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Today’s press conference by NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre has been greeted with a storm of derision and outrage from across the political spectrum. Even moderates and conservatives were appalled — New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s comment that the speech reflected a “paranoid, dystopian vision” of America was distinctive more for its phrasing than its sentiment.
One of the most ridiculed elements of LaPierre’s appearance was his call for a national volunteer force of armed guards to patrol every school in America — a “blanket of safety,” he called it, and he wants it in place by the end of the Christmas break.
Many observers pointed out that Columbine High School had an armed sheriff’s deputy on site on the day that Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered thirteen and wounded twenty-one more in what stands as the bloodiest high school massacre in the nation’s history.
Some conservatives are “peeved” by this criticism, however. As Daniel Foster writes at the website of the National Review,
“it isn’t like the deputy was sitting around eating doughnuts. … He traded fire (that is, he drew fire) with Harris for an extended period of time, during which Harris’s gun jammed. … In this highly chaotic tactical environment, the deputy acted both bravely and prudently, and who knows how many lives he saved by engaging Harris.”
Let’s consider this a moment.
Wayne LaPierre asserts that the solution to the problem of school shootings is bringing armed guards onto the nation’s campuses. Critics point out that the worst high school shooting in American history took place at a school where just such a guard was on hand. And how do LaPierre’s supporters respond?
You see? It works!
The NRA and its allies believe that Columbine was a win. They believe that we need more Columbines, not fewer.
Here’s the entirety of the only passage in President Obama’s speech in Tucson after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting in 2011 that even implied advocacy for governmental action against gun violence:
“We cannot and will not be passive in the face of such violence. We should be willing to challenge old assumptions in order to lessen the prospects of such violence in the future.”
Here’s the analogous passage from his speech in Colorado after the Aurora shootings in July:
“I hope that over the next several days, next several weeks, and next several months, we all reflect on how we can do something about some of the senseless violence that ends up marring this country, but also reflect on all the wonderful people who make this the greatest country on Earth.”
And here’s the analogous passage from his speech tonight in Newtown:
“This is our first task, caring for our children. Our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live our their lives in happiness and with purpose? I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.
“Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings. Fourth time we’ve hugged survivors. Fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims. In between there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children in small towns and big cities all across America. Victims who much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
“We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this. If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.
“In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage? That the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”
Should be an interesting next few weeks.
April 2013 Update | A federal judge this week ordered the Obama administration to end its opposition to over-the-counter Plan B. In response, White House press secretary Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s position.
• • •
February 2012 | President Obama’s daughters are just thirteen and ten, but the guy just can’t stop talking about the possibility they’ll be romantically inclined someday, and about how much that fact freaks him out.
Just yesterday, when he was visiting the Master Lock factory in Wisconsin, Obama joked that the company’s industrial “super locks” might “come in handy” for him as “the father of two girls who are soon to be in high school.” For now, he added, he’s “counting on the fact that when they go to school there are men with guns with them.”
And this isn’t the only time he’s made that kind of joke.
Two years ago, at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, he told the Jonas Brothers that his daughters were “huge fans.” He then warned the singing group not to “get any ideas” because he controls an arsenal of predator drones.
Last year, speaking at a Tennessee high school’s commencement, he noted that the school’s principal’s daughter had chosen to go to a different school because she “was worried that the boys would be afraid to talk to her if her mom was lurking in the hallways.” Because of this, he said, he’d decided to announce that his “next job will be principal at Sasha and Malia’s high school — and then I’ll be president of their college.”
A few months later a reporter, noting that he’d given the girls a puppy when he first won the presidency, asked what he’d get them if he won re-election. He replied that he’d “be getting them a continuation of Secret Service so that when boys want to start dating them, they are going to be surrounded by men with guns.”
These jokes are freaking creepy. Set aside the fact that Obama’s predator drones are estimated to have killed more than a hundred innocent children. Set aside the fact that Obama was joking about three men aged seventeen, twenty, and twenty-two “getting ideas” about girls who were then eight and eleven years old. Set aside the inappropriateness of a father meddling in the romantic decisions of his college age kids. (And set aside as well the casual, ugly assertion that his daughters will be interested in, and only interested in, “boys.”)
The biggest problem with all these jokes is that at their core they’re not really jokes.
When the Obama administration overruled the FDA’s scientists and policymakers on expanding morning-after pill access for teenagers last December, he said he endorsed the decision “as the father of two daughters,” and claimed that “most parents” would agree with him. Though he claimed that the decision was based on the possibility of “a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old” being able to “buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect … alongside bubble gum or batteries,” the fact is that drugstores are filled with over-the-counter medications far more dangerous than Plan B, any one of which any ten-year-old can buy without restriction.
What makes the morning-after pill different is that it allows teenage girls to take control of their own sexual decisions and those decisions’ consequences. The mentality that says that “most parents” would want to deprive their daughters of that agency is the mentality that assumes that most parents fantasize about being the gatekeeper of who their daughters talk to in high school and college. It’s a mentality that jokes about using violence and the threat of violence to keep your daughters from becoming sexually active.
These jokes aren’t benign. With them, the president is normalizing a patriarchal, sexist, adversarial take on parenthood — and on fathering daughters specifically. (It’s not an accident that Michelle Obama doesn’t make these jokes, or that she instead jokes approvingly about her daughters’ crushes on the Secret Service agents who protect them.)
If Obama’s children were sons, he wouldn’t be talking about using industrial super locks on them when they got to high school. He wouldn’t be musing about his plans to keep his kids from talking to girls when they got to college. He wouldn’t be threatening Selena Gomez with predator drones. He just wouldn’t.
Being the father of daughters is complicated. It can be difficult. But a father’s job is to help his daughter to develop a strong, healthy sense of her own desires and her own boundaries, and the confidence to express them. A father’s job is to teach his daughter that she can and should be brave, and fearless, and take risks. A father’s job is to let his daughter know that he’s got her back. A father’s job is to let her know that what she’s going through is normal, and appropriate, and isn’t going to be a barrier to him continuing to be there for her. His job is to make it clear that his desire to protect her and keep her safe doesn’t mean that she needs to sneak around behind his back, to make it clear that she doesn’t need to stay a child forever, that she can and should and must go out and explore the world for herself.
I suspect Obama is a pretty good dad. But his blind spot on this stuff is doing real harm to other people’s daughters, and quite possibly his own.
He should cut it the hell out.
A few months ago I was out at a fancy ice cream place with my eight-year-old daughter. She got chocolate chip, and on a lark I asked for a taste of tarragon and pink peppercorn. It was delicious, and I wound up buying a cup.
I offered her a taste. She declined. I thought she’d really like it, and I thought she’d be chuffed to have tried such a weird flavor, so I offered again. She declined again. “Just one taste,” I said.
“No,” she said. “My body, my choice.”
I’ve used that phrase with her and her sister since they were toddlers, trying to drum it into them. Don’t want to hug your grandma? Don’t want your sister tickling you? Don’t want to wear the mask from your Halloween costume when you trick-or-treat? Your body, your choice.
But this was the first time she’d used it on me. She was right. And I apologized.
Her body, her choice. Period.
Two fascinating elementary school stories this week: A Colorado third-grader has set up a gay rights rally as an independent study project for school, while a California sixth-grader was made to give an oral report on Harvey Milk at lunchtime, instead of in class.
The Colorado story pretty much speaks for itself, but the California one deserves a bit of explanation.
When Natalie Jones, a sixth grader at Mt. Woodson Elementary School near San Diego, chose Harvey Milk as the subject of a class presentation, the principal of MWES decided that her biographical project fell under the school’s “Family Life/Sex Education” regulations. That policy mandates that students’ parents or guardians be notified in writing “before any instruction on family life, human sexuality, AIDS or sexually transmitted diseases is given.”
But the principal didn’t just send out written notice to the parents of Jones’ classmates. She went further.
According to the ACLU, the principal told Jones that she wouldn’t be able to give the presentation at all, then a few days later rescheduled it for a lunch period. When she sent notice, she told them that students would only be allowed to participate with written parental permission.
Eight of Jones’ thirteen classmates attended her presentation.
The ACLU is demanding that the school apologize, clarify the “Family Life/Sex Education” policy, and allow Jones to give her presentation to the entire class in a regular class session. A PDF copy of Jones’ PowerPoint presentation can be found here.