April 20, 1999. April 16, 2007. December 14, 2012. February 14, 2018. May 18, 2018.
These are the dates of just a few of America’s deadliest school shootings. We greet tragedies such as these with mournful, shocked, saddened hearts; we drown in grief that quickly boils over into rage and indignation. In the past this rage has been directed at the N.R.A and it’s sycophantic following of conservatives and Republicans, but now we are looking right into the ivory halls of Capitol Hill.
If there is one thing I have learned in these past few years following the massacre at Sandy Hook, it’s that guns have become a cultural flashpoint in our unequal and divided nation. The people who defend their second amendment rights believe that the supercilious elite look down on their morals, that they want to strip away their beloved arms and put their culture under erasure. If we even mention gun control—or the country’s serious lack of anything resembling it—they will respond by spitting fire and digging their heels into the dirt. It seems to me that the obsequious need to stick firmly to one point of view is becoming more important than truly understanding the magnitude of the situation. Facts and ethics become muddled and duplicitous if they go against what we believe. Answer me this: what is more important, your AR-15 and your pride, or the lives of your children?
In the first five months of 2018, the United States has had a total of 22 school shootings. And the most recent of these attacks, a student-driven assault on Santa Fe high school, has bolstered a mind-blowing statistic: more students have been killed this year than have active military service members. There have been a total of 34 student fatalities through May 18 and I won’t even attempt to quantify the number injured. I am going to throw my journalistic voice out the window for a second to say that that is absolutely ridiculous.
One of the primary arguments against gun control is that it will be ineffectual; if a criminal really wanted to kill, they would find a way to do it. But I would contest that view. Twenty-two years ago, a gunman walked into Dunblane Primary School in Scotland. He killed 16 students and one teacher. The legislators of the United Kingdom immediately responded by implementing comprehensive and airtight gun control legislation. In the 8000+ days since, there have been fewer than five school shootings in the UK. Actually, there have been exactly three. Gun control is not about stopping mass shootings entirely—though, of course, that would be amazing—I know that isn’t exactly realistic. The point is rather to minimize the number of deaths caused by preventable incidents.
The Santa Fe school shooting makes it more clear than ever that there is a pathology within our society that must be combatted. In this era of mass murder, school shootings have become so commonplace that they no longer surprise us. The primary suspect of the shooting was detained along with a second, currently anonymous suspect. Because the shooter is a young white male, I expect to hear more about his mental health than anything else. As suggested in a Tweet by Simar, if the shooter were a member of the MS-13 gang we’d hear cries for a border-wall and the finger would be pointed at all immigrants; if he were Muslim, we’d hear islamophobic rants and calls for a Muslim ban, but since he is a neo-nazi obsessed, gun-toting white man, all we will hear of is mental illness. Some will likely call this domestic terrorism because it is, but to me, it reads as something much deeper still. When children are forced to come to school every day with the fear that any second they could be running for their lives, it becomes quite evident that there is a pathology coursing through the veins, and into the heart of the nation. And it should be just as evident that we need to challenge this pathology with tools that have a reasonable chance of efficacy.
Above all, the most important tool we have is our voice. The precise policy changes are less pivotal than the discussion itself. Students shouldn’t have to wear backpacks full of books as makeshift body armor, we shouldn’t have to come to school and fear for our lives. Change has to be enacted. The thought of being gunned down at school is no longer just a statistic for us. It is, like SAT scores and prom dates and fashion trends, something we’ve become accustomed to worrying about. I, for one, would like it if elementary school students could continue to worry about the monsters under their beds, rather than the monsters that could come and take their lives while they’re trying to learn their shapes and numbers. I know that we can’t cower behind a phalanx of structure and adolescent coddling forever, but for Christ’s sake, aren’t we better than this? I will not point fingers, I will refrain from expressing my politics on the matter, because I am not trying to place blame, none of us are blameless; that will get us nowhere. Pointing fingers won’t stop kids from being killed while they try to learn— action will, and we need to take it.
The nation is a spinning wheel, plummeting further and further from sanity at an increasingly unstable rate. We’ve reached maximum entropy. It seems that the brakes have been cut, yet instead of attempting to stop the wheel, we are all standing idly by with glossy eyes and drooling mouths as it rolls through town, destroying everything we claim to hold so near and dear to our hearts. Well, we need lawmakers to take a step back and witness the destruction. Remove your hundred-thousand dollar, NRA endorsed blindfolds and bare the weight of the desolation you have ignored for so long. Look at the reeling spokes of destruction and decide whether or not the lives of your charges are worth your time, once and for all because we are tired. We are angry. And we when the wheel finally reaches you, it may be too late to pull the emergency brake.