We’re not yet there

Published 7:50 pm Tuesday, February 20, 2018

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I predict that the latest mass shooting, this one at a Florida high school resulting in the deaths of 17 people, will not bring about any significant changes in gun laws.

Americans aren’t yet sufficiently angry to overcome the millions of dollars in political donations generated by the nation’s gun lobby. That money is tainted with the blood of an increasing number of victims, but it’s still a lot of money, and in Washington as well as state capitals across the nation, money continues to drive political conversation and action — or inaction.

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We may be getting closer. The students who are now passionately demanding change following the Florida shooting have garnered widespread support. They are the generation that will bring it about. I predict, however, that politicians who could make a difference will not — at least not immediately. They will hold stand by the National Rifle Association, which is a cash cow for many of them. Change will come, but more shootings will have to occur before it does.

Is that a cynical view? Absolutely, but tragically, it’s also probably correct. A federal ban of assault weapons was enacted by Congress in 1994, but it had a 10-year expiration. Since that expiration in 2004, Congress has not seen fit to re-enact the ban and the Republican leadership in Congress today is adamant that it will not act to do so.

During the years since the ban expired, the sale of assault rifles has exploded. It is conservatively estimated that Americans now own some 8 to 9 million semi-automatic AR-15 or similar rifles. And during those years, the mass-shooting phenomenon has also exploded. During the years from 2000 through 2017, there was an average of 40 mass shootings per year. That’s huge, but in 2018, As of Valentine’s Day there had already been 30.

Handguns are responsible for most gun deaths each year, and that’s been true for as long as statistics have been kept. And a majority of those are suicides. Most successful suicides, in fact, are from gunshot wounds.

But mass shootings, I submit, are different than suicides, accidents or even individual homicides. While all unnecessary deaths are tragic, these mass shootings are, quite simply, domestic terrorism. It doesn’t matter who the shooter is, the effect of these shootings is the same. They traumatize all who are involved.

And these school shootings are traumatizing our youth en masse. We adults may — and obviously do — shrug our shoulders, say a prayer and move on every time there is another school shooting. But our children and grandchildren can’t do that. They have to go to school the next day. They have to have conversations with teachers, administrators and local law enforcement personnel about subjects that we never dreamed of when we were growing up.

What is the effect of these horrific events on this generation of student? How can they be expected to compartmentalize the deaths of their peers at the hands of would-be Rambo’s armed to the teeth with perfectly legal weapons that should only be in the hands of military personnel and police?

We have all experienced things that took away our innocence. In the mid 20th century, there were Civil Defense signs tacked on the walls of schools, pointing the way to the basements that were supposed to be fallout shelters in the event of a nuclear attack. They were a joke and anybody who understood anything about hydrogen bombs knew it. And in 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the fear of a nuclear holocaust grew dramatically.

But that crisis, and the worst of the Cold War, passed and life went on.

I am not confident that the children in school today will ever be able to move beyond what they are experience. I doubt that they can ever have a feeling that this threat is lessened, that their school and the time they spend there will ever be safe.

And that is the tragedy of doing nothing to reduce the opportunity for and the potency of mass shootings in our nation.