I don’t know that there’s any moral to this story, only a beginning and maybe the hint of an end. To the extent there is one, it’s probably that you’d best not shoot up a building full of high school students. It turns out they don’t much like it. Or at least the students at Florida’s Stoneman Douglas didn’t. Two weeks out from this year’s infamous Valentine’s Day shooting — which left 17 dead and many others wounded — and these kids still won’t shut up about it.
The way they’re acting, you’d think they were the only ones to be lit up by an angry whack job armed with an AR-15.
Get over it.
Apparently, the students at Stoneman Douglas have other ideas. They have stubbornly refused to go quietly into anyone’s good night. For starters, they have successfully defied the attention-deficit-disordered confines of traditional news cycles. By now, the story should have died. Yet we’re still talking about it.
More than that, they’ve done the impossible: They’ve made Wayne La Pierre and the National Rifle Association (NRA) squirm. They’ve targeted companies doing business with the NRA with economic boycott, and it’s working. Hotels, airlines, and rent-a-car companies that have long offered rate breaks to NRA members are now having second thoughts.
For as long as anyone can remember, the universe has been ruled by gravity, friction, fear, and inertia. And the NRA. When 20 1st and 2nd graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School — not to mention six teachers — got ventilated in 2012, the NRA weathered that storm with barely a ripple. Likewise when 58 country-music lovers suddenly met their maker during a fatal fusillade in Las Vegas last October 1. Like the Sandy Hook victims, they were overwhelmingly white. But the inalienable privilege of whiteness hasn’t much mattered when it’s come to the rights of lone gunmen wanting to go out with a bang. The only lasting legacy of that carnage, it seems, is a class-action lawsuit just filed by some of the 22,000 surviving concertgoers demanding a refund on their tickets, which cost more than $250 a pop.
The number 58 should astonish. But it tells only a tiny fraction of the toll. It turns out 851 injured people in Vegas required hospitalization. Of those, 422 — more than half — sustained gunshot wounds. Not all gunshot wounds, by the way, are equal. A high-velocity bullet — such as the ones fired by an AR-15 — travels through your body with all the finesse and delicacy of a high-speed oil tanker; what the bullet doesn’t destroy, the force of its wake will. In Vegas, the shooter managed to fire off more than 1,100 rounds.
I’m no expert on guns or gun-control laws. Last time I went shooting, I was 13. Some friends and I got stoned out of our minds, armed ourselves with shotguns, and walked — like the pack of pseudo-desperados we wanted to think we were — the backcountry roads of then-rural Frederick, Maryland. We blasted off rounds at will. It was loud; it was cool. Eddie Eagle might have cringed, but no one got hurt except a bird I happened to shoot for no real reason out of the sky. Fast-forward a few decades, when I thought I might make a few bucks on the side working as a pedicab driver here in Santa Barbara. I remember having to stand in line at the Santa Barbara Police Department, waiting to get fingerprinted and photographed. To pedal a cab, the Department of Justice had to run a background check on me. They wanted to make sure I wasn’t a predator. It took them a few weeks, but it turns out I wasn’t. I think about that process every time there’s another shooting. How many of those shooters would have passed the pedicab test?
In Santa Barbara, the good news is that our creepy kids — or at least the ones now causing trouble at San Marcos High School — send out threatening chat-room videos that show the creepy things they’d like to do to girls using a musket and bayonet. Sick stuff. But a musket takes a lot of time to load. You get one shot off and then have to load again. If you’re really efficient, you can get off three rounds in a minute. AR-15s are not so leisurely. Santa Barbara County, you should know, reportedly leads all 58 California counties in terms of seizing guns from people deemed mentally unstable via something known as a gun-violence restraining order. In the past few years, law enforcement has seized a couple hundred automatic and semiautomatic weapons.
Republican leadership is blaming the FBI and police for failing to do their jobs, and of course, they did. Such failures, however, are inevitable. People have a tendency to screw up when confronting someone firing liquid lead at them. They’re blaming the mentally ill, as well. If only it were so simple. Are the creepy kids at San Marcos mentally ill? Or something else? Maybe the real question is — as Santa Barbara County Undersheriff Bernard Melekian put it — “How and when should government intervene in the lives of the strange?” There has to be a line, Melekian said, between “arresting people and doing nothing.” By the time we figure that out, the number of AR-15s in circulation will have doubled from 10 million to 20 million. After the first Valentine’s Day Massacre — back in 1929, when seven Chicago mobsters got machine gunned to death — the federal government saw fit to effectively outlaw Tommy guns by taxing them into extinction. In the meantime, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Virginia just upheld a Maryland law banning 45 types of assault weapons. The Second Amendment protections, the judges ruled, don’t apply to “weapons of war.”
In the meantime, I better find out if my pedicab license has lapsed.