The “duck and cover” drills in our nation’s schools from the 1950s and ’60s, captured in the rudimentary videos of that generation, are now quaint images. They were supposed to help protect students and teachers from a nuclear attack, a futile exercise indeed. As the Cold War waned (if it really did), those regular civil defense run-throughs ran out.
They’ve been replaced in many schools by a different kind of drill: In modern times, the repetitious routine now include what to do in case of a fire, but, ominously, ways to respond to an attack from a mass murderer with deadly weapons. More often than not, the arsenal will include an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle, which is legal. Instead of the Soviet Union or China, now the enemy is us.
In the United States of America, most anybody can obtain these armaments, which have no purpose other than to kill people. They are readily available even to those who are later described as “weird” or “troubled,” as the alleged shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was. Nikolas Cruz had been expelled from the huge but highly regarded Douglas High after repeated confrontations. He was a classic loner and such a troublemaker that he had been reported to the authorities, including the FBI, which was a waste of time, as it turns out.
Such details are somewhat different each time, but the outline is the same. Someone disturbed with a grievance decides to avenge it by slaughtering innocents. It’s all too familiar because it happens over and over again in the U.S.; each time it does, we recoil in horror, as we should, and the politicians react with “thoughts and prayers” statements, and then do nothing. That is because they cower before the fearsome enablers of human-caused catastrophes, the National Rifle Association.
You’ve heard all this before — from me, for starters — and each time the preaching falls on deaf ears. That’s because what is even sicker than the individual who administers the latest massacre is the entire country; the United States of America is mentally ill as a nation when it comes to our love affair with guns.
Americans privately own 300 million or so weapons of mass destruction, and most efforts to impose severe limitations are doomed to failure. Revulsion at the carnage, the loss of precious young lives, is overridden by this twisted attachment to our guns.
As an exercise in futility, let’s discuss some solutions: Confiscation is not possible, we can’t even seriously limit the purchase of new hardware. But what about imposing a huge sales tax, similar to the one we impose on lethal cigarettes? What about making the manufacture and sale of the most egregious weapons a crime? What about finally including these semi-automatics, which are the weapon of choice for mowing down human beings, in gun laws.
None of that will happen, because those who make the laws are largely complicit. They believe that they won’t get re-elected if they cross the NRA, so it’s a waste of time to even try to get our government to take action. Besides, our leaders are too busy making the rich richer.
All we can be thankful for is that the assailant was not black, Muslim or an immigrant. Otherwise, President Trump would have been all over it. He was left with little to say. In his vapid speech to the nation, he made no mention of gun control at all, showing once again he’s a follower, not a leader, pandering to our darkest impulses. Oh, he did recite a new mantra: “No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”
Well, they do, Mr. President, and their families live in fear. They have every reason to be scared to death, with each and every drill about how to survive the threat from heavily armed American maniacs. The ones about how to survive a nuclear attack are history now, even with North Korea. And Russia has found new ways to attack, by sabotaging our elections and perhaps by infiltrating the top echelons of our government. Meanwhile, our gun sickness inside means we cannot feel safe anywhere, certainly not our schools.
Bob Franken is a longtime broadcast journalist, including 20 years at CNN.