The school shooting has become an American motif, a previously unthinkable option for the odd, the alienated and the spurned, a way to find voice through violence.
We had yet another one last week in Santa Fe, Texas, where a student killed 10 people and injured 13 others. After the shooting, Paige Curry, a student at the school, offered a chilling assessment. A television news reporter asked: “Was there a part of you that was like, This isn’t real, this would not happen at my school?”
Paige responded, shaking her head, an uncomfortable, reflexive smile on her face that mocked the naïveté of the question: “No, there wasn’t.”
The reporter pressed: “Why so?”
Paige continued: “It’s been happening everywhere. I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here, too.”
Schools across the country are preparing for this morbid eventuality. According to a 2015-16 Crime and Safety Survey by the National Center for Education Statistics, 92 percent of public schools have a written plan describing procedures to be performed in the event of a shooter.
According to Vox: “Since Columbine, 32 states have passed laws requiring schools to conduct lockdown drills or some form of emergency drill to keep students safe from intruders. Some states went even further after 20 children died in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. Now, six states require specific ‘active shooter’ drills each year.”
These preparations – sheltering in place, ducking for cover, running for your life – have become a routine part of our children’s educational experience. This is not normal and must never be accepted as such. Neither are these shootings normal. This is all insanity.
We have too many guns in this country, including too many based on combat weapons, and as a result we have too many shootings and deaths.
Many of us know this. We also know that legislators in Washington, as well as Donald Trump himself, are so beholden to the National Rifle Association that little to nothing will be done to stem the real problem: Guns and their availability.
Instead, politicians talk about tangential issues like the mentally ill, the “hardening” of soft targets like schools, and putting even more guns in people’s hands, like the lunacy of arming teachers.
A main facet of Trump’s campaign was the condemnation of violence in Chicago and what that said about the culture there. As The Washington Post pointed out, Trump promised in his inauguration speech to end this “American carnage,” but “gun deaths are up over 12 percent year-over-year. Firearm injuries are up nearly 8 percent. The number of children under the age of 12 shot by a gun has increased by 16 percent, while instances of defensive gun use are up nearly 30 percent.”
Yes, gun violence is actually on the rise. As Time magazine pointed out in November, “Firearm-related deaths rose for the second-straight year in 2016.” Most gun-related deaths – about two-thirds – in America are suicides, but an Associated Press analysis of FBI data shows there were about 11,000 gun-related homicides in 2016, up from 9,600 in 2015. The increase in gun-related deaths follows a nearly 15-year period of relative stasis.”
Furthermore, according to an April FBI report: “The FBI has designated 50 shootings in 2016 and 2017 as active shooter incidents. Twenty incidents occurred in 2016, while 30 incidents occurred in 2017.” The state with the largest number of those shooters – six – was, you guessed it, Texas.
But as politicians in Washington have made clear that they have no desire to address this issue, no desire to stand up to the NRA, no desire to stop treating these deaths as collateral damage, those seeking change must change tactics.
People seeking common sense gun control must become single-issue voters on gun control. Support for more restrictions may not be the only reason to vote for a candidate, but it must be sufficient to vote against one.
We have to stop waiting for politicians to display courage and instead start to instill fear in them. As an individual voter, you don’t need to have a slate of reforms in mind, you only have to vote consistently for candidates who are committed to reviewing the issue and advancing smart, effective policy.
This is now about the long game. The NRA didn’t amass its clout overnight, and the building of a contingent of politicians committed to gun control also won’t come overnight. But it can, and indeed must, be done.
Students like Paige shouldn’t simply assume that one day a fellow student will show up with a gun and an appetite for death, and that there is nothing Washington is willing to do to prevent it. Enough is enough!
Charles Blow is a columnist for The New York Times. Reach him c/o The New York Times, Editorial Department, 620 8th Ave., New York, NY 10018. © 2018 NYT News Service