America’s latest school slaughter
A teenager kills seventeen schoolchildren in Florida
A 19-YEAR-OLD man wearing a gas mask and toting an assault rifle rampaged through his former school in Florida on February 14th, killing 17 pupils. Local television stations reported that the slaughter at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High appeared to be the worst mass murder in the history of Broward County, an affluent area north of Miami.
As that might suggest, America is running out of superlatives to describe its frequent gun massacres. The killing in Florida, whose perpetrator, Nicholas Cruz, was later arrested, was a bad one. It was America’s deadliest school shooting in five years—since a man killed 20 children, six adults and himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School, in Connecticut. Then again, looked at another way, it was merely America’s 18th school shooting this year. By the reckoning of the Gun Violence Archive, the killing in Florida was the country’s 1,607th mass shooting since Sandy Hook. In other words, America has had more than one mass shooting every day since then, costing 1,846 lives. (The database includes mass woundings in its count, which is why the numbers of mass shootings and killings are roughly even.)
The deadening prevalence of America’s gun violence is one reason journalists struggle to make original headlines of it. The previous worst school shooting this year, a rampage by a 15-year-old gunman in Kentucky, which killed two children and wounded 14, only briefly made national news. The other reason is that there is no real prospect of an end to the violence.
The superintendent of Broward County’s public schools, Robert Runcie, appeared to blame the killing on the poor state of Americans’ mental health. “What I’ll tell you is that mental health issues in this country are growing and it’s a challenge.” That is an explanation favoured on the American right. It does not take account of the fact that the toll of gun violence in other rich countries, with comparable health indicators, is negligible by comparison. America’s gun-related murder rate is 25 times higher than a group of 22 other developed countries, according to the American Journal of Medicine. This is mainly because America has so many more guns than those other countries. It has less than 5% of the world’s population and almost half of the world’s civilian-owned firearms.
Not convinced of a connection there? There is more. States with the most restrictive gun laws in America, such as Illinois, tend to have the lowest rates of gun homicide. Florida, where more than 1.4m people have licenses to carry concealed weapons, has some of the laxest gun laws. To buy an AR-15 rifle, the model used by Mr Cruz, which is based on the M-16 assault rifle, requires a background check so cursory the authorities almost might as well not bother. It takes a few minutes. And if you happen to be on the FBI’s terrorist watch-list at the time, no problem.
In response to this latest, wholly predictably, almost habitual, tragedy, President Donald Trump tweeted his “prayers and condolences”. He added: “No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.” That is true. And if he would like to make them safer, he knows what to do. He simply needs to demand the stricter gun controls Republicans recoil from but which, back in his Democratic years, Mr Trump used to favour.