First thing: I’ve gotten several comments over the past few days suggesting that the only way to stop school shootings is to put armed guards in every school (and/or arm the teachers and school administrators and support staff). This is not entirely stupid. It’s pretty damned stupid — especially the notion of arming teachers and janitors and other school employees — but it’s not entirely stupid.
The sad fact, however, is that there have been armed guards present in many of the mass murders in recent years — not just in schools but in other public venues. They just don’t prevent these events from happening. That’s true for several reasons.
First, for the most part the shooters in these events don’t expect to survive. These shootings are often elaborate suicides, intended to make as many people as possible as miserable as the shooter is. Knowing there’s an armed guard present doesn’t dissuade a shooter who doesn’t intend to come out alive. Second, the firearms most often used in these shootings are semi-automatic weapons. Combine the ability for rapid fire with large capacity magazines, and you have a situation in which a shooter can kill a lot of people in an alarmingly short time.
Adam Lanza killed 20 children and 6 adults in less than 10 minutes. Thomas Hamilton killed 16 children and an adult in about 4 minutes. Robert Steinhauser killed 13 teachers, 2 students, and a police officer in 10 minutes. Seung-Hui Cho killed 30 Virginia Tech students in around 11 minutes. They weren’t able to kill that many people in that short a time because they were superior marksmen; they were able to do it by firing a LOT of rounds.
We’re no longer talking about the ‘classic’ Charles Whitman-style mass murderer. Whitman climbed the clock tower at the University of Texas in Austin and methodically, almost leisurely, picked off his victims. He killed 17 and wounded 32 others over the course of an hour and a half. In today’s mass murderers, the emphasis is on mass.
Guards with weapons won’t prevent these mass shootings, but they will almost certainly reduce the body count — and that’s a good thing. But why not take other steps that can help reduce the body count? Why not limit the capacity of ammunition magazines? Every time a shooter has to pause to reload, there’s a chance for victims to escape and for courageous bystanders to act (Jared Loughner — 6 dead and 13 wounded in around two minutes — was tackled by a wounded bystander when he was forced to reload his pistol).
Why not require stricter background checks before letting a person purchase a firearm? Why not require background checks at gun shows? The weapons bought at gun shows are just as lethal as those bought through a licensed gun dealer.Why not require states to report and share mental health records with the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System? Currently only 27 states have laws that allow (or require) them to report mental health records — and many of those states fail to do so because of state budgetary reasons.
None of those things — armed guards, universal background checks, limits on large capacity magazines, mental health information — will stop mass murders and mass shootings from taking place, but each of them will have some effect on the body count. By combining several (or better yet, all) of those measures, we can reduce the body count even further.
Second Thought: Claire Davis died. She was the young woman Karl Pierson shot in the head ten days ago. I took a moderate amount of crap for suggesting that “nobody other than her friends and family will remember her in a couple of weeks.” That’s a horrible thing to say. It’s all the more horrible because it’s true. It won’t be very long before there’s another school shooting — or some other mass casualty event — with a new set of innocent victims. And for a few days, the names of the victims will be in the public eye, and then they’ll be forgotten in turn.
There have been 22 school shootings so far this year, resulting in 19 fatalities and 34 wounded. Do we remember any of their names? There have been 351 mass shootings so far this year — 351 incidents in which at least four people were wounded or killed. Most of them don’t result in multiple deaths, but they easily could. Do we remember any of their names?
Their friends and family members remember them. For the rest of us, they’re numbers. It doesn’t lessen the pain felt by the family and friends of the victims. Nothing can. That pain can only be exacerbated by the ugly fact that their loved ones are reduced to mere statistics.
We can reduce those numbers. Maybe not by much, but we can reduce them. We can reduce them without damaging the Sacred Second Amendment. We really can reduce the body count.
But we don’t.
Update: I incorrectly located the Seung-Hui Cho mass murder at the University of Virginia; in fact, it was at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (more commonly called Virginia Tech).