A drove of police cars and ambulances shrieking toward your child’s school. A frantic call from your daughter whispering that she’s hiding in the closet—her friends are bleeding and she thinks her teacher is dead. You hear shots in the background. Stay on the phone, you plead, stay on the phone. '
You wake up shaking and screaming, “It can’t happen here; please, don’t let it happen here.” You feel totally out of control. Why? Because you know in your heart that it can happen here, and it will happen somewhere, again and again.
Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., about an hour’s drive north of Miami, is the latest school shaken by a mass shooting—17 dead, including two teachers. My wife has family in that town; their kids attend the elementary school; her cousin, a retired teacher, volunteers there. Parkland is a mostly white, upper-income community of expensive homes and manicured lawns, much like here. The community is devastated and angry. The parents’ idyllic vision of sending their kids to a blue-ribbon school each day feeling they’ll be safe and well-cared for has been shattered forever.
In 2012, an angry teenager killed 20 first graders and six adults with an assault rifle at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Since then, there have been 239 school shootings nationwide; 438 people were shot, of whom 138 were killed. On average, there are five school shootings each month.
America has grown cold and callous about the lives of its children. Of course, we mourn their deaths, but it’s an empty gesture—not joined by any real effort to prevent more suffering. Guns are a big part of the callousness and, according to a study in Health Affairs, it is the primary reason this country has become the most dangerous of wealthy nations to be born into.
President Trump and his Republicans minions in Congress offer nothing more than scripted thoughts and prayers after each mass shooting, failing to take seriously the pain and grief of the people across this country who demand more action. And the typical Republican response is a call for improved mental-health services (though no funding is provided) and enforcement of laws already on the books.
But, guns are the problem, not mental illness. The prevalence of schizophrenia—the diagnosis most associated with extreme violence—is 1.1 percent in the U.S. and the same 1.1 percent worldwide. However, it is the United States that has this problem of mass murder on such an enormous scale. No other country even comes close.
Can a boy or man (and they’re always either boys or men) be mentally ill and kill someone? Sure. But do they kill because of a mental illness? Almost never. Mental illness is not indicative of violence. Numerous studies indicate that mentally ill individuals are far less likely to commit a violent crime than non-mentally ill individuals. A more likely scenario would be that someone who is mentally ill will be the victim of violence, not commit it. Hate kills, not mental illness.
Schools, malls, churches, concert venues, airports—there are no safe places anymore. The children of this country are growing up in a culture rife with both real and psychological danger. And the venomous rhetoric directed at those most vulnerable in our society by this president is not helping. We’ve elected leaders who refuse, in the face of this epidemic of hate and mass murder, to do anything meaningful about it.
There are actions that have proven to be enormously successful in other countries that can help to mitigate this American phenomenon of mass murder. Require that an owner’s license must be acquired, just like a driver’s license, and that every gun must be registered, just like a car. Require that the purchaser be at least 21 years of age. Limit the number of guns an individual can own. Ban assault weapons. Ban the manufacture of high-capacity clips and prevent gun owners from obtaining multiple magazines. Expand background checks for both guns and ammunition.
Elect decent, honest leaders. Donald Trump received $30 million worth of help from the National Rifle Association on his way to the White House. Numerous other Republican legislators are deep into the back pocket of the NRA for significant amounts of cash. They will not take any substantive proactive measures to stop the sale of guns and gun violence will continue unabated. Their investment is in being re-elected, not saving lives.
Mass gun violence is threatening our way of life. With every mass shooting and the failure of public policy to respond proactively, the unbridled freedoms we afford gun owners imperils the lives of our children.
We can sit on our hands and do nothing, but how will we live with ourselves if our town gets hit next?