In my last column I wrote that in the face of chaos, like the mental health crisis on campus, we tend to cling to oversimplified narratives and look to unreliable centralized authorities for rescue. The narrative-building and unwarranted faith in authorities applies to our response to mass shootings as well. Whether it’s addressing mental health or preventing gun violence, individuals—not bureaucrats—can best effect change on campus.
School shootings of the kind seen earlier this month in Florida present everyone with unspeakable evil, leaving us grasping for answers. Unfortunately, most answers are insufficient. It is not just a mental health issue—depression and anxiety do not dispose anyone to mass murder, and confounding the conditions of mass shooters with general mental illness unfairly stigmatizes serious mental health issues. It is also not a race issue—white individuals do not disproportionately commit mass shootings.
And despite calls for “common sense” gun reform, whether the mass shooting epidemic is a gun issue is reasonably disputed. We’re not going to resolve the gun debate here, but while I have your attention, here are some points to consider: Since 1993, as gun ownership has doubled, gun-related homicides have halved. (Gun deaths overall have risen slightly in recent years, but this is mostly due to suicides, which comprise approximately two-thirds of gun violence.)
You might be thinking that the simple solution could be to just ban all guns. To this point, I am open to repealing the Second Amendment, rounding up the over 300 million firearms in the United States like we successfully did with the War on Drugs, and ensuring that only benevolent forces like the police and the Trump administration are armed.
So if mass shootings are not necessarily a mental health, race, or gun problem, what the hell is going on?
In the face of this perpetual confusion, gun control advocates have ascribed our country’s mass shootings to apathetic lawmakers and their “allegiance to the gun lobby,” citing millions of dollars in “donations to the National Rifle Association.” It is true that the NRA contributed over $1 million to candidates in 2016—behind over 400 other organizations. The NRA spends the vast majority of its money evaluating candidates on the Second Amendment and relaying that information to voters through paid advertisements. In reality, the NRA exerts influence because it reflects the will of many millions of voters.
The motivation for this narrative is understandable—I would like nothing more than to believe that we could swiftly solve mass shootings if only our lawmakers cared less about money and cared enough about the kids to “take action.” In this mode, chaos begins to make sense and the cure is relatively straightforward: “fight against the NRA.” There is finally something tangible for which to hope for. There’s only one problem: The NRA-as-Svengali narrative is nonsense.
So what are we to do? There is some gun legislation to consider, especially individually targeted approaches like gun violence restraining orders. But just as Columbia students should not look solely to the University administration to meaningfully solve our mental health crisis, we should not look solely to Washington to cure the mass shooting epidemic.
It is true, “the adults simply aren’t doing their job.” But I don’t have much faith that they will—or that they really can. Authorities failed to follow up on nearly every red flag. For instance, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School banned the shooter from wearing a backpack, citing threats he had made against other students. DCF investigated the shooter in 2016 and cited his “wanting to purchase a gun.” The local police received no fewer than twenty tips. The FBI received screenshots of the shooter proclaiming his will to be “a professional school shooter.” The armed resource officer at the high school remained outside for four to six minutes while gunshots went off indoors.
This negligence of duty is a horrific trend. The shooter in Sutherland Springs, Texas massacre could not legally own a gun, but he passed background checks because the Air Force failed to send the shooter’s domestic violence conviction to the FBI. The FBI had received tips on the shooters at the Pulse nightclub, Fort Hood shooter, and Sandy Hook. And now gun control advocates want to entrust agencies like the FBI with more responsibility to control firearms and keep civilians safe (someone would have to enforce new gun laws).
The FBI operates on a $8.8 billion budget and has 1,000 employees in its $194 million South Florida field office alone. If the FBI cannot stop these tragedies even with enormous funds and the clearest warning signs, who can? Ultimately, it is relatives, school administrators, and peers close to potential shooters who can best detect warning signs; therefore our best hope is in laws that empower these individuals—not federal bureaucracies—to preempt tragedies like we witnessed last week. Some ideas include local task forces that deal solely with preventing mass shootings, the aforementioned gun violence restraining orders, and expanding concealed carry as a deterrent mechanism.
However much we may not want to place “the responsibility of prevention in the hands of potential victims,” if the authorities cannot keep us safe, what other choice do we have?
Joseph Siegel is a Columbia College sophomore studying philosophy. Right to the Core runs alternate Mondays.
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