Why School Shootings Won’t Change Until We Change

On Tuesday, a teenage gunman armed with an assault rifle walked into a locker room in Reynolds High School in Troutdale, Oregon and started shooting. He killed a 14-year-old classmate and wounded a teacher before taking his own life. It is, without question, an awful tragedy. But what’s truly shocking and disturbing about this shooting—as many outlets are reporting, the 74th one since Adam Lanza’s devastating rampage in Sandy Hook—is how utterly commonplace these acts of violence have become in what should be safe spaces for children.

Seventy-four school shootings since December 2012. The Reynolds High shooting is the 37th one just this year. They happened all over the country, from Maine to Indiana to Georgia. A widely shared map on Vox pinpoints the constellation of horrors since Sandy Hook. One school shooting is an outrage. Seventy-four is an epidemic.

“There’s no advanced, developed country on Earth that would put up with this,” President Obama said in a Tumblr chat after the shooting. “This is becoming the norm and we take it for granted in ways that, as a parent, are terrifying to me.”

And in all these cases, the clear culprit is how easily accessible deadly firearms are in this country.

Yes, mental illness is also an issue that needs to be addressed. But, as Obama said, “The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people.”

Let’s be clear: Shootings are not a mental health issue. Shootings are a gun control issue. Gun violence should not be a normal hazard of being in school. It is unacceptable to trade the safety of our children for the right for free and unfettered access to arms.

I grew up in Alabama, a place where guns are a regular part of life. Hunting is part of the culture. I am friends with many responsible gun owners, people who keep their firearms strictly locked away, who are absolutely as horrified by the violence of school shootings as I am. I do not believe that gun owners are inherently bad or crazy or stupid.

Here is what I do believe. I believe that the problem is that they system of purchasing and regulating weaponry in the United States does very little to distinguish between someone who uses their rifle for target practice on the weekends and someone who intends to use a firearm to kill a kid. The problem is that it is easier to buy a gun than a six-pack in many states. The problem is that any attempt to regulate guns—to enact a licensing system that would, as for a car, require a potential gun owner to pass a safety test, to require a universal background check—is immediately seen as an assault on Second Amendment rights. The problem is the attitude, so succinctly and callously expressed by Joe the Plumber in the wake of the Santa Barbara shootings: “Your dead kids don’t trump my constitutional rights.”

His logic is faulty. The equation is not “Dead Kids = Constitutional Rights.” This is not “The Hunger Games.” Our failure to protect school-age children from guns is not something more guns will fix. It is time to banish this idea, that basic and sane gun regulation cannot be achieved while upholding the Constitution. It is just not true. These shootings are not inevitable. It is time to stop thinking that children are an acceptable price to pay.

(Featured image via)

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