In the aftermath of another horrible and heartbreaking mass shooting at an American school, the same political game took place that always takes place. That game breaks down into three stages: before the facts come in, once the facts are in, and the actual political debate.
Before The Facts Come In. Before the facts come in, proponents of gun control point at foreign countries and the lack of mass shootings in those countries and suggest that Congress ought to do something — anything, really — to make it more difficult for evil people to obtain guns. They do not specify what that something is. But it must be a law, and it must restrict law-abiding citizens’ access to guns. Furthermore, any Congressperson who opposes such unspecified laws is the tool of the “gun industry.”
Meanwhile, those who oppose gun control urge caution until we know the facts; often they offer thoughts and prayers. Proponents of gun control then mock those thoughts and prayers in order to imply that gun control opponents don’t care about dead children, and merely want to avoid responsibility by throwing the problem at God.
The Facts Come In. As the facts come in, proponents of gun control maintain their staunch advocacy for their position, but are often forced to acknowledge that their preferred measures wouldn’t have done anything to stop the shootings at issue. That doesn’t stop them from clubbing about the ears gun control opponents, who maintain that gun control measures must be tailored toward stopping actual events.
Meanwhile, opponents of gun control usually suggest two measures: mental health screening that would take dangerous people off the streets and into treatment, and security in schools. These are rejected out of hand by gun control proponents, who say they don’t want those who are mentally ill avoiding treatment in order to avoid the consequences of such treatment, and add that placing security in schools would somehow “militarize” the school environment.
The Political Debate. Congress usually proposes some measure of gun control. That measure of gun control is usually far more unpopular in specifics than it was in theory; it usually restricts rights most Americans care about, and fails to properly target the underlying problem at issue. Such measures almost universally fail. When they do pass, they show little evidence of impact on mass shootings.
So, where does all of this leave us?
Here’s what we know. The shooter used an AR-15, the most common rifle in the United States. The shooter was on the radar of school authorities, and he was reportedly in frequent contact with the police; he was reported to the FBI as well, but follow-up was apparently insufficient. People warned authorities about him, and they didn’t do anything or couldn’t do anything. That’s probably the best place to start looking for answers.
The shooter’s gun was obtained legally. He had never been arrested; it’s difficult to think of a way to prevent the sale of a gun to a person with a clean record without a mass gun ban or confiscation. He also had a gas mask and grenades — and it’s unclear where he obtained the grenades. We could look at stronger prosecution of straw buyers, as Jim Geraghty of National Review suggests, but that wouldn’t have helped in this case.
So, where do we go from here? Obviously, I think that we ought to consider security in schools as a first step — I went to a Jewish high school in Los Angeles that received bomb threats at least twice a year; the building next door was scoped out by mass shooter Buford Furrow, but he left thanks to security there. It’s not too much to ask that we place armed security at our schools, as Israel does.
But this much is clear: snap Twitter excoriations focused on casting aspersions at the character of our political opposition tears our country apart right when we need to come together in comfort. We have an unfortunate tendency to roll our eyes when people say they’re waiting for the facts, whether we’re discussing mass shootings or terrorist attacks; I’ve done it, too. But waiting for facts is the responsible thing to do. And as the facts come in, perhaps better solutions will make themselves clearer.