IT’S BEEN THREE DAYS since the most recent shooting took place in one of our nation’s schools. Or has it? Has something happened today that we haven’t heard about yet?
There may not have been a mass school shooting since Tuesday, but hundreds of Americans have been shot or killed by gunfire in the days since. And even though we lose thousands of people annually to gun violence, the drip, drip, drip, of one or two at a time barely warrants a mention anymore. Mass shootings, like the recent events in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas are the ones that really get our attention.
So, what’s our response? How do we prevent this from happening again, and again, and again? That’s the question that everyone asks, but the answer, or answers, continue to elude us.
For what it’s worth, here are some thoughts about the dilemma that confronts us. Admittedly, thoughts are easy… we all have them. But answers are difficult, and that’s one reason why these heinous acts are allowed to continue.
Schools are described as ‘soft targets’ due to large numbers of people gathered in one spot, often with limited protection. Should we spend more money on school security? Hire more armed guards? Secure multiple entrance points with bullet-proof doors and windows? Install more cameras?
We certainly can do those things, and many are being done now in our schools. But don’t be fooled. Those are not much more than feel-good measures that can be defeated by a determined killer. The Uvalde, Texas school district thought they had done all they could to prevent the type of incident that happened Tuesday. Yet it happened anyway.
Schools will always be soft targets. Large numbers of people gather around schools before and after the bell, and on playgrounds during recess periods, and at after-school activities on ball fields and in gymnasiums and auditoriums. They are, by their nature, regularly scheduled soft targets. And unless we want to go back to online learning with no extra-curriculars, they will continue to be so.
Then there’s the suggestion that we arm teachers. Run that one by a teacher friend of yours and see how it goes over.
And do we really want our schools to resemble maximum-security prisons? What kind of lesson are we teaching with that?
If school security is at the forefront of this discussion, then what about security at other soft targets. Not all mass shootings occur at schools. Shopping centers, churches, theaters, and any other place where people gather is a soft target. Good luck securing all of them.
This is one of the more frequent reasons cited for mass shooting incidents, particularly those where the victims are children. For someone to gun down kids in school, indiscriminately… they must be mentally ill.
Mental illness is measured on a sliding scale. It can manifest itself in everything from a quick temper to full-blown crazy, requiring institutionalized care.
Many states, like ours… and Texas, have been accused of not dedicating enough money to effectively deal with mental illness. Our current treatment procedures now include imprisonment, which is no way to deal with mental illness.
And why is it that we so easily suggest mental illness as the cause of mass shootings? Mentally healthy people kill too. There are always other factors, not the least of those being life circumstances. Early reports indicate that the Texas shooter had no history of mental illness, but he was apparently a loner with problems at home.
How does a person reach an age to be trusted with a gun without having the cognitive ability to understand there are other ways to deal with anger and disappointment than shooting up a school, or church, or grocery store?
Where was the ball dropped that allowed this person to find relief and satisfaction in taking the lives of others? We could suggest… failed parenting. Aren’t we supposed to teach our kids right from wrong? Aren’t we, as the people charged with raising this child, supposed to set an example about how to live in a civilized society?
Bullying, exposure to violent video games, absentee moms and dads, unsecured weapons, a lack of respect for yourself and others… these are all things that are a reflection of the home and the lessons being taught there. Too many parents deflect the responsibilities of guiding their children into adulthood and hope those things are being addressed in the schools. Ironic, huh?
And finally, the elephant in the room… guns. The one common denominator in every shooting, mass or otherwise, is guns. That’s a pretty obvious point, but when dealing with a recurring problem, it’s critical to the process to identify the similarities.
Can other weapons kill? Sure. You can be killed with a rock, or a rope, or a ball-point pen. But it’s the gun that allows an angry or deranged psychopath to kill easily, efficiently, and in numbers that resemble the death toll of a catastrophic natural disaster.
It’s important to acknowledge that not all guns are alike. Traditional hunting rifles and small-caliber handguns are in an entirely different category than the gun of choice for mass murderers… the AR-15.
The AR-15 is a lightweight semi-automatic rifle capable of firing as many as 45 rounds per minute, using ammunition that is typically more destructive than conventional handguns and rifles. It’s a weapon better suited to the battlefield than the playground.
What can we do?
With regards to soft targets like schools and other places where people gather… we probably can’t do much more than we’re doing now. Security checkpoints help, but are not foolproof. The 2017 Las Vegas music festival shooting, which took the lives of 60 people, was pulled off by a guy from his hotel room window.
Security in schools will probably be ramped up again in response to the Uvalde tragedy, but, as suggested earlier, a determined gunman can usually find a way.
It seems that almost everyone agrees that mental health programs should be given more priority, but that takes more state and federal funding, meaning more tax dollars. Plus, mental health treatment is often voluntary. How many of those who really need treatment will actually seek it out?
A greater commitment to social programs targeted at strengthening families and personal accountability might help head off problems while they’re manageable… before they become criminal. Again though, it’s hard to identify who needs help, often until it’s too late.
The gun issue will be front and center for the foreseeable future. There are more guns in this country than any other on earth, and a large percentage of those are of the AR-15 variety, and they serve only one purpose… mass destruction. Hence, our gun deaths also surpass those of every other nation.
Will our elected leaders find the guts to stand up to special interest groups like the NRA and get the military style guns off the street? Other countries have found a way to deal with national tragedies like school shootings. The greatest nation on earth should be able to do the same.
And finally, there are the customary thoughts and prayers. Those were fine back when these shocking events were a rarity, but they ring pretty hollow after 27 school shootings and 213 mass shootings already this year. Deep and authentic sympathy from caring people is understandable, but it doesn’t bring any of those kids back, and it does nothing to prevent the next attack.
The Columbine school shooting in 1999 got the nation’s attention, but we’ve had a dozen mass shootings with more fatalities in the years since. To say nothing has changed would be wrong. The statistics tell us that things have gotten worse.
Monday is our official Memorial Day, when we honor and remember those who gave their lives in service to this country. But today is also a memorial day, as we continue to grieve for those lives lost Tuesday, as well as for those that will be lost today.
It’s sad, and frustrating, and angering to know that people will die by gunfire tomorrow too, and it will also be a memorial day. And so too, the day after. And the day after. And the day after.
What will it take to make it stop?