As you likely know, there was a school shooting yesterday in Parkland, Florida, which killed at least 17 people and injured many more. I won’t go over many of the details, as they are freely available on a wide range of news sites, and are still breaking as I write this. I also do not wish to focus on the shooter himself, as I do not believe in granting any attention to the perpetrator; there have been studies showing significant ‘copycat’ effects from attention given to the perpetrator, his aims, and his methodology in carrying out the gruesome act of murder. What I will focus on is the aftermath, the politicking, and what, if anything, we as a society should do next to move forward.
Any event in which people, especially children, are killed will necessitate mourning, prayer, and significant thought about what could have been done to prevent the tragedy. Too often after American school shootings or mass shootings, this devolves into political maneuvering, partisan bickering, and the making of hyperbolic claims. These acts are not exclusive to one political party or ideology.
Today I’ve seen Democrats and liberals focus almost myopically on guns, especially the infamous AR-15 rifle, stating that gun control is the solution to this persistent American problem. They have used statistics that are not only misleading, but are fundamentally inaccurate. For instance, I’ve seen multiple media commentators, as well as regular folks, post online that there have been 18 school shootings so far this year (some memes have had it at 29). That is an astounding figure that would rightly make anyone who hears it sick to their stomach. But what is a school shooting, in your mind? You would generally consider it to be something akin to the event yesterday in Parkland, right? Not according to the list of 18 referenced in the media; that list includes anytime a gun was discharged on school property, including suicides and instances where nobody was injured. Clearly, the statistic of 18 school shootings is incredibly misleading and is being used for explicitly political purposes. The fact that there have been 2 mass school shootings so far this year (yesterday’s in Florida, and one in Kentucky in January) is troubling enough on its own, there is no need for dissembling and exaggeration. That sort of hyperbole only weakens a reasonable case.
I’ve seen Republicans and conservatives today dismissing any talk about gun control and solely focusing on mental health interventions, school safety, and possibly having more guns in schools. I’ve seen the President of the United States tweet about the failures of the local community in stopping the shooter, saying:
So many signs that the Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, even expelled from school for bad and erratic behavior. Neighbors and classmates knew he was a big problem. Must always report such instances to authorities, again and again!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 15, 2018
This was tweeted out, even though the FBI was warned about the perpetrator, he was expelled from the school and was not allowed on campus with even a backpack, and he purchased the rifle with which he carried out the murders legally. The fact that there was an armed school resource officer on campus is rarely mentioned during these comments by GOP lawmakers. Also not mentioned amidst the talk of better mental health resources is the fact that the most recent budget plan released by the Trump administration would gut the healthcare services that many working-class people rely on to receive those critical mental health interventions.
Instead of actually working to reduce the instances of these fatal shootings either on school campuses, at concerts, or in churches, our politicians immediately begin their partisan bickering about who cares more for the victims of the latest tragedy. They claim their ideological opponents could not care for the dead and injured, as they don’t support whatever ‘solution’ the politician themselves endorses. This should be unacceptable behavior from our elected representatives. We should be holding these men and women to account. There may not be a simple solution to this uniquely American problem, but we deserve a Congress and an Executive that works hard at actually solving it, not just throwing out their preferred political talking point that won’t truly fix anything. To those Democrats who feel that gun control is the only way forward: we had an Assault Weapons Ban for years, and still had mass shootings like the one in Columbine. For those Republicans that feel that more guns and better mental health is the answer: increased proliferation of weaponry is not a smart solution, as those who are good candidates for gun ownership likely already own guns, and in terms of mental health, I’d like to see the money in your next spending plan before I feel your commitment wholeheartedly.
This problem will not go away with one side’s solution, and partisan fights over tragic events are only going to increase political polarization, bringing us further away from any potential solution. We need to come together as a nation in the aftermath of these killings, and only as a united body politic can we truly fix what is deeply wrong in American society that is driving this terrible affliction.