How many school shootings is too many?

It’s the 18th of February, and 2018 is now 49 days old. In that time, there have been eight shootings that have taken place within a school, according to the Guardian. On Valentine’s Day, the deadliest of those took place, when a former student killed seventeen people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

It might be shocking that eight shootings have happened this year, but that surprise does not come from the sheer number. It comes from the fact that so many school shootings happen in America that many go with little to no national coverage. A shooting must be mass, a lot of people must die, before the nation, and before the rest of the world, actually notices it has happened.

Robinson Meyer points out in The Atlantic there was no surprise within the school: ‘this is what astonished and confronted me while watching Stoneman Douglas High’s speakers for the dead. Even as the shooting was happening, many of them talked about it not as an inexplicable catastrophe, not as an unforeseeable tragedy, but as something that just happens.’

America has not only become so desensitised to school shootings that they are barely reported, but they have become such a normal occurrence that schools actually have plans on what to do in the event that an active shooter enters the building. In modern day America this is a practical necessity, a product of years of inactivity by successive congresses and presidents. But think about it for a moment and it seems absurd: a school needs a drill for the possibility that someone with an automatic rifle could try and murder its teachers and students.

As Adam Gopnik says in the New Yorker, ‘We have normalized gun killings to the point that we must now be reassured that, when the person with the AR-15 comes to your kid’s school, there’s a plan to cope with him.’

School shootings have become a regular event in America, and somehow, the politicians manage to continue to be shocked. Fox News interviewed Marco Rubio, the Republican 2016 presidential candidate, who the National Rifle Association give an A+ to for his work. He said ‘It’s a terrible situation. It’s amazing the amount of carnage that one individual can carry out in such a short period of time.’ Now, considering Sandy Hook in 2012, considering the Las Vegas massacre, and considering this shooting in Florida being the latest in a long line of mass murder with guns in America, it’s hard to believe that Rubio can truly be amazed by what happened in Parkland.

He isn’t, of course. He’s being deliberately disingenuous. According to the New York Times, Marco Rubio has received the sixth most funding from the National Rifle Association of any U.S. Senator, funding in the region of 3.3 million dollars. If you receive millions of dollars’ worth of funding from an organisation that advocates for gun rights, you aren’t going to spend much of your time seriously countering their argument, and you certainly aren’t going to say you aren’t surprised by what has happened.

Politicians in America like to release statements when these tragedies happen. They express their deep regret and sadness, their offer their thoughts and their prayers, and then they go back to work and do nothing about America’s gun laws. They try and divert the issue from guns to the person wielding it. Trump, in his public statement, made more of the killer’s mental health issues than the fact that someone with mental health issues could get their hands on a fully automatic rifle in the first place.

The argument that is often cited by the NRA and other gun advocates is that the guns don’t kill people, people do. But those people would have a much harder time killing multiple people if they didn’t have a gun. America is the only major western power to regularly have mass shootings, even though all western powers have people with mental health difficulties. The difference between America and countries like the UK, Canada or Australia, isn’t the people, the culture, or any other excuse. The difference is that Americans can very easily get their hands on weapons that kill a large amount of people in a very small amount of time.

Students from the school in Parkland where the shooting happened are obviously sick of this contradiction too. Since the shooting, they have been speaking out through interviews and through social media, appealing to their politicians to finally act. In response to Tomi Lahren, the right-wing media personality who tweeted that the left should ‘let the families grieve for even 24 hours before they push their anti-gun…agenda,’ students tweeted responses such as:

‘A gun has killed 17 of my fellow classmates. A gun has traumatized my friends. My entire school, traumatized from this tragedy. This could have been prevented. Please stfu tomi’

and:

‘I was hiding in a closet for 2 hours. It was about guns. You weren’t there, you don’t know how it felt. Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings. This IS about guns and this is about all the people who had their life abruptly ended because of guns.’

The teens that survived the Parkland shooting have said more valuable things than the politicians that claim to represent them. They have pointed out simple truths to commentators and lawmakers who do understand them, they just choose not to act upon them. It is unlikely the survivors speaking out will change the minds of Republicans in Congress, but it needs repeating that every time a school shooting happens, and every time more children die, Republicans’ lack of action shows that those deaths aren’t enough for them to change.

Photo Credit: Matt McClain/The Washington Post