About . . . . Classes . . . . Books . . . . Vita . . . . Blog. . . . Podcast

by Peter Moskos

December 21, 2012

Understanding the NRA World View: The Media is the Problem.

I listened to the NRA press conference with interest. It was strangely moderate, by NRA standards. Your opinion of what was said probably comes down to whether you want to live in a more armed or less armed society. I prefer less. That said, I'm happy to have students with guns in my school. I feel safer (actually, I don't think it about it much at all, but I don't feel less safe) knowing there are some armed off-duty police officers in my class. Armed security does have a role in society. I'm just not convinced that place is every elementary school.

What many of my liberal friends may not grasp from the press conference is how the NRA reflects the Conservative World View. Conservatives who have internalized this world view may not fully understand it either. (Mind you there's a Liberal World View, too, but that's not the subject du jour.) I don't post this to fault the conservative world view, but to educate the clueless.

To me, the key that NRA vice-president LaPierre was preaching to his fans came when he said, buried in his speech: "With all the foreign aid, with all the money in the federal budget..." This is a conservative talking point that his little to do with guns. It's just there to press all the right [right's?] buttons. People believe that a huge chunk of their tax dollars are wasted on "foreign aid." In truth, such aid a tiny fraction (almost a rounding error) of the federal budget.

The conservative world view believes in good and evil. There is a strong dose of religion. There is a non-relativist idea of right of wrong. There is a strong defensive sense of people being out to get you. There's an attempt to place blame. There is a heavy does of fear. Much of the conservative world view can be reprised with, "Be afraid. Be very afraid."

Another idea is the concept of true evil. I tend to see this as religiously based. Liberals like to think of people needing help and support. Call it New Testament. Conservatives like to believe in Good and Evil. Call it Zarathustrian (though you can call it Old Testament if you don't want to google Zarathustra). Here's the NRA:
The truth is that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters — people so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons that no sane person can possibly ever comprehend them. They walk among us every day.
It's almost zombie like. And when the zombies come get to get me, even I'm gonna want a semi-automatic by my side.

One of my first introductions to this world view was in the police academy. One thing (along with a nostalgic longing for corporal punishment in child rearing) really struck me: the demonization of the media. This surprised me, but it's part of the reason for the rise of the ideologically "anti-mainstream media" Fox News. There's a market there. (It was also why it was so fun to see their version of the truth collapse on election night.)

I'm pro-media. I grew up in a pro-newspaper household. In school I was taught the importance of freedom of the press. My uncle was the fine editor of many a-fine newspapers in Red and Blue states. I started writing for real -- in print and for the public to see -- for The Evanstonian, my high school newspaper.

I do not believe the media is the problem.

In the NRA press conference, the "media" was called out by name nine times. These shootings, according to this conservative world view, is the fault of the media.

Mind you we all love scapegoats. Because otherwise we'd have to blame ourselves for the our problems. And that's no fun.
How can we possibly even guess how many [copycat killers are waiting in the wings], given our nation’s refusal to create an active national database of the mentally ill?
This one may not reflect a conservative world view. Regardless, I would like to highlight this statement about the mentally ill and also that the NRA is calling for the creation of a national database on US citizens. This is both horrible and strange.
...address the much larger and more lethal criminal class: Killers, robbers, rapists and gang members who have spread like cancer in every community in this country.
It's not that this criminal class doesn't exist. I don't deny it (though it's pretty small). But to say they "spread like cancer in every community." Be afraid. Be very afraid.
And here’s another dirty little truth that the media try their best to conceal: There exists in this country a callous, corrupt and corrupting shadow industry that sells, and sows, violence against its own people.
Again, the conspiratorial tone about the media. Them East Coast elites are all in cahoots, don't forget. This time they're marching hand-in-devil's-hand with [be afriad, be very afraid], "the vicious violent video game [industry]" [da dum]! It's their fault, along with the "media conglomerates [who] compete with one another to shock, violate and offend every standard of civilized society."
And throughout it all, too many in our national media, their corporate owners, and their stockholders, act as silent enablers, if not complicit co-conspirators.... and fill the national debate with misinformation and dishonest thinking.
He sounds like an Occupy person speaking here, doesn't he? Seriously.

The conservative part is believing that the media isn't just ignorant (like liberals are), but rather that they do actually know "the truth" and insist on purposefully feeding us lies.

[For instance, the media doesn't know their gun facts well and often confuse automatic and semi-automatic weaponry. This is true, by the way. But such ignorance is hardly to blame for the downfall of civilized society.]

Then LaPierre talks about 20,000 gun bans already in existence, which, alas, isn't true. But oh well.

[Reminds me of Animal House: “The Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” "Don’t stop him. He’s on a roll!”]
When you hear your glass breaking at 3am, and you call 911, you won’t be able to pray hard enough for a gun.
Conservatives always talk about "when" and not "if" someone breaks into your home, robs, or rapes you. It's the culture of fear. Be afraid. Be very afraid. If somebody does break into my home, I'll tell what I'm not going to do: waste time praying.

LaPierre also said this:
How have our nation’s priorities gotten so far out of order. Think about it. We care about our money, so we protect our banks with armed guards. American airports, office buildings, power plants, court houses, even sports stadiums are all protected by armed security.

We care about our president, so we protect him with armed Secret Service agents. Members of Congress work in offices surrounded by Capitol Police officers. Yet, when it comes to our most beloved, innocent, and vulnerable members of the American family, our children, we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless, and the monsters and the predators of the world know it, and exploit it.
At first glance this makes sense. I took me a bit longer to figure out what is wrong with this logic.

The president and flying are special events. They doesn't affect most of us on a day-to-day level. People who handle and transport large amounts of money are particularly at risk of robbery. They need to protect themselves and "target harden." And anytime you get tens of thousands of random people together, it's good to have a few cops around. Nobody argues with that.

And out of all of that, none of it affects our day-to-day lives unless you work in a bank, are a professional athletes, or the president. What the NRA is advocating -- what they have always advocated -- is that we bring guns into our day-to-day lives. What the NRA does not understand is the most people do not want to. And what's more, we do not have to.

Most Americans want to live in a society where their six year old is not protected with a gun. Why? Because then we've let the terrorists win. The world simply isn't that evil. America isn't so evil. At least not unless Americans are so much more intrinsically evil (or so much stupider and thus demonically influenced by the media, movies, and video game conglomerates) than the rest of the civilized world. It is possible to live without a ubiquitously armed society.

Let's remember that in large parts of the world -- England, Ireland, Japan, Scandinavia -- even police don't need to carry guns. Though I doubt we'll ever see a time when the majority of police in America are unarmed, the whole point of civilization remember that such a world is possible. If we forget that and abandon our ideals, we will have entered a true dark age.

What says the NRA?
Is the press and political class here in Washington so consumed by fear and hatred of the NRA and America’s gun owners that you’re willing [to die at the hands of "evil monsters."]
Consumed with fear and hatred? Perhaps the NRA doth protest too much, methinks!

[My answer, not that you asked: ban guns that use magazines. Keep your six shooters. Keep your shotguns. No more glocks (in civilian hands). No more semi-automatic assault rifles. Regulate and ban guns to the limits of the 2nd Amendment. Also, just for the hell of it, I'll make a prediction and say all this brouhaha will create no real change in our gun laws or public safety. And we'll just keep having these things happen again and again.]

December 16, 2012

David Durk thought I was crazy...

...at least at first.

David Durk died last month. And I didn't even know it. That really would have pissed him off.

(My excuse for missing the obits was that I was en-route to a conference in Chicago. Here's one. And another. And a third.)

Let me take you back a bit. In October, 2009, there was this strange voice mail on my school office phone. Some gruff guy with no phones manners said, quite awkwardly: "Call me I want to talk about your book!"

Hmmmm... No, thank you.

But I did save the message because it was so strange.

A month later a similar message comes over the phone. But now I'm sitting in front of my computer. He did actually spell his name, David Durk, D.U.R.K., so I punched it into google. The David Durk? I called him back the next day.

He proceeded to talk my ear off for a good 40 minutes. He hadn't read my book, but he had heard something I said that pissed him off, which seemingly wasn't very hard top do. He thought I was crazy because I said something like, "the culture of police today isn't corrupt." What can I say? I call 'em like I see 'em. I didn't know what else to tell him (nor did I ever get the change to say much). But I did offer to send David Durk a copy of Cop in the Hood. And I did. 

A short time passes and he call me again saying, "I just finished reading the last footnote! Great stuff." That blurb from him has been on the right column of this blog for a while now. I'm rather proud of it. We got along better after he read my book. I like to think he respected my integrity. Or maybe he just had a soft spot for a college-educated cop. I don't know if I got in more than 50 words, edge-wise. Evidently, I later learned, I was not the first to experience this Durkian balance of conversation.

But I considered it an honor to listen to David Durk ramble on. I mean, he's David Durk for Christ's sake and my time isn't that precious. But I never did invite him to speak to my classes or the school, which (before his health issues became more serious) he was keen to do. We never met. I didn't really want to. We talked a few more times on the phone. These conversations each lasted about an hour. But over the phone, when push came to shove, I could simply hang up.

What David Durk told me, again and again, was that the world was corrupt, policing was corrupt, and he was forced out to retire on an officer's pension rather than the lieutenant's pension he deserved. I couldn't argue with any of that, because he would never give me the chance.

By many accounts, David Durk was a difficult personality. He struck me as not at peace with himself or the world. Mind you, had he achieved some zen-like state of nirvana, he never would have accomplished what he did. I mean, David Durk -- along with Frank Serpico -- changed the friggin' culture of modern police! I can't think of any other two individual with so much positive impact on policing in the 20th century.

Perhaps the most importantly change is that today (going back at least twenty years) an honest person can become an honest cop and lead a crime-free work-life for 20 years. No "pad"; no stealing from places already burglarized; no shaking down drug dealers; no shooting criminals just to teach them a lesson (not that Durk was opposed to a robbery squad that did just that, just FYI). It's not that none of this ever happens, it's that there's no longer institutionalized criminal corruption in rank-and-file policing. We have Durk and Serpico to thank for that. 

But something odd happens when you quit policing. In the following hears you assume nothing has changed. I know policing changed a lot from 1990 to 2001. And I suspect it's changed as much if not more between 2001 and 2012. But not in my mind, which will forever be a bit stuck in a bit of a time-warp from 2001. 

David Durk lived his life thinking policing hadn't changed much over the years. This was unfortunate, for a man not known for his humility. Durk couldn't appreciate what he himself had done do make policing less corrupt. He told me things were just as corrupt in 2012 as they were in 1985, or even 1970. "But it ain't so, David," I would tell him, "It just isn't." For Durk, the world was never clean enough. The man tired me out. But I'm happy he found the time to do so.

Rest in peace.

December 15, 2012

Gun Rights? "Your Side Won"

I've said it before: "Barring some seismic realignment in this country, the gun control debate is all but settled--and your side won. The occasional horrific civilian massacre is just the price the rest of us have to pay."

And then there's this gem of a cartoon.

December 11, 2012

Breaking the Taboo

The documentary is out: Breaking the Taboo. Directed by Cosmo Feilding Mellen and Fernando Grostein Andrade, it stars Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, Morgan Freeman, leaders of Brazil, Mexico, Switzerland, Colombia, and an additional cast of dozens (including me):

My favorite parts? Other than the guy who appears before Bill Clinton at 17:15, it would be the former President of Brazil, Fernando Cardoso, who says, "When I was in office in Brazil of course I was aware of the situation of drugs. But I was convinced that true repression to be possible to stop the production of drugs. But I was wrong at the time." And then there's Jorge Casteneda, Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs (2000-2003): "The war has created the situation. The situation did not create the war."

Rarely has the history of the drug war and the logic of ending the war on drugs been explained so well (or entertainingly).

[Update: Here's Richard Branson's take. And the Netflix link]