“Childhood,” said the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, “is the kingdom where nobody dies.”
In this country, childhood is something we no longer value.
As of this writing, 17 people are dead at a high school in Broward County, Florida. The shooter used an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon. Its manufacturer’s sales reps call it “America’s rifle.”
They have a point. It is an immensely popular weapon. As an NBC News report explains, Americans own an estimated 15 million AR-15s. One in five guns sold in the United States is an AR-15-style weapon. As of December 17 of last year, there were more than 1.7 million images uploaded to Instagram with the #ar15 hashtag.
AR15s are designed for mass killing, firing bullets at high speed to inflict maximum damage. As a doctor (and AR-15 owner) tells NBC: “The higher muzzle-velocity projectiles, if they strike an organ, you’re much more likely to have severe bleeding and dying …”
One of the weapon’ designers called it “maximum wound effect.” It’s a one-way ticket out of childhood’s kingdom.
That Terrible Day
“Today,” tweeted Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, “is that terrible day you pray never comes.’
But Rubio and his fellow Republicans brought this day around with their opposition to common-sense gun control legislation. Rubio has accepted millions from the gun industry, and said today that the shooting was “inexplicable.”
Rubio is living proof of Upton Sinclair’s observation that “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”
Except that it is his political contributions, not his salary, that are at stake. And Sinclair was speaking about ordinary corruption, not the kind that kills children.
Remember Sandy Hook
Wall Street Journal reporter Ted Mann described the scene in a Connecticut firehouse, when parents of Sandy Hook kindergartners learned they would not be seeing their children alive again:
“The governor walked into the center of the room, and began speaking so softly, Mr. Occhiogrosso said, that one man called out to ask him to raise his voice.
“If you haven’t been reunited with your loved one by now,” Mr. Malloy said, “that is not going to happen.”
The room exploded in wailing and tears, the officials said. Mr. McKinney, who had waited outside the door when Mr. Malloy went in to deliver the news, heard the cries from the hallway.
Mann recalled those words today, writing on Twitter:
“Every time this happens now, I think of John McKinney, standing alone in the firehouse hallway at Sandy Hook, hearing the wail go up as the governor broke the news. And then the same thing happening, in some other town, over and over again.”
Again and again. Twenty children died at Sandy Hook, along with six adults. We did nothing about it.
18 and counting
The Florida shooting was the 30th mass shooting, and the 18th to take place in a school, so far in 2018 – a year that is only seven weeks old. That means there’s a school shooting in this this country every 2.5 days.
Four people have been killed, and twenty injured so far in schools this year. Here are shootings this year that have caused injury or death:
- 14: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. (17 people killed)
- 5: Oxon Hill High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland (1 student injured)
- 1: Salvador Castro Middle School in Los Angeles, California. (2 students shot)
- 23: Marshall County High School in in Benton, Kentucky (2 students killed, 18 injured)
- 22: NET Charter High School in New Orleans, Louisiana (1 student injured)
- 22: Italy High School in Italy, Texas (1 student injured)
- 10: Coronado Elementary School in Sierra Vista, Arizona (1 student killed)
With today’s news, this year’s death toll from school shootings now stands at 21. Thoughts and prayers won’t bring them back, or save the next ones to die.
Why shootings happen
We know why mass shootings happen. “The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America,” as the New York Times explains, “is its astronomical number of guns.”
My mother died last Friday. Death leaves an ache in the heart. But she was 94 years old. She lived at full life. The death of children, even ones we’ve never met, leaves a different ache. It’s the ache of unfulfilled hopes, of lives that will never be lived. It’s the faint echo of a parent’s grief, a grief that’s beyond understanding to anyone who hasn’t experienced it.
When we reached adulthood, each of us made an unspoken promise to the children of this country. We said we would protect them, support them, help them lead beautiful lives. Today, once again, that promise has been broken.
America’s rifle. America’s promise. And America’s childhood, a kingdom we’ve surrendered for no good reason at all.