By John O. Sullivan
So, fair warning, this is coming from a place mostly of emotion.
I really can’t do this anymore.
The school shootings have to stop.
Whatever else we might have to say, we can all agree on that? Fewer school shootings is better?
Because I really can’t go through this anymore.
It feels like I can’t turn around without some kind of shooting, but the school shootings are the worst. It’s always the same thing, initial reports of an “ongoing incident” followed by an absolute barrage of information as quickly as local sources can get it, almost all of it initially wrong, until the local sheriff announces a press conference and starts talking body counts.
It’s so constant that one is almost numbed to it. But for me, last week, at Great Mills High School, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Not to say that other shootings didn’t affect me, but there was something different. It was impossible to ignore. It was just too close to home. I used to live 10 minutes from Great Mills High School, I know people who teach there, I know people with children there. It’s almost easier to think “Oh that’s so far away, that could never happen here,” when these things happen. But that’s not true. We can’t ignore it anymore. It can happen anywhere.
So, I’m honestly asking, how do we make it stop?
I’m really asking. Because if we can agree that this is too many, that we want fewer dead children, then we have to figure out how to stop the school shootings. So, again, I ask, how do we make it stop? Honestly, is the answer to this a platoon of heavily armed marines in every school? Is that going to stop it? And if it is, what is stopping us from doing that? What’s the hold up? What are we waiting for? How high does the body count have to go before we overcome the sheer force of our inertia?
In the words of my dear friend Winston “There is no way to completely prevent bad people from doing bad things.” And 5000 years of human socialization have borne that out. So how do we mitigate this? How do we make it smaller?
The first thing we have to do is say gun control isn’t going to happen. It just isn’t. I can’t honestly justify saying that more gun control is a solution because it is never going to happen. State level gun control laws (besides being a deal breaker in any red or purple state) are toothless, even harmful, because of the comical ease with which guns can be transported from looser-lawed to more strict states (for instance, see a 2015 criminal ring which transported over 400 guns from Tennessee to Baltimore). So the whole ballgame is a federal law, which isn’t going to happen. The NRA has spent tens, even hundreds of millions of dollars by some estimates, on influencing federal lawmakers. They just have too much money and too many people in their pocket, it’s not going to happen, let it go.
The absolute BEST case scenario for national gun control, right now, in my opinion, is a mandatory safe law, requiring gun owners to keep their weapons securely stored in safes. This is beneficial from two angles, cutting back on on crime in general (most gun crimes, it turns out, are committed with stolen or illegally acquired guns), but more specifically, cut back on youth access to weapons. The Great Mills shooter was using a gun that was legally owned by his father. He shouldn’t have had access to it. This could have been prevented. And yet, somehow, I doubt even a mandatory safe law could pass today’s Congress. I can already see the NRA ads saying that having your gun in a safe will allow you to be robbed and murdered in your bed. So even this paltry half measure probably isn’t happening.
So what else can we do? Many people have called for more counselors in schools, and that’s something we can talk about. I’m hesitant to throw the onus onto mental health once again, at the risk of vilifying an already under-served community of people. But I think it is safe to say that increasing our schools mental health services can help. What does that look like? More and better trained counselors in schools, specific training for teachers on how to recognize students in distress, as well as more information for students on how to recognize peers in need (I am not interested in discussing anything vaguely resembling #WalkUpNotOut), and continued support of efforts to destigmatize mental health broadly. Where does the money come from? Who cares, it’s worth whatever the cost is, but probably the state or the federal government, I can’t see localities being able to foot the bill on this.
Is more security staff in schools worth discussing? Maybe. At Stoneman Douglas (Parkland) High School, the deputy remained outside in the midst of an ongoing shooting, and as a result 34 people were shot, of whom 17 were killed. At Great Mills High School, Deputy Blaine Gaskill was a goddamn fucking hero. So it’s hard to say if more school security staff is going to change anything. For damn sure we’re not going to be arming teachers or allowing teachers to carry weapons in school. Its a can of worms that ends with more harm than good. And while I am reluctant to put metal detectors and security checkpoints in our schools, maybe it is time to look at the costs and benefits there. It probably involves the addition of more security staff just to operate the metal detectors and x-ray machines, plus the baseline capital investment on the machines themselves. This sort of thing has a severe risk of alienating the students though, and most high schoolers already feel like they’re in prison, we’re only going to feed that. But maybe we can put this into the same category of telling them to eat their vegetables.
Beyond that, the only thing left to talk about is broad strokes. Cultural issues. The things we can’t change overnight or legislate away. America’s gun culture and media reporting definitely are feeding this crisis, but I don’t need or want to live in a country where the government can legislate culture or the media. The biggest thing the media could do for us, pretty please (pretty please is as good as it gets with the 1st amendment), is to stop lending fame and celebrity to shooters. The FBI found that most shooters desired fame and wished to emulate previous shooters, so the media is going to need to do its part there. I won’t hold my breath.
But at the end of the day, what does this get us. Let’s say we get our wish list. More security and counseling staff in every school, better classes for both teachers and students on mental health. Metal detectors, x-ray machines for the backpacks, the works, at every school. A miraculous safe-storage gun law. How many shootings did we just stop? 10 percent? 20? 50? 80? I don’t know. It’s impossible to know. It may be possible to guess, but it would take far more time and data than I, or anyone right now, has available
But, I’m not going to get my wish list tomorrow. And honestly, I probably won’t get it for Christmas or Hanukkah either. Honestly, maybe our only hope is the kids. The March for Our Lives was an unqualified success, and maybe they can move the national debate enough to make a meaningful change. But until then, I’m out of ideas. It really feels like, if something was going to change, it would have by now. But I have to hold out hope, because if I don’t, then it’s all just more and more meaningless, futile, violence.