Opinion

When it comes to gun safety, it’s time to call out the absurd

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In my column last week, I wrote about 30 ideas that could help stem the rising tide of gun violence in the United States.

The ideas ranged from background checks and waiting periods to a ban on military-style weapons such as the AR-15 and large capacity magazines.

Generally speaking, as someone who worked on the background check campaign in 2016 and has written about the issue of gun violence regularly, any mention of new gun safety laws brings a loud — and usually nasty — response.

I’ve received outright threats, veiled threats, implied threats and a healthy stream of name calling.

After my last column, though, I think the message in the majority of emails I received was “you’re stupid.”

Perhaps that’s progress.

Stupid is certainly better than “you better watch out.”

But you want to know what’s stupid? Stupid is a growing industry that’s making and selling “bulletproof” backpacks for kids.

Stupid is seeing the headline, and then actually reading the entire story looking for a price because, well maybe, just maybe, it’s something to consider.

It is absolutely absurd that our reaction to gun violence is to armor plate our kids. Because it’s crazy.

And probably ineffective.

“This is pure marketing to exploit fear,” Matthew J. Mayer, a professor at Rutgers University whose research focuses on school violence prevention, told the Washington Post in a story on Tuesday. “We have no evidence that these things work.”

And while we’re at it, it’s also stupid that some people actually believe that arming teachers — giving teachers guns and firearms training and asking them to confront a shooter armed with an assault-style weapon — is good public policy.

A lot of my neighbors are teachers. They are excellent people with whom I trust my kids. I know that they can teach robotics or keep a classroom running smoothly. They wipe noses and give hugs. They take care of kids every day. They are not cops, and they should be asked to kill anyone else.

It is absurd. It’s stupid.

To focus on bullet-resistant glass, to force kids to practice lockdown drills and prepare for an active shooters — well, I think that’s stupid, too.

When someone responds to one of my columns and calls it stupid, I know that they aren’t interested in a dialogue. They just want to vent their frustration with me.

And when I call someone else’s ideas stupid, I know without question that I’m not moving the dialogue forward and working toward a solution to gun violence.

Belittling someone’s ideas is never a way to find common ground.

But I’m also frustrated.

In Missouri, a man wearing body armor and carrying an assault-style weapon walked into a Walmart just to see if his 2nd Amendment rights would be respected. He conducted his “social experiment” just days after a white supremacist murdered 22 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas.

Customers in Missouri panicked and ran in fear for their lives. A police officer and another person were injured in a car crash as officers responded to the scene.

If you were a shopper at Walmart, do you think that you could tell the difference between the mass murderer and the 2nd Amendment activist — before bullets started flying?

It’s stupid.

For too long, gun safety advocates — myself included — have held our tongues and tried to find middle ground where we can on laws that will protect public safety. We’ve listened to advocates who oppose even the most muted gun-safety measures, and we’ve tried to take their concerns seriously.

Maybe we were stupid.

And maybe it’s time to call the absurd the absurd.

We don’t need to arm teachers and buy bulletproof backpacks for elementary schools kids.
We need to take real and serious action to reduce gun violence, even if some small group of folks really hate it and think that it’s stupid.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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