Clad in a trench coat eerily reminiscent of the ones his infamous predecessors wore, a 17-year-old Texas student killed nearly as many people at his high school on May 18 as two teenage gunmen did at theirs in 1999. Unlike them, he carried out his crime with two of the most pedestrian firearms imaginable.
The Santa Fe shooter used a shotgun and a revolver, both legally owned by and registered to his father, to murder eight of his classmates and two teachers. The young men at Columbine had shotguns, too, but augmented their arsenal with a semi-automatic handgun and a semi-automatic carbine rifle when they ended the lives of 12 students and one teacher.
Each of these widely-publicized shootings was horrific — as is every other act of gun violence. Of the roughly 100 people fatally shot in the United States every day, you can count on one hand those who were slain by a military-grade weapon. Yet, advocates ostensibly working to end gun-related deaths routinely build their campaigns around select firearms, rather than focusing on the lethality of all guns.
Such myopic thinking has resulted in morbid consequences. Lest we forget, the massacre in Littleton, Colo. took place during the federal government’s so-called “assault weapon ban.” Those laws, however, were written in such a convoluted way that, without much effort, you could still legally purchase a gun that was both rapid-firing and didn’t need to be reloaded every few seconds. In many instances, you could even buy what amounted to a carbon copy of a prohibited model. All you needed to do was wait for the manufacturer to not-so-surreptitiously tweak a couple of design characteristics (a task easily accomplished without altering any of its firepower), change the name and model number, and, presto, place your order.
If that isn’t enough to make you question the wisdom of this strategy, look no further than the affirmation inherent in the blood-stained walls of the Capital Gazette newsroom: You don’t need a high-capacity firearm to execute a mass shooting.
All of this appears to be lost on those purportedly at the forefront of gun violence prevention.
In the immediate aftermath of the February slaughter in Parkland, Fla. the agony of the surviving students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School became a rallying cry for our next generation: “Not one more! Never again!” During a candlelight vigil the night after the tragedy, a grief-stricken crowd collectively expressed its anger and frustration, chanting: “No more guns! No more guns!”
Shortly thereafter, however, the demands of the newly formed youth-led movement had become noticeably more moderate, echoing the ill-fated, mainstream talking points of today’s highest-profile gun control organizations.
Within days of the shooting, Everytown for Gun Safety and its subsidiary, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, were not only providing guidance to the MSD students, but were soon doing much of the heavy lifting for their March 24th rally in Washington, D.C. Given that the genesis of these marque entities was the real-life nightmare at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Newtown, Conn., one might reasonably expect that they would be leading the charge to end civilian gun ownership in America entirely. After all, what difference would it make to an anguished parent which type of gun was used to take the life of their precious child?
There is, of course, only one answer to that gut-wrenching question. Yet, Everytown, Moms Demand Action, and the students of MSD have chosen to trumpet the mythical panacea of banning high-capacity firearms, instead of confronting what is readily apparent: A gun — any gun — used to kill or injure someone is, for all intents and purposes, an assault weapon.
Make no mistake: Implementing universal background checks; improving the quality of (and removing the barriers to) mental health care; and eliminating access to weapons made for the battlefield would likely save some lives. But as long as we continue to condone personal firearms of any shape or size, we’ll remain trapped in a brutal, heart-breaking version of “Groundhog Day.”
And we’ll have only ourselves to blame.
John Morlino is a former social worker and founder of The Essence of True Humanity Is Compassion (The ETHIC). He has been researching and writing about gun violence for more than a decade.
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