In the past 30 years, there have been roughly 300 gun-related deaths on school campuses.
Or about 10 each year.
Gang fights. Crossfires. Suicides. Revenge killings. Accidents.
It is by no means a new problem.
And yet after each "big" tragedy, we do the same thing: We cry, we shake our fists, we wonder why.
It's as if, after each shooting, we're surprised all over again.
It's as if, in the wake of these tragedies, we have the same arguments all over again.
We're told guns are the problem. We're told more guns are needed. We talk about lack of school security. Or Hollywood. Social media. Digital media. Broken families. Godlessness. Loners. Trench coats. Unarmed teachers. Glorified violence. Defenseless womenfolk. Video games. Autism. ADHD medications.
And, of course, as always, the gays.
An American tragedy wouldn't be a tragedy at all if some religious fuckbag didn't blame the gays.
Each time, we get caught up in a national shitshow of emotional theater designed to avoid the obvious.
People are going to tell us over the coming months that there are no easy answers.
This happens every time as well, because let's be honest: It's a good excuse to do little.
Life is, like, so hard.
Common sense and science, however, tell us the simplest way to end a lot of gun violence is to ban guns.
But when did we as a nation ever agree on something as simple as science? Looking at you, climate change, creationism, and all the fossil evidence for dinosaur saddleries.
We live in the real world. If history is any guide, we'll get angry for a bit, get cranky, maybe march somewhere, call for big action and ultimately wind up with some weak-kneed compromise that will leave us shaking our heads in surprise after the next shooting.
How did the next one happen, we'll wonder. Probably Hollywood. Or the gays. Maybe some singer who wears stage makeup.
Certainly not enormous access by crazy folk to legally purchased arsenals.
Now look, I realize target shooting is fun and enjoy it myself, but I'm willing to forego an afternoon's worth of entertainment if it saves even one kid -- and let's face it, if you need an assault rifle to bag a deer, you're just a fucking cockhead.
There are valid arguments against a ban on guns, to be perfectly fair and honest.
Personal self defense -- Out of 31,000 gun-related deaths each year, there are 200 or so legally justifiable defense shootings.
National defense -- Does this really worry you? As someone who enjoys history, I admit this sort of bothers me. Maybe not now but let's give it a couple hundred years when the Visigoths are at the gates again, with their sacking and egalitarian views on community property. Still, there's a reason we train soldiers to honor "country" and the flag, as opposed to George or Dwight or Norman, and come on, seriously. If there is an insurrection by armies foreign or domestic, a lot of good your pistol is going to do against a nuclear warhead. Even a well-regulated neighborhood militia can't beat that.
Zombie apocalypse defense -- I love The Learning Channel.
A gun ban may fail miserably like Prohibition, or, perhaps, we may end up living in a society in which friends aren't caught in random crossfires, in which family members aren't hosed down for petty parking disputes, in which we can send our kids off to school and hope somewhere deep down that they make it back alive.
From first grade.
Wouldn't that be a grand society to live in?
At this point, we've tried assault gun bans, high capacity magazine bans. We've tried background checks and waiting periods. It took us six years of debate to decide that the mentally insane should not be allowed to purchase guns.
Do any David Sedaris fans know whether the blind can still hunt in Michigan?
We've tried many things. And yet the shootings continue.
Is there something we haven't tried?
I say we give it a spin.
See what happens.
I spent too much time over the weekend poring over news stories out of Newtown, probably doing what everyone else was doing: trying to put all the pieces together to get a better picture of what happened, to figure out the "why," and to help understand what we can do to prevent tragedies like this in the future.
This one, somehow, was like a sucker punch to the soul. I could not stop grieving for kids and families clear across the country. My daughter is in first grade, but the pain and sorrow had more to do with the thin connection of age and grade. It took me a long time to figure out why until I realized I kept coming back to the same words.
I heard that numerous times over the weekend.
"This one is different."
"This one is like 9/11 for me."
It's as if we've grown accustomed to these shootings by now but we also somehow forget them. We know at some level that some poor community will have its ticket pulled in a macabre lottery system out of a Shirley Jackson story, and yet we fail each time to do something meaningful to prevent it.
Again, this is by no means a new problem.
But wait. Come on. This is different, you say. Indiscriminately killing young kids is a new low, right? Not something that happens from time to time.
It's happened before.
It will happen again.
Unless we stop pretending this is a new problem, or some one-off nightmare we can just blame on video games and movie studios.
In the earliest recorded school massacre, Delaware indians shot, killed, and scalped a teacher and up to 10 students following the French and Indian War, before America was even America.
A great many shootings, especially in the early years, involved distraught lovers who shot teachers in front of classrooms. In one case, a male teacher shot another teacher and then waited to be lynched by farmers, only to grab a shotgun in the ensuing scuffle and shoot himself. Not satisfied, he ran to a well, jumped in, and drowned.
One 10-year-old girl was shot and killed by a 49-year-old San Francisco man who was angry the girl would not elope with him.
One boy died when a .22-caliber rifle used in a school play for "sound effects" went off before the performance.
A group of boys in the 1880s shot at a police officer after reading accounts of the famed bank robber Jesse James and trying to emulate his gang.
A school board treasurer blew up a school in Bath, Michigan, in 1927, killing 38 children. It remains the deadliest schoolhouse attack.
Two high schoolers plotted for a year to blow up their school in the "hope" of killing hundreds. When their bombs failed, they used their guns to kill 12 students and one teacher before taking their own lives. In all, 15 people died at Columbine High School in only 16 minutes.
In 1989, long before the heart-aching tragedy in Newtown last week, a man armed with a Chinese-made AK-47 knock-off opened fire at school playground in Stockton, California, killing five kids, ages 6 to 9, and wounding 29 others before killing himself.
Just a year earlier, in Greenwood, South Carolina, a 19-year-old shot up an elementary school cafeteria, killing an 8-year-old girl and wounding eight others. While reloading, he shot a heroic P.E. teacher who tried to disarm him, before heading into a third grade classroom and wounding six more kids.
Newtown shouldn't be surprising.
But we forget so fucking easily.
The youngest documented shooter was a 6-year-old Michigan boy who told a girl he didn't "like her" and killed her with a gun he found in his uncle's home. It's interesting to note that the girl, age 6, was thought to be the youngest schoolhouse shooting victim until last week's Newtown tragedy.
But again, we forget.
This has happened before.
A man killed 16 people from a clock tower in Texas. Another kept a diary of "battle plans" to take out a school in the 1970s, a haunting foreshadowing of Columbine. One boy shot his 8th-grade teacher to death in front of 30 peers, only to escape punishment because it was thought that his father, an official in the Lyndon Johnson Administration, pulled some serious strings. The boy went on to become an attorney. Another boy killed himself in front of his classmates, inspiring a "Pearl Jam" song.
I could only find two instances in which girls did any mass school shootings.
As I said at the top, there have been 300 gun-related deaths on school campuses since 1980. In the same time period, roughly 1.5 billion students have passed through those same institutions.
A rational mind would say those figures present nothing more than a glitch in the matrix.
But the loss of innocence, of our kids, is just too profound and painful not to attempt a full stop to this terrorism we are inflicting on ourselves.
Yes, even with a total ban on guns, we'd still probably have the occasional batshit crazy psychopath who plans and carries out deadly bombing or poisonings. The Bath bombings remain the worst school massacre and a gun was used only to ignite the bombs. Columbine was designed as a bombing, with the guns a backup.
Still. Why make it easier?
We should start there with a serious discussion on gun control.
We should remember that we've tried various weak-kneed, compromise bans before.
And yet here we are, talking about them again.
Just as I was curious about the historical shooting statistics, I was curious about the legal response after these tragedies and what we can expect in the coming months.
In this shockingly honest essay about the behind-the-scenes wrangling over effectively banning open-market gun shows in the aftermath of the Columbine shootings, a former Republican House staffers reveals what it took to head off the ban: Delay the bill, stuff the bill (which had already passed the Senate) with amendments no one could possibly vote for, and then use the National Rifle Association to mount a public relations campaign against gun control. Personal liberty. Hollywood. Blame someone else.
The ban on gun show checks failed.
We're going to see the exact same thing: initial widespread public support for gun control, a little movement, gridlocked debate, a massive pro-gun PR campaign by organizations that only want to keep selling things and ultimately … something wimpy or nothing at all.
I don't offer this as a pessimist but only because, as with shootings, we have a tendency to forget the very things that will happen again.
Let's not forget this time.
Indeed, to be fair, there are no easy answers.
I'm being facetious, I realize, when I say it's as simple as banning guns. They are, however, just one piece of the daunting puzzle. There are many others.
By now, you've probably read the essay from a mother whose son displays incredible amounts of anger and violence, probably just like the Newtown shooter. Without money for health care, officials told the woman that the best option would be to get the boy charged with a crime and locked up.
Clearly, we need to talk about mental health.
Glorified violence, poor role models, shitty parenting, a pervasive societal sausage fest inspired by outdated notions of the Wild West and some dude named Marion.
We need to talk about being a better, smarter people.
After each shooting, we hear the same thing over and over again. Loner. Snapped. I swear I read one news story in which a witness said the killer wore a trench coat. Remember the Trench Coat Mafia from Columbine?
Seriously. We remember nothing. All of our initial responses are probably wrong. And yet we gape nonstop at a talking box as if this time there will be real answers.
We call them loners because we can't believe they're one of us. We say they snapped because how can you stop that?
As the Secret Service pointed out, there's no exact profile of a mass school shooter. However, nearly all have been incredibly depressed, nearly all don't "snap," and nearly all provided "leakage" of their intentions to friends or family -- clues or even cries for help about what they wanted to do.
I'm reminded of a silly blog debate immediately following the Newtown shooting about whether simply hugging our kids is enough.
No, surely. It's not. But considering what little science there is behind the profile of these shooters -- lack of familial intimacy is seen as one issue -- a little more hugging certainly couldn't hurt.
In doing a weekend's worth of admittedly hasty and unscientific research, I was continually reminded of a puzzle game my daughter likes to play.
In theory, it's simple: You sort chocolates into a box. In practice, it gets more and more difficult as the levels advance. You can't put a square-shaped chocolate in that slot; it has to be a pink, triangle-shaped chocolate. White chocolate won't fit there; it has to be dark chocolate.
When you move one piece, another pops out of place, and just when you think everything is in the right order, you're left with that one chocolate on the side: a square piece with only a round hole in which to put it.
The FBI put it much better a decade ago in its introduction to a report on how to identify potential school shooters:
"Under the intense spotlight of national media coverage, a tragedy such as the Columbine High School shooting spreads horror, shock, and fear to every corner of the country. Educators, mental health professionals, legislators, law enforcement officers, parents, students, and the rest of the public all share a sense of frustration and helplessness and a compulsion to take some quick action that can prevent similar incidents in the future. Though understandable, this impulse can lead communities to forget the wisdom of H. L. Mencken's aphorism: "For every problem, there is a solution which is simple, neat, and wrong." In a knee-jerk reaction, communities may resort to inflexible, one-size-fits-all policies on preventing or reacting to violence."
I agree with that sentiment.
There are no easy answers. It's not as simple as one thing.
And yet, at the same time, after all these years, there's one thing we have yet to try.
This one touched the quick.
Let's hope we're moved to something bold before the next one.