This month marked the one year anniversary of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. That day a gunman walked into his former school, killed 17 people, and wounded 17 others. The students of the Parkland community responded heroically, coming together in their pain and anger, and inspiring young people across the nation to demand sensible gun control legislation. Just one month after the shooting, the March for Our Lives was held in Washington DC and cities across the nation. I explained to my child, then just shy of seven years old, what had happened, how some of the students and families most affected by the shooting in Parkland had responded, and the kinds of ideas they were trying to get people to mobilize around. Then I gave him a board and let him make his own protest sign:
While gun control remains a contentious, divisive issue, most people agree that there are some laws we can and should change; as I heard on NPR last week, this includes most Republicans, most veterans, and most gun owners. According to the Pew Research Center, reforms like universal background checks and bans on assault style weapons have broad, bipartisan appeal. And yet, progress remains stalled. And in the meantime, there have been 350 mass shootings, (in which four or more people, excluding the shooter, were shot but not necessarily killed) in the year since Parkland.
Of course, like many others, I thought change would finally come after Newtown. A gunman walked into Sandy Hook Elementary school and killed 20 children and six adults. I still find it difficult to even talk about that national heartbreak without breaking down into angry, devastated sobs. My children are now about the age that those children were and a part of their school experience, beginning in preschool, has been lockdown drills. I happened to be at my children’s school during a lockdown drill this year. I volunteer in the library there, a place that is warm, cozy, and happy. When the alarm was sounded, the librarians shut off all of the lights, pulled all of the shades, and locked the doors. They checked the stacks and the restroom to make sure there weren’t any unaccounted for little people around; it was early in the morning so there were no classes in the library. Two librarians, a tutor, and myself sheltered in one of the reading rooms in the dark. Once the lead librarian had reported who was in the space to a special online forum, we waited. The librarians began to run through what they would do in different scenarios. Where would they position the children if there was a class in the reading room? How would they comfort them and keep them quiet? If it was just the librarians and no one else, would it be better to lock themselves in the bathroom? How many doors would a gunman have to get through and are we sure they all have locks? I’m not ashamed to say that I was moved to tears during this experience, as these dedicated educators were forced to imagine how they could best prepare themselves to, literally, save my children’s lives. I told them how devastated I was that this was such a regular part of their jobs as educators. And I promised them that I would only support law makers that are committed to doing something about it. It was all I could really do at that point.
My kids talk about the lockdown drills in carpool. The lights are always off. In the music room they hide behind the pianos. No one has had a drill during PE yet, so they don’t know where the hiding place is and there is much debate. My oldest assures my youngest that the teacher will know what to do. Shouldn’t we try to fight the “bad guy” if they come in the school? My heart breaks and breaks on these drives.
How is this affecting a a generation (two?) of young people?
How is this affecting the mental health of educators?
These questions are related to one kind of gun violence, largely perpetrated by angry or desperate white males, in a kind of terroristic suicide act. While this kind of action is becoming more and more prevalent and is certainly worthy of attention, our preoccupation with mass shootings distracts us from having conversations about more prevalent kinds of gun violence.
How many shooting deaths have there been in Georgia so far this year? 92 in two months. (This does not include deaths by suicide.) In Chicago? By reputation, one of the places in the country that is most plagued by gun violence? 241 people have been shot. The Chicago Tribune tracks data on shooting victims. In domestic abuse incidents? Mass shootings, as defined above, are also typically acts of family or domestic violence. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, in an average month, 50 American women are shot to death by an intimate partner. Gun control is a women’s issue!
The kinds of gun control measures that are advocated in response to large-scale, tragic mass shooting events may not have any real impact on the gun violence that most affects communities on a daily basis. Gang and domestic assault related gun violence is unlikely to change with an assault rifle ban. As I mentioned above, there is broad bipartisan support for several important gun control measures. But there is not agreement about the underlying causes of gun violence. Research and outreach in communicating the findings is so critical. My fear is that passing minimal gun control legislation will be a kind of salve– an excuse to for congress to pat themselves on the back and say they did something while leaving the larger causes of most gun violence unexamined: lack of educational and economic opportunity, and gendered violence and threats against women.
All of this takes place as we have a collective reckoning with what constitutes a “national emergency,” in the official sense and in a broader sense. After Trump declared a national emergency at the Southern border in order to redirect funding that congress denied him toward building his wall, there was an immediate response in the social media-verse that he was overlooking a real national emergency in gun violence. Peruse this website and decide for yourself: https://www.gunviolencearchive.org/charts-and-maps.
Now I’m looking back having written this post and realizing that there isn’t an obvious philosophical angle to what I’ve written here. I’m just a parent and a citizen who is sad and frustrated like so many others.