If there’s one thing we can be sure of, it’s that the latest debate on gun safety, spurred by the Oxford High School shooting, won’t change anything, or at least not anything fundamental, and certainly not anything that would persuade Congress to act.
It never does.
That’s the one true and lasting lesson of Columbine, made forever clear by the killing of 20 first-graders and six teachers in Sandy Hook in the years after Columbine. If Congress wasn’t moved by the first graders, it’s hard to imagine what kind of gun massacre could shock lawmakers into action.
And yet, the conversation is a little different this time. I’m not sure that’s progress, but it is, in any case, different.
It’s different for a number of reasons:
One, because the Supreme Court is likely this session to overturn and/or gut Roe v. Wade while also taking up a New York case on concealed carry licenses that will probably mean more guns on the streets in those cities trying hardest to stop them. As Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne asked the other day, can you really be pro-life if you are anti-abortion but also stand in the way of doing anything at all — even passing the simplest, baby-step measures like expanded background-checks — about gun violence?
Chris Murphy, a Connecticut Democrat, had this to say from the Senate floor: “I listened to my Republican colleagues come down here one after another today and talk about the sanctity of life at the very moment that moms and dads in Michigan were being told that their kids weren’t coming home because they were shot at school, due to a country that has accepted gun violence, due to Republicans’ fealty to the gun lobby. Do not lecture us about the sanctity, the importance of life when 100 people every single day are losing their lives to guns, when kids go to school fearful that they won’t return home because a classmate will turn a gun on them.”
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Two, because the Oakland County DA in Michigan is charging the parents of the 15-year-old shooting suspect at Oxford High, where four students — ages 14 to 17 — were killed and several injured, with four counts of involuntary manslaughter.
The DA said the semi-automatic pistol used in the shootings, with 15-round magazines, had not been safely stored by the parents, who apparently bought the gun as an early Christmas present. It’s rare for parents to be charged in such instances, but it’s not hard to see the logic. What’s not rare is that the 15-year-old will be tried for murder as an adult.
I’m sure you know the parents’ story by now. They were alerted the day before the shooting by officials that their son was scanning the internet for bullets during class. The parents didn’t get back to the school that day, but the mother did text her son, “LOL I’m not mad at you. You have to learn not to get caught.”
On the next day, the suspect’s parents, Jennifer and James Crumbley, were urgently called to school after a teacher found a note with images of guns and bullets and someone being shot, a laughing emoji and these words: “Blood everywhere” and “The thoughts won’t stop. Help me.”
The parents refused to take their child out of school, saying they had to get back to work. They never mentioned their son might have access to a gun. The school gave the parents 48 hours to get their son into counseling or the school would contact Child Protective Services. No one searched the backpack. Not the parents, not the school. And upon hearing they would be charged, the parents apparently fled, briefly becoming fugitives before being found, arrested and jailed.
Three, if the parents bear responsibility, what of the school? Teachers saw the red flags and reported them to school officials. And yet, school officials not only failed to check the backpack, they also didn’t check the lockers. Not only did the parents refuse to take their son from school, the school decided to send him back to class. And the guidance counselor didn’t think the incidents were sufficiently significant to even notify the principal.
Meanwhile, the Michigan attorney general offered to investigate the shooting and what led up to it, but the school district chose to hire a private security firm. I doubt anyone at the school will be charged, but you can bet there will be civil lawsuits coming.
Four days after the shooting, Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, tweeted out a Christmas photo of his family gathered by the old Christmas tree, each of them holding a long gun. And the message: “Merry Christmas! p.s. Santa, please bring ammo.”
It seemed to some to be not reflective of the, uh, peace-on-Earth Christmas message. And, far worse, it seemed to many to be more than a little insensitive.
Fellow Kentucky congressman John Yarmuth, a Democrat, tweeted in reply, “I promise not everyone in Kentucky is an insensitive asshole.”
Yarmuth tweeted further: “I’m old enough to remember Republicans screaming that it was insensitive to try to protect people from gun violence after a tragedy. Now they openly rub the murder of children in our faces like they scored a touchdown. Disgraceful.”
In Colorado we understand these kinds of shooting too well. They come too often. We might as well be the poster state for mass shootings. Meanwhile, homicide rates are rising all too quickly across the country.
And, in Aurora, we’ve seen a recent spate of incidents in which teenagers have fallen victim to gun violence. As Vince Bzdek wrote in a searing column in the Denver Gazette, “All told in October and November, at least 23 teenagers have been victims in shootings throughout Aurora, according to reports from the Aurora Police Department. In those shootings, at least five victims died.”
You can get the national gun-death numbers from the CDC, where they recognize gun violence as a serious public health issue. More and more gun deaths. Little to no action.
It feels sometimes like we’re reduced to this:
“P.S. Santa. On second thought, please do me a favor and forget the ammo.”
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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