The Washington Post has reported that hundreds of thousands of young people have experienced school shootings. “Experienced” here means they were attending school, and someone brought in and fired a gun at that school. Sometimes tragedy results, and sometimes it’s just a reminder of a tragic cultural trend.
It seems wrong that this cultural trend exists. And it seems like a bad price to pay for our current system of gun ownership. It’s hard to translate this price into a loss of life and grief, but just this year:
Marshall County High School, Benton, KY: 15-year-old with a handgun opens fire at 7:57 a.m. He kills 2, wounds 14.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, FL: 19-year-old with an AR-15 sets off the fire alarm and begins shooting. He kills 17, wounds 17.
Santa Fe High School, Sante Fe, NM: 17-year-old student with a handgun and a shotgun opens fire in a morning art class. He kills 10 and wounds 14.
There were also a dozen other smaller-scale incidents — though surely if you’re close to one, or close to a victim of one, a “smaller-scale incident” feels just as tragic.
School shootings have consequences beyond the casualties, too. They shape schools policies and childhood experiences.
From kindergarten to 12th grade, students do lockdown or active shooter drills. The drills shape how they see the world. Teachers train for what to do in the event of an active shooter. We’re at a point where we can have experts debating the best procedures to take. This means school shootings are becoming more like natural disasters or road repairs: we’ve accepted they’re going to happen, and now the question is how to prepare to minimize their cost.
Not a new problem
In 1999 — that’s almost 20 years ago — 2 boys tried to set off bombs in the cafeteria at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO. When the bombs didn’t go off, they pulled guns out of their trench coats and started shooting. By the time they were done, 13 were dead and 21 wounded.
How did people react? Pretty much the same as they do in 2018. They were out of their minds with grief, they were furious, they wanted something done. The targets of the Who Or What Is To Blame debate were mostly the same. It was video games’ fault! It was violence on TV ‘s fault! It was the parents not doing the parenting! (Clearly, a lot of these arguments weren’t great. For example, “video games” includes Rory Mcllroy PGA Tour and Hello Kitty Island.)
There were also calls for gun control, since guns are, obviously, a big part of shootings. Every time there’s a shooting, we re-open the debate about how or what we should do about guns. It’s a debate that hasn’t made a lot of progress since 1999. The main reason for this is that defenders of gun rights often take a “purity” stance: any effort to make it harder to own guns is a step in the wrong direction.
But there are a huge range of scenarios between where we are now and “nobody owns a gun.” There are somewhere around 300 million guns in the U.S. right now. Most proposals for gun control wouldn’t come close to reducing this number to zero.
Lots of people cite the Second Amendment when saying why we shouldn’t change gun laws. (The Second Amendment gives you the right to own a gun and belong to a militia). But that rationale seems kind of tone deaf next to the lived experiences of students at Columbine High School, or West Nickel Mines Amish High School, or Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Or just the total number of gun deaths, including suicides, that happen every year. It’s 2018, not 1776: We need to be thoughtful and pragmatic about how things have changed.
What are the students saying?
To me, the voices that should guide or gun debates are those affected by gun violence. For example, students from Parkland, FL published an column in The Guardian calling for a “ban on semi-automatic weapons that fire high-velocity rounds,” “accessories that simulate automatic weapons,” and to “raise the firearm purchase age to 21.” These all seem pretty reasonable, and they don’t come close to banning all guns.
The Peace Warriors, a group of students in Chicago who try to de-escalate tensions before they lead to violence have called for more funding for mental health clinics in places where people can’t afford them.
Students from lots of other places around the country, including Newtown, CT, have been speaking out, too. They’re organizing marches, calling on Congress to take action, and generally leading the debate on gun laws.
If you have one of the voices, the best way you can make it heard is to vote. Actually, that’s not quite right. The best way is to bring all of your friends to the polls, too. Politicians listen when lots of people start shouting the same thing. Unfortunately, while young people don’t mind shouting IRL, they’ve been pretty quiet at the voting booth — and that gives politicians permission to ignore them.