#27: 2022 & 2023—The Deadliest Years For Campus Gun Violence

Table of Contents

But For The Presence of A Gun

Guns in America are what rice is to Asian countries. They are as ubiquitous as a pint of Guinness in Ireland and as controversial as birth control in Kenya. A thousand times a day, every day, Americans either glory in or hate the presence of guns. “It is in our cultural DNA, a mythological disposition that took root in the glorification of our nation’s frontier culture. Back in those brutal, barbaric days, men frequently surrendered to primordial fears of the great unknown wilderness. Fighting was a way of life and shooting a gun was the first, and sometimes the only way a man protected himself, his family, and his property. Absent established laws, a man’s might determined who or what was right. The flight of a bullet simply and fatally settled disputes.”[1]

The National Shooting Sports Foundation is the trade association for the U.S. firearm industry. It is a recognized authority on how many guns there are in America as of 2021. Using data from the ATF, the Congressional Research Service, and reports from the U.S. International Trade Commission, it released a report estimating how many guns are in current circulation. Their report “estimates 434,000,000  firearms in civilian possession, with about half, 214 million, of those entering the market since 1991. Of those, “America’s Rifle,” the AR-15 and similar semi-automatics dubbed ‘Modern Sporting Rifles’ by the NSSF, account for an estimated 19.8 million.”[2]

At year-end, 2021 the total population of the U.S. was  333,287,557.[3] Assuming the NSSF and the U.S. are right we have 100,712,443 more guns in America than we have people in America. To put these numbers in perspective, manufacturing guns is at a faster pace than the delivery of babies. The media puts it this way—America is awash in guns.[4]

But For The Use of A Gun

Owning a gun is one thing—using it is another. And before assessing gun “use” it is helpful to think about raw gun statistics in the U.S. “There are approximately 77.49 million adult gun owners in the US. 2020 is believed to have had the highest number of firearm sales in history, with 39,695,315 background checks for the sale of firearms and explosives. Approximately 30% of American adults own a gun. Another 36% of adults could see themselves owning a gun in the future. The average American gun owner owns five guns. Personal protection is the most frequently cited reason for owning a gun. Texas is the state with the most guns, while Delaware is the state with the least. Wyoming is the state with the most guns per capita, while New York is the state with the fewest. Handguns are the most commonly owned type of gun, followed by rifles, then shotguns. Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to own a gun.”[5]

As either exciting or as depressive as this data is, depending largely on which political party you belong to, the data yields little in actual gun usage. How many use guns for home protection? How many for shooting sports?  How many to hunt wild game? How many to show man or womanhood? How many just to show off? How many to impress their people? How many to commit crimes? How many to display in parades, rallies, protests, and political rallies? Do some gun owners still use guns to shoot at tin cans? How many to hang on racks on the back window of their pickup trucks? The endless list is shy of answers, but usage is a key denominator in assessing gun ownership versus gun usage. In math, a denominator can be defined as the bottom number in a fraction that shows the number of equal parts an item is divided into. It is the divisor of a fraction. But human life, both saved and wasted is not math. It is life lived, lost, wasted, and held preciously. Using a gun often kills. Owning it does not.

Using a gun is not protected by the Second Amendment or controlled by either state or federal law. Nonetheless, “The use of a gun greatly increases the odds that violence will result in a fatality. In 2010, the most recent year for which data are available, an estimated 17.1 percent of the interpersonal assaults with a gunshot wound resulted in a homicide, and 80.7 percent of the suicide attempts in which a gun was used resulted in death.  By contrast, the most common methods of assault (hands, fists, and feet) and suicide attempt (ingesting pills) in 2010 resulted in death in only 0.009 percent and 2.5 percent of the incidents, respectively.”[6]

No one doubts that gun violence is a consequence of interpersonal violence. Although there is no standard way to enumerate each discrete gun law, most U.S. gun laws focus on the user of the gun. Relatively few focus on the design, manufacture, distribution, advertising, or sale of firearms.  It is also the case that government rarely focuses on the “Lifespan of guns — from design and manufacture to use — and the policies that could address the misuse of guns. It is critical to understand how policies create conditions that affect access to and use of guns. Because they constitute the largest portion of guns used in homicides handguns are the focus of most laws. Despite the substantial human and economic costs of gun violence in the United States and the ongoing debate about the effectiveness of gun regulations, scientifically rigorous evaluations are not available for many of these policies. The dearth of such research on gun policies is due, in part, to the lack of government funding on this topic because of the political influences of the gun lobby.”[7]

Gun Violence & the U.S Secret Service

Ensuring the safety of children at school is a responsibility that belongs to everyone, including law enforcement, school staff, mental health practitioners, government officials, and members of the general public. To aid in these efforts, the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center studied 41 incidents of targeted school violence that occurred at K-12 schools in the United States from 2008 to 2017.

“This report builds on 20 years of NTAC research and guidance in the field of threat assessment by offering an in-depth analysis of the motives, behaviors, and situational factors of the attackers, as well as the tactics, resolutions, and other operationally relevant details of the attacks. The analysis suggests that many of these tragedies could have been prevented, and supports the importance of schools establishing comprehensive targeted violence prevention programs. . . This approach is intended to identify students of concern, assess their risk for engaging in violence or other harmful activities, and implement intervention strategies to manage that risk. The threshold for intervention should be low so that schools can identify students in distress before their behavior escalates to the level of eliciting concerns about safety. Because most of these attacks ended very quickly, law enforcement rarely had the opportunity to intervene before serious harm was caused to students or staff.”[8]

The U.S. Secret Service gives specific advice to schools on how to protect themselves against on-campus school gun violence.

“There is no profile of a student attacker, nor is there a profile for the type of school that has been targeted:

(1) Attackers varied in age, gender, race, grade level, academic performance, and social characteristics. Similarly, there was no identified profile of the type of school affected by targeted violence, as schools varied in size,  location, and student-teacher ratios. Rather than focusing on a set of traits or characteristics, a threat assessment process should focus on gathering relevant information about a student’s behaviors, situational factors, and circumstances to assess the risk of violence or other harmful outcomes.

(2) Attackers usually had multiple motives, the most common involving a grievance with classmates: In addition to grievances with classmates, attackers were also motivated by grievances involving school staff, romantic relationships, or other personal issues. Other motives included a desire to kill, suicide, and seeking fame or notoriety. Discovering a student’s motive for engaging in concerning behavior is critical to assessing the student’s risk of engaging in violence and identifying appropriate interventions to change behavior and manage risk.

(3) Most attackers used firearms, and firearms were most often acquired from the home: Many attackers accessed firearms from the home of their parents or another close relative. While many of the firearms were unsecured, in several cases the attackers gained access to firearms secured in a locked gun safe or case. It should be further noted, however, that some attackers used knives instead of firearms to perpetrate their attacks. So, a threat assessment should explore if a student has access to any weapons, with a particular focus on weapons access at home. Schools, parents, and law enforcement must work together rapidly to restrict access to weapons when students pose a risk of harm to themselves or others.

(4) Most attackers had experienced psychological, behavioral, or developmental symptoms: The observable mental health symptoms displayed by attackers before their attacks were divided into three main categories: psychological (e.g., depressive symptoms or suicidal ideation), behavioral (e.g., defiance/misconduct or symptoms of ADD/ADHD), and neurological/developmental (e.g., developmental delays or cognitive deficits). That half of the attackers had received one or more mental health services before their attack indicates that mental health evaluations and treatments should be considered a part of a multidisciplinary threat assessment, but not a replacement. Mental health professionals should be included in a collaborative threat assessment process that also involves teachers, administrators, and law enforcement.

(5) Half of the attackers had interests in violent topics: Violent interests, without an appropriate explanation, are concerning, which means schools should not hesitate to initiate further information-gathering, assessment, and management of the student’s behavior. For example, a student who is preoccupied or fixated on topics like the Columbine shooting or Hitler, as was noted in the backgrounds of several of the attackers in this study, may be the focus of a school threat assessment to determine how such an interest originated and if the interest negatively impacts the student’s thinking and behavior.

(6) All attackers experienced social stressors involving their relationships with peers and/or romantic partners: Attackers experienced stressors in various areas of their lives, with nearly all experiencing at least one in the six months prior to their attack, and half within two days of the attack. In addition to social stressors, other stressors experienced by many of the attackers were related to families and conflicts in the home, academic or disciplinary actions, or other personal issues. All school personnel should be trained to recognize signs of a student in crisis.  Additional training should focus on crisis intervention, teaching students skills to manage emotions and resolve conflicts, and suicide prevention.

(7) Nearly every attacker experienced negative home life factors: The negative home life factors experienced by the attackers included parental separation or divorce, drug use or criminal charges among family members, and domestic abuse. While none of the factors included here should be viewed as predictors that a student will be violent, past research has identified an association between many of these types of factors and a range of negative outcomes for children.

(8) Most attackers were victims of bullying, which was often observed by others: Most of the attackers were bullied by their classmates, and for over half of the attackers the bullying appeared to be of a persistent pattern that lasted for weeks, months, or years. It is critical that schools implement comprehensive programs designed to promote safe and positive school climates, where students feel empowered to report bullying when they witness it or are victims of it, and where school officials and other authorities act to intervene.

(9) Most attackers had a history of school disciplinary actions, and many had prior contact with law enforcement: Most attackers had a history of receiving school disciplinary actions resulting from a broad range of inappropriate behavior. The most serious of those actions included the attacker being suspended, expelled, or having law enforcement interactions as a result of their behavior at school. An important point for school staff to consider is that punitive measures are not preventative. If a student elicits concern or poses a risk of harm to themself or others, removing the student from the school may not always be the safest option. To help in making the determination regarding appropriate discipline, schools should employ disciplinary practices that ensure fairness, transparency with the student and family, and appropriate follow-up.

(10) All attackers exhibited concerning behaviors. Most elicited concern from others, and most communicated their intent to attack: The behaviors that elicited concern ranged from a constellation of lower-level concerns to objectively concerning or prohibited behaviors. Most of the attackers communicated a prior threat to their target or communicated their intentions to carry out an attack. In many cases, someone observed a threatening communication or behavior but did not act, either out of fear, not believing the attacker, misjudging the immediacy or location, or believing they had dissuaded the attacker. Students, school personnel, and family members should be encouraged to report troubling or concerning behaviors to ensure that those in positions of authority can intervene.[9]

Gun Lingo 

Many gun users say, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” This phrase has risen to slogan status.[10]  “The slogan and connected understanding dates back to at least the 1910s, and it became widely popular among gun advocates in the second half of the 20th century, so much so that some have labeled it a cliché. The statement, its variants, and counter-variants have been positively or negatively referenced and paraphrased by both sides of the gun control debate, including NRA representatives, the President of the United States, lawmakers, and members of the general public. Gun control proponents believe the slogan is an example of bumper sticker logic and supports the larger folk psychology behind gun advocacy.”[11]

There are smart, stupid, snarky, and sensational variations used by gun enthusiasts and gun haters alike. In mental health and social media circles, slogan variants argue that guns make it easier for people to kill, and others in which people is substituted with criminals, toddlers, children, bullets, or other nouns. For the purpose of analyzing the slogan and explaining different points of view, some replace guns with other terms, such as cars, knives, butter knives, nuclear weapons, and weapons systems. To name just a few, “Guns Don’t Misbehave, People Do,” “Guns Don’t Kill People, Umm, Yes They Do.”

Numerous variations tag mental health to gun usage. “Guns don’t kill people; crazy people kill people.” American right-wing political commentator Ann Coulter frames it as “Guns don’t kill people, the mentally ill do. “In a counter to this, mental health experts conclude that gun violence happens when guns and humans come together, a social context that cannot be addressed simply through a mental health approach. Charlton Heston, a movie star, NRA president, and big-time  gun enthusiast is quoted in The Oxford Dictionary of Modern Quotations saying, “It’s not the guns that kill, it’s the maladjusted kids.”[12]

Gun Violence

The divide between gun violence and gun ownership is as wide as the Grand Canyon, as murky as the deep blue sea, and rarely litigated. Gun rights advocates cite the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as infinitely superior to the 1215 Guttenberg Bible, 1455 Magna Carta, 1776 Declaration of Independence, and the 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Colloquially said, the Second Amendment is better than sliced bread or cold beer. Its language is theoretically simple and realistically unrestricted.

The original text for the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says, “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Written in passive voice it has changed only in the mind. If you substitute the word “Militia,” for the word “people,” the amendment would read, “A well regulated people, being necessary to the security of a free state. . .”  That’s unlikely. Most Americans accept regulation as a link in the chain that maintains good order and safe living. Gun violence and good order are antithetical.

Gun violence has always been part of American life, but over the last half-century it has become central to our way of life. In context, gun-related violence is violence committed with a firearm. It might be considered criminal. Criminal violence includes homicide, but we accept it when it is justifiable. Otherwise, any assault with a deadly weapon, including suicide, is gun violence.

Non-criminal gun violence includes accidental or unintentional injury and death. All published gun violence data and statistics involving military or para-military activities are classified as gun violence. The century-old dogma in media is that if it bleeds it leads thrives on gun violence. Like upcoming weather forecasts, gun violence is part of everyday news delivery in scores of media formats.

Responsible parents still buy toy guns for their children. Some parents teach their teenage children to shoot. And all parents warn their children to be wary of bad people with guns.  Gunfights are no longer just primarily displayed in Western movies, they are embedded deeply in video games, graphic stories, nongraphic stories, tee-shirts, protest signs, rap, and other loud music.

Global Gun Violence

According to GunPolicy.org, seventy-five percent of the world’s 875 million guns are civilian-controlled. Roughly half of the guns used in gun violence are in the United States, which has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world. Globally, millions are wounded or killed by guns.[13] The highest rates of violent deaths by firearm in the world occur in low-income South and Central American countries such as Honduras, Venezuela, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Brazil, and Jamaica.

The United States has the 11th highest rate of gun violence in the world and a gun homicide rate that is 25 times higher than the average respective rates of other high-income nations. The United States has a total rate of firearms death that is 50–100 times greater than that of many similarly rich nations with strict gun control laws, such as Japan, the United Kingdom, and South Korea.  Nearly all studies have found a positive correlation between gun ownership and gun-related homicide and suicide rates.

It can be safely assumed that most American citizens, despite their mindset on guns are unaware of the connection between guns, gun violence, and death rates in the world. “According to the United Nations, small arms account for roughly half of the weapons used to kill people, and more people die each year from gun-related violence than did in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined. The global death toll from the use of guns may be as high as 1,000 dead each day.[14]

Gun Control

Do we, as a nation, resist or acquiesce to gun violence? If we resist, have we succeeded? If we acquiesce to it, does it make us happy? Sadly, it depends on political affiliation and time in office. The majority view is although sad true. “After each of the repeated mass shootings that now provide a tragic backbeat to American life, the same doomed dance of legislation quickly begins. As the outraged demands for action are inevitably derailed in Congress, disappointed gun-control advocates, and perplexed ordinary citizens, point their fingers at the influence of the National Rifle Association or the intransigent opposition of congressional Republicans. Those are both legitimate factors, but the stalemate over gun-control legislation since Bill Clinton’s first presidential term ultimately rests on a much deeper problem: the growing crisis of majority rule in American politics.”[15]

Any understanding of the historic term “majority rule” must include the correlation between that term and its necessary adjunct, “minority rights.” Together those concepts are the essence of democracy. Majority rule is the making of binding decisions by a vote of more than one-half of all people who participate in an election. However, constitutional democracy in our time requires majority rule with minority rights. Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, expressed this concept of democracy in 1801 in his First Inaugural Address. “Bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect and to violate would be oppression.”[16]

In every genuine democracy today, majority rule is both endorsed and limited by the supreme law of the constitution, which protects the rights of individuals. Tyranny by minority over the majority is barred, but so is tyranny of the majority against minorities. To complicate this reality, we have a novel reality—the U.S. filibuster. It is akin to a fully loaded six-shooter, hammer cocked, finger on the trigger, by a majority leader with lead in his eye, sighting in on a win. It can explode minority rights or defuse majority rule.

The Filibuster

It defines the United States Senate. “Under original Senate rules, cutting off debate required a motion that passed with a simple majority. But in 1806, after Vice President Aaron Burr argued that the rule was redundant, the Senate stopped using the motion. This change inadvertently gave senators the right to unlimited debate, meaning that they could indefinitely delay a bill without supermajority support from ever getting to a vote. This tactic is what we now know as a filibuster. In 1917, the Senate passed Rule XXII, or the cloture rule, which made it possible to break a filibuster with a two-thirds majority. In 1975, the Senate reduced the requirement to 60 votes, which has effectively become the minimum needed to pass a law.”[17]

For decades the filibuster was used only on the most controversial issues. Like a rising balloon, it has loomed over and escalated what lies below the big business before the U.S. Senate. Occasionally it has slowed voting in the chamber to a halt. “Some lawmakers acknowledge that the filibuster, which has effectively set a 60-vote supermajority requirement for passing legislation in the Senate, could doom many of the proposals they have championed, including meaningful reforms on issues ranging from health care to climate change to gun control. Behind this dysfunction, the filibuster also has a troubling legacy: it has often been used to block civil rights legislation intended to combat racial discrimination.”[18]

That’s because gun control is one of many issues in which majority opinion in the nation runs into the brick wall of a Senate filibuster—that provides a veto over national policy to a minority of the states, most of them small, largely rural, preponderantly white, and dominated by Republicans.[19] “In their opposition to gun control, Republicans in Congress clearly are prioritizing the sentiments of gun owners in their party over any other perspective, even that of other Republican voters. The Pew polling found that significant majorities of Americans support background checks (81 percent), an assault weapons ban (63 percent), and a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines (64 percent); a majority also opposes concealed carry of weapons without a permit. Majorities of Republicans who don’t own guns shared those opinions, as did Democratic gun owners, by even more lopsided margins. Even most Republicans who do own guns said in the polling that they support background checks and oppose permitless concealed carry (which more red states, including Texas, are authorizing). Despite all of this, Republican elected officials, in their near-lockstep opposition to gun control, have bent to groups like the NRA in equating almost any restrictions as a sign of disrespect to the values of red America.”[20]

Gun Violence In Schools

Since April 20, 1999, when the Columbine High School massacre occurred, over 349,000 students have experienced gun violence at school. Since 1999, there have been 377 school shootings. We average seventeen school shootings per year. Beyond the dead and wounded, children who witness the violence or cower behind locked doors to hide from it can be profoundly traumatized.[21]

Until 2018, the federal government did not track school shootings. Rather, it tried to tread carefully regarding policymaking around the epidemic of school shootings. “That was especially true in the Trump administration, where cabinet members, and even Trump himself, tiptoed around the issue of guns. But that year, “Seemingly out of nowhere, a FEMA-sponsored comprehensive database on school shootings was posted online. The findings are even more striking than their incongruence with the Trump administration’s policies: By their calculations, 2018 [saw] . . . the most school shootings in nearly 50 years, which is when their database begins. The database, it turns out, was created by postgraduate researchers at the Center for Homeland Defense and Security at the Naval Postgraduate School, part of a new “Advance Thinking Program,” meant to research homeland security issues to help guide policy. . . The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped studying gun violence as a public health issue in 1996 after the National Rifle Association aggressively lobbied Congress to cut funding for that particular area of research.”[22]

On-Campus School Shootings in 2022-2023

The 2022 calendar year broke the record for the most school shootings in over four decades and marked one of the most violent years for youth ages 12-17. As of Dec. 20, there were 300 shooting incidents on school grounds so far in 2022, compared to 250 in 2021 and 114 in 2020, according to the publicly accessible K-12 School Shooting Database. A decade earlier, 2010 saw 15 school shootings. These counts include any acts of gun violence on K-12 public, private, and charter school campuses, including mass shootings, gang shootings, domestic violence, shootings at sports games and after-hours school events, suicides, and other incidents.[23] They do not count higher education shootings.[24]

2022 had the most K-12 school shootings since the 1950s when we started to keep track. They have increased 163% since 2020 and 1,900% since 2010. “As school leaders, education advocates, parents and politicians debate solutions to the crisis, the data collected . . . can offer information about why shootings happen at schools in the first place and how to prevent them. Most shootings are escalated disputes. The vast majority of school shootings in 2023 were committed by student shooters. . . Most campus shooting incidents occur when a dispute escalates . . .  According to the school shooting database, 761 shootings between 1970 and now resulted from physical or verbal altercations or prior altercations. . .  Over the last 5 years, 1,056 people have been wounded or fatally shot on K-12 campuses. After shootings caused by escalation of disputes, the next highest number — 220 — comes from accidental shootings. . . People with no relation to a school represent a relatively small percentage of school shooters. . . About 80% of attackers in active school shooting situations from 1970 to now are students or former students.”[25]

Robb Elementary School Shooting—Uvalde Texas—2022

The Uvalde Texas mass school shooting shook the conscience of every thinking citizen, grieving parent, cop, lawyer, and counselor in the country. “Eighteen year-old Salvador Ramos, a former student at the school, fatally shot nineteen students and two teachers, while seventeen others were injured but survived. After shooting and severely wounding his grandmother at their home earlier that day, Ramos drove to the school. He fired shots for approximately five minutes outside the school, before entering unobstructed with an AR-15-style rifle through an unlocked side entrance door. He then shut himself inside two adjoining classrooms, without locking the classroom door, and killed the victims. Ramos remained in the school for more than an hour before members of the United States Border Patrol Tactical Unit fatally shot him after bypassing numerous local and state officers who had been in the school’s hallways for over an hour. The shooting is the third-deadliest school shooting in the United States, after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 and the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in well as the 9th deadliest mass shooting in the US overall.”[26]

The headline immediately flashed across America when the dust settled in Uvalde screamed, “He Has A Battle Rifle—Police Feared Uvalde Gunman’s AR-15.” School shootings are the darkest of nightmares but for the last half-century, they have been stopped or slowed down by the men and women in blue, brown, or military uniforms. But Uvalde proved not only to be a “mass” shooting but the only one in fifty years that was worsened by the presence of armed law enforcement who did nothing to stop the raged shooter for more than an hour. The story of what went outside and inside the classroom became the lead and the list of dead students and teachers became follow-up stories.

“Once they saw a torrent of bullets tear through a classroom wall and metal door, the first police officers in the hallway of Robb Elementary School concluded they were outgunned. And that they could die. The gunman had an AR-15, a rifle design used by U.S. soldiers in every conflict since Vietnam. Its bullets flew toward the officers at three times the speed of sound and could have pierced their body armor like a hole punch through paper. They grazed two officers in the head, and the group retreated.  Uvalde Police Department Sgt. Daniel Coronado stepped outside, breathing heavily, and got on his radio to warn the others. ‘I have a male subject with an AR, Coronado said. The dispatch crackled on the radio of another officer on the opposite side of the building. ‘Fuck,’ that officer said. ‘AR,’ another exclaimed, alerting others nearby.”[27]

Investigating the crimes by Salvador Ramos gave way to investigating why law enforcement hid out in hallways rather than crashing in classrooms. That police failure became the focus of at least three investigations, including one by a special Texas House committee, which released its findings on July 17, 2022. It reads more like an indictment of the police than a studied report of a massive mass shooting.

“The report, the first comprehensive assessment of the law enforcement response to the shooting, made a broad indictment of actions by the police. It concluded that the order to confront the gunman could have been issued far earlier; that ‘some victims could have survived if they had not had to ‘wait” for rescue; and that the school police chief, dozens of state police officers, and scores of agents with the U.S. Border Patrol all exercised ‘egregious poor decision making.’ The decision to finally confront the gunman was made by a small group of officers, the report found. Surveillance footage from Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, shows officers retreating from gunfire and waiting for 77 minutes before confronting the gunman. The delayed police response has been widely criticized and is under investigation. On Aug. 24, 2022, the school board in Uvalde fired its school police chief, Pete Arredondo, who directed the district’s response to the shooting. The unanimous vote, which Mr. Arredondo, through his lawyer, called ‘an unconstitutional public lynching,’ was the first direct accountability over the widely derided police response.”[28]

There is no moral to the story of the Uvalde shooting. But it will likely go down in history as the only mass shooting in a school where the cops were more terrified than the students. The headline noted above will hang police offices for time immemorial—He Has A Battle Rifle—Police Feared Uvalde Gunman’s AR-15.

In February 2023, the Uvalde shooting headline had mushroomed to No One Took Leadership: A Detailed Look At The Failings in Uvalde School Shooting. “We failed,” said Col. Steve McCraw, director of the Texas Department of Public Safety, leading the investigation. “And I say ‘failed,’ and I said ‘we’ … because collectively we did.”[29]

Criminal culpability became the focus of the investigation—not of the shooter—but of the cops. “In sum, 376 law enforcement officials — including many who helped evacuate children and secure the perimeter — responded to the attack. Accountability has taken time. But some have already faced consequences. In the months since, school district police chief Pete Arredondo was fired, and the entire school district police force was disbanded. Then-acting Uvalde police chief Mariano Pargas stepped down after officials said they would move to fire him (he was reelected in November to his position as county commissioner). Additionally, one responding state trooper has been fired for his actions on that day, another has resigned, and a third is appealing dismissal. Meanwhile, as repercussions for law enforcement officials continue to trickle out, prosecutors have laid out their plans, explaining that the investigative findings will be brought to a grand jury, which will then decide whether to indict anyone. The Texas Department of Public Safety has completed an initial investigation and is now focusing on whether any of the failures at Robb constitute crimes. A final version of the DPS report is expected to be submitted to the district attorney in March 2023.

Arizona Campus Shootings

Arizona has suffered nineteen school shootings since the 1970s. “The Arizona Mirror analyzed data compiled by the Center for Homeland Defense and Security Naval Postgraduate School of school shootings across the United States to better understand Arizona’s history of gun violence in schools. Of the nineteen incidents, only one was a “preplanned” incident. The vast majority involved handguns of varying calibers. The first reported school shooting in Arizona was in 1987 when seventeen-year-old Jarod Huskey stole a pistol and a shotgun and killed the headmaster of his school before heading to the library to attempt to kill the computer science teacher, seemingly over being angry for being suspended from school. . . Much of Arizona’s history of gun violence in schools from the 1990s onward relates to disputes between students or mishaps involving firearms . . . Seven of the incidents involve either an accident or a dispute, including one in which a roof worker accidentally fatally shot himself at a Tucson high school. Four of the cases involve suicide, one of which made local and national headlines in 2016 when two teenage girls were found with a handgun nearby along with a suicide note in the early morning hours before classes at a Glendale high school. Six people have been killed in school shootings in Arizona with nine others receiving injuries of some sort . . .  There were four mass shootings in Arizona in 2022 injuring twenty-one people and killing  four.”[30]

Arizona ranks 18th in the nation for its firearm death rate of 15.8 of every 100,000 deaths. The firearm death rate ranges from 2.5 in Hawaii to 24.5 in Alaska.[31] Our local and statewide gun violence statistics are sobering. “Every 9 hours, someone in Arizona dies due to gun violence (source: Giffords Center). We had seven cases so far in 2023, (source: Gun Violence Archive). Nationwide, 41,000 people die every year from gun violence, which is more than 110 people a day (source: Giffords Center). Nearly 60% of gun deaths are suicide (source: Giffords Center). Nearly 40% of gun deaths are homicides (source: Giffords Center). The US accounts for just 4% of the world’s population but 35% of global firearm suicides (source: Giffords Center). The US gun suicide rate is nearly 12 times that of other high-income countries (source: Everytown).”[32]

Arguably, the most controversial campus shooting in Arizona occurred at the University of Arizona on October 2022. Professor Thomas Meixner was shot and killed in the Harshbarger Building on campus by a former student. Meixner headed the department of hydrology and atmospheric sciences.  At around 2 p.m. local time, somebody inside the building contacted police and asked them to remove a former student who was not allowed to be there. While police were on their way, they received a second call saying there had been a shooting. A subsequent call to police said that the shooter had fled the building. Murad Dervish, 46, a former graduate student at the university, was taken into custody several hours later just outside of Gila Bend, Arizona, which is about 120 miles northwest of Tucson.[33]

In context, on January 8, 2002, a disgruntled University of Arizona nursing student shot and killed three nursing professors before taking his own life. Robert Stewart Flores Jr. entered the University of Arizona College of Nursing. He shot and killed Professor Robin Rogers, who taught pediatrics. Then he went up to the fourth floor, and killed professors  Barbara Monroe and Cheryl McGaffic. Then he released the students and killed himself.[34]

As covered in earlier reports, the most recent campus shooting in Arizona occurred in October 2015. An eighteen-year-old student, Steven Jones killed one student and wounded three others at Northern Arizona University. He used a 40-caliber Glock which he kept in the glove compartment of his car on campus.[35]

Gun Safety

Gun safety is not an oxymoron. It’s been known, used, ignored, and practiced for at least seven centuries. “Accidental explosions of stored gunpowder date to the 13th century in Yangzhou, China. Early handheld muskets using matchlock or wheel lock mechanisms were limited by poor reliability and the risk of accidental discharge, which was improved somewhat by the introduction of the flintlock, though unintentional firing continued to be a serious drawback. Percussion caps, introduced in the 1820s, were more reliable, and by 1830 inventors added security pins to their designs to prevent accidental discharges. Trigger guards and grip safeties were further steps leading to the various safeties built into modern firearms.[36]

Today’s version of gun safety is the study and practice of using, transporting, storing, and disposing of firearms and ammunition, including the training of gun users, the design of weapons, and formal and informal regulation of gun production, distribution, and usage, to avoid unintentional injury, illness, or death. This includes mishaps like accidental discharge, negligent discharge, and firearm malfunctions, as well as secondary risks like hearing loss, lead poisoning from bullets, and pollution from other hazardous materials in propellants and cartridges. There were 47,000 unintentional firearm deaths worldwide in 2013.[37]

The NSSF is the  Firearm Industry Trade Association. Its website provides ten rules of firearm safety  1.  Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. 2. Firearms should be unloaded when not actually in use. 3. Don’t rely on your gun’s ‘safety.’ 4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it. 5. Use correct ammunition. 6. If your gun fails to fire when the trigger is pulled, handle with care! 7. Always wear eye and ear protection when shooting. 8. Be sure the barrel is clear of obstructions before shooting. 9. Don’t alter or modify your gun and have guns serviced regularly. 10. Learn the mechanical and handling characteristics of the firearm you are using. Having a gun in your possession is a full-time job. You cannot guess; you cannot forget. You must know how to use, handle, and store your firearm safely. Do not use any firearm without having a complete understanding of its particular characteristics and safe use. There is no such thing as a foolproof gun. You must constantly stress safety when handling firearms, especially to children and non-shooters. Don’t be timid when it comes to gun safety. If you observe anyone violating any safety precautions, you have an obligation to insist on safer handling practices, such as those on this site. Follow the safety procedures outlined here, develop safe shooting habits, and remember, firearms safety is up to you.”[38]

These are good rules for “good” gun owners users. The unstated problem with it and other well-intentioned advice givers is that gun violence is rampant because some gun owners and users are not “good.” The hole in the gun safety boat is the well-known antecedent to gun violence—gender and culture. Mass shooters are never “good” in any sense of the word. We need gun safety rules but none of them work on the mass shooters in schools, workplaces, nightclubs, or grocery stores.

Social Norms & Behavioral Characteristics Associated with Masculinity

We will never lower gun violence in the United States until we can explain and identify the core underlying mentality and need to kill. It is the case that males are the perpetrators of the vast majority of gun violence. The vast majority of males never perpetrate gun violence. Statistically, it is a minuscule percentage of males who shoot anyone. “Preliminary evidence suggests that changing perceptions among males of social norms about behaviors and characteristics associated with masculinity may reduce the prevalence of intimate partner and sexual violence. Such interventions need to be further tested for their potential to reduce gun violence. The skills and knowledge of psychologists are needed to develop and evaluate programs and settings in schools, workplaces, prisons, neighborhoods, clinics, and other relevant contexts that aim to change gendered expectations for males that emphasize self-sufficiency, toughness, and violence, including gun violence.”[39]

Assault Weapons Ban of 2023—Senate Bill # 25

The Assault Weapons Ban of 2023 would, if passed in Congress, ban the sale, transfer, manufacture, and import of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines and other high-capacity ammunition feeding devices. This includes the gun used by a shooter on January 22, 2023, to kill eleven people and injure nine more at a Lunar New Year’s celebration in Monterey Park, CA.[40]

“Specifically, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2023 would:  

  1. Ban the sale, manufacture, transfer, and importation of 205 military-style assault weapons by name. Owners may keep existing weapons.
  2. Ban any assault weapon with the capacity to utilize a magazine that is not a fixed ammunition magazine and has one or more military characteristics including a pistol grip, a forward grip, a barrel shroud, a threaded barrel or a folding or telescoping stock. Owners may keep existing weapons.
  3. Ban magazines and other ammunition feeding devices that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, which allow shooters to quickly fire many rounds without needing to reload. Owners may keep existing magazines.
  4. Require a background check on any future sale, trade or gifting of an assault weapon permitted by the bill.
  5. Prohibit the transfer of high-capacity ammunition magazines.
  6. Ban bump-fire stocks and other devices that allow semi-automatic weapons to fire at fully automatic rates.[41]

The chances of passage of Senate Bill # 25 are zero. “President Biden has called on Congress to pass an assault weapons ban but Republicans in the GOP-controlled House reiterated their objection to any actions that would restrict access to guns, instead stressing that mental health issues remain the root cause of the country’s gun violence problem. And Democrats, who narrowly control the Senate, said they were reluctant to push gun-related legislation unless they have significant support from the chamber’s Republicans.”[42]

Gun Responsibility

The Alliance for Gun Responsibility works to save lives and eliminate the harms caused by gun violence in every community through advocacy, education, and partnerships.”[43] It comprises three organizations based in Washington State: a 501 (C4) nonprofit organization known as the Alliance for Gun Responsibility; a 501 (C3) nonprofit organization known as the Alliance for Gun Responsibility Foundation; and a Political Action Committee (PAC) known as the Alliance for Gun Responsibility Victory Fund. “These sister organizations are governed by separate boards and manage the organization’s advocacy, public education, and political giving programs, respectively.

Collectively, they believe that gun violence is preventable. In June 2023, they doubled down and upped their argument. “It’s possible to limit gun violence; we did it here. In the aftermath of especially horrific mass shootings, many people — including many elected leaders — will claim that nothing can be done, that strengthening gun laws is politically unfeasible so we might as well save our breath. Others will blame mental illness, despite the fact that people with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of gun violence than the perpetrators. But we are not doomed to repeat this same cycle of thoughts, prayers, and inaction. I know this because I have been working since 2014 for commonsense laws in Washington State that will keep our communities safe and prevent other families from ever having to experience what my family has. And we have made so much progress since then.”[44]

“In Washington State we have the proof that progress is possible. Working with groups like the Alliance For Gun Responsibility, Grandmothers Against Gun Violence, Washington Ceasefire, and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, we have shown that there are ways to prevent tragedy. Since 2014, Washington has raised the age of purchase for semi-automatic weapons to 21, encouraged safe storage of firearms, banned ghost guns, restricted high-capacity magazines, secured funding for community violence prevention programs, established universal background checks and Extreme Risk Protection Orders, and more.”[45]

While California, Washington, and other states advance the argument for gun responsibility and control, other states retreat to lower ground, bulwarked by the NRA. CNN reports, Most States Get An ‘F’ On Gun Laws This Year.  CNN sources the Gifford Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “The key point is that more permissive gun laws equal more gun deaths in US states. Of the 10 states with the highest proportion of gun deaths per 100,000 people in 2021, all got failing grades – an F – from Giffords, except New Mexico, which got a C+. Of the 10 states with the lowest proportion of gun deaths per 100,000 people in 2021, all got passing grades except New Hampshire. The recent shooting at an elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee, has only intensified discussion of how society can cut down on gun deaths. Multiple states are moving in the direction of making laws even more lax. That includes Tennessee, where hundreds of protesters entered the state capitol Thursday. Lawmakers there want to roll back age restrictions put in place a few years ago and make it easier to openly carry a firearm in public. In Florida, lawmakers advanced a permitless-carry proposal and are on track to roll back age restrictions enacted just a few years ago from 21 back to 18. In North Carolina, the Republican-led legislature overrode the state’s Democratic governor to make it legal to buy a handgun without a permit. Wisconsin gets a D+ from Giffords and went narrowly for Biden, but then sent a Republican, Sen. Ron Johnson, back to the US Senate in 2022. Florida, which is all but a red state in terms of politics, still gets a C- from Giffords. North Carolina, which went for former President Donald Trump in 2020, gets a C from Giffords, although both states could see lower grades next year. Nebraska, with a solid C, is another red state that gets a passing grade from Giffords and is the only red state with one of the 10 lowest gun death rates. While we’re seeing that many states are moving in a less than desirable direction and passing really dangerous laws, we also see, in other parts of the country, that states are passing really innovative and unique policies, trying to address gun violence – which continues to be such an urgent public health problem across our country. It’s the leading cause of death for children. We’re seeing record numbers of gun deaths.” [46]

Gun Control & Executive Orders

As dismal as federal and state legislation seems to be on gun control, there is a ray of light under the door to the Oval Office at the Whitehouse. The March 14, 2023, headline reads, Biden Announces New Gun Control Measures—Here’s What His Executive Order Will Do.

“President Joe Biden will sign an expansive executive order on gun control Tuesday, taking steps to expand background checks and gun safety measures as the U.S. continues to face mass shootings and incidents of gun violence without Congress taking comprehensive action. The order will clarify existing federal laws that require background checks by anyone in the business of selling firearms, with the aim of implementing almost universal background checks ‘without additional legislation.’ It also directs the attorney general to develop a plan to prevent firearms dealers whose federal licenses have been revoked from continuing to sell guns and directs the DOJ to work with the Secretary of Transportation to reduce the number of firearms that are lost or stolen during shipping. Information on firearms dealers who have violated federal laws will be made publicly accessible under the order, in order to hold them accountable and increase transparency, and directs the Federal Trade Commission to issue a public report on how firearms are marketed, including to minors.

The order instructs federal agencies to develop more rigorous requirements around using the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network, which matches gun casings to the firearms they were fired from and helps connect different shootings—and asks the agencies to issue progress reports on their compliance with the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act on gun control that Biden signed into law last year. The order also directs the attorney general to work with Congress to modernize the Undetectable Firearms Act of 1988, which is set to expire in December, to make it harder for firearms to be made that can evade metal detectors.

The executive orders add to actions the Biden Administration has taken on gun control, including measures to rein in ‘ghost guns,’ new law enforcement strike forces targeting firearms trafficking and funding to prevent community violence. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act increased funding for implementing risk protection orders, imposed a new review process for under-21s buying guns and created new federal offenses for trafficking and “straw purchasing” guns, among other measures. But a Pew Research poll found 63% of Americans still wanted Congress to do more on gun control after the bill was passed as many in the U.S. look to the federal government to take more sweeping measures on gun control, given the continued wave of mass shootings. While Biden’s measures Tuesday will aid progress, only Congress can impose many sweeping measures that gun control advocates have pushed for—such as an assault weapons ban, bans on high-capacity magazines and universal background checks—and the White House said Tuesday Biden was enacting the new executive order “as he continues to call on Congress to act.”[47]

But For The Absence of Gun Sense

Gun sense is oxymoronic. It makes no sense to some to regulate how guns are bought, sold, held, owned, aimed, fired, or otherwise used to maim and ruin tens of thousands of victims, their families, and our sense of common decency and interdependence. Gun nonsense prevails because gun rights are more important to some than death is to others. A national catharsis exists. It is the purging of emotions by seeing, hearing about, reading about, seeing, feeling, experiencing, anticipating, and getting over, or at least past the next mass shooting and the next denial. After all, guns don’t kill people, do they?

Gun sense is historic because it figures so prominently is how we think, live, write, act, pray for, and die for. Firearms today play a prominent, if not dominant role in life and literature. The earliest reference to gunfire is the 1369 poem titled The House of Fame by Geoffery Chaucer: “As swife as pellet out of gunne when fire is in the powdre runne.” This poem has survived the ages because firearms play a role in American life that is embedded deeply into our culture and our sense of what it takes to protect those we love and disperse those we fear. The simplistic explanation may be the soundest. Our vast array of guns resemble our society, for good and ill alike, over the last seven centuries. Mass murder, particularly of children is not forgivable, but neither is taking the murder’s gun away. Today’s patriot might be tomorrow’s shooter.

[1] https://www.americanprogress.org/article/race-and-beyond-why-do-some-americans-love-guns-so-much/

[2] https://www.guns.com/news/2020/11/17/data-us-has-434-million-guns-20m-ars-150m-mags

[3] https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2022/2022-population-estimates.html

[4] https://www.hollandsentinel.com/story/opinion/letters/2015/09/03/america-is-awash-with-guns/33594618007/

[5] https://www.marineapproved.com/gun-ownership-statistics-in-america/

[6] https://www.apa.org/pubs/reports/gun-violence-prevention

[7] Ibid.

[8] https://www.secretservice.gov/sites/default/files/2020-04/Protecting_Americas_Schools.pdf

[9] Ibid.

[10] Selinger, Evan (July 23, 2012).”The Philosophy of the Technology of the Gun“. The Atlantic. Archived from the original on July 2, 2022. Retrieved July 2, 2022.

Ibelle, Bill; Petronio, Lia (July 27, 2018). “New study on firearm caliber questions the notion that ‘guns don’t kill people'”. News@Northeastern. Northeastern University. Archived from the original on July 2, 2022. Retrieved July 2, 2022.

Filipovic, Jill (December 21, 2012). “The conservative philosophy of tragedy”: guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. The Guardian. Archived from the original on August 10, 2022. Retrieved July 7, 2022. icon of an open green padlock (Free to read)

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guns_don%27t_kill_people,_people_kill_people

[12] Ibid. See footnote 20.

[13] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_violence

[14] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_violence

[15] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2022/05/senate-state-bias-filibuster-blocking-gun-control-legislation

[16] https://www.annenbergclassroom.org/glossary_term/majority-rule-and-minority-rights/

[17] https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/filibuster-explained

[18] https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/filibuster-explained

[19] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2022/05/senate-state-bias-filibuster-blocking-gun-control-legislation

[20] Ibid.

[21] https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/interactive/school-shootings-database/

[22] https://www.vice.com/en/article/yw9kqy/the-government-is-finally-tracking-school-shootings-the-numbers-are-alarming

[23] https://www.k12dive.com/news/2022-worst-year-for-school-shootings/639313/

[24] https://www.k12dive.com/news/will-school-shootings-in-2023-outpace-last-years-record-high/646765/

[25] Ibid.

[26] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robb_Elementary_School_shooting

[27] https://www.texastribune.org/2023/03/20/uvalde-shooting-police-ar-15/

[28] https://www.nytimes.com/article/uvalde-texas-school-shooting.html

[29] https://abcnews.go.com/US/uvalde-investigators-probe-law-enforcement-response-robb-shooting/story?id=97046768

[30] https://www.azmirror.com/2022/06/01/arizona-has-had-19-school-shootings-since-the-70s-data-show/

[31] Ibid.

[32] https://www.abc15.com/news/state/stats-gun-violence-in-arizona-across-the-country

[33] https://www.cbsnews.com/news/thomas-meixner-university-of-arizona-professor-killed-by-former-student-identified/

[34] https://www.abc15.com/news/crime/old-time-crime-disgruntled-student-shoots-kills-3-u-of-a-professors-in-2002

[35] https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/2020/02/11/steven-jones-sentenced-nau-shooting/4681771002/. See also,  https://www.amazon.com/State-Arizona-Jones-Nobody-Anything-ebook/dp/B09DX77DYH.

[36] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_safety#References

[37] Ibid.

[38] https://www.nssf.org/safety/rules-firearms-safety/

[39] https://www.apa.org/pubs/reports/gun-violence-prevention

[40] https://www.npr.org/2023/01/23/1150667373/monterey-park-shooting-what-we-know-california

[41] https://www.warner.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/2023/1/warner-kaine-reintroduce-legislation-to-protect-communities-from-assault-weapons

[42] https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/03/29/congress-little-urgency-address-gun-violence-with-legislation/

[43] https://gunresponsibility.org/the-alliance/

[44]  https://gunresponsibility.org/news/comment-its-possible-to-limit-gun-violence-we-did-it-here/

[45] Ibid.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

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