Opinion: Another school shooting. ‘Ho-hum,’ says America

Marshall County High School students are escorted to retrieve their vehicles by emergency responders after a deadly shooting at the school in Benton, Ky., on Tuesday.
Marshall County High School students are escorted to retrieve their vehicles by emergency responders after a deadly shooting at the school in Benton, Ky., on Tuesday.
(Ryan Hermens / Paducah Sun )

A 15-year-old sophomore in the small village of Benton, Kentucky, walked onto his high school campus Tuesday morning and opened fire with a handgun, killing two fellow students and wounding 14 more, according to authorities. It’s a measure of how inured this nation has become to school shootings, let alone mass shootings, that a murderous incident in rural Kentucky barely rippled the national consciousness.

We can blame President Trump, in part, because he has over the course of a year raised the bar for public outrage so high that a school shooting rates little more than a collective shrug. But in truth, we were already heading this way. “News” is what’s new, and there’s little new about mass shootings in this country.

But it’s a disquieting, and dangerous, turn when a nation can so blithely ignore such incidents, especially when it’s the avoidable gun deaths of children.

We can fix this — if we choose to.


Some 60% of Americans think gun laws should be stricter, while fewer than 15% think they should be loosened, yet little gets done legislatively to address that. The gun lobby carries more influence in the halls of Congress and state legislatures than do the voices of the people themselves. So the gun deaths continue.

Let’s look at the rest of the nation on Tuesday. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were at least 81 other shooting incidents around the country the same day as the double-slaying in Benton. Those shootings led to the deaths of at least 28 more people, and 40 wounded. Include Benton, Ky., and that’s 30 dead and 54 wounded by bullets. In one day.

The numbers have names. In Gaffney, S.C., Matthew Littlejohn, 33, was shot and killed after he drove away from a gas station where he had argued with another customer. In Dayton, Ohio, Darius Hall, 24, was found dead in his bullet-riddled car. In Hopewell, Va., Danzell Lamont Gholson, also 24, was found shot dead at a housing complex.

Broadening the calendar, the New York Times reports that so far this year there have been at least 11 shooting incidents on school grounds around the country. Fortunately, no one was hurt in most of those incidents; several, tragically, were suicides. But only a day before the Kentucky killings, a 16-year-old boy shot and wounded a 15-year girl in a Texas high school. Over the weekend in North Carolina, Winston-Salem State University student Najee Ali Baker, 21, died after being shot at on the campus of nearby Wake Forest University.

After Tuesday’s shooting in Kentucky, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders expressed condolences, but the president hasn’t addressed it publicly, though Vice President Mike Pence has. It’s a telling silence from Trump.

After more than a year of Trump churning out propaganda that the nation’s streets were awash in blood, the administration this week hailed an early FBI report that 2017 saw a continued general decline in violent crime across the country, and in typical Trumpian fashion, sought to take credit for it. (Crime rates have been dropping steadily for decades, though some major cities like Chicago and Baltimore have suffered spikes in recent years.) Lower levels of violence, though, is not the same thing as acceptable levels of violence, and the U.S. still is tops in the developed world in letting people run around with guns and shoot each other.

The Trump administration is quick to speak out on any act of violence or terrorism that it thinks it can use to propel it’s anti-Muslim, anti-immigration agenda. Otherwise, the administration displays a depressing lack of concern about gun violence, which poses the biggest and most persistent threat to Americans. We live amid a sea of firearms and lax laws that make them stunningly easy to buy. Yet about the only thing Trump says about it is to dismiss calls for better gun control and to suggest the solution lies in strong-arm policing.

Only a fool would have expected tighter gun-control policies from a president elected with the strong backing of the National Rifle Assn. But that doesn’t absolve Trump from blame for failing to recognize the problem and for failing to try to do something about it. The fault is not his alone, though. Political figures long before Trump happily did the bidding of the gun lobby, and they are happy to continue to do so.

So who ultimately bears responsibility for these deaths, for these guns, for these tragedies? People — and voters — who accept the steady pop of gunfire as part of the soundtrack of modern American life. We can fix this — if we choose to.

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