North Carolinians were horrified by not one but two school shootings earlier this month — at least I hope
The first was in Wilmington where a 15-year-old student at New Hanover High School was charged with attempted murder in the wounding of another student in his leg. Officials released few details because of the accused’s age, but his mother said the boy was new to the school and that his family had been concerned about his safety in the new setting. She said she had spoken to school administrators about those concerns.
Days later a student at Mount Tabor High School in Winston Salem was shot dead at the school, and a suspect, believed to have been a fellow student, was later apprehended.City and county authorities have been even less forthcoming with information about the second shooting in a single week, presumably because of the age of the person taken into custody.
At a time when students are just returning to classrooms after more than a year of COVID shutdowns, these shootings are shocking and deeply disturbing. Questions that pop up immediately include these.
Where did the guns involved come from and how did the shooters get their hands on them?
How did they get them into schools, supposedly safe places for learning, both academically and socially?
What should parents do when they fear their children are walking into unsafe situations when they are entrusted to others in charge of our schools?
These are questions to which there are answers, whether we like them
We may find that the shooters took licensed weapons from another person without permission. We may find they smuggled them into school in backpacks, somehow bypassing school resource officers or even metal detectors. We may find that schools have procedures for parents to voice concerns and channels to pursue if they feel administrators are not listening to them. Law enforcement officials across the nation are voicing concerns about young people and guns, among them North Carolina’s Attorney General Josh Stein. Stein has contacted Facebook regarding gun sales on its platforms, including Instagram, especially to underage buyers.
More difficult are the larger, less specific questions, these among them.
How did we become a nation whose culture embraces firearms, with all their attendant dangers and losses? How did we become a nation where my right to own a gun supersedes your right to be safe in my presence? How much more gun violence among both adults and children are we willing to tolerate?
When twenty 6- and 7-year-olds were gunned down nearly a decade ago at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, millions of Americans thought, “Surely, murdering kindergarteners will shock us into facing the magnitude of our gun violence problem, something no other developed nation on earth faces.”
But that did not happen.
The carnage, both small and large, continues in churches (Charleston, South Carolina), in concert venues (Las Vegas), in schools (far too numerous to enumerate), in businesses, in homes, on roadways and hiking trails. It happens to people of all ages, from infants to the elderly.
Name a place in the United States, and odds are that someone has been shot there — or will be.
Often the shooter is someone disaffected from his community and/or family, striking out at people he believes have wronged him somehow. Some times he is taking aim at strangers for reasons known only to himself.
Whatever the situation, it is increasingly apparent that Americans have lost our capacity to be shocked by violence — that the lives lost and the people who took them are now part of the wallpaper of our culture, even when they are too young to have their names made public.
My guess is we feel that way until it happens to someone we love.