Tragedy struck in a Santa Fe high school on Friday, as a lone gunman walked onto campus brandishing two firearms and the intent to kill. Ten students would fall dead before 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis would turn himself in, admitting that he intended to take his own life, but lacked the courage.
For Americans, Friday’s death toll will be added to the growing list of children to lose their lives in a rash of violent incidents that appear to be moving in a trend that runs counter to violent crime statistics as a whole — as America has become overall safer in recent decades, it seems our schools have grown more dangerous. With students falling victim to gun violence in seemingly every demographic, with no geographical or cultural limits, Americans, by and large, have fallen into one of three camps: those who fervently defend their second amendment rights, those who champion increased gun control, and those who see the merits in both arguments and find themselves torn between competing ideologies.
In the days following such a tragedy, a common criticism that has been levied by both sides is that their opposition will rapidly move to politicize catastrophe, then, a counter argument always emerges begging the question of when it’s okay to talk about finding a solution to what feels very much like a cultural pandemic. Pain, sorrow, and a sense of helplessness permeate both sides of this debate, despite the characteristically divisive and insulting rhetoric — but as so many have brought up in past iterations of this debate, legislation shouldn’t be an emotional response, it should be a logic based one, and Friday’s addition to America’s growing list of school shootings offered some difficult to swallow perspective to both sides of the discussion.
None of the weapons bans proposed by the Left would have stopped the Sante Fe shooting.
After the use of “assault style” rifles in mass shootings in Las Vegas and Parkland, Florida in recent months, there has been a resurgence in calls for a ban on “assault rifles,” and in particular, AR-15 platforms. Those on on the gun control side of the debate have made it clear that they deem these rifles to be too dangerous for the hands of your average civilian, based on their similarity to weapons used in the United States military. However, gun rights advocates have long pointed out that an AR-15 is a relatively underpowered semi-automatic rifle when compared to other platforms available on the commercial market, and the only things differentiating it from magazine fed, semi-automatic hunting rifles are usually attachments, a pistol grip, and aesthetics. In terms of function, an “assault style” rifle doesn’t operate any differently than any other semi-automatic rifle, making a ban nothing more than a symbolic gesture with little chances of effecting the execution of any actual crimes.
Landing even further Left of those calling for an assault weapon ban, many others have called for a complete ban of all semi-automatic firearms, comparable to the practice put into place in Australia. Such a ban would eliminate all “assault style” weapons as well as most pistols and many forms of shotguns and hunting rifles.
But even that would not have stopped Pagourtzis from killing ten students and holding off police in a 15 minute fire fight because he didn’t have an assault rifle or even a semi-automatic weapon. He used a shotgun and a .38 revolver — meaning even if the United States had banded together to pass new restrictive laws that would eliminate most commercially available firearms from not only the market, but somehow from every gun owner’s household throughout the country, the shotgun and revolver Pagourtzis stole from his father would have remained, and his killing spree would have gone on none the less.
Resource officers and security guards couldn’t stop the blood shed either.
A common argument made by second amendment supporters is that more of these shootings could be prevented if there were dedicated security or resource officers on site in every school. In the wake of these shootings, it’s common to see memes shared on social media suggesting that an armed veteran at the door of every school in the country would finally make our schools safe again. During the shooting in Sante Fe on Friday, there was not just one, but two police officers on campus — and unlike in some previous incidents, those officers responded quickly to engage the shooter. Despite their best efforts and the quick thinking of a teacher to pull the fire alarm, Pagourtzis still managed to kill ten people and engage in a prolonged firefight with trained shooters.
In a gun fight, it doesn’t matter if the shooter is particularly adept at combat tactics or accurate, he only needs one opportunity with clear line of sight to kill a police officer, security guard, or armed teacher. As a result, trained officers were unable to quickly neutralize the suspect, suggesting that civilian security or an armed teacher would have done no better. This isn’t a slight against law enforcement, it’s the simple reality of a firefight: training doesn’t make you bulletproof, and even superior firepower in close quarters is no guarantee of victory or survival.
Magazine restrictions would have had no effect on the Sante Fe Shooting
Rolling back to the other side of the aisle, a growing trend in the United States has been to legislate magazine restrictions, limiting the capacity of ammunition a firearm can carry and as a result, forcing shooters to reload more regularly. Neither of the weapons used in the Santa Fe shooting were magazine fed, let alone high capacity weapons, and it’s likely that Pagourtzis had to reload numerous times during his attack to be able to kill ten and hold off police for as long as he did. Like blanket firearm bans, magazine restrictions would not have affected the shooter’s ability to carry out his attack, as the weapons he used were still within the confines of such laws passed in other states.
Further, even magazines restricted to seven rounds, as is common in states enacting these laws, would be much faster to reload than a .38 revolver. Shotguns, similarly, require more dexterity and time to reload than magazine fed weapons. In other words, Pagourtzis used two firearms that would be considerably slower to fire and reload than any magazine fed platform, even with capacity restrictions in place.
So what does that all mean?
In the days following such a tragic loss of life, Americans feel a call to action, a sense of urgency to do something, anything, to prevent another such incident from taking place. Through that justified fervor, however, comes a misplaced sense of being “right,” simply because our motives are pure. Gun rights advocates fortify their positions that they believe increased regulation would prevent them from using their legally purchased firearms. Gun control advocates go on the offensive once more, calling for knee-jerk bans and restrictions. The two sides do battle, and nothing changes.
This most recent shooting serves as evidence that partisan solutions born out of righteous indignation and a lack of compromise can’t solve America’s gun violence problem. We can’t simply ban this threat away, nor can we solve it by placing armed and trained security on every school campus but instead, the solutions must be pragmatic, well thought out, and likely broad in scope. One law about “scary” guns won’t fix it. One law about security in school won’t either – these are simple and seemingly satisfying “solutions” to a swath of complex social, political, and cultural problems — and any time we attempt to solve something complicated without endeavoring to understand it fully, we metaphorically, and perhaps even literally, shoot ourselves in the foot.
Gun violence in America doesn’t go away with the passing of an assault weapon ban, nor does it go away by placing a pile of weapons in the teacher’s lounge. There’s more to it than that, and the American people may need to climb out of their fighting holes on either side of this divide and actually talk to one another if anything is to change.
We can either pretend the problem is simple and pass simple laws to make ourselves feel better, or we can acknowledge that it’s complicated and endeavor to find real solutions.
The former makes for better memes, but the latter could save lives.
Image courtesy of the Associated Press