The shooting rampage at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012 horrified the nation, ignited emotional calls for action, and led Congress to pass — well, nothing. Senators and representatives offered condolences but no remedies, as though school shootings, and the 33 gun murders that happen every day, are an indelible part of our national character, lamentable but unavoidable. Tragically, until more elected officials find the courage to stand up to the gun lobby, they will remain exactly that.
A report released Wednesday found that since the 26 deaths at Sandy Hook in Newtown, Conn., 44 more shootings have occurred at U.S. K-12 schools and universities — one every 10 days — killing 28 people. School shootings may have fallen off page one, but they’re still a national problem.
The report, by Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns (co-founded by Michael R. Bloomberg, the founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News), offers three important lessons for policy makers and parents alike.
First, three-quarters of the shooters for whom information was available obtained their guns at home. They found semi-automatic handguns and shotguns not properly locked and stored, brought them to school, and shot classmates, teachers and themselves. Having a gun in a home makes it three times as likely that a homicide will occur there — and, it seems, boosts the chances of gun violence at a child’s school, too. The right to own a gun carries heavy responsibilities that too many fail to uphold. More should be done, at the state and federal level, to hold gun owners accountable for securing their firearms and preventing others from using them.
Second, many of the recent school incidents began with arguments that escalated into gunfire. Young people will always find reasons to fight, especially when jealousy or alcohol are in the mix. But when guns are readily available, black eyes become dead bodies. The National Rifle Association’s argument that arming college students will make campuses safer flies in the face of the evidence.
Last year, the NRA petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its challenge to a federal law banning licensed gun dealers from selling to people younger than 21. An appeals court has unanimously upheld the ban, and the Supreme Court would be wise to let that decision stand.
Third, while school shootings can happen in any state, 23 of the 44 shootings occurred in nine Southern states. This is not surprising, because guns are more common in Southern states than in Northern ones, and also because Southern states are notoriously lax about enforcing gun laws. Florida, for one, which led the nation in school shootings with six, has issued tens of thousands of gun permits to people who don’t even legally live in the state — and thousands more to felons. At the same time, the state’s failure to require background checks for all gun sales fuels a black market that leaves a trail of blood all the way up the East Coast.
One of the most common arguments against the gun proposals advanced in Congress last year was that none of them would have prevented the shootings at Sandy Hook. The impossibility of stopping that tragedy, in other words, was used as an excuse for refusing to try to stop the next one — or any other of the 12,000 slayings committed with guns every year. There will always be shootings in the U.S. But there wouldn’t be as many if Congress would accept its constitutional authority — and the moral responsibility that comes with it — to pass basic gun safety laws.