Thoughts and prayers are not enough

At the National Rifle Association convention in Houston three days after the Uvalde massacre, Republicans blamed the killings on Democrats, communist Marxists, the media, declining church attendance, weak families, violent video games, opioid abuse, lack of mental health services and schools with too many entrance points and unlocked doors — everything except the readily available supply of guns, including military assault rifles, in this country.

Texas governor Greg Abbott stated the Uvalde killer had a “mental health challenge” and his state must “do a better job with mental health.” Just weeks before the gun massacre, Abbott cut $211 million from Texas mental health programs, solidifying the state’s last place ranking of all 50 states for access to mental health care.

New York City forensic and clinical psychiatrist Dr. Ziv Cohen said that while increasing mental health services could help reduce gun deaths, particularly suicides, there is no fully effective mental health solution to prevent mass shootings. These killers rarely exhibit obvious signs of severe mental illness such as hallucinations or being completely detached from reality. And individuals who present these signs rarely commit mass murder.

Cohen stated that “if you’re looking at a group of people with mental health issues, it’s almost impossible to pick out the one that’s actually going to commit a mass shooting. This is why we haven’t really found a solution.” A 2015 article in the American Journal of Public Health stated “research going back to the 1970s suggests that psychiatrists using clinical judgement are not much better than laypersons at predicting which individual patients will commit violent crimes and which will not.”

If low church attendance were driving school shootings, one would expect such killings to be routine in Norway, Sweden and Denmark. To the contrary, these highly secular Scandinavian nations have some of lowest rates of violent crime in the world. In 2020, homicide rates (homicides per 100,000 population) were 0.6 in Norway, 1.0 in Denmark and 1.2 in Sweden. In that same year, the U.S. homicide rate was 6.5.

During a post Uvalde gun massacre interview, Mark Stone of British Sky News, asked Sen. Ted Cruz: “Why does this only happen in your country? … Why only in America?” As Cruz started to walk away, Stone said he just wanted “to understand why you do not think guns are the problem?” Cruz ignored the question and accused Stone of pushing propaganda.

Everytown for Gun Safety reports active shooter drills have been implemented in over 95% of K-12 schools nationwide. Social scientists at Georgia Tech University examined social media conversations of 114 students (K-12) 90 days before and 90 days after school shooting drills. Researchers found these drills are associated with a 39% increase in depression and a 42% increase in stress and anxiety. Concerns about death increased by 22% with words such as blood, pain, clinics and pills consistently found in the post active shooter drill 90 day period.

With gun sales increasing by almost 2 million a month since January 2020, there are almost 400 million firearms in the civilian population, including 20 million military-style assault rifles (including those of law enforcement). As many people fear the implementation of stringent gun control laws after highly-publicized mass murders, there will be a dramatic spike in firearms sales (especially assault rifles) this summer. No doubt some will purchase the “Urban Super Sniper,” advertised as the best choice “when extreme accuracy and rapid follow-up shots are the most important criteria when selecting a rifle.”

Afer the Uvalde slaughter, gun manufacturer Daniel Defense (one of its military-style weapons was used in the murders) posted a “thoughts and prayers” message on its home page. That pop-up was soon replaced with a promotion featuring gold-encased bullets for a sweepstakes to win $5,000 worth of guns and ammunition. The New York Times reports some of the company’s messages “invoke popular video games like ‘Call of Duty’ and feature ‘Star Wars’ characters and Santa Claus …”

Earlier this year, a gun maker introduced the JR-15, or Junior 15, (the kids’ version of the AR-15 assault rifle) that fires 22 caliber rounds. To attract young customers the manufacturer allegedly uses images of a pirate skull with a Mohawk haircut for boys, and for girls, a skull with blond bunches and a pink pacifier in its mouth.

Speaking of AR-15 military style assault rifles (called “America’s Rifle in a 2016 NRA blog), Dr. Laveil Allen, an emergency room radiologist in Nashville, stated: “Organs that experience high-velocity gun injury are left eviscerated. Bony structures that are directly impacted by these ballistic missiles are reduced to rubble. The exit wounds associated with AR-15 firearms are often the size of grapefruits. Simply put, when surgeons attempt life-saving measures in these cases, there is often nothing salvageable to fix.” Imagine an AR-15 round smashing into a child.

Writing in the conservative Federalist, Jordan Boyd says institutions responsible for protecting our children have failed miserably. Boyd states to protect the most precious, innocent lives among us, parents must educate their children at home. The logic is no schools, no school shootings. Of course determined individuals will find children congregating in parks, playgrounds, at malls and fast food restaurants.

Future historians will look at Dec. 14, 2012 as a critical date in American history for what happened and what didn’t happen. On that day, 20 year old Adam Lanza killed 20 students (6 and 7 years old) and six staff members at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

In the ensuing months and years, the NRA and its allies at the local, state and federal level have successfully stonewalled significant gun control legislation. Over the past few years, 42 Republican senators have received significant sums of money from the NRA, with 16 receiving $1million or more. The top five are Utah’s Mitt Romney ($13.6 million, primarily during his presidential campaign), Richard Burr of North Carolina ($6.9 million), Roy Blunt of Missouri ($4.5 million), Thom Tillis of North Carolina ($4.4 million) and Marco Rubio of Florida ($3.3 million).

Speaking of the Buffalo massacre, two days before the Uvalde slaughter, Ryan Busse, a former senior executive in the firearms industry, stated these “murders are the byproduct of a gun industry business model designed to profit from increasing hatred, fear and conspiracy.” Busse states “the NRA is not in the gun business — it’s in the culture war business.” The gun industry got the message. Engraved 30 round magazines “Hillary Behind Bars” and “Trump MAGA-ZINE” are available online.

According to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, since the Sandy Hook killings nine-and-a-half years ago, there have been more than 3,500 mass shootings, an incident in which four or more people are killed or injured, not including the shooter. In the five days following the Uvalde massacre, there were 11 mass shootings — eight people killed and 45 injured. With 120 firearms for every 100 Americans, the carnage will continue, but can be slowed with significant real-world prevention.

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George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale and is retired after 24 years of teaching sociology at the University of San Diego.

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