Facts ruin bad arguments. So let these facts sink in for a minute. According to the FBI, in 2016 murderers using handguns killed 7, 105 Americans. That same year, murderers using any kind of rifle—muzzle-loading, breech-loading, lever-action, bolt-action, or even the left’s dreaded AR-15—killed only 374 Americans. The FBI’s long-term data also reflects this unsurprising disparity. Of the 63,061 murder victims in the United States between 2010 and 2014, a total of 30,114, or 48 percent, died from handgun wounds, while 1,530, or two percent, died from rifle wounds. It almost appears as if some natural law dictates a 20:1 ratio over time between murders involving handguns and rifles. But after the Parkland, Florida, school massacre, America’s news oligopoly—taking its cue from a mob of social-media-savvy teenaged revolutionaries—lost sight of where the carnage lies. The Valentine’s Day tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School stole the limelight from the thou- sands of murder victims whose bodies clog up inner-city morgues. Clearly, dead white high-school students resonate better with advertisers than tattooed gang-bangers.
Gore Vidal prophesied “around-the-clock television and its horror of ‘dead air’” in a November 1965 Times Literary Supplement essay as a key driver of today’s imbecilic media circuses. In order to fill the natural vacuum arising after on-the-scene reporters have relayed all the known facts at a mass shooting, the cameras turn to witnesses, first responders, and, now, self-serving high-school kids looking to launch political crusades. In the Parkland case, senior David Hogg ran with the megaphone the networks threw in his face. Strategically standing in front of a billowing yellow “Police Line Do Not Cross” tape,
Hogg used his serendipitous authority to fill the Vidalian dead air. His cliché-ridden diatribe informed viewers “they can make a difference in their community, they can make a difference in the world, they can do that by calling on their congressmen.” Hogg and his comrades had established the student-led gun control advocacy group “Never Again MSD” within days of the shooting. Florida legislators passed increased regulations in early March on gun-owners at the behest of the startup organization. The precocious Stoneman Douglas student deserves an A for his enthusiasm, organizational expertise, and manipulation of the unscrupulous media. Unfortunately, the Sunshine State’s new gun restrictions, which include an increase in the minimum age for firearm purchase from 18 to 21, the establishment of waiting periods and enhancement of background checks, and a ban of bump stocks, will do little to protect anyone from the next deranged school shooter.
Consider how these new laws might have worked if history were retroactive. The Sandy Hook shooter, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, used his mother’s gun to mow down 26 innocents in 2012. Lanza avoided all restrictions by simply raid- ing the family gun closet, which apparently had no age minimum, background check, or waiting period. More innocents will die as a result of such ineffective legislation. But more importantly as it relates to electoral politics, Florida’s state representatives won’t have to worry about future attacks from Hogg and his gullible co-revolutionaries after the perfunctory passage of such meaningless regulations. Futile new laws will propitiate even the most aggrieved high-school student. When your three most pressing life goals as a teenage amount to increasing your social-media presence, number of followers, and “likes,” empty action trumps efficacy.
But at least Master Hogg acted like an adult in the shooting’s frenzied aftermath. I don’t know whose example he follows, but it sure isn’t that of New York Times reporter Gina Kolata. Tasked with reporting “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” Ms. Kolata in the March 5 number earnestly explained how she, a gun-fearing Deep North liberal, mustered a backbone shortly after the shooting to comply with her editor’s request for a piece on the inherently evil AR-15. Ms. Kolata confessed, “I’m one of those head-in-the-sand people who would rather not know about guns and violence and how terrible bombings and shootings can be.” Well then, who better to handle an objective assessment of the controversial weapon used in the latest mass shooting? I’d sooner read an analysis of the long-term benefits of mindfulness exercises spelled out by Don Rickles.
Remarkably, Kolata’s editors outdid even themselves when they printed Temple University psychology professor Laurence Steinberg’s op-ed calling on legislators to lower the voting age to 16. Steinberg cited the Parkland students’ protests as clear evidence against the “tiresome stereotype” of American teenagers as “indolent narcissists whose brains have been addled by smartphones.” Professor Steinberg must spend most of his time with foreign graduate students.
Participation trophies, societal coddling, and helicopter parents have fueled American teens’ self-absorption and arrogance. Smartphones have served only to exacerbate that unhealthy mix. Either way, Steinberg’s citation of the average 16-year-old’s well-developed “cold cognitive abilities” as a sufficient condition to enter a voting booth ignores millennia of political philosophy on citizenship, the rights and duties underlying the franchise, and the historical perspective necessary to make good choices, a perspective that only comes with age and hindsight. Lowering the voting age to 18 was a mistake; 16 would be a disaster. But in the heat of the thought- less revolutionary moments that explode after every mass shooting, disasters recur.
President Trump’s subsequent call to arm the teachers and confiscate guns from the unbalanced struck all the wrong chords with our cultural bien-pensants. If you have never fired a gun and have seen them used only in movies for mass slaughter, why would you ever want a sympathetic maternal kindergarten teacher to carry one? But imagine if a crazed gunman entered that same teacher’s classroom and told the kids to prepare to die. Would you prefer that she draw a pistol in a last-ditch attempt to save her students, or that she pelt the murderer with dry-erase markers till he departed for easier prey? Then again, those who think a higher minimum purchase age and longer waiting period are the best we can do to prevent this deadly scenario likely consider dry-erase markers lethal weapons too.
Though fraught with civil-liberty potholes, Trump’s call for confiscating weapons from the unstable moved the conversation in a positive direction. In reference to Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz, a doc- tor’s note in his Broward County schools psychiatric file mentioned that “when upset he punches holes in the walls and has used sharp tools to cut up the upholstery on the furniture and carve holes in the walls of the bathroom.” A therapist relayed a
May 2014 session with Cruz in which the future mass-murderer “reported a dream last week of him killing people covered in blood.”These revelations came only weeks after nauseatingly repetitious reports of the dozens of desperate calls from friends, relatives, and neighbors, all of which warned authorities about Cruz’s problematic behavior. We don’t need more gun control; we need more nut control, as hard as that will be to implement. But at least our no-nonsense President has jumpstarted that conversation, even as the teens of Parkland continue their revolutionary crusade to keep schools dangerous.