Texas school shooting renews debate over causes
A small Texas town was in mourning this week, after a 17-year-old student armed with his father’s shotgun and .38 revolver opened fire at his high school, killing eight students and two teachers and wounding 13 others. Dimitrios Pagourtzis, a football player whom classmates described as an introvert, entered an art class at Santa Fe High School, about 35 miles southeast of Houston, shortly after 7:30 a.m. and yelled “Surprise!” before shooting. He later surrendered after a 25-minute standoff with police. Among those killed was a 16-year-old female student who had repeatedly rebuffed Pagourtzis’ romantic advances, according to her parents. Pagourtzis’ father insisted that his son was a “good boy” who had been bullied at school and “that’s what was behind” the shooting.
It was the worst school shooting since the February assault on Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., which prompted a wave of nationwide, student-led protests calling for stricter gun laws. Incoming NRA President Oliver North blamed the epidemic on a “culture of violence,” as well as on the prevalence of the drug Ritalin, while Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick attributed the rampages to violent video games, legal abortion, and a lack of religious teaching in schools. Some students seemed quietly resigned to the violence. “It’s been happening everywhere,” one Santa Fe student said after the shooting. “I’ve always felt like eventually it was going to happen here too.”
What the editorials said
The Houston area has now joined a bloody club, said the Houston Chronicle. When the tears dry we must call out and vote out the “craven elected officials” who blame everything but guns for our children’s spilled blood. There must be a relentless push for measures “the whole nation knows will make a difference,” including background checks for every gun purchase. We cannot continue to ignore “a national emergency no other developed nation in the world either experiences or would ever tolerate.”
Tighter gun control would have made no difference in Santa Fe, said The Dallas Morning News. Pagourtzis used two weapons that would not have been covered by the assault-weapons ban proposed after recent shootings. And tougher background checks wouldn’t have stopped him: At 17, he’s too young to buy either a long gun or a handgun in Texas. Rather than waiting for mass shooters to reveal the cracks in our system, we should create “a National Center for the Prevention of Mass Shootings” to identify and help at-risk teens whose self-destructive behavior might escalate into bloody violence.
What the columnists said
America had plenty of unhappy teenagers 50 years ago, “but none of them shot up a school in this fashion,” said Glenn Harlan Reynolds in USA Today. What’s changed is that 24-hour news and social media have turned ritualized mass shootings into an “infectious disease.” In the old days, a depressed student might have shot himself. Today’s media environment teaches teens that “if they kill some people, they can be stars.” There’s no “idea-vaccine,” but media outlets could curb this epidemic by refusing to go full saturation coverage after each massacre.
“Pinning the problem on cultural factors is a lazy argument,” said Rex Huppke in the Chicago Tribune. Kids in other developed nations have access to social media, play video games, and watch violent movies, and yet only we have a “staggeringly high” level of gun violence. One variable explains that difference: Countries such as Britain, Germany, and Japan have tough firearms controls and “we have an illogical number of easily accessible guns.”
It’s easy to feel like this nation is “locked in a toxic stasis,” said Mimi Swartz in The New York Times. If the murder of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 couldn’t move Congress to back gun reforms, perhaps nothing will. The task has fallen instead to activist groups, some founded by the parents of murdered students, whose pressure has “brought significant change to eight states,” including universal background checks in Vermont and a higher minimum purchase age in Florida. Incremental reform is happening. But not from the top, where politicians “can’t seem to move beyond roundtables and tweets to actually make the country safer.” ■