The Shooting of the Week

As is now the norm in our nation, a troubled man went into his former high school with an AR-15. He systematically ended the lives of seventeen innocent Americans; their only crime on that particular day was going to work or school.

The gun control debate, or lack thereof, is completely off the rails. You would think that the consistency of stories like this would provide some sense of urgency, but the opposite has been true. If the massacres were few and far between, each individual attack might bear some significance. Its mundanity is tied to its prevalence.

A few points always come up, and each “side” entrenches deeper into their talking points. It is somewhat disheartening to see the glib folks online crack their knuckles, delving into the comments of concerned citizens only to criticize them for their lack of gun knowledge. Forgive them, if you can, that they are not gun obsessed — that they don’t know the ins and outs of gun legislation, and which gun is legal and which guns are banned. Most people, I suspect, would just as soon know nothing about guns. The weekly slaughter of children has made ignorance less blissful.

Another common, if not tired, theme is the plea to “not politicize this tragedy.” A tragedy, to me, implies something momentous. On December 7, 1941, Japanese pilots attacked American ships and soldiers at Pearl Harbor. The next day, the United States declared war against the Empire of Japan. They chose not to wait around to see if it would happen again.

Unfortunately, routine massacre is something which we are numb to as a people. We know it happened yesterday and we know it will happen tomorrow. The period “not to politicize” seems to align perfectly with the gap between the last attack and the next. Then it starts again. It is unfortunate that some would rather criticize the few seeking to effect change for being too eager than offer some proactive solution themselves.

And that really speaks to the issue with the gun debate. For whatever naive reason, we assume that it is not a partisan topic as with every single other thing. We like to imagine that the murder of innocent people might rise above the political fray, but it doesn’t. Debates over the frequency of school shootings should not have a partisan bend, but they do. 

Even the most thoughtful and well-meaning luminaries on the right have little to offer. David French, whom I read and respect, offered a well-written and thoughtful piece on the whole matter, entitled “New Gun Policies Won’t Stop Mass Shooting, but People Can.” He could have saved the effort and just tweeted “if you see something, say something,” because that’s all the column amounts to. 

French basically suggests that we should police ourselves and watch out for warning signs that someone poses a risk to the rest of us. That’s an obvious first step, but that’s all he has to say. Granted that it was written before we knew, but someone contacted the FBI about the perpetrator weeks ago because they thought he might shoot up a school. In the future, if his suggestions are borne out, every somewhat mad or sad or angry or reserved or odd (you get the idea) person would be reported to the police, with the well-meaning but counterproductive intention of preventing another attack.

The number of tips that the FBI receives must be monumental, and to follow up on every last one would likely mean they let slip through the cracks dangerous and credible threats. I respect that French may not think there are policies to put in place to prevent horrors like Parkland, but what does that say about his worldview?

If you look at a the events of this week as a progression, French has identified his solution to Step B. Step B, in this case, is identifying that there is someone likely to commit such a crime. The assumptions from this are clear: that there was nothing to prevent him from Step A, which is to acquire weaponry. That is accepted, offhand, as a fact of American life. Hot dogs, baseball, guns.

If there’s one part of the French piece that I do agree with, it’s the idea that this is a cultural problem, a contagion as he puts it. In reference to the progression I mentioned before, we all have to accept the first proposition of Step A: guns are readily available in this country. Opponents to reform seem indifferent to Step A as being the source of the problem. Compare the rates of gun deaths in the United States to the rest of the world, and then compare the number of guns in the United States to the rest of the world. You either accept that more guns lead to more gun deaths, or you believe that Americans are, for some reason, inherently more violent and murderous.

A consortium of experts met in 2013 to discuss ways in which federal gun policies might be amended to prevent such massacres as Newtown, which occurred in 2012. One suggestion is to “fully fund federal incentives for states to provide information about disqualifying mental health conditions to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System for gun buyers.” 

The perpetrator of this week’s attack had multiple run-ins with police, had a troubled record at school, and was known to comment online about his desire to kill others. Perhaps there’s a way that these disparate signs could be coalesced in a single “universal background check system,” the first suggestion of the experts at Johns Hopkins. 

Finally, a popular and entirely preposterous theory offered by opponents of any type of gun control is to arm every teacher in the country. The same teachers they cannot afford to give pencils, someone quipped online, will now be given a handgun and training. Right. And that even assumes it would be desirable for every teacher to be armed to the teeth. Did you trust every teacher you’ve had with a gun? I certainly would not, and that isn’t a criticism of the teachers. More guns around means more opportunities for accidents to happen. You’re also putting guns in close quarters with someone who, in a fit of rage, may become the next shooter.

The argument should not be “ban all guns.” We can’t. Gun owners will gleefully tell you that we can’t. But there must be something. I have written before that it seems hopeless, that people just want something —anything — to change. In some cases, doing nothing is better than doing something. I don’t know that it holds true for these events. Surely we can do something to address this. It couldn’t get worse, could it?

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