It’s time for more “good trouble” to stop school shootings
The United States last month experienced its 129th mass shooting of the year, and the 12th school shooting that resulted in death or injury, at Nashville’s Covenant School, where the lives of three young children and three adults were taken.
The following day, U.S. Senate Chaplain Barry C. Black gave the opening prayer in the chamber, a perfunctory task he has performed for the past 20 years. This time he delivered a sober and measured message to senators on both sides of the aisle.
“Lord, when babies die at a church school it is time for us to move beyond thoughts and prayers. Remind our lawmakers of the words of the British statesman Edmund Burke, ‘All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.’ Lord, deliver our senators from the paralysis of analysis that waits for the miraculous, use them to battle the demonic forces that seek to engulf us.”
Since Black became Senate chaplain in 2003, there have been more than 100 school shootings resulting in 200 deaths and injuries to 332 students and teachers. The frequency of school shootings has drastically increased over the past two decades. Meanwhile, besides a watered-down gun safety bill last year, about the only thing Congress has done is point at anything other than the literally smoking gun.
After an assault weapons ban was enacted in 1994, the gun lobby concocted an effective messaging strategy. One of the compromises made to get the law through the Senate was that it would expire in 10 years. During that period, the National Rifle Association went to work weakening the resolve of Congress and the American people by pointing fingers at mental health, the Second Amendment, school security and the strategy of arming teachers. Gun manufacturers increased the production of AR-15 type weapons from less than 10% during the assault weapons ban to more than 30% today, mirroring the increase in mass shootings.
With Tennessee politics taking a hard right turn, expanding gun rights and passing an open-carry gun law along with limiting “cabaret” drag shows, the shooting in Nashville has the potential to derail gun safety conversation further by focusing on the shooter being transgender, rather than on the guns she wielded.
After 20 years of relentless school shootings, researchers have compiled data on what these incidents have in common and what could be done to prevent them. A report from the Institute of Predictive Analytics at Tarleton State University last year found most shooters were reacting to grievances that may have accumulated over time, and 63% of the shooters were between 14 and 18 years old.
The data suggest that the focus of traditional gun legislation may be off the mark when it comes to school shootings. Safeguards like background checks and waiting periods are ineffective for minors who are too young to legally obtain a weapon. Because they are more likely to use a weapon they have access to at home, a better focus would be gun safety education for parents.
The other findings regarding shooters’ unaddressed grievances towards a school or individuals at one suggest schools should pay serious attention to any threats or complaints and focus on counseling and monitoring bullying, rather than arming staff.
After the Nashville shooting, three state representatives took to the floor of the Tennessee House and demanded that the body do some real lawmaking and take a stand against gun violence. The Republican-controlled body later expelled two Black members, Justin Jones and Justin Pearson, an extreme punishment for violating the chamber’s rules of decorum. In the past, the same body did not expel a representative found guilty of child rape and one who urinated on another representative’s chair during a heated debate.
A white member who joined the anti-gun protests, Gloria Johnson, survived expulsion by one vote. Asked why she thought she survived the vote, she replied: “It might have to do with the color of our skin.”
The Nashville Metro Council has appointed Jones to fill his legislative seat until a special election is held, and county commissioners in Shelby County, where Memphis is located, were considering doing the same for Pearson. Under Tennessee’s constitution, the pair cannot be expelled twice for the same offense.
When our American political system has become so one-sided that elected officials can’t demand justice for six people killed by a mass shooter at a Christian school, we as a nation are in big trouble. The only way I can see a way out of this mess is to keep doing what Jones, Pearson and Johnson did and what civil rights leaders have done in the past: We must continue fighting with all we have and be willing to get in “good trouble,” as the late John Lewis said and did.