April 1, 2020

After the Candlelight Vigils

By Stephen Tuttle | April 27, 2019

Four armed men entered a schoolhouse near Greencastle, Pennsylvania, shot and killed the school headmaster, and then murdered nine children. It was July 26, 1764. We haven't stopped since.
We recently commemorated, if that's the right word, the 20thanniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado. Too many of us see that as a kind of starting point for school shootings when it was just one in a long, continuous string of such acts.
In fact, we haven't missed a decade since 1840. Our attention was first captured when Charles Whitman randomly killed 16 people while shooting from the University of Texas clock tower. And there were more before Columbine: seven dead at a school in Fullerton, California, in 1976; multiple deaths in Oregon and Mississippi in 1997; five killed in Oregon ... and then Columbine.
Grieving family members and survivors formed advocacy groups to try and stop it all from happening again. But happen it did.
Seven dead at Red Lake Senior High in Minnesota in 2005, another 32 gunned down at Virginia Tech in 2007, 26 children and teachers murdered in the grotesque Sandy Hook Elementary massacre in 2012, seven more at Oikos University in California the same year, nine more at Umpqua Community College in Oregon in 2015, 17 at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High in Florida last year, and another 10 at Santa Fe High in Texas in 2018. 
Altogether, there have been 230 shooting incidents at K-12 schools since Columbine, resulting in 200 deaths. We've turned schools into fortresses, but still the shooters come. 
School shootings horrify us, but despite all of the above, schools are still the place our children are least likely to be killed. The mystery is why we aren't horrified by what's happening outside of school. 
Since 1999, 27,000 kids 18 and younger have died by gunfire — just part of the 600,000 gun violence deaths. Maybe guns don't kill ,but they've certainly been involved in plenty of killing in the last two decades: 227,000 murders; 361,000 suicides; 7,200 accident; and 6,900 legal actions by law enforcement or citizens. 
So, what's the solution?
Guns are now the most divisive political issue in the country, separated neatly between urban and rural areas, red states and blue states. The Trump Justice Department has banned bump stocks, but guns can still be purchased at gun shows without background checks, despite strong public opinion that supports closing that loophole. A ban on so-called assault weapons was allowed to expire during the Bush administration and, overall, gun possession has become easier in the last 20 years.
The U.S. Supreme Court has already ruled the Second Amendment's right of individual gun ownership does not require membership in “a well-regulated militia.” But they also made it clear some limitations were acceptable. We just haven't enacted many.
Thirteen states have now passed “red flag” laws that allow for gun confiscation if a person is deemed a threat to themselves or others. The noble idea is to stop gun deaths before they happen, to connect the dots at the beginning instead of the end. But there are troubling Second, Fourth, and 14thAmendment issues the courts will need to sort out.
In the meantime, more than half the sheriffs in Colorado, all from rural counties, say they won't enforce that state's new red flag law. That could raise some thorny liability issues in a worst-case scenario. Rural sheriffs in Illinois are trying to establish a nationwide network of “gun rights sanctuary cities,” presumably to ignore state and federal gun restrictions they find objectionable.
All of this is playing out while gun violence, which had waned for more than two decades, is once again on the rise, including a precipitous increase in suicide-by-gun.  
Gun-rights advocates recommend arming teachers and rabbis and others who occupy soft targets. That won't much help prevent suicides, the leading cause of gun deaths. The other side wants fewer and less deadly guns in the hands of fewer people. Neither side is ever willing to give a millimeter.
We're told the best defense for a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Fewer bad guys with guns might help, too, but we don't know how to accomplish that since we are awash in guns. There are more guns than people in the United States. Most are in the hands of legitimate hunters and good citizens. But way too many are not. And we've found no solution that satisfies the Second Amendment while also disarming those bad guys
Public opinion about guns is starkly divided, positions fixed and intractable. As gun deaths rise, hopes for middle ground solutions grow ever dimmer.  
We'll talk about it again after the next massacre. Won't be long. You know, after the candlelight vigils and funerals are over. 


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