“There’s been a shooting at the Margaret Leary School.”
That was the heartbreaking shock to the entire Butte community on what had been a beautiful spring morning in April 1994. It was one of those events that sear your memory. Like the news of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, it was a moment that you remember where you were and who you were with when you got the news.
In that event, it emerged that a disturbed child, from a wildly dysfunctional family, took his father’s handgun to school that day and during recess shot and killed another child.
The news of the shooting made front-page headlines across the nation.
Fast forwarding to the present, the nation is reeling from another school shooting, this time on Valentine’s Day, with a 19-year old high school expellee shooting up a high school in Parkland, Florida, killing 17 people and injuring more, some perhaps mortally.
It’s the worst school shooting since the Sandy Hook massacre, when another mentally disturbed young man killed 21 people, including his mother. A frightening thought is that our 1994 school shooting would barely be noticed outside of Montana, considering the ongoing flood of shootings.
Unbelievably, this was the 18th incident involving a firearm in a school zone in the first 45 days of 2018. The adults and children killed in Florida bring the total of deaths due to school shootings since Sandy Hook to 138 (Washington Post). Ironically, The National Council for Home Safety and Security rated Parkland, Florida as the safest city in Florida.
Crime rates, including violent crime, in the United States have declined since the early 1990s but mass shootings have increased. Since Sandy Hook, in 1912, more than 1,600 mass shootings have occurred, and the five worst mass shootings in our history have taken place in the last decade. There were 346 mass shootings in 2017 alone. At that, mass shootings represent just 2 percent of all gun fatalities annually.
A common thread through this bloody review of mass shootings is the use of so-called assault rifles. Statistically, according to the Washington Post report, assault weapons constitute 2 percent of all firearms in the U.S., but have been used in 27 percent of mass shootings from 1999 to 2013. In shootings in Newtown, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, and last week in Parkland, the shooters used AR-15 semiautomatic rifles. In the Las Vegas mass shooting last fall, the gunman had legally modified several of his AR-15’s to become virtual machine guns.
Sadly, as killings continue, nothing happens.
Sure, some politicians offer “Thoughts and prayers, yada, yada yada.” Or “Now is not the time, blah, blah, blah.”
Washington Post columnist Paul Waldman, who writes The Plum Line column, writes there is one thing we, the people, can do to do something about gun violence, both mass shootings and the 30 or more other gun deaths that occur daily. It’s simple, he says, “Don’t vote for Republicans.”
He explains, “I’m sorry if you find that too partisan…But the fact is that one of our two parties has in recent years has decided that it will stop any and all efforts to address gun violence, no matter how reasonable they are and no matter how much of the public favors something like universal background checks that is supported by more than 90 percent of Americans.”
It is a fact that about half the senators and representatives in Congress get campaign contributions from the National Rifle Association. All but a tiny handful are Republicans. Waldman asks, “Isn’t the NRA the real problem? No, the NRA is made up of loathsome ghouls, but it’s also an interest group like any other. Whatever power the NRA has flows through elected officials, nearly all of whom are Republicans who have made a choice to ally themselves with the organization.”
Incidentally, the only immediate reaction to the Parkland school tragedy from the NRA was to remove a tweet from their Twitter site, re-tweeting an ad from the Kimber firearms company promoting buying guns for sweethearts on Valentine’s Day.