Content Warning: School shootings, gun violence
A while back 6 Degrees to Kevin Bacon was popular. It started as Six Degrees of Separation. Though the Kevin Bacon version was supposed to involve actors, we just thought about how closely every day people were connected.
That came back to me today as I wonder how closely connected to mass shootings you need to be to actually have a change of heart. Every school shooting panics me as both a mother and a teacher who has to practice for this possibility every year. Someone I love was less than 20 miles from the Las Vegas shooting and had friends who were there. That puts me at two degrees away, which feels much too close.
Our country’s love of guns goes back to the beginning, to that fateful second amendment. 1950s kids might play non-PC cowboys and Indians. Today inner-city teens face gang violence, while their more affluent peers stage Nerf Wars complete with “making kills” and their own version of drive byes. We say, “Shoot!” and “Pull the trigger” and “Jump the gun.” Hollywood movies are full of mavericks surviving raging explosive battles, the little guy overcoming those in power. Is it any wonder that the NRA reigns supreme?
Right up front I want it clear that I don’t want to take all your guns. I know too many hunters to want that, law-abiding citizens who are more conservation minded than many others I know. If you feel you need a weapon for protection, I won’t quibble with you from my safe little corner of the universe. Maybe you have been closer than two degrees to violence.
But the only reason to have the assault weapons used in recent shootings is to have the ability to take multiple lives at a time. I have a problem with that, as do most Americans today, on both side of the aisle.
The gun supporting side often cites mental illness as a reason for mass shootings. But reality is that people with mental illness commit crimes at a tiny percent of the total crime rate, less often with firearms than the general population. Still, it makes sense to keep someone in poor mental health from having firearms. So background checks make sense, right? Then why did President Trump and the Republican Party recently roll back Obama era measures that would have made it more difficult for those with mental illness to buy guns?
Guns don’t kill people. People kill people, of course. But the reality is more available guns and more powerful weapons means more people killed. International study shows that the availability of firearms drastically increases the mass killings a country experiences. Correlation does not imply causation, but how else to interpret this data?
I recently listened to a story on NPR’s This American Life about Dodie Horton, a Republican lawmaker in Louisiana who tried to make it illegal to bring fake guns to school (not real ones which are already illegal in schools) at the request of a sheriff. A high school student brought a fake gun to school that looked and felt like the real thing, which caused a lockdown and evacuation. The sheriff was concerned about the risk for the student of being shot if officers thought the pistol was real. State Republicans wouldn’t back the bill. To be fair, some wanted to leave the matter for local control. But some were worried that measures to restrict toy guns send the message that firearms are bad, which could lead to kids growing up to support gun control. The safety of students and disruption to instruction, not to mention the trauma of thinking your classmate had brought a gun to school, were all less important than the idea that someone might “brainwash” kids into thinking firearms are bad. The local town council easily passed a measure prohibiting fake guns at school. If state lawmakers were a few degrees closer to someone being harmed, would they have decided differently?
Recently we’ve heard from students at zero degrees separation. Students from Parkland, Florida are loudly asking for change. Lawmakers seem unwilling to give it, even before students who place them at one degree from murder. But these 17- and 18-year-olds have been taught to lead, communicate, and persevere. Other young people are listening across the country. Where our generation has become critically divided, theirs seems driven for change. We may be at the cusp of cultural shift. Too bad it won’t happen before the next lone gunman makes news.