January 2013

The Thin Line

Ever since childhood, I have been conscious of a popular adage: “There is a thin line between genius and insanity.” I imagine it was repeated, in part, to keep us kids from thinking too highly of ourselves. Being considered a genius was actually a curse. No one wanted to get too close to that line. No one wanted to be thought of as insane. In truth, nobody seemed to know exactly where that line was, but everybody recognized when someone had crossed it.

As I grew older I realized that genius is not the only way to insanity. There seems to be many paths, and certainly stupidity is one. True, the line is just as nebulous as ever, but it is still clear when someone has crossed over. The most recent, high profile example is Wayne LaPierre, leader of the National Rifle Association.

As everyone knows, on the morning of December 14, 2012, twenty-six
people died in a school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut. Twenty of them were children only six and seven years of age. Merely one week later, LaPierre held a press conference calling on Congress to appropriate whatever funds were necessary to place armed guards in every school in the country. Wow! Did I say, “Insane?”

News outlets around the nation pounced on the absurdity of LaPierre’s suggestion. They called him “crazy Wayne”. They were too kind. One can have a conversation, and maybe even reason, with a crazy person. LaPierre is insane! At the press conference he took no questions. There is an explanation. The insane cannot answer questions, at least not intelligently.

It would be bad enough if LaPierre were the only person in the country to completely lose his powers of reason. But there are actually others, some of them even teachers, who are just as unhinged. Barely two weeks after the Sandy Hook killings, 200 teachers in Utah were given lessons on how to handle concealed weapons. Some pictures are priceless, but the photo of fourth grade teacher Joanna Baginska laughing as she learns how to handle a 40caliber handgun is not even worth a penny. The picture is frightening, eerie and probably prophetic.

For too long, American political slogans have relied on clever turns of phrase. The end result being that they are simplistic, contribute nothing of merit to a national discussion, and degrade the intelligence of the American public. A classic example is the bumper sticker: “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns”. To this, LaPierre adds the dangerously inane. In his news conference he stated: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” His phrase is not as clever. Nor is it accurate.

How can we assume that children will be safer by arming their security guards and teachers? Apparently, LaPierre does not get his news feeds from reliable sources. No one has informed him that skilled professionals, including soldiers and police make mistakes, too. We use euphemistic terms like “friendly fire” and “collateral damage,” but what we mean is that innocent people have been killed. Killed by people highly trained in the use of firearms. We also hear news reports of innocent bystanders being killed in the crossfire between gangs and of bullets going astray.

LaPierre noted that we arm guards to protect our banks, office buildings, legislators, etc. He fails to note that people have been killed in banks, office buildings and even on Capitol Hill. His suggestion does not guarantee the safety of our children. Rather, LaPierre guarantees a day when school children will be caught in a crossfire between bad guys with guns and good guys with guns. And when these children die in a hail of bullets, some of the fire will be friendly—but the children will be just as dead.

How to craft gun legislation is a discussion for another day. For now, we must assure that we are on the same page of reality. That whatever conversation ensues, it is measured and reasonable. At the very least, we must be able to recognize when someone has crossed the thin line. And we must not engage a debate with the insane. We simply cannot allow ourselves to live in Wayne’s world. I suppose he has a right to be insane, but he has no right to drag us down with him!