Commentary: Another school shooting, another failure | Columns

Firearms


And once again, terrified young children are evacuated, hand-in-hand, from a school building. This time, a small Christian school in Nashville.

The suspect was armed with two assault rifles, a handgun, and significant ammunition, according to police. The shooter, Audrey Hale, 28, of Nashville, legally purchased seven guns from five different local gun stores.

After this most recent example of violence, I went back to statistics I’d explored before in an effort to understand where we should direct the national discussion about solutions.

The following data is from four years ago, but the numbers still scream loudly. and sadly, gun violence in this country has replaced auto accidents as the No.1 cause of death for children and young people.

The Gun Violence Archive is a nonprofit organization begun in 2013 that tracks and verifies incidents of gun violence in the United States. In 2018, and at that point only two months in, there had been over 8,000 (8,446 to be exact) “incidents,” of which about a quarter resulted in death. Just over 500 children and teens had been killed or injured by guns since the new year began (with the report out in February 2018).

That number is staggering.

Many gun advocates suggest that mental illness is the culprit, not the prevalence of guns or easy access to firearms. Events and investigations after the fact, particularly in school shootings, suggest the two are intertwined. The shooters, even when they have not been officially diagnosed, generally are described as marginalized, lacking friends, or scariest of all, having the desire to make a statement by killing people.

It was both interesting and ironic that, a few years back, as former President Donald Trump suggested we arm school teachers, visiting former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of Australia commented that his country passed significant weapons legislation – specifically banning the sale and use of assault weapons – in the 1990s. And, he pointed out, since that time Australia has not had a school shooting, nor a significant mass shooting.

Amazing. More than 25 years without a school shooting. Wouldn’t it be interesting to poll Australian and American high-school students to see how their perceptions of safety vary?

In its constant desire to be at or near the top, the United States has succeeded spectacularly in both the proliferation of guns and gun-related violence.

In 2016, the U.S. posted 3.85 gun deaths per 100,000 people, according to an NPR report. How does that compare to the UK, with .07; Denmark at .06; or China at .06? Singapore and Japan had the lowest gun violence rates in the world, but even poor countries like Bangladesh (.16) and Laos (.13) manage not to shoot their own people as frequently as Americans do. In the Middle East, only one country has a higher rate of gun violence than the United States – Iraq.

The CDC tracked a 35% increase in gun violence from 2019 to 2020. States with stricter gun laws – California, Hawaii, New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts – had far fewer incidents. States with the most guns per capita — Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming, Missouri, and Alabama – had the highest levels.

If we truly want to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening over and over, then we as a society, along with our political and judicial leaders, need to worry less about preserving some perceived constitutional right to “bear arms,” and much more about allocating funding to social priorities such as identifying and treating mental illness.

Far more resources must be dedicated to creating treatment programs and facilities for troubled young people – people like Nikolas Cruz, who opened fire at Marjory Sherman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida in 2018, killing 17 people and injuring 17 more; and Ethan Crumbley, whose parents bought him the gun he used to kill four students and injure several others at Michigan’s Oxford High School in 2021; and Anderson Lee Aldrich, whose mother knew he had a problem and reached out for help to no avail before he opened fire last year at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, leaving five people dead and 25 others injured.

And above all, we must remove assault-style weapons from civilian hands, no matter what the National Rifle Association says.

Tom Walters recently retired as the fine arts director for Methuen Public Schools. He lives in Londonderry and has a blog: imthinkingno.com. Reach him at tomwalters729@gmail.com.



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