On Wednesday afternoon, a shooter rained gunfire on students at a Florida school. The gunman, Nikolas Cruz, entered the campus armed with an AR-15-style rifle and shot students in the hallways and elsewhere on school grounds.
In the face of horrors like this, we want comfort, answers, solutions. We want to be told that this type of shooting is an anomaly and unlikely to happen again. We want to know “where God is” in the midst of such evil. We want to know, in retrospect, what we could have done to stop this evil act.
More to the point, we want to know what actions we can to protect against this type of massacre in the future. Given the horror of this and similar tragedies, and the bitter partisan disagreement about how to prevent them, it is incumbent upon us to find a way to move forward together.
A constructive way forward will involve at least three components.
First, we must engage in a sustained national debate about gun rights and gun control. In the aftermath of shootings such as the one at Parkland, our national “debate” is often carried out via social media and is reduced to clichéd arguments and unfair accusations.
The worst voices on the Left will say that Republicans are controlled by the NRA, don’t care about children, and have blood on their hands. The most tone-deaf voices on the right will fail to address the horror of the situation, opting instead to merely point out that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”
But, as Liz Peek argued recently, it’s time for an honest, civil, and sustained national debate about gun rights and gun control. If rapid-fire weapons hadn’t been employed in recent shootings such as Las Vegas, Orlando, or Parkland, fewer people would have been killed. For ten years, this type of rapid-fire weapon was banned. The ban expired in 2004 and hasn’t been renewed.
We need to carry out the debate in its various dimensions. Legally, is a ban on rapid-fire weapons in violation of the Second Amendment? Ideologically, is it a slippery slope in which the end result will one day be confiscation? Practically, will increased gun control reduce violence overall by making it harder for “shooters” to purchase guns or will it increase vulnerability by making citizens defenseless?
If our national response to shootings continues to be characterized by sound-byte arguments and bad-willed bipartisan accusations, things will only get worse. But if we can make the transition to a sustained and civil debate about solutions, we stand a good chance of making things better.
Second, we must address mental health in its psychiatric and moral dimensions. There is ample evidence that Nikolas Cruz had long alarmed acquaintances and authorities in Parkland by his disturbing behavior. He was described as cold-hearted, deeply disturbed, and emotionally broken.
In the instance of severe chemical imbalances, appropriate medication and treatment could bring stability to the patient. The National Institute of Mental Health is a repository of data related to psychiatric treatment and intervention in the cases of severe mental illness, and should be capitalized upon.
But our discussion of mental illness must not be limited to the “disease” model of mental illness. We cannot let ourselves think that terrorists are “evil” but American shooters are “ill.” To do so is not only hypocritical but foolish. It’s high time our nation recognized the way evil takes root in the human heart and the way America’s cultural institutions—families, churches, schools, political parties, entertainers—must work to counteract the moral decay in our nation.
Third, we must consider implementing active-shooter training in our nation’s schools. School administrators regularly schedule fire and tornado drills, but most do not schedule active-shooter drills.
Most schools avoid holding active-shooter drills because they don’t want to frighten their students. Unfortunately, however, we must face up to the horrific reality that school shootings are on the increase and probably will not abate any time soon. During school shootings, most casualties occur during the first five minutes. If we can coach students on how to run, hide, fight, and report the shooters, we stand a better chance of reducing casualties.
In a statement after the shooting, President Trump encouraged the nation to “create a culture in our country that embraces the dignity of life.” He’s right that the deep undercurrent in all of this is lack of respect for the dignity of human life, one that characterized the actions of Nikolas Cruz but also in some ways permeates our culture as a whole.
The increase in mass shootings is a high-priority “pro-life” issue because it involves the taking of innocent lives. People on both sides of the gun rights divide understand this fact, and people on both sides want to take action to reduce the likelihood of future shootings.
For that reason, we must resist the temptation toward partisan cheap shots and cliched arguments, and instead call our nation’s leaders to lead the way in a sustained, civil, and constructive national debate about gun rights and gun control, mental illness in its psychiatric and moral dimensions, and the potential benefits of active-shooter training in our nation’s schools and public institutions.