The letter to the editor was thought-provoking and to the point: “After the knee-jerk editorial … perhaps The Columbian editorial board could explain what in heaven’s name the Troutdale high school shooting has to do with background checks?”
After a Reynolds High School freshman was randomly gunned down Tuesday by a fellow student who apparently was looking to inflict even greater damage, this newspaper ran an editorial under the headline “We Are Better Than This.” It was thoughtful; I encourage you to read it. Anyway, that led a reader to respond with a letter, which appears on this page in the “Our Readers’ Views” section. Like I said, the letter was thought-provoking and to the point, and we always appreciate hearing from readers who challenge us and are brief. So I thought this one deserved a response.
You see, I don’t think knee-jerk is a bad thing, although the letter seemed to use it as a pejorative. As noted in the editorial, in the past two weeks we have had seven people gunned down in Isla Vista, Calif.; a random shooting death at Seattle Pacific University; five people, including two police officers, killed in Las Vegas; and a student murdered at a high school just 15 miles from Vancouver. According to advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, there have been 74 school shootings since the Sandy Hook massacre in December 2012. CNN investigated and found that 15 of those involved an active shooter looking to create random carnage — about one every five weeks.
Knee-jerk? The only thing more predictable than the editorial is the fact that we will have random mass shootings, and a high percentage of them will be at schools. Which leads to this question: Why don’t we do something about it? We have become so inured to the violence, so beholden to our gun culture, that we consider these shootings to be a way of life. Since when did this become acceptable?
A lack of leadership
If we had airplanes randomly falling out the sky, we would expect our leaders to do something about it, wouldn’t we? If we had a street in Newtown, Conn., suddenly opening up and killing 20 school children, we would have public outrage, wouldn’t we? Why is random gun violence so tolerable to so many in our society?
You see, background checks for the sale of weapons have less to do with the specifics of the death and mayhem at Reynolds High School than with our shameful lack of action. That goes well beyond background checks, although that particular issue happens to be on the ballot this coming November in Washington.
It starts with our system of mental-health care in this country. As I wrote in September following, shockingly, some other mass shooting, “We don’t shun somebody who has a heart attack and requires heart medication. We offer empathy and wish them well in dealing with their illness. Mental illness is no different. It’s usually a chemical imbalance that is treatable.”
And it starts with the issue of assault rifles. A friend of mine who is a police officer in a small town once explained that he has an assault rifle because it is faster and more accurate in protecting his family. Hey, at least those are reasons, and the explanation is more articulate than the simplistic rhetoric about our God-given right to possess killing machines at the expense of the general public.
Look, I’m not advocating the confiscation of all guns. I’m too pragmatic to think that would be wise, effective, or doable. I understand the Second Amendment, the reason it was included in the Bill of Rights, and the fact that guns are ingrained in our culture. I also understand the fact that background checks are not a panacea that can prevent mass shootings or would have prevented the Reynolds killing.
But it is shameful for some in this country to insist that nothing can be done about gun violence. It is shameful to pretend this isn’t a problem. It is pathetic to insist that this is a part of our culture.
We’re better than this. We should act like it.