Opinion | Scott M. Estill: A sad state of affairs￼
As we approach the sad 24th anniversary of the Columbine school massacre, we have been reminded of school shootings 376 times. Since Columbine, 392 students in kindergarten through 12th grade have been killed and 1,119 injured in U.S. school shootings. The latest, with six killed at a small Christian school in Nashville (three students and three adults), continues the pattern. Each of the three children killed were 9 years old. With each small coffin that is built to bury another child victim of the school shooting madness, we continue to express shock and a total ambivalence about doing anything to fix the problem.
Republican Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee stated that “we’re not going to fix it” and compared school gun violence to battles in World War II (seriously). With leadership like this, it shouldn’t be a surprise when we collectively forget about Nashville and focus on the next (and most recent) school shooting.
The school names are immediately recognizable: Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Uvalde, to name only an unfortunate few. The victims span the entire spectrum of the American population, and no one is immune. The commonality: They were all killed by guns. While the world is flooded with guns of every shape, size and caliber, the United States is the only country that has no interest in reducing the number of school shootings. During a recent decade of reporting, the U.S. topped the world with 288 school shootings. In second place, with eight, is Mexico. South Africa, Nigeria and Pakistan round out the worst five list, although to be fair to Nigeria and Pakistan, the United States had more than 70 times the number of school shootings than either of these countries.
Furthermore, I am aware that knives and other non-gun weapons can be used to kill, as if nothing else humans are very adept of finding new and novel ways of killing each other. This inquiry leads us back to guns though, as they account for 95% of all school related homicides in the last 25 years.
So, what do we do as a nation, especially considering that any solution involves more than one challenge? First and foremost, we must have a national gun control policy. This is not optional. The current state by state (and often county by county) laws and regulations do not work. At some point, the often-incompetent members of both parties in Congress need to sit down and figure out how we, as a nation, can make sure that these school nightmares become a thing of the past?
Using Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ standard for gun control legislation, any gun control measure must comply with the historical text of the Second Amendment and not to current views on necessary public safety measures. How this applies to a machine gun (automatic weapon) is anyone’s guess, but at least we have some idea of what is going to be a major judicial challenge. It would seem that a bipartisan plan to ban some semi-automatic weapons, such as the commonly cited AR-15, would be a good starting point. Of course, we will at some point need to get into the mind of James Madison, the author of the Bill of Rights (which includes the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution). What would Mr. Madison, a great legal mind and U.S. President, think about U.S. citizens being able to possess a weapon designed for mass warfare? This is especially difficult because he wrote the Second Amendment before the bullet (in France in 1830) and revolver (by Colt in 1835) were invented.
And how/where do you draw the line on what is acceptable and what is not (from a Constitutional standpoint)? So-called “Assault rifles” were banned in 1994 and could be done so again. It would be perfectly within the realms of permissible legislation to set a national minimum age to purchase a firearm. And hold current gun owners to account for any safe-storage failures. Or perhaps we should follow Chris Rock’s solution to avoid the gun control dilemma altogether: increase the cost of a bullet to $5,000 each, “cause if a bullet cost $5,000 there would be no more innocent bystanders. And people would think before they killed somebody if a bullet cost $5,000.”
Second, all schools, public and private, must develop security to reduce all school entry points to one location, with this location staffed at all times by a security officer. This, of course, turns our schools into prison-like structures, an apparently necessary evil in this current day and age.
Third, mental health funding needs to be increased. A lot. This starts with the children, as most, but certainly not all, of the killers were under age 21. Increasing mental health opportunities to the teenagers most in need while also not permitting this same challenged teenager to (legally) purchase a gun seems to be a common-sense approach to start to see school shootings trend toward zero per year (and as quick as possible). At some point the nation must decide to protect second grade children over Second Amendment absolutists. And “protection” does not involve pronouns or book banning. Without some give by those who are blinded by a fanatical worship of the Second Amendment, the nation will continue to see more Nashville-esque tragedies. This is not a prediction but a certainty. And how will history answer the question of who America loved more: its guns or its children? So far, the children have come up short.
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