Parkland: “Thoughts And Prayers” Again

The AR 15 - weapon of choice in mass shootings

The numbers are mind-numbing: More than 430 people have been shot in 273 school attacks since the one at Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012. Three of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history occurred in the last five months.

Most sickening is the faux sympathy expressed by politicians who are wholly owned by the NRA–among them, Indiana’s Todd Young, and Florida’s Marco Rubio.

A friend’s post on Facebook was a far more honest reaction than the obligatory “thoughts and prayers” of politicians corrupted by campaign dollars : he professed surprise that parents who have lost children in these mass shootings haven’t taken violent action against politicians who– with NRA support– allowed their children to be murdered, and he warned that “Some day, unfortunately a distressed parent will decide that ‘since I lost a child perhaps politician X should lose a child or a spouse.’ These tragedies will only stop when there is meaningful gun control.”

Given the Administration’s daily assault on the rule of law and the norms of civilized behavior, reflected in elevated instances of racism, homophobia, anti-semitism and general hatefulness, that day may not be too far off.

Articles on gun ownership rarely point out that–despite the enormous number of guns in the U.S.–a majority of us do not possess them; America’s estimated 300 million firearms are largely concentrated among people who stockpile them. A significant number of those owners have an unreasoning, hysterical, and evidently all-consuming fear of being disarmed, which makes them a formidable part of the GOP’s increasingly rabid and unreasoning base.(Interestingly, gun sales–which had spiked due to fears that the scary black man in the White House was going to confiscate them–have declined significantly since Agent Orange was elected. Make of that what you will.)

I know of no one who advocates confiscation of guns. Not only would it be ridiculously impractical, but no one seriously advocates coming after the hunters, the people with legitimate security fears, or even collectors . There are plenty of steps that rational legislators could take to limit gun violence far short of confiscation, or even erosion of those precious (and exaggerated) Second Amendment rights.

Nicholas Kristof suggests an eminently reasonable approach:

Gun enthusiasts often protest: Cars kill about as many people as guns, and we don’t ban them! No, but automobiles are actually a model for the public health approach I’m suggesting.

We don’t ban cars, but we work hard to regulate them – and limit access to them – so as to reduce the death toll they cause. This has been spectacularly successful, reducing the death rate per 100 million miles driven by 95 percent since 1921.

Kristof says we should abandon the “gun control” terminology–which has a Pavlovian effect on fringe gun owners–and opt instead for “gun safety” or “reducing gun violence,”  using auto safety as a model. That model would include constant efforts to make the products safer and to limit access to them by people who are most likely to misuse them.

He lists a number of steps that already have broad public support: keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and people on the terrorist no-fly list, tightening background checks, ending immunity for gun manufactures–I strongly suggest that you click through and read all of his recommendations.

This one really resonated with me:

If someone steals my iPhone, it’s useless, and the same should be true of guns. Gun manufacturers made child-proof guns back in the 19th century (before dropping them), and it’s time to advance that technology today. Some combination of smart guns and safe storage would also reduce the number of firearms stolen in the U.S. each year, now about 200,000, and available to criminals.

And by the way– the next time I hear about a “good guy” with a gun, I’m going to puke.

As Kristof notes, there is overwhelming evidence that more guns and more relaxed gun laws lead to more violent deaths and injuries, no matter who owns the firearm. One study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that a gun in the house was associated with a significantly  increased risk of a gun death, particularly by suicide but also by homicide.

Our inability to act like adults when it comes to weapons is just one element of a frightening and dispiriting collapse of responsible government. When is the last time any of us used the word “statesman”? Instead, I’ve been hearing a different word–kakistocracy. It translates into “rule by the worst among us”?

[Originally published at on February 16, 2018]

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..


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