In the Aftermath of Parkland

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In the Aftermath of Parkland

Photo: The Atlantic

Photo: The Atlantic

Photo: The Atlantic

Photo: The Atlantic

Madoc Kimball, Staff Writer

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On February 2, 2013, Chris Kyle, author of the best-selling autobiography American Sniper and the deadliest, most accomplished marksman in American history, went to the Rough Creek Ranch-Lodge-Resort shooting range in Erath County, Texas, along with his friend Chad Littlefield and young Iraq War veteran Eddie Ray Routh, in the hopes of alleviating the latter’s PTSD, for which he had refused treatment and abandoned medication. Both Kyle and Littlefield had privately agreed via text that Routh was ‘straight up nuts’, and agreed to watch out for each other in case of anything abnormal. While at the range, Routh pulled out a .45 caliber pistol and shot Kyle dead, then a SIG Sauer P226, which he used to shoot and kill Littlefield. Both guns belonged to Kyle, and both Kyle and Littlefield were armed with .45 caliber pistols as well, which were holstered and safetied at the time of their deaths. By any perspective, Chris Kyle was as prepared or more as anyone armed and willing to protect themselves in the event of imminent danger from another firearm – he knew the potential aggressor was armed (he armed him!), he was extensively experienced in harrowing combat situations, especially those involving gunfire, he was beyond capable with a vast array of firearms, and he had one on his person at the time of the event (as well as an equally armed partner to back him up). And he still died – shot dead by a troubled young man standing only a few yards away.

On February 14, 2018, 19-year old Nikolas Cruz called an Uber to his former high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, in Parkland, Florida. Cruz pulled the fire alarm to flush out the school’s occupants, and began to advance through the school, firing indiscriminately at students and teachers that passed him with an AR-15 style assault rifle he had purchased legally from a gun store in nearby Coral Spring. The shooting lasted approximately six minutes, and by the time Cruz was finished, twelve people were dead, and five more died later outside and in the hospital. Cruz then disposed of his firearm and fled to a nearby Walmart, where he loitered, up until his arrest. Less than two months into 2018, over 2500 people have died from gun violence. Thirty-nine were from mass shootings, and almost 600 were children or teenagers below the age of 18. Since 2014 alone, almost 57,000 people have died from gun violence in the US, nineteen times the number of people who died during the September 11 attacks. In response to the latter, President Bush launched the War on Terror in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iraq, commencing nearly two decades of war and strife that has now claimed many more lives many times over. But when it comes to gun violence, America has done relatively little to stop the steady march of death and horror. Over 150 mass shootings that have occurred since 1966, the date of the infamous Texas tower shooting in which a former Marine sharpshooter gunned down 17 people, including a mother and her unborn child, from the observation deck of the University of Texas in Austin. While not the first documented mass shooting in American history, it was the watershed moment atop which America fell and began to drown.

But what constitutes a ‘mass’ shooting? Experts typically consider these events to be any public event where a gunman kills at least four people, not including themself. When quantifying data on the subject, shootings related to gang violence or domestic violence are left out, as are those related to failed robberies or heists. But the topic is more complex than that. Nearly every database varies – deaths and injuries related to gun violence, while exhaustively documented by sources such as Mother Jones, Gun Violence Archive and the Washington Post, differ on their definitions, dates, and exact number of casualties – and leave out events such as the Knoxville church shooting, where a deranged Vietnam War veteran entered a church with a shotgun and an intent to kill liberals, homosexuals, and black people. The perpetrator injured seven and killed two, and so did not fulfill the aforementioned quota to be labeled a mass shooter. The survivors disagree. Regardless, what remains clear is that the number of mass shootings has grown exponentially in the last fifty years. The most deadly mass shooting in American history has changed seven times in the last fifty years, three times in the last ten. The horrors of each have been undeniable. Two psychopathic seniors execute students in their library and spark a wave of cultural outrage and self-reflection. A 20-year-old man shoots and kills his own mother, then stalks through the halls of an elementary school to gun down kindergarteners. A selectively mute undergrad shoots and kills thirty-two at his college, committing the worst mass shooting in American history. Nine years later, a former security guard enters a crowded gay nightclub and fires indiscriminately at patrons, stealing that title. A year later, a 64-year-old gambler opens fire from his hotel room in Las Vegas, regnant in his bloody crown only briefly before shooting himself. Columbine. Sandy Hook. Virginia Tech. Pulse. Las Vegas. The many others, burning holes in the nation’s collective conscience, the thousands of men, women, and children murdered en masse by the troubled and sadistic in their places of worship, learning, and work, for no reason other than the simple fact that Americans may easily and legally acquire military-grade weapons designed for no other purpose than to kill living things, quickly and in large numbers – for no other reason than the simple fact that, for some reason, this exact practice is a celebrated and hallowed tradition of American culture.

When the 2nd Amendment was written, the average musket could hold one round. A skilled shooter could fire about 3 times per minute, provided he could reload in perfect time frames and had impeccable aim. Today’s AR-15 assault rifles, the kind used in many of the worst mass shootings in America and almost all legally obtained by the shooter, have magazine capacities of 30 rounds or greater. They can discharge 45 rounds per minute and have an effective range eleven times greater than that of a revolutionary-era musket. When the 2nd Amendment was written, there were no police stations, no grocery stores, no instituted systems of identification. Women, blacks, and other minorities could not vote and were treated as inferior and even inhuman. External threats from Native Americans and European powers were very real. Vigilante justice was common. The United States had just come from a bloody war of revolution against the largest and grandest power in the world, and the notion of oppressive government was fresh in its founders’ minds. A standing army was no longer in place for fear of a coup, and so civilian militias were expected and sought after. When the 2nd Amendment was written, one person could own another. Slaveholders kept firearms in order to quell potential slave uprisings. The 2nd Amendment is a child of its time, of violence, and confusion, and fear. The absurdly paranoid notion, that every citizen must be armed, armed to the teeth, in order to fight back against a hypothetically tyrannical US government hellbent on extorting or murdering its own citizens, is a dangerous, antiquated, and hopelessly naive one, bred of the same fear and ignorance that perpetuated the time of the 2nd Amendment’s birth. The civil religion that surrounds the US Constitution is, for the most part, honorable and prudent. But when it comes to the decades of blood that soak the hands of the 2nd Amendment and its advocates, the course of action seems obvious – the document must evolve again as it has countless times. Assault rifles are not necessary to protect one’s self. Neither are other military-grade weapons. No American citizen needs a tank, or a grenade launcher, or a private compound overfilling with firepower. Feeble cries about a mental health crisis Republicans have no interest in solving, or the futility of gun laws to stop criminals, are as shallow and self-serving as the men and women who utter them. If more stringent gun laws would not stop dangerous men from acquiring them, then why have laws at all? If the vast majority of ‘law-abiding, responsible citizens’ wouldn’t go out of their way to rape or steal or kill, why have laws against them, when people do it anyway? The concept that a citizen’s antiquated right to deadly weapons for no other purpose but self-aggrandizing paranoia is more important than the lives of schoolchildren must die with this generation, or many more of this generation will assuredly die. This tiresome debate did not end with the death of high schoolers. It did not end when two middle schoolers shot and killed five from atop their school as a psychopathic prank. It did not end with the death of churchgoers by a white supremacist, hellbent on sparking a race war. It did not end with the death of twenty children barely old enough to read. It must end now.

A parable from speechwriter David Frum explains it best. A small village sits at the bottom of a deep valley. Regularly, sometimes even after clear warning signs, the village floods from a river that runs through the valley, killing many of the village’s inhabitants instantly. Many other villagers die from related causes, although in smaller numbers. This occurs many times a year, and has done so for decades. Occasionally, after particularly fierce floods, the villagers convene and discuss what steps might be taken to prevent further tragedies. But a particularly vocal group of villagers are always there to remind the others why moving would be a poor choice, and that instead, they must all become better swimmers, as moving to the top of the valley goes against the wishes of the villages founders over two hundred years ago. More time passes, and fatalities mount. Settlements atop the valley look down in pity at the village, which, despite its great wealth and advanced infrastructure, still cannot seem to overcome this simple problem.

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