We are inundated with news concerning mass shootings in public places, including schools. What most of these shootings have in common is the use of semi-automatic weapons wielded by young men.
The latest mass slaughter took place in an elementary school in Texas, the state where the first school attack came in the Sixties from a bell tower on the campus of the University of Texas. During that period, college students were also murdered during Freedom Summer whilst working to register back men and women to vote.
The murder of students isn’t new. Its frequency, however, is.
The fear experienced by parents and children is as palpable as it is distressing. Regrettably, elected officials are loathe to hold the gun lobby, manufacturers, and NRA accountable for the proliferation of semi-automatic weapons and anemic oversight. Legislation which makes it through the statutory maze does not address the problem — as to source and means, specifically who is doing the murders and how.
Guards can’t stop all entry
After Buffalo, New York’s state legislature passed legislation, and the governor signed. The law raised the minimum age to purchase a semi-automatic weapon from 18 years to 21. It also banned use of body armor and reduced the number of bullets in magazines used in semi-automatic weapons, like the AK-47.
A week prior to the unscheduled lockdown at the Phoenicia Elementary School on the morning of June 1, 19 fourth graders and two teachers had been murdered in their elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. Those calling for gun regulation were excoriated by such folks as governor Greg Abbott of Texas who claimed such demands were inappropriate because they were political.
Let’s be clear.
Guns kill. Indeed, this was the fear in Phoenicia at the elementary school, resulting in the 10:45 lockdown. A school lockdown, even with reinforced doors, is no match for the power of an R-15, an A-4 semi-automatic carbine or an AR-15.56. Guards cannot stop entry unless one is posted at every door, armed to the teeth. Is this the type of environment we want for our children? An armed camp, more restrictive and gun-conscious than the bases of our armed forces? |
Uvalde demonstrated that there was no guarantee that armed police would act to stop the shooter. At Robb Elementary School, police gathered directly outside whilst children were being blown away by a young man rapidly firing a semi-automatic rifle pointed at these babies. Police could hear the screams, the cries and the bullets while outside the door for approximately 45 minutes. Forty-five minutes.
Close all the loopholes
Think for a moment. Would placing an age limit deter mass murders? Why not get a friend over 21 to purchase the weapon? Are we really so clueless not to realize these measures constitute a band-aid upon a gaping hole? How can we be more concerned about the rights of gun enthusiasts than to the lives of our children?
Gun enthusiasts claim they use semi-automatic rifles to hunt. The firepower of these weapons would rip a deer to shreds. Even if these weapons were effective for hunting, is not the life of a fourth grader more important than being able to gun down a deer?
We need to outlaw all automatic and semi-automatic weapons, and we need to do it now. Because illegal weapons find their way into jurisdictions which have outlawed such guns, gun restrictions must be national. Congress must do its job. On the local front, school boards must work with law enforcement, community members and legislators locally, statewide, and nationally to outlaw weapons of war.
I had the distinct pleasure of observing the Onteora school board meeting this week. On the agenda was a public hearing and vote on the revised district safety plan. The discussion was perfunctory. No wrap-up of the proposed policy was offered by board members, no explanation of the safety procedures, no talk about next steps.
I did read most of the plan. I found the procedures structured to identify at-risk students (kids who might be a threat) laudable. However, the process addressing external threats appeared to me woefully inadequate.
Escorting intruders out of a school building may work if the individual is disoriented, lost in the maze of lockers and classrooms, or just an erstwhile visitor. Escorting the individual out of the building, however, may be a death sentence for escort and for members of the school community if that visitor is packing an AK-47. Unless politicians act to close gun loopholes, schools and local law enforcement cannot deter a mass shooter. Parkland, Columbine and Virginia Tech teach us this lesson.
Strong legislation required
Some seat-warmers in the state and federal legislatures are deeply misguided. Take Ted Cruz. Ted thinks locking all school doors with only one egress is a good idea. I wonder if he ever was in a school when recess or last bell of the day rang. The word that comes to mind is stampede. A rather useless and quite frankly insulting suggestion.
Then we have the politicians who want to arm the teachers. Which ones? Every other classroom? Every other floor? When the police ram their way into the school and see an adult with a gun, will they ask for a school ID before firing? Such absurd ideas are deeply troubling.
To save lives, we must remove all automatic and semi-automatic weapons from the marketplace, pass and enforce stringent licensure laws for those who purchase non-automatic weapons, and provide a buy-back program for folks in possession of automatic or semi-automatic guns. And yes, we must increase access to mental-health programs, expand community after-school programs which address violence and bullying. All of us — parents, neighbors, community members — must refuse to sanction violence as a tool in our homes, on the street, or anywhere we gather.
Anything less will continue this cycle of deadly violence. Perhaps then the only sounds which emanate from our schools, shops, schools, churches , movie theaters and restaurants will be those of our children — and ourselves — as we live our lives here and across this country.
Can I hear an amen?
Kris McDaniel-Miccio is a legal scholar, an emerita professor of law and a Woodstock resident.