How will the Trump administration grapple with America's gun violence?
We're about to see how an unabashedly pro-gun president handles a terrible school shooting
We can discuss the murder of 16 students and a coach at a high school in Parkland, Florida, on Wednesday without talking about guns if it will make you feel safer. But it wouldn't be a very realistic conversation.
Since the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, in which 20 young children and six adults in Newtown, Connecticut, were murdered, "there have been at least 273 school shootings nationwide," including on college campuses, The New York Times reports. "In those incidents, 439 people were shot, 121 of whom were killed." Since Colorado's Columbine shooting in 1999, when two students murdered 12 of their peers and one teacher, "more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus," The Washington Post adds. "That doesn't count dozens of suicides, accidents, and after-school assaults that have also exposed children to gunfire."
This is a real problem, and at some point, America will have to deal with it — or agree to live with it.
Sandy Hook happened at the end of former President Barack Obama's first term, and Congress tried to do something — anything — but did not. You could see Obama age each time he addressed a mass shooting, getting visibly sadder and angrier with each speech. Parkland, Florida, is the first big mass shooting of Donald Trump's presidency where the targets were school children. What will he do?
He has tweeted, of course:
But what else? Maybe it is too much to expect anything more from a president who openly fantasized about shooting a random stranger on New York City's Fifth Avenue, just to test the loyalty of his supporters. After all, the most powerful gun lobbying group, the NRA, spent $30.3 million to get Trump elected, plus another $20 million to ensure he had a Republican-led Senate, and Trump remembers those who loyally stood by him.
Still, with Trump, you never know. Maybe he alone can fix this. The NRA's first presidential crush, Ronald Reagan, after all, helped push through some of the few national gun laws we have on the books. But Trump's track record — both in getting any legislation through and specifically legislation that might curb gun violence — is not promising. And aside from working to curb the availability of civilian military-style weapons used in all mass shootings, most of the low-hanging fruit has been plucked.
Trump's favorite cable news personalities on Fox News spent much of Wednesday night talking about ways that America can lock down schools even tighter, with Sean Hannity cheering a proposal to federalize school security, TSA-style. But as Melissa Falkowski, one of the teachers at Parkland's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School pointed out, every student in the school had been trained how to react to an active-shooter situation, and the high school had at least one security guard on campus. All schools in the district have a single point of entry to control who enters the building, according to school board member Donna Korn. And still, 17 people are dead.
So the smart money is that nothing will happen, and the part of America that wasn't directly affected by the shooting moves on until another mass school shooting momentarily catches its horror-struck attention. There just aren't that many more things to blame or distract from the elephant in the room: guns.
And on guns, Congress has done "not a damn thing" since Sandy Hook, Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.) told CNN on Wednesday, and "this institution is not going to move," not after "20 dead babies" in Newtown, and not even to restrict bump-stocks after the Las Vegas shooting. "There's sort of just a sense of resignation here right now," he said. "The pattern will be perfectly predictable: There will be a moment of silence, people will wish everybody 'thoughts and prayers' and sympathy for the victims, and then the Congress of the United States will do absolutely nothing."
Anybody who sends their children to school in America recognizes the fleeting bite of dread at drop-off — what if this is the last time you see your child alive? — and knows the name for the cumulative emotion: terror. Presumably, turning schools into prison-like fortresses for terrified students is one option. But if somebody can convince the president that school shootings are a form of terrorism affecting millions of voters, and that there are hugely popular laws that might help, maybe he will pull a Reagan. That seems worth thinking and praying for.