Deep fears and shallow responses

As columnist Paul Waldman notes, the NRA argues that the more guns in society, the safer we will all be, as a heavily-armed populace deters people from committing violent crimes. In 2022, there were 647 mass shooting in this country (averaging 1.8 per day) defined as four or more people killed or wounded not including the shooter. How many guns must Americans own to deter gun related violence according to this logic — 600 million, a billion, 2 billion?

A study conducted by the Stanford University Institute of Economic Policy found that over 100,000 children attended a school wherein a shooting occurred in 2018 and 2019. Research indicates that among those children exposed to this violence there is a higher rate of antidepressant use in the following years. School shootings lead to drops in student enrollment and a decline in test scores. Students from these schools are less likely to graduate high school, attend college and graduate from college.

The American Psychological Association states that in addition to “recent surges” in depression, anxiety and suicides, a majority of teens state they worry about a shooting happening at their school. It’s hardly surprising these concerns are linked to high levels of anxiety and fear among students. Some young people remain on high alert and constantly plan their escape routes if gun violence breaks out at their school. One psychologist stated that many students are experiencing continuous “back-of-the-mind” stress.

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia reports “perhaps the most disturbing effects of school shootings are the feeling of on-going danger that permeates schools where they have occurred. The school’s climate and sense of community are profoundly changed.”

In Texas, two lawmakers (a Democrat and a Republican) are sponsoring a bill to ensure that children as young as eight-years-old receive first aid training and learn how to manage “bleeding control stations” in the event of a school shooting. I can imagine the initial first-aid/bleeding station lecture: “Today, boys and girls, we’re going to learn about arterial bleeding — the most severe and urgent type of bleeding — and tourniquets.” Implicit in the reasoning behind this bill is that when 8-year-old first responders see a classmate whose leg has been blown off by an AR-15 round they will know how to respond, quickly and efficiently.

A review of 20 studies found that between 1.3% and 22% of first responders to mass violence — police, firefighters and paramedics — experienced PTSD afterwards. The proposed shooting first-aid and bleeding station training for 8-year-olds is absurd and would undoubtedly result in PTSD for most if not all of these students — anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, behavioral problems and ongoing worry about mass shootings.

Over the past 20 years school shootings have doubled, including the majority that (fortunately) result in no deaths. With the proliferation of guns in America it’s highly likely this figure will double again in the next 10 to 15 years as the toll on the mental an emotional health of students, teachers, staff and administrators reaches a crisis level.

A significant number of people now consider gun related mass murder an acceptable aspect of American society. Shortly after the Uvalde and Buffalo killings in 2022, a poll conducted by CBS News and YouGov asked people about their thoughts regarding gun violence and gun control. One question asked if respondents considered mass shootings an unavoidable by-product of a “free society” or a problem that could be tackled?

Almost half of Republican respondents (44%), 27% of Independents and 15% of Democrats said that mass shootings are “unfortunately something we have to accept as part of a free society.” Does it follow that societies with stricter gun control laws, and significantly fewer gun related mass murders are not as “free” as American society?

After the Nashville massacre when students in Tennessee (some under 10 years of age) were advocating for stricter gun control, Republican state representative William Lamberth told them: “You could ban that specific gun [AR-15] and you are going to do almost nothing to improve y’alls’ safety … If there is a firearm out there that you’re comfortable being shot with, please show me which one it is.” Freedom of choice in America.

Not to be outdone by his Tennessee colleague, state Representative Tim Burchett (R) said we’re “not gonna fix” the problem of school shootings. What this country needs is a “real revival,” not gun control. “Let’s call on our Christian ministers and our people of faith.” Makes you wonder why Burchett hasn’t yet called on these people. What’s he waiting for?

Republican Sen. Rick Scott of Florida stated that “we need to consider an automatic death penalty for school shooters.” How effective would this be as active shooters are very likely to be shot by the police or kill themselves.

In June, 2022 only five House of Representative Republicans (Elise Stefanik was not one of them) broke with their party to push for a nationwide “red flag” bill. These are the same Republicans who emphatically argue that mental illness is the cause of mass shootings, not guns. This legislation would allow family members and law enforcement to petition courts to issue protection orders that would temporarily bar people who pose an immediate threat to themselves and others from purchasing or possessing firearms.

In February of this year, Alabama Rep. Barry Moore, R, proposed the AR-I5 should be officially declared the “National Gun of America.” Moore believes these lethal weapons should be given a place of honor next to some of nation’s most coveted symbols, such as the U.S. flag. (Perhaps we could replace the 50 stars with 50 assault rifles). A number of Republicans in the House — including George Santos — are wearing AR-15 lapel pins.

After the Uvalde massacre, Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott offered these words of wisdom, comfort and condolence to his constituents: “It could have been worse.” One can only imagine what family and friends of the slaughtered Uvalde school children thought upon hearing Abbott’s callous pronouncement. Is this the leadership that will make our nation safe from gun violence?

— — —

George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale and is retired after 24 years of teaching sociology at the University of San Diego. This is part two of a two-part commentary. A full list of sources for both the first and second part is available online along with this commentary.


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