Kids and guns: The crisis grows
By: Jim Longworth
Journalists are naturally drawn to superlatives. Something is either “the first of its kind,” or it’s “the most comprehensive,” or it’s “the largest in the area.” It’s not surprising, then, that last year’s Las Vegas concert massacre was known as “the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history,” according to the Associated Press. Last week’s attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue was reported by CNN as, “the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the U.S.,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.
No doubt those superlatives apply because they give us perspective, but sometimes we get so caught up in the horrors of large tragedies, that we lose sight of the smaller ones that seem to happen every week.
Last week, two teenage boys got into a heated argument in a hallway at Butler High School in Matthews. (Reportedly, one boy had been bullying the other, but it isn’t yet known which student did the alleged bullying.) Regardless, 16-year-old Jatwan Cuffie shot 16-year-old Bobby McKeithen. Cuffie then admitted his crime and surrendered. Ironically, that same day, AP reported that the U.S. Agency on Healthcare Research and Quality released a report on gun injuries involving children and teens. It couldn’t have been timelier.
According to that report, gun injuries sent 75,000 teenagers to hospital emergency rooms over the past nine years, and 6 percent of them died. (But those numbers could be deceiving, as authors of the AHRQ study admit that their data does not include gun victims who never made it to the hospital.)
Many of us in the media have advocated for a ban on assault weapons, but most gun-related injuries and deaths come from the use of handguns, so a ban on rifles won’t abate our current crisis. The gun problem is one of access and opportunity, so that begs the question, “How do we put a stop to school shootings?”
Let’s suppose that tomorrow the federal government banned the sale and manufacture of all guns. Would that stop kids from shooting kids at school? No, because they would still have access to guns that are already in circulation. According to a 2015 report by the Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham, as of 2013, there were 357 million civilian firearms in circulation. That means there are 40 million more guns in America than there are people.
Don’t get me wrong. We still need to ban assault weapons and restrict the sale of handguns and shotguns by requiring comprehensive background checks and increasing the wait-time between application and purchase. Local sheriff’s departments must be able to interface with FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms databases (and vice versa), so that local trouble-makers, domestic abusers, patients treated for mental illness, and people who have been charged with, but not convicted of a violent crime, will be red flagged by gun shop owners. We also need to put restrictions on the sale of ammunition because a gun without bullets is useless. But, again, as it stands now, a kid can still get his hands on a loaded gun by borrowing or stealing one.
So how to do we keep guns out of schools? Very simple. Install metal detectors and have controlled entrances and exits. Local school officials will tell you that there’s no budget for installing a metal detector in every school and that it’s impossible to have locked doors on school buildings. As for the latter, Joe Clark, the legendary New Jersey school principal proved that locked doors are feasible. As for the former, metal detectors are reliable, and yes, they are costly, but we can always find money for priorities. We hold referendums to pay for building upgrades, and we apply for grants to buy computers, so why not invest in security measures? It’s time for local, state, and federal officials to get serious about school safety, and that doesn’t mean just funding metal detectors. It also means hiring additional security personnel to monitor those detectors, and control who comes and goes through the main entrance throughout the day.
The NRA might have our elected officials hog-tied from banning certain types of weapons, but even the NRA can’t oppose legislation that would increase school security. New science labs, more computers, and re-modeled bathrooms are important, but they’re of no use if students don’t feel safe using them.
Jim Longworth is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).