A Year After Parkland Shooting, Gun Control Activists Still Misdiagnose the Problem

Any credible doctor will say
that having the right diagnosis is important. If a patient receives the wrong
diagnosis, he is almost certain to begin the wrong treatment.

That can mean not just that
the patient doesn’t get any better, but that the “treatment” actively harms him.
Imagine, for example, starting chemotherapy for a broken leg.

Unfortunately, one year after
the tragic loss of 17 lives at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in
Parkland, Florida, many lawmakers and advocacy groups still insist on offering
ineffective measures to prevent school shootings based on a misguided diagnosis
of the problem.

They continue to declare that
the U.S. is suffering from an epidemic of school shootings and other types of
gun-related violence directed at the nation’s students, despite clear evidence
to the contrary.

Worse, they claim that the
real problem is the prevalence of firearms and demand that law-abiding
Americans be subjected to increasingly drastic measures to combat this alleged
epidemic.  

The Wrong Diagnosis

The U.S. isn’t suffering from a school shooting epidemic.

Parkland-style shootings,
while devastating, remain extraordinarily rare events. Since 2010, there have
been eight school shootings with two or more fatalities other than the shooter,
for an average of one multiple-fatality shooting a year at the nation’s 100,000
public and private K-12 schools.

Many of these events were not
“Parkland-style” attempted mass shootings, either. Every single one of these
instances is certainly a tragedy, but that still amounts to far less than an
“epidemic.”

The 2017–2018 school year saw
an unusually high number of school shootings and firearm-related deaths on
campus, but the current 2018–2019 school year has seen a return to the
baseline.

In fact, so far, there has
been exactly one firearm-related student homicide on a K-12 campus during
school hours. It was the result of an interpersonal dispute between two
students, and no one else was injured.

Further, the nation’s schools
are trending toward becoming
safer
from violent deaths, not less safe. Four times as many students
suffered violent deaths at school in the early 1990s than do students today.

Schools are statistically the
safest place for children to be at any given time, and students are 40 times
more likely to be killed traveling to and from school than they are likely to
be killed inside the classroom.

Wrong Treatment Plans

Unsurprisingly, politicians and
advocacy groups who wrongly claim that we are in the midst of an “epidemic”
tend to support dramatic plans to stop it.

When we take a closer look at
these commonly proposed “treatments,” however, it becomes clear that they will
not effectively prevent future school shootings.

  • Banning Semi-Automatic Rifles

Semi-automatic rifles, such
as the AR-15, are owned by tens of thousands of law-abiding Americans, who use
them every day for a variety of lawful activities, including self-defense.

Statistically, these firearms
are the least likely to be used in violent crimes and account for only a very
small percentage of firearm-related homicides every year.

In fact, twice
as many people
are beaten to death with hands and feet every year than are fatally
shot with a rifle of any kind.

Despite oft-repeated rhetoric
that semi-automatic rifles are the “go-to” weapon for school shooters and mass
public shooters, 60 percent of those shootings are carried out with handguns
alone
.

Only 10 percent involve the
use of a rifle alone. Moreover, some of the deadliest school shootings in U.S.
history—including those at Virginia Tech, Red Lake High School in Minnesota,
and Umpqua Community College in Oregon—involved low-caliber handguns.

  • Raising the Age for Purchasing Guns

Raising the minimum age for someone
to legally purchase a gun to 21 would severely restrict the fundamental rights
of law-abiding young adults without meaningfully reducing the ability of
would-be school shooters to access firearms.

The reason for this is simple:
Most school shooters don’t
buy their own firearms.
Instead, they use firearms that were legally
purchased by older friends or family members, to which they had ready access at
home. 

Ironically, handguns remain
the most commonly used firearm by school shooters despite the fact that
individuals under the age of 21 are prohibited from purchasing them.

Most school shooters are not
old enough to legally buy these guns already, and yet they still manage to access
them. Raising the minimum age of purchase for long guns—which they are far less
likely to use in the first place—will do nothing to address how these shooters
actually obtain their guns.

Universal background checks
would be similarly ineffective at preventing school shootings, for many of the
same reasons.

  • Banning Magazines With Capacities Over 10 Rounds

Many commonly owned firearms
use factory-standard magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds. Those
are not “high-capacity” magazines, but normal magazines, millions of which are
owned by law-abiding citizens.

Studies
have shown
that mass shooters do not fire at fast-enough rates for magazine
capacity to meaningfully affect the deadliness of the shootings. In fact, the Parkland
shooter used 10-round magazines because they enabled the gun to fit into his
bag.

Limiting magazine capacity
harms the ability of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves or others,
especially when outnumbered.

At the same time, it would
not stop would-be school shooters from simply reloading or bringing multiple
firearms. That’s precisely what the Virginia Tech shooter did in order to kill
33 individuals with handguns.

Targeted Treatments for a Controlled
Injury

If we want to honor the memories of those who did not come home last year from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, we must address the actual factors that lead to school shootings.

No, most commonly proposed
gun-control measures won’t save lives. But that doesn’t mean there are no
available options with which to effectively prevent future tragedies.

  • Focus on Mental Health

The majority of the gunmen in mass public shootings exhibit clear signs of mental illness prior to their attacks, and school shooters are rarely any different.

Regrettably, almost
none of these individuals
were receiving mental health treatment when they
committed their violent acts.

America’s schools and
communities desperately
need
better mental health services and more options for effective
intervention prior to a person suffering a full-blown mental health
crisis. 

  • Take Threats Seriously

One of the most tragic
aspects of Parkland was that, as with many other school shootings, it could
have and should have been easily prevented if the relevant officials had taken seriously
the many warning signs that these disturbed students exhibited.

Several different agencies
and school officials received numerous tips that the Parkland shooter posed a
heightened risk of violence, but they did nothing to meaningfully intervene.

Early
intervention can save lives.

According to our own
research, there have been more thwarted school shootings since 2010 than there
have been school shootings in which two or more people other than the shooter
were killed.

Each of these thwarted school
shootings had two things in common. First, someone—usually the would-be
shooter’s peers or family members—recognized serious red flags and reported
them to law enforcement or school officials. Second, the officials who received
that information took prompt and appropriate action to intervene.

Schools and law enforcement
agencies must learn from Parkland and ensure that threats to student safety are
fully investigated and that intervention occurs when appropriate.

  • Faster Armed Responses

Most active-shooter incidents
occur in a relatively short period of time, and most casualties occur in just a
matter of minutes.

Further, when law enforcement
or other armed civilians confront
the active shooter
, the shooter’s knowledge of imminent armed confrontation
usually prompts his surrender or suicide.

Unfortunately, the average
response time
for law enforcement is far too long, even for calls regarding
active shooters.

Even then, the armed response
is only as effective as the willingness of those armed responders to actually
confront the shooter.

Lives were lost at Parkland
because first responders initially failed to enter the building and engage the
gunman, while lives were saved by the heroic actions of armed school resources
officers just
months later
in Santa Fe, Texas.

Every second cut from the
time it takes to engage in armed confrontation with a school shooter is vital
to saving lives.

Individual schools and school
districts must be free to make independent decisions regarding how best to
accomplish this quick armed response, according to their risk assessments and
available resources.

It’s time to learn from
Parkland and admit that gun control is the wrong solution to the wrong problem.

The sooner we get the correct
diagnosis, the sooner we can start using effective policies to prevent very
real tragedies.

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