Syracuse University Law School’s most prominent alum, Vice President Joe Biden, is about the only politician to have emerged from the silliness generally referred to as the fiscal cliff looking pretty good. Biden had nothing to lose and everything to gain when his boss sent him up to negotiate a deal with Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), leaving both Obama and House Speaker John Boehner waiting on the sidelines looking like just another pair of tourists in Times Square staring up at the ball ready to drop. The ball fell, Uncle Joe cinched the deal, and the cable news people got to move on to their next manufactured crisis.
The dance on the edge of the fiscal cliff might someday be known as Biden’s finest hour—but I hope not. Later this season, if he can negotiate the political currents, the vice president may find himself standing alongside Gabrielle Giffords, the parents of Newtown, Conn., and other survivors of domestic terrorism in the Oval Office in a semicircle behind Obama as the president signs legislation to remove weapons of mass destruction from our nation’s streets. Finding a compromise on effective gun control would be an accomplishment worthy of someday renaming a section of Stinard Avenue in Strathmore after the man who lived there during his law school years.
Obama has given his VP a task that could have historic resonance far beyond a silly game of budget chicken. Biden has taken on the job of making recommendations for how to prevent future mass killings with military-style weapons. His task force will look at mental health issues and gun control measures, and will report back to the president before the month is out.
We live in a city with a mayor who is a personal friend of Gabby Giffords and a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns. We live in a county with a district attorney who is a proud hunter and has gone on the record calling for tight controls on assault weapons and large-scale ammo purchases. We live in a state whose governor is using his bully pulpit to insist that law enforcement be given better tools to reduce the chances that those with evil intent will find a Bushmaster easy to obtain.
Biden, however, is neither our mayor nor our governor; neither is he the DA of Onondaga County. He is the second-in-command of a nation divided over how to deal with such weapons. He presides over a Senate in which influential Republicans capable of stalling a deal have been eager to do the bidding of the National Rifle Association (NRA).
So how can Biden work a deal that reflects the common sentiment that limiting assault weapons does not harm the interests of hunters nor threaten the Second Amendment? He can do it by embracing the NRA. A week after the Newtown massacre, NRA head Wayne LaPierre offered his organization’s response to Adam Lanza’s killing of 20 children, six school personnel and his mother. The best idea that the nation’s gun lobby came up with was to place armed guards in every school in the country.
Joe, take the deal. If that’s what you think will work, we have no argument. The administration should propose that the federal government approve funding to pay for an armed guard in every one of our 80,000 schools at an estimated cost of $80,000 per year, pet school. In the same bill, Congress should renew the assault weapons ban, close the gun show loophole and allocate an equal amount to support local efforts to speed up background checks on gun and large scale ammunition purchasers.
For the past few weeks I’ve been asking teachers a simple question: Would you take this deal? Would you trade serious gun control for armed guards in the schools? Just about all of them begin by saying they don’t want guns in their schools. But that ship has already sailed. There are guns in the schools: some in the hands of officers, some in the hands of students, some in the hands of criminals.
This approach would leave it up to individual school districts to decide if they want to have armed guards walking their hallways to deter evildoers. (The later NRA idea of volunteers taking on this task, or having teachers packing heat, is lunacy unworthy of discussion.)
So if your school doesn’t want a guard, you don’t have to apply for the funding. That is consistent with a solid Republican principle: local control. From my conversations most districts would rather have that $80,000 for things that have more to do with instruction than defense.
But in exchange for this appropriation you could take steps that would reduce the chances that the next Adam Lanza will find a Bushmaster in his mother’s house (that a gun enthusiast like Nancy Lanza was the first victim in Newtown is an irony that has been lost in the grief over the lives of those children). Would you take the deal?
Joe, call the teacher’s union. Get us a deal our kids can live with. We might even name Woodland Reservoir for you some day.
Read Ed Griffin-Nolan’s award-winning commentary every week in the Syracuse New Times. You can reach him at