It has been two weeks since an angry gunman entered a school in Parkland, Fla., and killed 17 students and teachers while seriously injuring several more.
In the latest chapter of the continuing saga of gun violence in the United States, people expressed shock, dismay and prayers for the victims and the perpetual question of what to do to solve this problem is being debated around the country.
After previous mass shootings, the same debate raged for a while, politicians promised to take action and when public attention faded and moved on to the next crisis, political will dissipated in the face of a powerful gun lobby and nothing changed. While it appears that the students affected are not willing to let this incident fade away — and they are making some progress in garnering support for some real change — it remains to be seen if they will be able to sustain their efforts. I wish them much encouragement and luck as the problem they are tackling is ingrained into the American psyche and it will take a monumental effort to be successful.
When a major societal problem such as this comes to the forefront, people look to their leadership for solutions, and the response of U.S. President Donald Trump so far shows just how deeply gun ownership runs through American society. His first response was to focus on the need for increased mental health services rather than limiting guns.
While I can certainly agree that putting more resources into mental health can only be a good thing, it won’t stop mass shootings. Presumably, other developed nations such as Canada, Britain and Australia have similar levels of mental health problems, but mass shootings, especially in schools, seems to be a problem that occurs with frequency only in the United States. Improving mental health services is part of the solution but misses the primary problem of gun prevalence in American society.
In order to make changes, Americans will have to challenge one of their sacred cows, the right to bear arms.
The second solution being floated by President Trump is arming teachers with concealed weapons, paying them a bonus for doing so and expecting them to gun down any student who attempts a massacre. As a former teacher, I could not think of a solution worse than this and I’m not surprised that teachers’ groups have quickly expressed their opposition to any such plan. Bringing more guns inside the school environment in such a charged atmosphere as now exists would likely lead to increased gun violence and create a less safe environment. Teachers enter their profession to teach children, not to shoot them, and turning schools into armed fortresses does not create an atmosphere conducive to learning.
While watching television this past Monday, I saw something that clarified for me just how embedded gun violence has become in American society and why it will be so hard to change. One of the young women who survived the Parkland shooting was being interviewed by media about her experience. She had been shot several times and first responders had thought she had only a small chance to survive based on her injuries. After she had thanked them and the doctors for saving her life, a statement was made by the hospital noting that their doctors had only been able to save her because of their extensive experience dealing with gunshot victims. This statement left me gobsmacked for a while. How prevalent is gun violence in a society when doctors can be proud of their skills in dealing with gunshot wounds? How sad is it that they have had so much practice in order to gain this expertise?
In order to make changes, Americans will have to challenge one of their sacred cows, the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment to their constitution granted them this right in 1791 and it has been used since to justify the proliferation of all types of weapons. They need to decide if their forefathers intended for this amendment to lead to weapons of war being used by children on children and citizens on citizens. It sounds simple, but it won’t be easy.
Brian Hodder is an LGBTQ activist and works in the field of mental health and addictions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.