Charlotte County Florida Weekly

A way out of the swamp



A lot of people, mostly white men, came to the defense of uncontrolled gun possession last week following the tragic murders of schoolchildren and teachers on Tuesday, in Uvalde, Texas, by a gunman with military-style assault rifles.

They denigrate proposals to require thorough background checks on all gun sales in any settings; they disparage any notion of limiting what guns or gun equipment can be sold; they insist that guns on site, in the hands of teachers, could have stopped that school massacre or any others more quickly; and they talk about the Second Amendment as if the words “well regulated Militia” were merely illegal ticketholders on the train to Bing, Bang, Boom.

One social media apologist for shoot- ’em up shared the picture of a sign that “should be posted at every school.” It read: “WARNING: Staff members are ARMED and TRAINED. Any attempt to harm children will be met with Deadly Force.” He added this observation: “The only solution: Fire with fire.”

Teachers as gunfighters? We can do a lot better.

As it happens, 98% of mass shootings in the United States since 1966 have been committed by white males, according to Jillian Peterson, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Hamline University. She’s a forensic psychologist and president of The Violence Project, which tracks them.

Not women, not black males. White males.

A 25-year-old Texan and former Marine named Charles Whitman kicked off our 56-year failure to slow or stop mass shootings when he killed his wife and mother with a knife one night, in Austin. The next morning, Aug. 1, 1966, equipped with three rifles, three handguns and a sawed-off shotgun, he drove to the 300-foot Texas Tower on campus at the University of Texas. On his way, he even stopped to buy a .30 cal. M-1 carbine.

Whitman then ascended the tower, from which he killed 17 people and wounded 31 before two police officers finally got close enough to shoot him.

He’d described increasing rages to a doctor and others in the weeks and months before it happened, but murderous mayhem may not have registered on their scope of possible outcomes then, as it would now. They never reported it.

After the incident, however, at least one vividly clear, bell-ringing lesson registered on everybody’s scope: Careful background checks could have prevented his purchase of some of those weapons and helped red-flag the man himself before he ever reached the tower.

We ignored the lesson. Hundreds of mass shootings later — including nightmarish massacres in the Sunshine State — we still fail to be instructed.

We’re slow learners, apparently. We continue to lack criminal background checks for gun buyers on the internet or at gun shows, and we still fail to give the FBI time to investigate those flagged by the instant background check system.

While such measures have passed in a U.S. House vote, they’ve failed in the Senate. Republican leaders continue to reject those proposals for the most part. Late last week, three days after the Uvalde shootings, Gov. Ron DeSantis still had said nothing about the Texas tragedy or what Floridians should do to prevent it from occurring here — again.

Sen. Marco Rubio had remained silent both in Washington and Florida. Sen. Rubio has been the beneficiary of $3.3 million in campaign donations over time from the National Rifle Association, records show. The NRA opposes gun control.

Only Sen. Rick Scott had anything to say about it when The New York Times asked all 50 Republican senators late last week if they’d support the House-approved legislation: “I haven’t seen those exact bills. I don’t support taking away people’s — law-abiding citizens’ — Second Amendment rights,” he remarked.

That represents failure, whether math and English teachers can be taught to draw handguns from their trousers like Wild Bill Hickok and kill shooters armed with assault rifles.

In policies and practices, we might enact to get ourselves out of this swamp, “there’s no one answer,” Jillian Peterson said. “We can kind of work our way backwards and say, these are individuals who are in crisis, who have very easy access to firearms. And are there simple things we can do like universal background checks or safe storage that prevent that ease of access?”

Sure there are.

“But we can also go further back and talk about things like, how do we make sure everybody’s trained in crisis intervention and suicide prevention? How do we build trauma-informed schools and go even further back? I think there’s a lot of things that we can do as a society and even as individuals to help disrupt that pathway to violence.”

What can we do as individuals?

Sidney Burris, an essayist, poet and English professor at the University of Arkansas who grew up with guns, put it this way last week, while referring not to one but two pandemics, one from a mutating virus and one from gun violence aimed at school children:

“There are two ways to prevent the kind of gun violence that we witnessed yesterday in Uvalde, Texas. We change our laws and legislation, and we change our hearts and minds. The two initiatives, of course, are intimately related,” he wrote.

Compassion, he insists, is a way out of the swamp. It’s a thing you exercise; he does it through meditation.

“Take care of yourselves,” he said. “We need now to show up for each other in our strongest and most compassionate form. And thanks to all of you (who do). I see every day that I’m surrounded by dedicated, caring people who have not given up, and have no intention of giving up.”

I won’t give up. How about you? ¦

One response to “A way out of the swamp”

  1. Tom Bell says:

    Between 1982 and May 2022, 68 out of the 128 mass shootings in the United States were carried out by white shooters. By comparison, the perpetrator was African American in 21 mass shootings, and Latino in 11. When calculated as percentages, this amounts to 53 percent, 16 percent, and 8.5 percent respectively.

    Race of mass shooters reflects the U.S. population:

    Broadly speaking, the racial distribution of mass shootings mirrors the racial distribution of the U.S. population as a whole. While a superficial comparison of the statistics seems to suggest African American shooters are over-represented and Latino shooters underrepresented, the fact that the shooter’s race is unclear in around 10 percent of cases, along with the different time frames over which these statistics are calculated, means no such conclusions should be drawn. Conversely, looking at the mass shootings in the United States by gender clearly demonstrates that the majority of mass shootings are carried out by men.

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