“What we need is action,” student journalist David Hogg (17) told a CNN reporter after the Parkland, Florida high school massacre. Hogg coolly interviewed other students as a gunman armed with an AR-15 rifle stalked the high school campus.

“Please!” he appealed to CNN viewers. “This is the 18th one [school shooting] this year! You’re the adults. Get over your differences and do something about it!”

The 45th president got a similar response when he tweeted out “prayers and condolences” to the families of the victims. Students at the affected Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School responded swiftly and tartly. “Why was a student able to terrorize my school mr president,” demanded one.

“I don’t want your condolences,” said another, cursing fiercely, “Multiple of my fellow classmates are dead. Do something instead of sending prayers,” she said. “Prayers won’t fix this. But gun control will prevent it from happening again.”

Gun control certainly looms large as the most obvious solution to the epidemic of mass murders in the U.S. While there are about 300 million firearms in private hands in the U.S., only about one-third of American households own firearms, meaning that some households own several weapons. Or rather, some households include a man who owns more than one gun. Overwhelmingly, males are responsible for most gun violence. 

Gun violence is also a uniquely American problem, Mona Chalabi wrote in The Guardian, averaging about 33,000 deaths and 70,000 serious injuries per year. More Americans have died from private guns since 1968 (1,516,863) on U.S. territory, than all the soldiers’ deaths in war (1,396,733) since the founding of the United States. 

Still, as a Facebook joke put, “Nothing can be done about it, said the only country in the world where it happens.” Many important American legislators owe serious political debts to the extremely wealthy National Rifle Association (NRA). 

And the NRA gets to define a lot of terms.

For example, to the NRA, the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle is “America’s most popular rifle.” Firing 45 rounds per minute, it’s also the gun used in mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in San Bernadino, California, in Las Vegas, at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and now in Parkland.  Since it is a rifle, in Florida, the AR-15 does not have the same age limit (21) or waiting period (three days) that a handgun does.  

Even if it was achievable — which it’s not, with the current U.S. Congress — gun control is a huge and essential first step, but probably not sufficient. Two-thirds of gun deaths are suicides, and there’s a lot of debate that many of them wouldn’t be fatal if the person attempted any other method. 

Americans are killing themselves in record numbers and sometimes staging mass murders for their funeral pyres.  

Most countries around the world have strong restrictions on who has access to deadly weapons, which include mental health checks. Republicans cite American exceptionalism — the American propensity to solve problems with its strength.

Republicans like to blame mental health issues for mass murders, even though on February 2nd this year they voted en masse to repeal President Obama’s law that barred gun ownership for people with serious mental illnesses. They can’t have it both ways.

On the other hand, there do seem to be red flags indicating some people are more prone to violence — mainly lonely, isolated, white men full of resentment. In short, “The Alt-Right Is Killing People,” as the Southern Poverty Law Center said. SPLC reported 100 people murdered in 13 white nationalist incidents since 2014, including nine incidents in 2017 alone. 

After the Parkland shooting, one group of white nationalists claimed the shooter, Nikolas Cruz, as a member of the “incels,” Involuntary Celibates, who martyr themselves to self-hatred,. Those who are left, celebrate their martyrs, especially Elliott Rodgers of Santa Barbara infamy.       

Still, incels alone can’t explain the fact that the U.S. experiences an average of seven mass shootings a week.  Other factors are driving desperate people to pick up deadly weapons. Some factors are obvious, others are more subtle.

  • Anti-depressants: Michael Moore noted after Bowling for Columbine that one of the student attackers was taking an anti-depressant, specifically an SSRI (Selevetive Seronin Re-uptake Inhibitor). SSRIs and other psychiatric drugs have turned up in the histories of many other shooters. SSRIs come with a warning they may increase the risk of suicide.
  • Bullying: Bullies don’t often turn into mass murderers – but the people they bully sometimes do.  “Incels” are one example of people who feel themselves pushed out, and who are itching for revenge. One research report found that three times as many bullied students as non-bulllied said they could get access to a gun.
  • White supremacy: As the SPLC noted, many mass shootings have been perpetrated by white nationalists. People espousing alt-right views have attacked people of colour, Jews, and LGBTQ people. Websites like Breitbart and The Daily Stormer whip up their hate and urge them to take direct individual action.

Now it’s the turn of the Parkland survivors turn to urge gun control supporters to take action. Students like Hogg are speaking out, and helping organize a national campaign.  “Our generation won’t put up with it,” he says. 

They’re not alone. As politicians tweeted that their “thoughts and prayers” were with Parkland families, comedy writer Bess Kalb replied with the dollar amounts each politician had accepted from the NRA. For example, Marco Rubio tweeted, “Just spoke to Broward School Superintendent. Today is that terrible day you pray never comes.” Kalb tweeted back,  “$3,303,355.00.”

Then she tweeted, “This is not a political issue. This is not a Constitutional debate. This is a pandemic that’s killing children. And it’s perpetrated by hypocrites who preach a doctrine of “life” but take money from a profit-driven gun lobby.” 

“Republicans will never do anything on gun control,” former Florida Republican Congressperson David Jolly told The Hill, under the headline, “Flip the House. Vote Republicans out of office if you want mass shootings stopped.
With Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation reeling in more and more friends of the president, the Republican party will already face a tough battle during the mid-term elections in November. GOP candidates may find high school students following them everywhere with “MURDERER” signs, and holding mock AR-15 assault protests outside Republican campaign headquarters. News media and people with microphones are asking politicians how much money they accepted from the NRA.

Sooner or later, Republicans are going to be held accountable.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Penney Kome

Penney Kome

Award-winning journalist and author Penney Kome has published six non-fiction books and hundreds of periodical articles, as well as writing a national column for 12 years and a local (Calgary) column...