Archive for Friday, October 13, 2006

Bumper-sticker wisdom found lacking

October 13, 2006


In the wake of the recent spate of shootings at U.S. schools, a Wisconsin state legislator has proposed a novel solution: Let's arm the teachers.

You can hardly be surprised at Republican Rep. Frank Lasee's interest in this issue: One of those shootings took place in his state. There, on Oct. 1, a 15-year-old boy shot Weston Schools Principal John Klang to death. Still, Lasee's proposed solution has raised eyebrows.

As others debate solutions ranging from heightened security to increased vigilance against bullying, Lasee has cut through the namby and the pamby. He wants to pass legislation that would allow properly trained teachers and administrators to carry concealed handguns on school property.

And I just have to say: Of all the ideas I've ever heard, that's ... certainly one of them.

Naturally, you'd expect criticism of such, ahem, bold thinking, and you would be not be disappointed. The Capitol Times newspaper compared Lasee to "the village idiot" who fights a fire by dousing it with gasoline. The paper seemed concerned that this characterization unfairly stigmatized village idiots.

Meantime, the Duluth News-Tribune observed that having guns in school would make them even more readily available to disturbed, violence-prone children. The executive director of a Wisconsin anti-violence group called the idea "perverse." Even Lasee's cousin, State Senate President Alan Lasee, dubbed the idea "goofy," leading one to hope all the guns are properly secured at the next Lasee family reunion.

Anyway, you get the drift. The consensus says, bad idea. Really bad idea.

Me, I think Frank Lasee is simply an agent of the Zeitgeist and no one knows it yet. Or hasn't anyone else noticed our recent surplus of really bad ideas whose commonality and selling point is that they are simple. Workability? That's optional. Rationality? Overrated. What we want are ideas that can be explained on bumper stickers. If they require position papers, we're not interested.

Think I'm kidding? Consider a few actual ideas recently floated, debated or enacted by actual elected representatives.

Terrorism a threat? Bomb Mecca.

Terrorists won't talk? Torture them.

Illegal immigration a problem? Fence off the country.

FEMA a failure? Change its name.

We have become ever more impatient with the complexities and convolutions that characterize our most intractable problems, ever more intolerant of solutions that require patience, long-term thinking, and the coordination of multiple strategies. Like overweight people looking for a fat-burning pill, we want magic solutions that require no investment of time, tears or tolerance.

So sure, if school shootings are a threat, let's arm the teachers. Because, as everyone knows, the real problem in this country is that there just aren't enough people with guns. At the very least, arming teachers will sure discourage cheating. Indeed, why stop there?

Arm the bus drivers. That'll teach some punk to try to slip on with an expired transfer.

Arm the waiters. Bet folks won't be so quick to whine about their soup being cold.

Heck, arm the editors. Presto! Suddenly everybody's able to make their deadlines.

Lasee's proposal is emblematic of the simple, simplistic, simple-minded schemes that bubble to the surface of the national discourse with troubling frequency these days. They are not just dumb, they're frightening, suggesting as they do that we are becoming a people too obtuse, too impatient, or too both, to grapple the complexities and gray shades of this life.

As George Clinton used to say, "Think! It ain't illegal yet."

Which would be a really good idea. And hey, look at that! It fits on a bumper sticker, too.

- Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


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