Children catch gun fever
This awful story won’t bring the weeks’ worth of headlines prompted by the six-year-old
who shot his teacher, but it should: a 14-year-old Texas girl has been charged with
murder for shooting an 11-year-old boy. She was firing at another 14-year-old girl with
whom she had been arguing and missed, hitting the boy, according to Dallas police.
Vashunte Settles, mother of the dead child (her daughter was the actual target), said
she hopes her profound grief can serve as a lesson. “Take this story and do
something productive with it. Let my son not have died in vain and let this save
somebody else’s child,” she said.
If only. I understand Settles’ reaction — the impulse to grasp for some palliative,
the need for a balm for her anguish. But her hope is for naught. Nothing will
The United States is in the grips of a gun madness that seems unending, a strange
malady that outruns reason, outlasts grief, outstrips sanity. Decades into horrifying
mass shootings, routine classroom lockdowns and daily gun deaths, politicians
cower before the gun lobby and jurists claim the sanctity of a Second Amendment
they deliberately misread. The fever not only hasn’t broken, but it is spreading
throughout the land, hotter and more deadly.
In Alabama, as one example, Darius Miles, a former college basketball player, and
Michael Lynn Davis have been charged with capital murder in the shooting death of
23-year-old Jamea Jonae Harris. Her family members say she was shot dead
because she had refused the advances of a man trying to flirt with her.
In New Mexico, as another example, police have arrested Solomon Peña, a
defeated Republican candidate for state legislature, in connection with several
shootings at the homes of Democratic elected officials. Peña, who trumpeted the
Big Lie about election fraud and had already served time in prison when he ran for
office, allegedly hired others to fire rounds at the homes of Democrats, including
state Senator Linda Lopez, who has said that she found bullet holes in her
“In all honesty, if she had been awake, playing like she normally does — as most kids
are, on their tablets — there would be a very different outcome,” Lopez said.
Instead of retreating to a few modest regulations — waiting periods and
background checks before firearms purchases — the gun lobby has insisted on
pushing further into abyss, desiring a dystopia in which no one is safe. Its
spokesmen and lobbyists fight against laws that would hold adults responsible
when their children shoot someone with weapons that were not properly stored.
Six-year-olds don’t have the capacity to understand the harm they can inflict with a
firearm, and young teenagers lack impulse control. Still, the gun lobby insists that
18-year-olds should be able to buy weapons, even though the law declares them
too young to drink.
Several states, including my home state of Alabama, have dropped the requirement
for a permit for gun owners to conceal the weapon they carry. The gun lobby wants
that for every state. The National Rifle Association and its allies fight laws that
would ban high-capacity magazines. Heck, the gun lobby has even fought to ban
“smart guns” — a new technology that would allow a firearm to be used only by its
It’s hard to know what to make of a culture in which this crazy has become the
norm. The United States has descended into a frightening and chaotic society in
which children kill other children (and themselves), classrooms are danger zones
and disgruntled workers with firearms take out their anger on their colleagues.
And we allow this. We are more upset over the price of eggs and gasoline than we
are over the more than 2,000 gun deaths already this year. That’s right: More than
two thousand people have been killed by firearms — more than 1,000 of them
suicides — in a year only just begun. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there
have already been 33 mass shootings, defined as shootings in which at least four
people have been shot.
No other nation in the developed world has this level of gun violence. It seems that
America is, indeed, exceptional.