Parkland shooting: Does America care about own murdered children?

It may sound harsh but I see statements from some observers that after Sandy Hook massacre America accepted that even kids can be shot and no meaningful gun control can be introduced. Another day, and another shooting at high school in Parkland. Can we really say that at least part on American society simply accepts that those things happen on regular basis, is it possible to change this attitude? Read few comments.

Augustine Kposowa, Professor & Co-Chair, Department of Sociology, University of California, Riverside

The real tragedy in the United States is the availability of firearms and the embedded cultural belief that because of the Constitution, people should have the right to bear arms. It simply does not make sense that in a civilized society, guns should be allowed, sold for profit, of course, and nothing happens when people are shot or when individuals kill themselves. There are some that believe that gun control will amount to guns being taken away, or that guns do not kill; it is individuals that kill. This amounts to saying that traffic laws should not be passed, that cars should not be regulated, and that it is not vehicles that kill, but drivers.

As far as the Constitutional argument goes, many Americans fail to realize that the US Constitution has been amended many times. Indeed, this very Second Amendment was an amendment. The Constitution was amended once to criminalize the manufacture and sale of alcohol, a phenomenon known as Prohibition. If the Constitution could be amended to prevent people from manufacturing, selling or consuming alcohol, is it not madness that firearms made purposely to kill human beings should not be banned or heavily regulated? Alcohol, of course (like many substances on the planet) can eventually kill if taken in excess, but it is not manufactured purposefully to kill people. Guns are!

When Sandy Hook took place, it presented a moment when the nation could have done sincere soul searching and come up with gun regulation, such as demanding that anybody with firearms license the gun, and heavy weapons not be sold to anyone. Yet the hypocrisy in life prevailed. One heard of ‘hearts going out to the children and their parents.’ Yet nothing was done. There is, of course (apart from culture) the issue of money worship in America. Money speaks louder than words. Accordingly, when horrific events happen like shootings, the gun manufacturers and the national rifle association do their best to ensure that no gun laws are passed. They have bought politicians with campaign donations, so nothing ever gets done. The country waits for the next shooting. Finally, some states have made the situation even worse by legislating that people be allowed to carry guns everywhere, that even teachers should be armed. There are so called open carry states. If individuals are allowed to carry guns in public and everywhere, including churches and university campuses, the situation looks like some big race to more barbaric times worse than the Wild Wild West. This is a problem that cannot be solved because there are too many vested interests making money. Then there is the racial problem which cannot be ignored. Minorities are wrongly believed by some to pose threats, so if the population (still predominantly white) were allowed to give up their guns, the so-called ‘bad’ guys will come after the property of the good guys. People’s fears get in the way of good judgement in terms of what is in the best interest of the whole country, so here we go again!

Gregg Lee Carter, Professor of Sociology, Department of History & Social Sciences, Bryant University

First a little background and context:  Although not the first mass shooting at a school, the January 1989 mass shooting at an elementary school in Stockton, California, where Patrick Purdy used an AK-47 semiautomatic rifle to shoot 37 children and adults, killing 5 of them, was the first to motivate the American public to try to do something to prevent another one of these tragedies.  California quickly passed a ban on the sale of military-style assault firearms (rifles, shotguns, and pistols; these types of arms already in private hands where grandfathered in, and were allowed as legal).  At the federal level, President George H.W. Bush used an executive order to do the same at the federal level, and congress followed a few years later in the 1994 federal assault weapons ban (which expired in 2004, and which was not renewed).

The second major school mass shooting to gain national attention, was the April, 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in the small town of Littleton, Colorado.  As in the Stockton massacre, both state and federal actions were taken.  Colorado enacted a secondary-sales gun law that requires a background check for a prospective gun buyer not just when he or she is buying from a licensed gun dealer (e.g., from a gun shop or a major store like Walmart), but also between private individuals (including at “gun shows,” garage sales, and the like).  However, a similar law failed at the national level, and this was the beginning of the phenomenon you’re speaking about – that the power of the gun lobby in the US is so strong that the enactment of stricter gun controls is no longer possible at the federal level (federal laws are critical; otherwise, someone living in a tough gun control state like Massachusetts or Illinois, can readily drive to a nearby state where laws are less strict to purchase a firearm).

Now, to answer your question directly, in the short-term, many Americans are despairing of our nation’s ability to do something about preventing future mass shootings, including at schools—but only in the short-term (near future).  The short-term being defined by the current high level of power of the gun lobby (including the NRA) and the fact that all the major branches of the federal government are controlled by our conservative party, the Republicans (whose party platform includes strong support for gun rights).  Neither of these aspects of the current political situation are going to last long.

A couple of important issues need to be clarified:  First, in the majority of U.S. households there are no guns!  And, indeed, household gun ownership has fallen over the past several decades.  National probability surveys had the percentage of households with a gun at roughly 50% in the early 1970s; this has steadily dropped and is estimated to be between 33% and 42%.  At the same time, the number of guns in circulation has risen dramatically – millions are purchased each years, but mainly by individuals who already own guns and who are adding to their collections.  Overall, public opinion polls show the majority of Americans supporting strong gun control laws – including strong background checks on prospective purchases and putting restrictions on semi-automatic firearm purchases, including the size of their ammunition magazines (e.g., restricting them to 10 rounds or less).

Social demography indicates that household gun ownership will, if anything, continue to go down as more and more U.S. citizens are foreign born – and come from Latin America, Asian, and African nations where personal gun ownership is neither common nor considered a “right.”  Americans are not a bunch of gun-toting cowboys!  Immigrants are even stronger supporters of strict gun control laws, and we are currently adding a million immigrants to our population each year.

Politically, serious gun control only occurs at the national level when the presidency and both houses of congress are controlled by the Democrats (and this is not sufficient by itself, but is a necessary condition; note that Democrat’s political platform includes strong support for stricter gun control laws).  Republicans are currently in control of all three of these, plus the U.S. Supreme Court has more conservative than progressive justices – so the near future does not bode well for new gun control legislation.  The same social demography approach that indicates a more restrictive attitude toward guns also indicates that U.S. politics will begin swinging back to more progressive policies in the medium term future (10 years down the line), if not sooner.

Gun violence is not going to be eliminated in the U.S.:  There are simply too many guns in circulation (325,000,000) and it is simply too easy to acquire on through private sales on the Internet and in-person venues (e.g., yard sales; gun shows).  Our social heterogeneity and relatively high rate of poverty (compared to other industrialized nations) also assure a certain level of conflict will be maintained.

However, when the political scene changes, that is, when our progressive party, the Democrats, come back into power (and social demography points to this happening in the coming decade), there are some policies that would reduce the overall amount of gun violence – each policy would have a small effect, but if several or many were implemented, the effect would be larger.  They include universal background checks – which means that if a private individual wants to sell to another private individual that both of them have to go through a criminal/mental health background check (some states do require this now, but most don’t, and there is no national law) and putting restrictions on the ammunition magazines used by gunowners’ most popular weapons—semiautomatic pistols and rifles. A few states restrict these magazines to 10 rounds or fewer – but there is no national law.  As we have seen from the plague of mass shootings afflicting the nation over the past 2 decades, including yesterday’s tragedy in Florida, high-capacity magazines allow for much more carnage when an incidence of gun violence erupts.

Michael Kocsis, Professor, Department of Philosophy, Utica College

It’s an important set of questions , and it seems to flare up as a debate every time there’s a major event, and then drop off the radar. It’s troubling because any kind of successful effort would obviously require a long and dedicated effort, which doesn’t seem very likely.

I would offer a few comments/thoughts. On one hand, it’s hard to say that Americans have largely accepted the “new normal” of these shootings. After all, they seem to be split down the middle and sharply divided about this issue and others. I would guess that massive numbers of Americans see how the current state of affairs is dangerous and causes huge suffering. I’d even suggest that the rest of the democratic world agrees with that view and calls for ‎restrictions on gun ownership.

On the other hand, I think you’re totally correct that the other portion of the American people basically are willing to tolerate death and damage caused by guns. Those on the gun freedom side of the debate, large numbers of them, think it’s more important to allow people to own guns than to restrict gun ownership. They beleive that restrictions won’t stop psychopaths, or guns are needed to preserve liberty, or restrictions only hurt hunters and target shooters. Most gun freedom supporters hold some set of these arguments and if asked they would say that gun ownership should supersede policies to prevent more mass shootings.

It’s hard to know where to begin explaining this, but one thing I would say is that the explanation would have to delve into cultural features of the American people. Many people simply call for new restrictive laws. But I would suggest that any “solution” to this phenomenon should look into the root causes, such as disenchantment, militarism, isolation, poverty, ideology, inequality, violence. I’m not saying it’s easy to understand all these and link them scientifically to mass shootings . It’s more that any real solution would need to deal with these underlying phenomena in order to work effectively. Why are citizens willing and able to kill others this way? It’s obviosly partly a factor of having way too many guns in society; but it’s also a facor of the way Americans are socialized, how they set their priorities, and how they are educated.

Plus, ideology has a strong hold in the US, and maybe also in all the other western countries. The way that citizens jump on one side or the other of issues and absolutely refuse to change their minds even when evidence and arguments are given, doesn’t speak very well of democratic society. The discourse always seems to return to the same set of themes after each shooting, and although I couldn’t say for sure, it seems to me that very few supporters of gun freedom are ever going to revise their views.

I’m a Canadian citizen, and I have to say that when I look at Canadian society there are quite a few restrictions on gun ownership and we reap the benefits of safety as a result. It’s been far from easy, and many hunters and target shooters are sharply hostile to restrictions, but for me it seems obvious that canada’s work and sacrifice on this issue has paid off. We all benefit from the fact that way fewer guns are out on the street.

Ryan King, Professor, Associate Director of Criminal Justice Research Center Faculty, Ohio State University

I would agree with your statement for the most part.  I think all segments of American society are deeply saddened by such tragedies, but for a significant portion of the American population such mass killings will never be enough to change their minds about gun control policy.  Indeed, for many ardent supporters of gun rights, the answer is to have MORE guns.  For instance, one response is to have teachers carry guns as a deterrent (personally, I think that would be misguided).  Gun rights advocates will blame the mental health agencies and the offenders, but they will never admit that gun availability makes such tragedies more common.

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