A Realist Looks At Gun Violence
By J.D. Thomas
First and foremost, we need to understand the argument being made regarding "assault rifles". The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines assault rifle as "any of various intermediate-range, magazine-fed military rifles that can be set for automatic or semi-automatic fire". This disqualifies the AR-15 from being considered an assault rifle as it cannot be set for automatic fire, without modification. Merriam-Webster further defines assault rifle as "a rifle that resembles a military assault rifle but is designed to allow only semi-automatic fire". So if it "resembles" one...then it must be one, even if it doesn't shoot like one, right? I don't think so.
The gun is not the issue.
Contrary to popular belief, the AR in AR-15 does NOT stand for "automatic rifle". An AR-15 is not an automatic weapon nor is it a "machine gun". An AR15 is a semi-automatic firearm that was first introduced in the 1950's. What does semi-automatic mean? Obviously there are some that don't know and have assumed that this is the same as an automatic weapon as you'll hear it referred that way, often. You really should know the difference. A semi-automatic weapon means that each time the trigger is squeezed, a single projectile travels down the barrel and is expelled from the firearm, whether it be a semi-automatic handgun or a semi-automatic rifle, such as the AR-15. A single squeeze of the trigger does NOT fire multiple projectiles from the firearm. One squeeze...one projectile. Pretty simple. Those that argue differently obviously do not have the knowledge of firearms. Handguns like a 9mm, a 40 caliber and a 45 caliber are all semi-automatic firearms and act the same way. One squeeze of the "bang bang switch" (trigger) for one bullet down the "pipe" (barrel). Breaking it down to the simplest form is this. The AR-15 may have a 30 round magazine. To empty the magazine, the trigger must be squeezed 30 times. I have a 9mm handgun with a 15 capacity magazine with 3 additional magazines, totaling 60 rounds. To fire the same number of rounds from the AR-15, you would have to change the magazine after 30 rounds. I would have to change it after every 15 rounds fired. To change it on my 9mm, after the last round is fired, the slide locks in the back position and then I push the magazine release button beside the handgrip and the magazine drops out automatically. I then push the next magazine into the well and release the slide forward and the weapon is ready to fire. You can easily fire 30 rounds from a semi-automatic handgun in less than 30 seconds. About the same amount of time to fire 30 rounds from an AR-15.
The school is not the issue.
I went to public school in the 60' and 70's. We had guns back then. I come from an area that is popular among hunters. Many had gun racks in the back window of their pickup trucks and these gun racks were often seen equipped with rifles and shotguns. We had people who scheduled their vacations around the first day of hunting season and on that same day; attendance was always lower for students who were out hunting. We didn't have fences around the schools or metal detectors when you entered. Back then, we didn't even have School Resource Officers. As a matter of fact, we rarely saw a Police Officer at school. We didn't need them. We had no teachers that were "armed" and we didn't need them to be. Teachers were allowed and encouraged to discipline us if we were out of line. I'm not talking about being abused; I'm talking about being disciplined. If our behavior was bad enough, after we were disciplined, we were sent home with a note for our parents that had to be signed and brought back to school the following day so the teacher would know that our parents saw the note. Once home, you were disciplined again. What we didn't have back then were people going into our schools and shooting our classmates. The only incident I can even remember from then was in 1966 at the University of Texas when a gunman opened fire from an observation deck onto the students below. He had a variety of rifles, handguns, a shotgun and even a knife. He did NOT have any automatic weapons. He killed 14 people in 90 minutes.
Politics is not the issue.
We had both Republican and Democratic Presidents during the period I went to school. We had a Congress that at times had Democrat and Republican majorities. We had our political scandals and we also had a war in Vietnam that was unpopular and very concerning to the American people. Our politicians then also had difficulties reaching across the aisle just as they do now.
Gun laws are not the issue.
We had gun laws back then. We didn't have background checks or waiting periods before we could purchase a firearm. If you were of legal age, you went inside the gun shop and you purchased the gun you wanted to buy. It was that simple. Gun laws are more strict now than ever before.
The NRA is not the issue.
We had the NRA back then. The NRA has been in existence since the 1870's. The NRA has always been very active regarding training in the handling of firearms and firearms safety. The NRA does not advocate gun violence or mass shootings. The NRA advocates the 2nd. Amendment and, like many other organizations, the NRA has lobbyists in Washington who work with the elected politicians, no matter the political party.
So what is the issue? What can we do to prevent mass shootings in schools, churches, theaters, concert venues or any other place where large numbers gather? Unfortunately, not much. Nothing will prevent this 100%. If a person has the desire to cause this type of mass casualty and is serious about it, he or she will find a way to carry it out whether they use a gun, truck, plane, bomb or any other weapon that will suit their need.
So what has changed? Simply answered. Society. We have changed.
Back then, we had never heard of the term "fake news" and when Walter Cronkite or Huntley & Brinkley spoke, we were pretty sure that their reporting was accurate. I understand that media is a business and whoever gets the "scoop" first, gets the story. However, it seems as though now it's a race to the finish line, forgetting that they have to stay on the track. It's like "we'll report it first and get the actual facts later". The shooter at any of the schools, Malls, Movie Theaters, etc doesn't deserve to have his photo on the news. Who cares what this ass-hat looks like? We need to concentrate on the victims and the survivors and not give the shooter his 15 minutes of fame. Making him an instant icon makes him live in infamy forever. For example, let's say there is someone who views themselves as unpopular or unattractive who may also have low-self esteem or just considered an outcast. He decides to go after those who have shunned him or who are more popular than he is. Whether he lives or dies in the attack, in a matter of moments, he will be known worldwide by his name and by his photo. Don't believe me? Back in November of 1963, President John Kennedy was assassinated allegedly by Lee Harvey Oswald. After capture, Oswald was being escorted in front of the media (what we now call "the perp walk"). During the walk, Jack Ruby runs towards Oswald and fires his revolver into the belly of Oswald. The photos of Oswald and Ruby that are still the most popular today, over 54 years later, are the photos of Oswald posing in his yard holding an AK-47 and the photo of him being shot which also include Ruby shooting him. Two assassins whose names and photos will forever live in history.
We didn't have Social Media. Sure, we had bullying back then but, at the end of the school day; it was over, at least until the next day. If you were bullied or called names, you couldn't wait for the school day to end and longed for the day when school was out for the summer. You knew you would get at least somewhat of a reprieve from the torment. Today, it continues on social media and it makes it difficult to escape it. There are so many social media outlets that I can't even begin to name them all. Rather than people stepping up to help someone in need or to resolve a problem, people are too busy "going live" so they can post the videos on Facebook or some other outlet. This also glorifies those who are creating the problem and is another means for them to be popular. They tend to forget that when they take photos of themselves wearing body armor and holding guns, drugs and money and then post those same photos online, they're going to be seen again one day in Court. This will not bode well for them. The internet is simultaneously the best thing that has ever happened and the worst thing that has ever happened.
The family dynamic has changed. Back then, we ate supper together, gathered around the table and ate as a family. We had discussions of the day's events, whether it is of the kids or the parents. Suppertime was a time to get together every day, at least for a few minutes, to be together. Parents were not our "best friends" and we, the kids, were not the "best friends" of our parents. It disturbs me today when I hear a parent say "My daughter is my best friend" or a son says "My Dad is my best friend". Really? I loved both my Mother and my Father and we were very friendly but, they were not my best friend and I was not theirs. There were things that I would never talk to them about and I know there were things that they wouldn't talk to me about. Perfect. That's the way I think it should be. I didn't need to know all of the darkest secrets and I damn sure wasn't going to share everything about me to them. If I had, I'd probably still be "grounded". Parents need friends with common interests, as do the children. Also, if Mom or Dad is your best friend, when you've done something wrong and deserve to be punished, it makes it pretty tough for them to do that. Parents need to go back to being parents and raising the kids in a way that teaches them to respect other people and to be kind to one another. Parents need to stop being "friends". I love my daughter and we are friendly with each other but, she always knew that if she screwed up, she was going to be held accountable at a level comparable to whatever she did wrong. I've never had to say to her "this hurts me more than it hurts you" because if I did, then I'm not doing something right. She needs to feel the repercussions of her actions. If I had to put her on restriction for a couple of weeks, that is exactly what I did but, I can promise you that it never hurt me more than it hurt her. I could still use the phone, stereo, television and, I could come out of my room whenever I wanted to come out.
We were never given "participation trophies". We were taught that if our team lost or came in last place that it meant that the other team or teams were just better than we were. We were taught to accept our defeat with honor and integrity, holding our heads up high knowing that we tried our best, as we congratulated our opponents. If we sucked as a team, we knew we sucked as a team and if we wanted a trophy, we knew we had to work and practice harder so that we wouldn't suck as bad. The important thing is that we were taught that sometimes, life isn't always fair.
We never had ceremonies when we "graduated" elementary school. We didn't wear a "cap and gown" until we graduated High School. On the last day of school in our final year of elementary school, we looked on the back of our report cards and saw "Promoted" and that meant the following September, we were bound for a new school. In my case, I would go from Flora M. Hill Elementary School to the Colonial Heights Junior High School. After the 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th grades there, I would then go to High School where I would graduate and wear a cap and gown and have graduation ceremonies for the very first time. Graduation is a rite of passage.
Video games have made such a huge impact on our society. I remember being stationed at the Naval Station in Puerto Rico when someone introduced me to "Pong". What an amazing game. We would be mesmerized for hours playing that ridiculous video game on our television. Looking back at that game, we realize how simple it really was but, at that time, it was something that we had never experienced before. Now, the action is realistic and graphic in current video games. Many games today revolve around gun violence, killing and criminal acts. Video games show blood spatter and body parts being blown off as the characters are shot. Video games are different than real life. In life, we don't get extra strength or additional life points when we're shot. These games promote killing and violence and may very well carry a negative impact on the kids and young adults that are playing them.
Music. Sure, we had some suggestive lyrics back in the day but so much of today's music promotes violence and mistreatment of women, killing of Police Officers as well as those of other cultures or religions. Music speaks of retribution and retaliation and how to handle a situation where someone has done you wrong.
What is the answer to stop mass shootings? That's a good question. Unfortunately, it seems to have become the norm and although when they happen, we are shocked and disgusted by it...temporarily. After a few weeks, the actions slide from the headlines and everyone goes back to their normal live until the next one. We've all heard of the countless suggestions to rid us of this type of activity but, as I said before, if someone is hell bent on doing it...they'll figure out a way to carry it out. Anytime we go into a public place we are at risk of some knucklehead carrying out his secret agenda. But be honest. Are we not a risk climbing into our cars and driving to these public places? Sure we are. We are at risk with everything we do. Granted, we can certainly take precautions to lower the risks but, there is no fool proof plan.
We label everyone that carries out these actions as "mentally ill" but, are they all mentally ill? Of course not. It's just easier to blame the mentally ill because then we can blame a failed system that allowed the person to purchase a firearm. We blame the health care industry for not allowing proper treatment of these individuals. We tend to forget the number of guns on the streets that were obtained by burglaries or theft. We just automatically assume that every gun out there was legally obtained. Not the case. It may have been initially but, there are plenty of stolen guns on the street and can be obtained so much easier than buying them legally.
Theaters, shopping malls and other venues. Okay, at some we have armed security and others we don't. So we go to the local Mall on a Saturday afternoon and shop among the masses. There are no restrictions regarding entry/exit. Anyone can come in and, if a gunman enters with a desire to kill, he has a soft target. Before he can be stopped, if he can be stopped, he can do a lot of damage and injure/kill a lot of people. He can enter the theater within the Mall and under the cover of darkness, can potentially blend in or carry out more damage. An AR-15 semi-automatic rifle or a semi-automatic handgun isn't necessary to carry out that action. As a matter of fact, a 5-shot revolver with extra speed wheels can kill a lot of people. By the time the police get there and locate the shooter (if he's still present) a lot of people could have been killed. In that situation, as hard as it is for some to swallow this tidbit of information, your best bet to neutralize the gunman is a trained citizen who is licensed to carry.
Arming our teachers. Really? I really hate to burst the proverbial bubble but, teachers don't get into the profession to be trained and armed at school. It may sound good or look good on paper but, let's think about this. A gunman comes into the school and heads into the bathroom where he removes his weapons of choice from his duffle bag and proceeds down the hallway and begins firing at his fellow students and teachers. Now we have a mess on our hands. We have students running and scrambling to take cover (unless they're standing in the open to capture the moment with their cell phones). People are running everywhere and now we introduce an armed teacher into the equation. As students scurry, we're expecting this teacher to take a stance and get a clean shot, meaning no other innocents that could be hit by a stray bullet. What do you think the chances are of that? We obviously picture that this scenario would be like the old west with a gunman facing a teacher and the quickest draw with the truest shot will be victorious. Not going to happen. Remember, this shooting scenario will involve several hundred innocent students and teachers. Certainly not a good shooting situation. Now, let's take that one step further. The above scenario takes place after the gunman has entered the school. Students and staff are immediately at a disadvantage.
Back when I was in the Navy, we were in The Persian Gulf when the Americans were held hostage in Iran. Also while we were there, Iran and Iraq decided to go to war with each other, obviously thinking that we didn't have enough to deal with. Although it was not OUR war, we were just off the coastline. We never knew when or if either side would decide to take target practice on our guided missile destroyer. After all, they were pretty good at blowing up oil rigs that we were close to so, who knew what they were going to do next, right? So what did we do? Well, we were at battle stations a lot and had our guns and missile launcher trained on their aircraft. We were basically letting them know that they were not allowed in our sandbox and that we were going to take every precaution to make sure that they did not get the opportunity to enter our sandbox. That is what we need to do at our schools. We need to stop the gunman before they gain access to the property. We can't allow them "into our sandbox".
I've heard the suggestion of locking all doors to the school except for one. Make everyone enter and exit through that one door and keep all other doors locked during school hours. Again, it may sound like a nice safe way to keep the bad people out. Let's say this is what is decided and we then have an accident or a fire in the cafeteria. Now we have students in a panic with all of the doors locked and they are potentially trapped. The response was make the doors work only as exits and cannot be opened from the outside. Well, there goes your security. All it takes is one kid to open a side door for another kid, who just so happens to be the gunman. The perimeter has now been breached and, we're back to a gunman inside the school but now the students don't have access to but only one exit. Not good.
My suggestion is this. A fence around every school with only 1 gate that can be used to enter/exit the school grounds. Have that gate monitored by armed security, preferably trained military Veterans, searching all backpacks and persons looking for weapons. At least that way we're creating a harder target and potentially stopping the possibility of any mass casualty before the gunman can even enter the property. The threat is reduced, the students can still exit the school through the doors without the fear of being trapped and in the event of an emergency, can still assemble within the fenced in area unless the situation requires that they evacuate to a safer distance. As much as you might dislike restricting actions or behaviors of the kids, it seems like the most viable way of keeping them safe.
I reiterate that there is no way to make any public place 100% safe. I firmly believe that it starts at home. Parents need to be parents and need to be involved and vigilant concerning their kids. Kids need to be taught to be good citizens and good people and taught right from wrong and to treat other people with respect. The students are the greatest asset we have. We have to teach them to know that it's okay to get involved and to say something and to take some sort of action when they find out that a former or current student with behavioral issues has created a threat or has entered onto the school property under suspicious circumstances.
In my opinion, arming teachers, placing blame on politicians, wanting gun laws changed, blaming the health care system, blaming the NRA and, let's not forget, blaming the weapon, is like putting a band-aid on a large, gaping chest wound. It may make you feel better that you did something but, it's not going to stop the bleeding.
The new normal has arrived and it isn't pretty.