SQUINT WHEN YOU SAY THAT: The National Rifle Association (NRA) sure didn’t get its money’s worth with its much-anticipated report on how best to protect schools from gun violence, but its great unveiling — held at the National Press Club — was by all accounts nothing less than priceless. The NRA — as it has repeatedly impressed upon us — spent a cool million bucks on the 225-page report, which included some nice details on what kind of locks should be installed to make schools safer, what kind of fences erected, and what kind of security cameras mounted. But mostly, it boiled down to a chicken in every pot and an armed guard on every campus. The chicken, however, was entirely optional. To ensure that the armed guards don’t accidentally shoot anyone, 40 to 60 hours of training was highly recommended. These guards, the report said, should be subjected to the same sort of background checks the NRA vehemently opposes for the rest of us. Exactly where the nation’s cash-strapped school districts will find this extra $80,000 per campus, at a time when Head Start programs have been forced to disenroll preschool kids with extreme prejudice because of sequestration, was never made clear. Maybe that’s because the NRA posted a platoon of conspicuously armed thugs — not to mention at least one bomb-sniffing dog — to intimidate the assembled press. The NRA’s thug squad bossed the reporters around, chasing them as exalted NRA officials were about to enter. One particularly thickset individual prone to talking to his cufflinks ordered a press photographer to “remain stationary.” Reporters are not bothered by rude treatment; they actually crave it. What got to them the most was envy. Contrary to popular belief, reporters can do the math, so long as it’s confined to long division. They quickly calculated the NRA spent $4,000 a page for this utter nonstarter of a report. Assuming 500 words a page, that translates to $80 a word, or minimally 8,000 percent more than what most of them get paid.
By now, we are told any meaningful background checks on gun purchases are dead on arrival. The same holds true, we are also told, for any restriction on ammo clips holding more than 10 rounds. However certifiable the NRA leadership may seem, they remain extremely effective. Still, if they’re going to bother going through the motions of preparing a phony-baloney solution, maybe they could sweat a little. If you’re going to lie, make the lie look at least a little plausible. Gun violence, last I checked, did not confine itself to the schoolyard. By extension, it’s only a matter of time before frozen-yogurt shops, a necessary staple in the malls of America, will post pistol-packing teens behind their cash registers. Likewise for the movie-theater workers who tear up the tickets and pick up the discarded popcorn containers between shows. And why stop there? I’d like to suggest that anyone in the therapy business be required to bear arms, as well. This might finally give therapists a meaningful tool to combat the epidemic of gun-inflicted suicides, which, it turns out, accounts for two-thirds of all gun-related deaths in the United States. In Santa Barbara — at least the unincorporated portion — the percentages are even more lopsided. Last year, we had 21 gun-related suicides and only one gun-related homicide. In 2000, it was 15-to-one. Once armed, therapists can reach for something with more considerable stopping power than a box of Kleenex the next time a client starts in with the suicidal ideation talk.
If we’re going to start with nonstarters, why not try something a little more plausible, like turning over the entire public school system to the Catholic Church? Catholic schools have embraced a pedagogy — perfected over the eons — rooted in fear and shame. When I went, nobody messed with the Catholic schools. The students were scared and scary, and the teachers scarier still. The priests I encountered sported major-league fastballs and proved uncannily accurate when hurling projectiles of any shape or weight at the heads of errant students. To arm these teachers with guns would be utterly redundant. It should be noted that with the new Pope — the first Francis and the first Jesuit — there are serious glimmers of hope. Being famously humble and bling-free, the new Pope Francis no longer sports $2,000 shoes by Prada, as did his predecessor. Also on the subject of feet, Pope Francis is now even more famous for including the pedal extremities of two women when he washed the feet of 12 juvenile prisoners this past Holy Thursday. That’s when popes traditionally reenact the foot-spa treatment Jesus gave his 12 apostles as a statement of humility. Never before in the history of the world has a pope ever washed the feet of women. This matters because the 12 apostles were all men. Because of that, the Church contends, women cannot ever be ordained as priests. There’s much umbrage and outrage among the reactionary wing of the Church, whose occupants fear that such a minor symbolic shift — including two women in the foot-washing lineup — portends great heretical disasters to come. But most Catholics — at least those born in the last two centuries — are pleased by the gesture, microscopic as it may be. They’re even more pleased that one of the women whose feet Pope Francis washed happened to be a Muslim from Serbia. And one of the male prisoners whose feet got washed had AIDS. Gestures count, and both of these are huge. Francis’s predecessor, Pope Ratzinger, famously dismissed the contributions of Mohammed, the Muslim prophet, as evil and immoral. And Ratzinger argued against the use of condoms, even in AIDS-infested Africa, contending — against the combined weight of logic and all medical science — that condoms actually increased the spread of AIDS. While the Pope’s actions weren’t quite as dramatic as former president Jimmy Carter’s public renunciation of theologically based sexual discrimination, the Pope does have the ear of about 1.2 billion people. We should all be eternally grateful he saw fit to kiss the feet of two women. About time. As for the NRA and their school-safety report? Normally, I would say they can kiss my ass. But the sad fact is that we are kissing theirs.