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Duck and Cover

Once those articulate Florida high school students, God love them, are finished exposing the craven emptiness of politicians like Marco Rubio and others subverted by the NRA, they might want to turn to nuclear weapons as another sacred cow ripe for the “we call B.S.” treatment.

The acute dangers of gun violence and nuclear weapons offer ominous parallels. Both are deadly serious issues that provoke absurd levels of avoidance and paralysis.

For 22 years, pressure from the NRA upon the Center for Disease Control caused Congress to defund research into gun fatalities. Opportunists like Rubio duck and take cover from the obvious root cause of our endless mass shootings, the glut of unregulated guns, turning to any other explanation no matter how implausible, in order to avoid shutting off the spigot of blood-soaked NRA cash.

The solutions to keeping children in schools safe from mass shootings have never been hidden. There is a slam-dunk correlation between the numbers of guns in any country and the number of mass shootings, and the United States wins the booby prize for having by far the most guns and the most shootings.

Avoidance continues rampant on the nuclear issue as well. Last fall Senator Corker, acknowledging bipartisan concerns about the unstable temperament of the president, opened a meeting of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee examining some of the legal issues of nuclear command and control, by remarking that this was the first hearing on the subject since 1976! Senator Rubio was there, tut-tutting that even talking about whether military personnel had the option to refuse to carry out illegal orders (they do) might undermine our credibility with North Korea.

While the president’s unhinged bellicosity may indeed keep us up at night, the overall structure of executive authority over nuclear weapons is an even greater cause for sweaty insomnia than any particular person in office. No human being, however well-trained in sober decision-making, should ever be put in the position of having five minutes to decide whether to launch a fleet of nuclear-winter-causing missiles because someone else’s nuclear-winter-causing missiles were already on their way—or not, as in the case of the Hawaiian false alarm.

Those who call for arming teachers, who buy into deterrence theory on either the gun level or the nuclear level, must justify the improbable notion that the more we are armed, the more we can move into the future without errors, misinterpretations, and accidents. Nuclear deterrence, designed to ensure stability, is undercut by the inherently unstable momentum of “we build-they build.” In order to be certain that the weapons, whether a loaded pistol in the drawer or a ballistic missile in a silo, are never used, they must be kept ready for instant use—accidents waiting to happen.

Fortunately, the insane levels of destructiveness built up during the Cold War were reduced by the hard work of skilled diplomats—reminding us that sensible further reductions in nuclear arms remain within the realm of possibility even if political will is presently lacking.

Reductions in the equally grotesque numbers of guns in the possession of American citizens are equally possible with well-structured buyback programs and common-sense regulations based upon the model of licensing citizens to drive cars.

Duck-and-cover stopgaps only fuel vain illusions of survivability—crouching in closets or hiding under desks as a viable protection from either a shooter with an AR-15 or the detonation of a nuclear weapon. Prevention is not nine-tenths but ten-tenths of the cure.

The rhythmic repetition of shootings tempts us to assume that the probability of nuclear war is much less likely than further gun slaughter. The reality is that without a fundamental change of direction, both more mass shootings and more nuclear weapons used against people are tragically inevitable. Too many assault rifles in the hands of too many angry, alienated young men will yield more incidents. The authority to launch nuclear weapons from North Korea is itself in the hands of an alienated young man, leaving aside that our president is himself a far cry from being a grown-up.

Powerful lobbying efforts thwart reasonable plans for reducing either guns or nuclear weapons. In the case of the latter, a vast program of renewal costing trillions is getting under way, in clear violation of the spirit of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to which the U.S. is a signatory.

The argument that the more we are armed to the teeth the safer we will be simply does not hold up under statistical examination. Where gun regulations are stricter, violent incidents drop, and where they are looser, incidents rise. Period. There is no logical reason to assume matters are any different with nuclear weapons. The more there are, and the more people who are handling them, the greater the chance of their being used. Period.

That is why 122 nations signed an agreement at the U.N. last year banning nuclear weapons. In a similar spirit the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School quickly sublimated their grief and rage into a growing political movement to change gun laws. When they become adults and begin to run for office, it’s hopeful to imagine they will also call B.S. on the notion that more nuclear weapons make us safer.

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Winslow Myers is author of “Living Beyond War: A Citizen’s Guide.” He serves on the Advisory Board of the War Preventive Initiative.

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