We have developed a very bad habit of running into schools and shooting kids when we are having a bad day. It has to stop. It is unlikely that we will all stop having bad days. So it needs to be a lot harder to shoot other people’s kids. Whether you believe guns kill people or people kill people or people kill guns – it is undeniable that if there were no guns no one would be killed by guns (yes, psychos would write Nazi manifestos and then hurl rocks at elementary school kids till the History teacher shooed them away). The opposite isn’t true. Work logically forward from here. This isn’t fucking rocket science.
A certain reading of the strangely worded 2nd Amendment by the Supreme Court in the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller case protected the right of individuals to keep and bear “Arms” for the first time in America’s history. So we have a system of laws where the Robb Elementary school shooter legally bought an assault rifle but would not be able to buy a beer. There is no defensible wisdom to that. Either we are reading the Constitution wrong or the Constitution is wrong. The Constitution has been wrong before. There wouldn’t be amendments otherwise. The justices of the Supreme Court recently decided that the law regarding abortions has been wrong for the last 50 years. People, even long dead colonial slave owners blubbering on about freedom and equality, make mistakes sometimes. They could not have predicted everything they needed to know about our world today to help us lead meaningful safe predictable lives.
To quote (or misquote – I haven’t verified this) Mike Tyson, “everyone’s got a plan until they are punched in the mouth”. An elementary school shooting is a massive punch in the mouth. We didn’t have a plan the first time it happened. But for fuck’s sake, it’s been 10 years since Sandy Hook Elementary. Our inability to stop elementary school shootings as a people and a nation is shocking. It is a failure so massive that it is the defining American exceptionalism of the day. We are killing our children while the world watches with shock and amusement.
We live in our Tower of Babel. A third of the country believes that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. If we voted today, we wouldn’t be able to decide if 2+2 is 5. The once mighty American mind no longer has the will or the ability to solve difficult problems. Fixing our gun problem would be hard in the best of times. Today we have both hands and a third of our brains tied behind our backs. We are structurally and systemically fucked.
I was in a school board meeting in Austin the morning after Robb Elementary. The chairperson’s voice cracked as she asked us to remember the families in Uvalde. I looked around the room at my fellow board members. The overwhelming emotion was one of helplessness. It could have been our kids. It could have been this school. There is a terrible randomness to school shootings, like being struck by lightening. But we keep making and selling more powerful semi automatic lightening bolts. We keep arguing over why everyone needs as many assault lightening bolts as we can carry. We keep talking about mental health every time more elementary school kids are struck down by lightening. Our mental health is to blame – we are fucking insane.
In 2012, three months before Sandy Hook, I wrote a post about why gun control doesn’t work (here’s a Venn diagram from back then). The two sets – those who will pass background checks, and those who will shoot up an elementary school – are not disjoint. There is an overlap unfortunately. Background checks let enough crazy killers through. Likewise, raising the age for buying assault style rifles from 18 to 21 helps but only sometimes. The 20-year old Sandy Hook shooter didn’t have to go out and buy a gun – he borrowed one of his mother’s many guns and shot and killed her earlier that day. But it would have precluded the Robb Elementary shooter for legally buying his guns. Gun control built on background checks and age limits is a leaky sieve.
After their mass shooting in Tasmania in 1996, the Australian federal government outlawed semi-automatic weapons and bought back and destroyed hundreds of thousands of guns. After a Scottish mass shooting at a primary school, also in 1996, UK enacted similar buybacks and very strict gun laws. But we don’t have it in us to be able to enact that level of change. In fact, Texas loosened gun laws in the first legislative session after the El Paso Walmart shooting where 30 people were killed. The Supreme Court will most likely *expand* gun rights soon when it rules on a New York state gun control case. It is possible that state legislated assault weapon bans and age limits on buying guns will be deemed unconstitutional.
The Australians and Scottish live in countries and cultures not that different from America – law abiding developed rich economies with high levels of education and low poverty. Their need to constantly defend their families and homes from invading criminals and government overreach is fairly low – much like yours and mine, unless you imagine a monster or a conspiracy behind every door. There is no data or reason to believe that the mental health of Americans is a few orders of magnitude worse than that of Australians or the Scottish people. But we have let the emotions of an unhinged minority decide how all of us live, and sometimes die. So we will collectively continue to stick our heads in the sand and stockpile assault guns, high capacity magazines, and thoughts and prayers for other people’s kids. We are fucking morons.