Numb and Number

A look at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, a history of school gun violence, gun legislation, and more...

“I’ve become so numb I can’t feel you there”

Nearly 15 years ago Linkin Park released the song “Numb” (front man Chester Bennington passed away by committing suicide last year). Increasingly I’m convinced that we as a society have grown so numb that we can’t feel a connection with our fellow man any more. What’s worse, we are growing number by the day.

I feel it personally. The “virtual” reality of our world. The short attention spans. The divisiveness. The instant outrage. The materiality and the fake online personas that would drive Holden Caulfield mad. It’s all a little soul crushing. These are words I’m not supposed to say out loud. Words that no one is supposed to say out loud for fear of being thought of as anti-social, depressed, or worse. But the reality is we’re losing control of our morality, of our reality, of our humanity.

Don’t believe me? Then explain how day after day for nearly 19 years innocent children have been slaughtered while we watch and do nothing. Explain how it’s become so normal that we aren’t even surprised by these stories any more. Explain how everyone knows exactly how the news, the politicians, the social media outrage etc. is going to play out following one of these mass shootings because the script never changes. Nothing changes. The question in the wake of the tragic massacre in Parkland, Florida is will it change this time? Will the impassioned pleas of Emma Gonzalez and her classmates be enough to change anything, or will we remain forever numb to the slaughter of these children?

“Become so tired so much more aware”

On April 20, 1999 12 students and one teacher were murdered in what was then a shocking and a fairly rare event; a mass school shooting. 21 additional people were shot, and 3 additional people were injured escaping the massacre. That was nearly 19 years ago. Think about that. Really think about that. Today’s HS seniors (and even some college freshmen) had not even been born when the Columbine massacre happened.

Columbine is often considered the first modern day school massacre, though it certainly is not the first in American History. In fact, one year prior, in 1998, 2 students were killed and 23 others were wounded in a high school shooting in Springfield, Oregon. Still, Columbine remains a seminal point in our nation’s history and reference marker in time with respect to gun violence and school shootings.

Since Columbine, according to Westword, there have been 208 school shootings (108 in the first 10 years and an additional 100 in the 9 years since).

Since Columbine, according to Shephard Smith of Fox News, there have been 25 fatal “active shooter” school shooting situations.

Since Columbine, according to Axios, there have been at least 122 fatalities in mass school shootings (mass meaning shootings where at least four individuals were killed).

Since Columbine, according to the Washington Post, more than 150,000 students attending at least 170 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus.

Columbine is no longer in the top 3 deadliest school shootings in the past 20 years.

To put it mildly, since Columbine, we as a society have done nothing meaningful to prevent the next Columbine. But that’s not the worst part.

On December 14, 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary a shooter murdered 20 children between the ages of six and seven years old as well as six teachers and school employees. Again, think about that for a second. 13 years after Columbine twice as many individuals were gunned down at Sandy Hook, most under the age of 7. They were just babies…innocent little kids.

Did we do everything in our power to prevent it? No. According to a 2014 Washington Post story, "Since 13 people were killed at Columbine High School in 1999, Congress has passed one major law strengthening gun control in the aftermath of a mass shooting.” I have long felt that if the slaughter of 20 innocent children ages 7 and under at Sandy Hook wasn’t enough to stir our humanity into action to prevent this from ever happening again, that we as a society would never succeed in taking action to prevent or at least inhibit future school shootings.

On February 14, 2018 (Valentine’s Day) 17 people were murdered and 15 more injured at a mass school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. It was the 5th school shooting of 2018 to take place on school grounds during school hours; the 5th in just 1 ½ months. Like so many times before the fallout followed an all too familiar tale. The news stories, the anti-gun social media posts, the NRA supported 2nd Amendment responses all played out as they had for the past 19 years. And once again the wheel of time turned as the “thoughts and prayers” record continued to play. Would anything change? Would the news cycle move on after a few short days as it had with the recent Pulse Night Club Shooting or the Last Vegas Concert Shooting?

The Parkland shooting is not even the first school shooting to take place on Valentine’s Day. On February 14, 2008 5 students were killed and 17 more injured at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb, Illinois. Both of these heinous shootings aren’t even unique enough to earn the title of the Valentine’s Day Massacre, however, as that distinction goes to the February 14, 1929 mass murder of seven men in Chicago during a shootout involving Al Capone’s gang.

What does Capone’s 1929 shooting have to do with the post Columbine school shootings? Everything. See in the wake of the Valentine’s Day Massacre, which used sawed off shotguns, the National Firearms Act of 1934 was passed. It required certain firearms (including automatic weapons short barreled rifles and shotguns) to be registered with what is now the ATF with a $200 tax paid each time the gun was registered and sold.

The constitutionality of such a law was called into question in United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939). The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the law.

Shocking isn’t it?! That in response to a massacre a gun control law was passed asking for registration and restrictions on certain weapons that were deemed especially dangerous; a law that was deemed constitutional. But here’s the thing – something like the NFA would never happen today. The NRA would make sure of it.

In the wake of Columbine, Sandy Hook, and the countless other mass shootings, no such action has been taken. Why would it take place today? While the brave students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas give us hope, the NRA and the conservative Supreme Court make it highly unlikely that common sense gun control will ever pass, or be upheld as constitutional, if it indeed did manage to pass.

“I’m becoming this, all I want to do is be more like me and be less like you”

In 2012, Dr. Vivek Murthy called guns a national health care issue. Post Sandy Hook he even supported a ban on assault weapons. As a result the NRA put their boundless resources to work and held up Murthy’s confirmation as the Surgeon General of the United States for most of 2014. He ultimately would be confirmed by the narrowest of margins, but no meaningful gun control was passed after his confirmation.

In June of 2016, the AMA joined Murthy in calling guns a public health “crisis.” However, as a result of the NRA’s financial power in Washington, the CDC is actively barred by Congress from even studying gun violence. Let me repeat that. CONGRESS HAS BARRED THE CDC FROM EVEN STUDYING GUN VIOLENCE. That 1996 spending bill amendment was pushed through at the behest of….you guessed it….the NRA.

Is this who we have become? As a nation, have we become so blinded by the NRA and guns that we won’t even allow the CDC to study gun violence or the Surgeon General to advocate for common sense gun control? Not even to prevent the slaughter of our children?

That brings us to an interesting question. What do most of the deadliest massacres of our time have in common? The answer – The AR-15. Despite this fact, the NRA and its supporters, as well as its lobbyists and the politicians it finances refuse to take meaningful steps from restricting access to the AR-15.

In the Parkland massacre, the shooter lawfully bought an AR-15 despite being under 21, having had the police called to his home over 30 times, having multiple complaints filed with federal agencies, and having been diagnosed with mental health issues. This shooter was also on the school rifle team that was funded in part by an NRA grant and was linked to the white supremacist group Republic of Florida. Should he have been allowed to lawfully purchase the AR-15? Should anyone?

Emma Gonzalez and her classmates at Stoneman Douglas want to make sure theirs is the last school shooting. They want to make sure no one can get an AR-15 again to shoot-up a school ever again. They’re willing to take on the NRA and the politicians they finance. If you haven’t yet seen Emma’s speech please watch it.

Have you ever been in such deep sleep that someone needs to scream at the top of their lungs to wake you up…to bring you back to a state of consciousness? That was Emma’s speech. She and her classmates are screaming at the top of their lungs to wake us up. To bring us back to reality. To get through our level of “numb.” I hope with all my heart that they’re successful, but I know in my mind that it will not be enough? Why? Because the NRA has already put a system in place that won’t let it be successful for at least 3-4 more decades.

“Can't you see that you're smothering me? Holding too tightly, afraid to lose control”

Let’s pretend that meaningful gun control laws were actually passed by Congress. Impossible to believe, I know, but let’s just pretend anyway. Here’s the problem. The Supreme Court, with the addition of Justice Neil Gorsuch, is 5-4 in favor of a conservative friendly application of the 2nd Amendment. Any such law would immediately be challenged on constitutionality by the NRA and would likely be overturned by the SCOTUS.

So in order for such legislation to truly become meaningful permanent law, we would not only need to elect a Congress willing to take action, and a President willing to sign into law such a bill, but also a President and Congress that would appoint and confirm a SCOTUS willing to uphold such a law as constitutional.

The likelihood of that occurring depends in large part on the voters and the frequency of SCOTUS openings in the decades to come.

So let’s talk about the voters for a second. There are those that will never vote against their pro gun interpretation of the 2nd Amendment on the right to bear arms. I’ve spoken to some folks who share these views and asked them why? This is what I’ve been told:

1 – I need my gun for hunting / sport

2 – I need my gun for protection

3 – I need my gun because I don’t trust the government and we might need to defend ourselves from our government (I call this the constitutional militia defense).

I’m not going to even address #1 here because no sport is more important than human life. We can’t be more concerned about NFL concussions than we are about guns. If you need an AR-15 to hunt or for sport then there’s not much we’re going to be able to rationally discuss on this matter.

As for “protection” the data shows the theory of a good guy with a gun is needed to stop a bad guy with a gun is not true. According to Scientific American and its 30 underlying studies on the matter, gun ownership does not decrease or prevent crime but rather leads to more crime.

“In a 2015 study using data from the FBI and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, researchers at Boston Children's Hospital and Harvard University reported that firearm assaults were 6.8 times more common in the states with the most guns versus those with the least. Also in 2015 a combined analysis of 15 different studies found that people who had access to firearms at home were nearly twice as likely to be murdered as people who did not.”

Studies show that increased gun ownership leads to increased accidental deaths. According to the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, “We analyzed data for 50 states over 19 years to investigate the relationship between gun prevalence and accidental gun deaths across different age groups. For every age group, where there are more guns, there are more accidental deaths. The mortality rate was 7 times higher in the four states with the most guns compared to the four states with the fewest guns.”

Finally, there are those that understand that the Constitution prefaces the 2nd Amendment with a qualifier regarding militias. These gun advocates take the position that the Constitution protects gun rights for such militias and since they don’t trust the government, they have a right to these firearms to defend themselves from the government. Let’s be clear, they’re talking about needing guns to protect themselves from the United States Government.

Now, constitutionally, this may be the strongest gun rights defense, though I would argue that the militia referred to in the constitution, is what we would now call the military and other law enforcement agencies, not citizen militias. But let’s look at this from a practical point of view.

When was the last time a citizen militia was necessary in this country to fight its own government? And, given that the US government has the largest and fiercest fighting force in the history of the world, with drone tech, nuclear tech, cyber warfare tech and beyond, how would an AR-15 protect you in the event you needed to defend your family against your own government? What chance do you really stand? So your AR-15 is needed for a fictional war against the US government, and for that we should turn a deaf ear to the slaughter of innocent children?

The irony and the hypocrisy with respect to the AR-15 is heightened by the fact that the family of the inventor of the weapon has openly stated (more than two years ago) that the inventor, Eugene Stoner, never intended it for civilian use and would not want it available for civilian use. When I asked a gun advocate about this after the Pulse Nightclub shooting, the response I received was, “I’ll believe it when they strap him up to a car battery, bring Stoner back from the dead, and he says it to my face.” Because, clearly Stoner’s family must be lying. How could they possibly know his thoughts and wishes on the very gun he invented, right?

“I’ve become so numb I can’t feel you there”

Yes, this is a very very very long piece. It is intentionally long, because this is not a pithy subject. This is not a soundbite friendly topic. To have real change we need to have real conversations. We need to stop being so numb. How do we make a change? We need to vote in a Congress that will pass gun laws. We need to vote in a President that will sign such a law. We need to elect a Congress and President that will appoint a SCOTUS that will uphold such gun laws.

This is not something that will take a day, a week, or a year. This will take decades. Decades of work from the likes of Emma Gonzalez and her classmates. Till then we need to reverse our numbness and feel for our fellow man.