA members support include: 

  • "A proposal prohibiting people on the terrorist watch lists from purchasing guns." (82 percent support, 61 percent strongly support).
  • "A proposal requiring gun owners to alert police if their guns are lost or stolen." (78 percent support, 54 percent strongly support).
  • "A proposal requiring all gun sellers at gun shows to conduct criminal background checks of the people buying guns." (69 percent support, 44 percent strongly support).

Measures like these, oriented toward safety, and doing nothing to threaten gun ownership, can and do have an impact. Looking at state-level data about gun deaths, and a wide range of variables, economist Richard Florida reported, "we find substantial negative correlations between firearm deaths and states that ban assault weapons (-.45), require trigger locks (-.42), and mandate safe storage requirements for guns (-.48)." Of course correlation doesn't prove causation, but it's certainly worth spreading at least some of these practices to all the states, at least the ones that even NRA members don't oppose. Why shouldn't we give them a chance to save lives?

Sources and family members have confirmed that Victoria Leigh Soto, a first-grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was among those killed in the shooting Friday.

Soto, 27, a 2003 graduate of Stratford High School, reportedly shielded her first-grade students from Adam Lanza's gunfire with her own body...

When she became aware there was a gunman in the school, she hid her first-graders in closets and cabinets, then told the shooter they were in the gym. He turned the gun on Soto, killing her, but none of her students were harmed.

-- The Connecticut Post

Along the same lines, the parallel between gun rights and car rights mentioned above is a compelling one. At Crooks and Liars, prominent liberal blogger Susie Madrak wrote about one extremely promising aspect of it - the application of insurance law and practices, credit for which she gives to her oldest son:

He said it made more sense to sidestep the entire gun control controversy and instead pass state laws that require anyone who owns a gun to carry insurance. If they have risk factors (like teenagers in the house), their rates go up. If one of their kids sneaks a gun out of the house and gets caught, or uses it to commit a crime, the insurance gets cancelled for some meaningful period of time - say, 10 years.

And if someone steals your gun and you don't report it in a 24-hour window of you finding out, your insurance is suspended for a long time.

If you have a rifle and it's only used for hunting, low rates. If you have a Glock and you carry it in an open-carry town or state, your rates will be very high - because odds are so much higher that innocent bystanders may get caught in a shootout.

The more training and safety classes you take, the cheaper the premium.

If you've ever been convicted of domestic abuse or are the target of a protection order, you are not eligible for insurance.

Homeowners could be required to carry gun insurance as long as they're still paying on a mortgage, because a gun accident or misuse could result in a large legal judgment against the house.

Oh yeah, and you have to buy coverage for each gun you own.

You want to talk common sense? That's it in a nutshell.

Janet Vollmer, a kindergarten teacher at the school, says she locked her classroom doors and - to keep her students calm - read them a story until the police came...

When asked how she kept cool, she said: "With 5-year-olds, you can't lose it. I've been doing this for a long time, it's my 18th year of teaching. My job was to keep them safe."

 -- CNN

What stands in the way is the power of NRA myth-making, a power amplified by the wider, interlocking structure of movement conservative instutions, including think tanks, foundations, and legislative organisations like ALEC, which helped the NRA spread its notorious "stand your ground" laws over the past decade. Call this rightwing hegemonic power. It's reflected in the NRA member poll I cited above. When asked if they expected Obama to try to take away their guns, 79 percent of NRA members said that they did - even though there's zero evidence of any such interest.

But it's amplified as well by the pervasive fact-free groupthink of the bipartisan political class, which not only misreads NRA leadership extremism as reflecting public opinion, but also vastly inflates the political power of the NRA. This over-estimation not only chills attempts at gun safety legislation, it even prevents basic research that could help craft still more sensible measures that even NRA members could support.

It would take a whole column in itself to examine the sources of this entrenched belief in NRA power, but suffice it to say, the last election provided a wealth of countrary evidence. The NRA spent millions trying to defeat Obama - results, nilch. They worked hard to help Republicans gain control of the Senate - results, nilch. They fought hard to support House Republicans, especially Tea Party extremists - results, net losses. Most especially, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, co-chair of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, dipped his toe into the water, to see how well he could do taking on the NRA. In a classic test case, the candidate he backed - a state senator - defeated a conservative NRA Democrat, Congressman Joe Baca.

"I never saw her [slain Principal Dawn Hochsprung] without a smile," [mother of a first-grader Aimee] Seaver said. "I believe she had the children's best intentions (in mind) all the time. She was always looking out for them."

-- CNN

If the irrational fear of the NRA can be shattered, then all manner of things become possible. The evidence is now there. All that's lacking is the courage.

"If elected reps had the courage to take on gun lobby way women at Sandy Hook took on gunman we could do something to reduce 30k dead a year," tweeted from Colonel Morris Davis, who was chief prosecutor at Guantanamo Bay between 2005 to 2007. A real pinko, no doubt.

Paul Rosenberg is the senior editor of Random Lengths News, a bi-weekly alternative community newspaper.

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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