[Note: As I prepared to publish this post, I saw an NPR report indicating that soon after the deadly school shooting on Wednesday, Russian twitter accounts began tweeting inflammatory content on both sides of the gun control issue, presumably with the aim of increasing partisan conflict in the US. Having no wish to find myself supporting the same cause that Russian bots are championing, I looked carefully at what I had written. I’m angry, but not at folks who own guns. I’m angry at companies that see more value in their revenues than in supporting public safety. And I’m angry at the idea that nothing can change.]
Same ol’, same ol’, right? Just another mass murder* at an American school. We are in month two of 2018, and Wednesday’s shooting in Florida, where 17 people were killed, most of them students, is by no means the first school shooting of the year. But which number is it? We won’t be able to agree on how many school shootings there have been so far, because we probably can’t agree on what should count.
Business Insider UK catalogs 18 gun-related incidents† since January 1, but that includes some accidents, some stray bullets, some suicides. If we only count the number of school shootings where one or more people died, then there have only been seven. Well, we might say, that’s better. And the death toll is only 24–so everyone should just calm down, right?
I don’t think we’ll be able to agree on how comforted we should feel that only 24 people have been shot at or near a school in the last six or seven weeks. Nor will we be able to agree on what should be done. After rampages where children are killed in classrooms, gun sales go up, stock prices of gun manufacturers go up, I believe that contributions to politicians by the National Rifle Association go up. (There are probably some who won’t agree that those assertions are true.) Some say we need more restrictive gun laws, and others disagree. Some say guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Others think that without guns it would be harder for people to be killing people, and making it harder is a good thing.
Some say it’s too soon to start talking about what can be done to prevent future tragedies, that it’s indecent to interrupt people’s need to grieve. Others say that in order to prevent other parents of students at some other school in some not-very-distant future from needing to stand grieving outside the building, waiting to see if their child comes out on foot or on a stretcher, this is exactly the time we need to be talking.
Some say this problem is just too complicated, and there’s nothing we can do. Others say that in nations around the world, similar to ours, children don’t get shot in their schools nearly as often as they do in the US, and that while we may not be able to come up with a perfect solution, refusing to try to address this crisis is irresponsible, perhaps even wrong.
If we can’t all agree that children shouldn’t have to fear when they’re at school, or that guns that are designed to kill lots of people quickly should not be available for civilian purchase, are there things we can agree on? How about this: 17 students and faculty of a Florida high school that were alive Wednesday morning are dead now. Can we agree that we have an interest in preventing other students from dying in similar circumstances?
A writer I have worked with wrote a post on Thursday acknowledging the difficulty of addressing the problem of American gun violence and mass shootings. But he says we have tools to address even hard problems, if we will. He gives an example:
“Since 2001, we have effectively eliminated the risk of shoe bombs on planes by having everybody who travels by air take off their shoes. This is a huge inconvenience. But we endure it because we have collectively decided that we cannot tolerate even a small risk of somebody wearing exploding shoes on an airplane.
Could we do something like this with guns? Of course we could. We can’t do it by passing one or two laws. We have to make a concerted effort to change a culture in which the virtually unlimited ability of any person to take any gun anywhere is considered an aspect of freedom. But we have some models to work from, such as every other developed nation on earth–none of which endure mass shootings on a regular basis or consider them the price they must pay for civilization.”
I agree with him. I have no doubt that others will not. Perhaps we will have some difficulties figuring out whether everyone is willing to endure some inconvenience so that others can continue to be alive. I’m sure some will say that’s not the issue at all.
If we can’t agree on what to do next, can we agree that we need to do something?
*I had the opportunity to write on the topic of mass shootings only a few months ago, in this post about the hundreds of bullets that entered human bodies in the Las Vegas catastrophe. There’s a lot more that can be said. Sadly, it’s quite likely that within the next few months there will be another mass shooting, and I can bring up other points then.
†Looking for some image of the crowd at the Florida school that I might use to illustrate, I would click on one, and realize, oh, that’s from another school shooting. No, wait, that’s from a different one, too. There were lots of pictures to choose from. In the end, I decided not to illustrate. You can imagine the scene.