It happened again. Another disturbed, disaffected young man went to a public school with an assault rifle and ended innocent young lives without warning and without mercy. This time 17 children died at a high school in Parkland, Florida.
And like everything else that goes on in our country, the reaction to this latest mass shooting is being filtered through starkly partisan political lenses. The left cries out for more stringent gun control laws and the right responds (somewhat more mutedly) that gun laws only restrict law-abiding citizens from defending themselves.
This time is a bit different, however, because some of the students who survived this shooting have taken a very public stand about what they see as their government’s failure to take any action at all to prevent these tragedies from continuing to occur. Students at other schools around the country are also holding protests to show their solidarity with the Parkland survivors.
It’s easy to see why they are so frustrated. The young man who gunned down their classmates had a long history of violent, anti-social behavior and had been reported to the authorities (including the FBI) as a potential threat to public safety. But since he had no criminal record he was able to waltz into a gun store and leave with an assault rifle that same day – no waiting period, no special permit required. Super easy.
They are frustrated. They are grief-stricken. They want the adults in power to do something.
And of course our president, true to form, made a terrible situation worse by shooting off his mouth without engaging his brain. He suggested in a tweet that the FBI might have followed up on the tips about the school shooter if they hadn’t been so preoccupied with their investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Needless to say, his paranoid, self-centered rants have only added to the frustration of those looking to government for some kind of action to prevent these tragedies from recurring.
But exactly what could be done, legally, to help prevent these tragedies in the future is not clear. Banning assault rifles outright is a long shot, and since there are already so many of them in circulation and since a well-maintained gun can virtually last forever there is no realistic way to rid the country of them at this point.
Then there is the suggestion that the law should keep people with certain mental illnesses from acquiring firearms. That’s also tricky for a few reasons.
First of all, you have to specify which mental illnesses would disqualify a citizen from having the right to buy a gun. And that’s hard to do, because there is no particular type of illness that definitively leads to violent behavior.
On top of that, we know that many times mental illness goes undiagnosed and untreated. By restricting the rights of people who do seek treatment you could discourage people who need it from seeking it out.
Though I understand the frustration these kids are feeling and I’m certainly open to supporting changes in the law if they make sense, I’m not sure how much politicians will be able to do to prevent future mass shootings. But maybe there is something the media could do.
One thing mass shooters all seem to have in common is a desire for notoriety. They tend to be isolated, frustrated, and aggrieved with society, and they want the fame and validation they will get from being the center of attention after they commit their awful crime.
But what if we had the resolve to deny them that notoriety? What if the next time a mass shooting occurred (and we know it will happen again) the media voluntarily refrained from publicizing the identity of the shooter? They could simply refer to him as “the accused murderer” and not splash his picture all over the television.
I’m not sure exactly how this could be coordinated and put into action, but I think it’s worth considering. If we could take away the prospect of fame that these disturbed individuals so desperately seek, it might make it less likely that they will act out in such a violent manner to make a name for themselves.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.