On January 22, A 16-year-old male student opened fire in the cafeteria at Italy High School in Italy, Texas, hitting a 15-year-old girl in the neck and abdomen. He was taking aim at a second student when he was confronted by school staff and captured.

On January 23, 15-year-old Gabriel Ross Parker opened fire on students at Marshall County High School, in Benton, Kentucky. He shot 16 people, killing two 15-year-olds, Bailey Nicole Holt and Preston Ryan Cope. Parker is currently facing charges as an adult with two counts of murder and 14 counts of first degree assault.

Those are the two most deadly incidents to happen in this very young year before the February 14 murder of 17 people at a Parkland Florida High School by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, a mass murder that has finally seemed to challenge our nation’s ever more embarrassing record of loose gun laws and catastrophic homicide.

The status quo has long been untenable. There are more than 10,000 gun homicides in this country every year. While many try to explain this gruesome annual tally with declining social mores, rampant mental health issues and violent media consumption, those reasons don’t hold up to scrutiny. The United States is not remarkable for any of those factors. What is remarkable is the number of guns we’ve dumped into the population. With more guns than people in the country, it should come as no surprise that we lead the developed countries in homicide.

For a generation, we’ve argued about this fact as if it’s another partisan difference of opinion. But there isn’t really an opinion here. We have a gun problem. And now, this new rash of mass shootings has forced our country to confront the fact that the gun problem has gone beyond the restraints of every day, urban gun crime and come home to roost in the suburbs where our schools, churches and other public spaces are potential sites of mass murder.

Gun rights advocates will argue that regulations will only harm law-abiding gun owners and that bad guys will be the only ones left with guns. But our mass shooters are not buying guns on the black market. They’re purchasing them from gun dealers. Cruz was a legal gun owner until he fired his weapon at other kids.

As skeptical as I am that Parkland will change things – it’s hard not to have some faith in the remarkable teenage advocates who’ve courageously emerged in the wake of this tragedy. And what’s more, what they’ve managed to do reframe this issue as a civil right: “Don’t we have the right to go to school and not expect to be gunned down in our classrooms?”

The answer to this question requires a far more serious solution than the insulting and asinine proposal to arm our teachers. The simple fact is that our current laws are not promoting responsible gun ownership. We’re dumping guns into the public and getting exactly what we should expect as a consequence.

Pete Mazzaccaro

  • A. Grayson

    If there is one thing we should be able to agree on it is that our children need to be safe in their classrooms. But to suggest that it is only an issue of guns and to completely dismiss other factors that “do not hold up to scrutiny” is what is “insulting and asinine.” Guns have been part of this country since its founding, so to say that they are the only problem is nonsensical. The root problem is absolutely one of culture.

    Church attendance rates are way down. Christian faith is largely mocked in general. One of our major political parties removed all references to God in its platform. The nuclear family is no longer regarded as the ideal. More and more children are being raised without fathers. We blame all police officers for the poor actions of a few. We do not promote a culture of respect for our elders and authority figures. In our quest to build our girls up we are leaving our boys behind, and have largely emasculated men and diminished their importance. In short, we are experiencing the outcome of decades of moral decay that began in the 1960s.

    I believe there are changes we can make to our gun laws – there is no reason anyone needs to own an automatic weapon. But outlawing those guns will not reduce school shooting incidents. We need to look at ourselves in change that.

    • PMazz

      So what about the other, numerous developed countries with even lower church attendance, out-of-wedlock childbirth rates, etc. — your “moral decline” index — where homicide rates are drastically lower than ours? Are Canadians, Greeks, Norwegians, Japanese et. al. all morally superior? Culturally superior? How does your moral decline argument account for that? What stands out in this country is its absurdly lax gun laws That’s what’s different. It really isn’t complicated. We’ve dumped guns into our population — as many guns as there are human beings — and then want to blame murder rates that are 5 to 10 times higher than Germany, Australia and the UK on poor church attendance? That’s not a rational conclusion.

      To argue that “guns have been part of our country since its founding” ignores several hundred years of evolution, not only of guns but our attitudes towards them and interpretations of the 2nd amendment. A good primer on the shift in the 2nd Amendment interpretation was recently penned by former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (who suggests a change in language that’s too far for me): https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-five-extra-words-that-can-fix-the-second-amendment/2014/04/11/f8a19578-b8fa-11e3-96ae-f2c36d2b1245_story.html?utm_term=.c8c7fbfc3d48

      I believe in gun rights and would prefer a licensing system similar to Canada over a ban of any sort. What we have now is not at all working.

      • A. Grayson

        It’s disingenuous to characterize my argument as “poor church attendance” and you know that. I said it’s a problem of culture. The drop in religious affiliation is more of an indicator of culture rather than the cause of it and was only one of many things I listed (and there are many more).

        With regard to higher murder rates, that is absolutely a question of the breakdown of the family and the absence of fathers. With regard to school shooters (which I think is separate from murder rates) I think it is more about rates of mental illness that are the highest in the world.

        If it is only a question of the number of guns we have dumped into our population, why aren’t the school shooters occurring in equal proportion across races? Instead, it appears to be a problem almost completely limited to white men.

    • Joan b

      I agree that no one should own an assault rifle. Although guns have been part of the country – in the hands of a well regulated militia – they never had semi automatic weopens.

      There are many, many studies that point to the fact that a ban in these sorts of weopens will reduce gun related death.