What Betsy DeVos’ ridiculous grizzlies and guns answer really tells us

The latest slogan from the gun lobby: “Use in case of grizzly.”

That was education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos’s line at her confirmation hearing earlier this week when Sen. Chris Murphy asked her about having guns in schools — an idea even unpopular with many gun-friendly Americans. DeVos replied that guns may be necessary in some schools, such as in a rural state like Wyoming, where they might be needed “to protect from potential grizzlies.” Cue widespread Internet mockery.

What the incident showed, though, isn’t that DeVos is foolish enough to actually believe there’s a significant problem with aggressive grizzly bears interrupting calculus class. It’s that the gun lobby’s positions are so extreme, and its influence on the Republican Party so corrosive, that even a rational, honest dialogue — even a rational and honest-though-heated debate — about the place of guns in society has become all but impossible. What we have left is absurdist political theater. Grizzlies.

The American gun lobby has one simple, insane position: guns are good (and perhaps necessary) virtually everywhere. This stance helps gun manufacturers sell more guns, but doesn’t do much else.

To admit before a nationally televised congressional hearing that perhaps it’s not the best idea to place commercial items expressly designed to kill with stunning efficiency in the vicinity of schoolchildren would be to admit that guns are hand-held killing machines, not benign tools occasionally misused by deranged people. The latter is, after all, the position of the National Rifle Association.

If Devos had made such an admission, it may well have forced the gun lobby and its opponents in the GOP into conversation, and allowed Americans the opportunity to really consider where and when guns are appropriate in shared public spaces. The gun lobby does not want that debate: it cuts into its bottom line and potentially weakens its enormous influence.

But it is what the rest of us deserve. In a saner country — a saner political environment — answers like the one DeVos gave in refusing to say that schools may be an appropriate place to draw the line on the “guns everywhere” position would be disqualifying.

Instead, nearly all of the GOP dutifully toes the line on guns, even as gun violence cuts short the lives of thousands of innocent Americans. The NRA and its deputies in the political sphere promote a pervasive culture of fear and a sense that each of us need to be ready to shoot when we suspect potential violence from outsiders. Conveniently, the gun lobby has just the answer.

It turns out it’s not grizzly bears schoolchildren should be afraid of. It’s the adults in office who are charged with protecting them but pledge allegiance instead to powerful political interests.

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