As I revealed in my comments, I am somewhat older than you. Age brings lots of experience but often not the the wisdom one would hope accompanies it.
People blame lots of culprits for the increase in mass shootings. Video games, the desensitizing influence of graphic violence in media, bullying, technologically created isolation, mental health and just about anything other than which way the wind is blowing.
We had bullying; we had broken hearts; we had lost jobs and lost loves; we had people with mental health issues. When I was young, we had a generation of men who had gone through bloody battles in World War II and Korea. We had missing fathers who never returned, we had parents who still wept when they remembered friends and loved ones who had died.
Not only did our parents have real guns, we had toy guns. I remember Davy Crockett coonskin hats and junior-sized flintlock rifles and an array of Mattel cowboy revolvers and rifles that fired plastic bullets. We had the Parris Trainer Rifle, a scaled-down version of the training version of the M1903 Springfield used by the Army and National Guard. the rifle came with a rubber bayonet and a booklet with the military manual of arms. We had ray guns when we wanted to play Space Ranger or Commander Cody, Sky Marshal of the Universe. I don’t think I ever had a boyhood friend that didn’t have toy guns and didn’t join in whatever games we were playing.
We had our real monsters. Charles Starkweather comes to mind. The year I was born, Howard Unruh took a Luger pistol, walked around his neighborhood in Camden, New Jersey and randomly killed 13 people. Unruh was found insane and spent the rest of his life in a mental hospital. Starkweather died in the electric chair. I already mentioned Charles Whitman. You could hear the shots from my grandmother’s house in Austin.
I can’t honestly blame video games or graphic media; tens of millions of people play the games and see the movies and TV shows without ever trying to recreate them in real life.
The same goes for mental health. No one has ever identified a unique psychiatric disorder the is common to mass shooters and tens of millions of people who suffer from mental health issues manage to live their lives without committing violence to themselves or others.
To be honest, one of the only differences I can identify is obsession: our obsession with mass shooters. It’s not just the media feeding frenzy when such an incident happens; it’s the fact that people like Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold and Adam Lanza have been virtually immortalized. More than that, we have allowed them to make us afraid and the media, with the eager assistance of various advocacy groups, strives to incite hysteria.
A wonderful example of this was in today’s (Sunday) edition of the Guardian. With the ominous title of “2018 is worst year on record for gun violence in schools, data shows” and an emotional photo of grief following the Parkland shooting last February, the article breathlessly informs that there were more examples of “gun violence” than in any other year. The tally through November 25 was 94 incidents, a 60% increase over the previous record of 59 set in 2006.
The Guardian’s Jamiles Lartey is joined in this hype-fest by Sandy Hook Promise, an advocacy group. The group’s co-founder, Nicole Hockley, is the mother of one of the children killed by Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Ms. Hockley cites data from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School. The data is actually compiled by the Center for Homeland Defense & Security, (CHDS)one of the many centers located at the school.
The CHDS is even less discriminating than the Gun Violence Archives. In the Center’s own words the data is “(b)ased on the differences among all available reporting platforms, there is currently no single source for objective and accessible data from which school administrators, law enforcement, and public officials can draw to inform their decisions. As a result, there is a need for a widely inclusive K-12 school shooting database that documents each and every instance in which a gun is brandished, fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason, regardless of the number of victims (including zero), time, day of the week, or reason (e.g., planned attack, accidental, domestic violence, gang-related).”
And it certainly is inclusive. It includes things like three instances where a body was discovered on school grounds; the shooting of a bank robber who tried to escape by crossing the field at Montpelier High School; a shooting at a Los Angeles fast food restaurant that was included because it was across the street from a school and a student and staff member were struck and ran back to the school and an incident at an elementary school in Overland, Kansas where a construction worker shot two contractors during an argument.
Weeding out incidents that were only marginally connected to a school, we are left with 79 incidents, which is still a record.
Of those 79 incidents, 31 involved no injuries at all. In fact, two of those incidents were literally “school shootings” where a person fired shots into an unoccupied school building.
Four of the shootings were suicides. One was a murder/suicide where a student shot his ex-girlfriend and then killed himself when a school police officer exchanged gunfire with him. Sadly, the young woman died a few days later.
It should come as no surprise that the bulk of the remaining incidents involve either accidental discharges, gang violence, domestic disputes among adults or fights at scholastic sporting events. There were also two incidents where school resource officers fired on cars driven by students who were trying to run them down.
These don’t exactly fit the public image of a school shooting and certainly bear little resemblance to the horrific murders at Sandy Hook.
While all the deaths and injuries are tragic, 71% of the deaths occured in just three incidents: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, Marshall County High School in Benton, Kentucky and Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas. The shooters in these three incidents were also responsible for 48% of the non-fatal injuries.
Keeping in mind there were an estimated 50.7 million children enrolled in U.S. K-12 public schools in the 2017–2018 school year. The actual death toll of 46 including five shooters and 41 victims isn’t quite as terrifying as the image of 94 Sandy Hooks. The number of people injured comes to 101. The incidents occurred at 79 out of 98,200 public K-12 schools.
The FBI says that in an average year, 450 children are murdered by their own parents. This leads one to believe the kids are actually safer in school.
It’s this kind of narrative that didn’t exist when I was younger. Perhaps we were less empathetic, but our parents seemed to be less interested in learning more about the criminals and more interested in making sure they were captured. The newspapers and TV news broadcasts would report on the criminal being captured, the trial, the verdict and the sentence. And that was pretty much the end of it. How many people today know who Charles Whitman was? Compare that to the immortality we have given to Eric Harris, Dylan Klebold and Adam Lanza. Michael Moore even made a movie about the Columbine killers. I wonder if Adam Lanza ever saw it. He was fascinated by Harris and Klebold, just as Nikolas Cruz was fascinated by him.
I can’t offer a diagnosis of what causes mass shooters to commit their crimes and I really can’t offer much in the way of solutions.
But it does seem like we make celebrities of these killers. We create boogeymen to frighten ourselves and our children and, in the immortal journalistic tradition of “it if bleeds, it leads,” the media feed our fears.
In our quest for easy answers, we have demonized a weapon. We call it an “assault rifle” even though it doesn’t qualify as one. The AR-15 isn’t really all that special: it’s simply a more modern version of guns first marketed to American hunters in 1903. In reality, the .223 round is one of the least powerful calibers available in the platform. It’s only devastating in comparison to handgun rounds. The M1 carbine developed in World War II and used in combat up to the early stages of the Vietnam War was capable of doing many of the same things considered so deadly on the AR-15. It could accept a 30-round magazine, a muzzle flash hider, a bayonet and was produced with both a pistol grip and folding stock. The U.S. government sold tens of thousands of them into the civilian market after World War II and Korea and retail prices could be as low as $25.00.
The AR-15 has become the symbol of mass shootings and crime despite the fact the for most of the 54 years it has been on the market it was rarely used and it has never been a major weapon in criminal homicides. Glock brand pistols have been used in more mass shootings than the AR-15.
This has occasionally crossed the line into full-blown absurdity. Last year, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy introduced legislation calling for universal background checks and said they would reduce mass shootings. Murphy introduced his bill just days after Stephen Paddock, who had passed perhaps two dozen of them, gunned down hundreds of people in Las Vegas. California Senator Dianne Feinstein used the shooting at the Borderline Bar & Grill to call for passage of new gun control measure. The problem is that virtually every new law she demanded was in effect not only when Ian David Long killed 11 people, including a deputy sheriff, at the Borderline Bar, but also when Elliot Rodger went on his shooting spree in Isla Vista California. Anyone but David Hogg could figure out that the Broward County Board of Education, the Broward County Sheriff’s Office and the FBI did more to facilitate the Parkland killings than the owners of Sunrise Tactical.
I find there is a great amount of cynicism among gun control advocates. They are quick to pounce on any bad shooting, even before the details are known. They then excoriate the NRA, which always withholds comments until there are more facts available (the NRA has its own toasty statistics and I do wish they would replace Wayne LaPierre). They have to know that the facts don’t support their claims but they make them over and over again. Which is not unlike their legislative agenda, which has remained largely the same for more than 20 years while being endlessly repeated.
But the whole problem with the focus on guns is that it has diverted attention and resources away from exploring ideas that might work to reduce firearm-related injuries and deaths. We need to banish our boogeymen and commit to developing a joint, nonpartisan effort with input from both sides to address the problems of violence. From there, we can develop strategies to address specific areas, such as gang violence, domestic violence and mass murder, regardless of the weapon.
To be honest, for far too long we haven’t been using the best weapon we have: our brains.