The last time I wrote about gun violence was, let’s see, not quite three weeks ago. That was in reaction to the Half Moon Bay shootings, which had closely followed the Monterey Park shootings.
A total of 19 people were killed in those two California shootings, separated by just over 48 hours. That was a little much even for America, which seemed to have been shocked by the carnage.
But after a few days, the nation had bravely soldiered on. And it wouldn’t be too long before UFOs were being shot out of the sky and some would actually be debating whether we were under attack by aliens.
In the all-too-real world, the Jan. 25 Half Moon Bay shooting was the nation’s 38th mass shooting of the year — a mass shooting being defined by the Gun Violence Archive as an attack in which four or more are injured by gunfire.
The shooting at Michigan State University Monday night — leaving three students dead, plus the shooter who turned a gun on himself, plus five injured students who, at last check, were all in critical condition — was the 67th mass shooting of the still-young year.
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On at least two cable channels, anchors noted that officials — doctors, cops, politicians — who spoke at an East Lansing news conference Tuesday morning seemed to be especially choked up by the killings, as if the impact of 67 mass shootings in a month and a half had finally broken through some barrier. As they spoke, many noted that it had been five years since the Valentine’s Day shooting left 17 dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Florida and 15 months since four students were killed at a high school in Michigan.
When Michigan U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin spoke, she seemed more angry than choked up, noting that when watching the news Monday night she had seen a student in the Michigan State crowd wearing an “Oxford Strong” sweatshirt, referencing the shooting at Oxford High.
“I am filled with rage that we have to have another press conference to talk about our children being killed in their schools,” she said. “And I would say that you either care about protecting kids or you don’t. You either care about having an open and honest conversation about what is going on in our society, or you don’t.”
Soon we would learn, and to no one’s surprise, that the suspected shooter had been convicted in 2019 on a gun charge — of carrying a concealed weapon without a permit. He received 18 months’ probation. And the suspect’s father would tell reporters that his son, who had no relationship with Michigan State, had “kept lying” to him about still owning a gun.
And while I’m sure much more will be revealed about the shooter — authorities found a note in his pocket threatening two public schools in New Jersey, where the suspect once lived — Michigan doesn’t have a red flag law, although Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer proposed one in her State of the State message late last month.
In the Colorado legislature, they’re now working on toughening the state’s law after learning that the Club Q mass killer had an armed showdown with law enforcement, which didn’t invoke the red flag law because the El Paso County sheriff — a so-called Second Amendment sanctuary proponent — has decided on his own that the law is unconstitutional.
The lowlight of the debate, so far anyway, came from a Rocky Mountain Gun Owners lobbyist, who in answering a committee hearing question about the fact that gun violence is now the No. 1 killer of American children and adolescents, said that “if you remove Black males … it is not true.”
The lobbyist did apologize — after all, Black children do matter — and, in any case, a toughened red flag law will undoubtedly pass in the state legislature, along with a few other gun laws. But a leaked proposal to ban so-called assault weapons — the guns particularly popular in mass shootings — caused outrage in some quarters. And since Gov. Jared Polis apparently opposes legislation that would ban the sale of the weapons, a bill is unlikely to even be entered this session, much less passed.
☀ MORE MIKE LITTWIN COLUMNS
In one gun column I wrote last year, I mentioned that I had Googled my name and “guns” and had found 71,000 hits over 23 years since Columbine. A reader suggested that by invoking that number, I was basically admitting to the futility of continuing to write columns calling for tougher gun laws. He compared me to Sisyphus and the mythical Greek king’s uphill battle with a boulder, which was maybe not entirely unfair.
And so I Googled “Littwin” and “guns” again on Tuesday, and the number this time was 213,000. Presumably, one or both of those numbers is off, but they both tell the same story — of gun violence that never seems to end and the lack of national will to do much of anything about it.
But after the Michigan State killings, I came across another number, one that must shock anyone with a conscience. After the Stoneman Douglas massacre, two Washington Post reporters did a study on the number of students in K-12 schools who had endured a shooting since Columbine in 1999. The number of students affected, they would write, was far higher than they had anticipated — more than 187,000.
Five years later, they have continued to track students exposed to gun violence in a detailed database. And the number of those affected has grown beyond 338,000. That’s an inconceivable number — 151,000 more students in just five years, including a year in which most schools were closed for the pandemic.
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The Post’s database doesn’t count Michigan State, which is a university. It doesn’t count theater shootings or grocery store shootings or dance studio shootings or church shootings or synagogue shootings or gay nightclub shootings or any of the rest. You should read that Post story if you care about gun violence and school shootings because maybe the most stunning message the reporters, John Woodrow Cox and Steven Rich, have for us is this:
“The subject of school shootings often makes people feel hopeless, especially at a time when America is experiencing its worst stretch in history. But we have now studied 366 separate incidents of campus gun violence, and the data, along with dozens of stories on the damaged children it represents, has taught us that there are reasons to remain hopeful, none more so than this one: Most school shootings are preventable.”
And maybe other shootings, too. So maybe this isn’t a Sisyphean project after all, but actually a solvable one. If you want to offer thoughts and prayers, pray that the Washington Post reporters have it right.
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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