Hunkered down on a classroom floor with his classmates, as a shooter roamed the halls opening fire on teachers and students, a terrified 14-year-old Florida high schooler tweeted these chilling words Wednesday:
“I am in a school shooting right now …”
Once, these words would have seemed unfathomable, even in the city where lethal bullets rained down from a University of Texas tower 51 years ago.
Now – incredibly, sadly – mass shootings are almost commonplace.
The latest gun massacre in America left at least 17 people dead. Slaughtered. Words fail us at times like these, incapable of capturing the depth of our grief, our disgust and, yes, our rage.
“This keeps happening again and again and again …” said a headline on CNN’s website Thursday over a graphic listing 21 shootings at U.S. schools from 2000 to 2017. Not a complete list, those massacres killed 64 people, including 26 children at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn. in 2012. They do not include at least eight school shootings in 2018, nor the mass shootings in Las Vegas (2017) and Orlando (2016) and down the road just three months ago, at a country church in Sutherland Springs, where a gunman killed 26.
Each mass shooting brings a familiar and cruel cycle: Politicians offer impotent and hollow thoughts and prayers; partisan politics fuel intransigent Facebook debates; politicians shamelessly beg off debating gun policy, saying now is not the time; and Congress sits on its hands. And then the next shooting comes along and pierces a gaping hole in our collective soul once more.
With virtually every mass shooting, we learn once again that semiautomatic guns with large magazines of ammunition that can more easily inflict mass casualties are accessible to people intent on slaughtering. In the case of Wednesday’s mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., authorities said the AR-15 rifle used by the gunman was purchased legally. In Florida, an AR-15 is easier to buy than a handgun, the New York Times reported.
Military-style weapons like the AR-15 have been used in many if not most of the nation ‘s recent mass shootings. Despite the increasing occurrence of these massacres, there’s been no federal legislation to tighten gun laws since Newtown. Though Congress passed a national assault weapons ban in 1994, it expired a decade later.
Still, with every mass shooting the argument persists that weapons are not the issue. President Trump, who pointedly avoided mentioning gun control Thursday, said he would make school safety a top priority and tackle the “difficult issue of mental health.” The Florida shooter was mentally disturbed, Trump said.
It’s not the first time the president has sought to spin a mass shooting as a mental health issue. We can’t forget, however, that it was Trump who undid an Obama-era regulation that would have blocked some mentally ill people from buying guns. That effort to strengthen national background checks was a response to the massacre at Newtown.
In his tweets Thursday, Trump offered prayers and condolences to the families of the victims. A survivor of the mass shooting lashed back: “Prayers won’t fix this. But gun control will prevent it from happening again.”
Another Trump tweet seemed to lay some responsibility on neighbors and classmates who he said knew the shooter was a “big problem.” Perhaps the president could also look inward and see his hypocrisy on mental health and mass shootings.
On Wednesday, as that terror-filled, 14-year-old high school student live-tweeted on the mass shooting, one of his followers responded, “Stay safe and stay hidden, Aidan! We’re all pulling for you, kiddo.”
All Americans should pull for the safety of our children by demanding that Congress pass gun laws to help protect them from mass shootings. No parent should have to fear that sending off their child to school in the morning might be the last time they see them alive.
We strive to be a civilized society but we fail our aspirations – and our children — when we do not act and when we allow our lawmakers to not act. Grief and rage cannot bring us to our knees. Words cannot fail us; they must inspire us to act. We are only powerless if we choose to be.
How many more times will we allow ourselves to read these haunting words again: “I am in a school shooting.”?
Castillo is the editorial page editor. Contact him at email@example.com