On May 19, at East Kentwood High School in Michigan, two people were shot in the school parking lot while a graduation ceremony was taking place in the school football stadium.
On May 17, a 7-year-old was “grazed” by a bullet when a gun in another kid’s backpack accidentally discharged.
On May 12, in Houston, a kid was shot and injured in the Heights High School parking lot.
On March 28, a teenager was shot and injured in the school parking lot of Oakdale Elementary School “during a fight over a gun on a teacher workday.”
On March 15, in the state of Washington, one student was killed and another was injured in a shooting that took place in the Eisenhower High School stadium parking lot.
On March 9, a kid was shot and injured when a weapon went off on a school basketball team bus in San Antonio. (The bus was carrying students from a Dallas high school.)
And so on.
It’s a sad and tragic list.
But are these the kinds of incidents you think of when you read a headline like this:
More than one school shooting a week in the US: “It’s hard to comprehend”
Sean Coogan, DR.dk, May 26
Or a lede like this:
The United States has experienced 27 school shootings so far this year. But there is no prospect of tighter gun laws.
For the record, the “27 school shootings so far this year” include each of the examples I listed, and many others like them. You can see all the details of each incident here.
This is a deliberate mixing up of data points.
It’s horrible when a kid is injured on a bus because another kid’s gun accidentally discharges, but is that a school shooting?
When gang violence takes place on a school parking lot, when kids aren’t even in the school, is it a school shooting?
How about a school bus driver being shot while three students were on the bus (as happened in Minneapolis on February 9)? Is that a “school shooting?”
Education Week, the people who maintain the school shootings list I linked to above, say yes.
That’s the same list NPR used for an article headlined “27 school shootings have taken place so far this year.”
Apparently that article was shared widely, even virally, on social media. That’s probably where DR picked it up: they seem to source at least half of their American coverage from social media. (Cuts down on travel costs, I suppose.)
It’s horrible when children die and it’s beyond horrible when they’re murdered. It’s abominable.
As a parent, I can’t imagine anything worse. If I had to choose between global thermonuclear war breaking out or one of my children being murdered in a senseless crime, I’d choose nukes every time.
Every single one of the 26 firearms incidents in and around schools or on school buses is a tragedy and a horror. Obviously.
But they’re not “school shootings” as most of us understand the term. We think Columbine. We think Sandy Hook. We think Parkland. We now also think Uvalde. We think of sick and broken punks going on a murderous rampage inside a school, killing as many kids as they can before their own inevitable death.
The NPR article, to its credit, at least acknowledges the parameters of Education Week’s database in the text of their article:
The organization tracks shootings where a firearm was discharged and where any person (other than the suspect) has a bullet wound resulting from the incident. Education Week also includes only incidents that happen on a K-12 school property or on a school bus and that occur when school is in session or during a school-sponsored event.
DR makes no such acknowledgement in their text. In fact, Coogan gives the opposite impression:
The massacre is the most deadly in over ten years. But it is far from unique that school children are shot in the United States.
Tuesday’s school shooting is the 27th of its kind in the United States.
To say Uvalde was the 27th event of its kind—this year!—is a grotesque misrepresentation. It’s also deliberate, unless Coogan and his editor or editors didn’t bother reading the NPR article they’re presumably leaning on for their data, or reviewing the database it’s based on.
And that’s not as unlikely as it ought to be: I’ve cited examples in the past of Danish media (and DR in particular) using viral social media headlines as the basis for entire articles. That may have been what happened here. So either DR is being deliberately inflammatory or they’re being grotesquely negligent, take your pick.
(And never ignore the power of and.)
From there, of course, the article follows a predictable template: America’s got a gun problem, Republicans don’t give a shit, Democrats really care, yada yada yada. Lillian Kretz makes a cameo to talk about the fear all American parents fear sending their kids off to school every day.
Nothing new in any of that.
But DR did surprise me: they ran another article about Uvalde a few days ago:
Danish mother in Texas: It’s not about weapons, but about a sick, young person
Thomas Prakash & Frederik Sundby-Lebech, DR.dk, May 25
The Danish mother in question is one Mikkeline Hicks, a Dane (and now also an American) who’s apparently lived in Texas for 17 years.
“This has nothing to do with weapons,” she tells DR, “it’s about a kid with problems who isn’t doing well and wants his 15 minutes of fame.”
(Unasked and unanswered, but very much to the point: What kind of problems? Not doing well in what way, and why? And what makes him think gunning down children will give him fifteen minutes of fame? I don’t have the answers, but I think those are certainly interesting and important questions that might lead to some valuable answers, or at least nudge us towards them.)
Hicks believes—rightly, in my opinion—that the problem in America isn’t about weapons, but culture: the sad, sick bullying from which, thanks to social media, kids can longer find any release. Teased all day in school, the teasing continues all afternoon and evening on social media and then resumes the next morning in school. That’s part of it, too. But again, more questions: why all the bullying? Do our children really need to be on social media before they even know who they are?
“There are simply so many unhappy children,” she says.
True. And we should ask: why?
She talks about the guns in her own home, and how her 14-year-old son wants a pistol for his next birthday and has been training on the range with his father, learning gun handling and safety.
DR asks: don’t you worry about having a gun lying around if one day you just go off the deep end and there it is?
And she answers:
“No, not if you are… And now I’ll say something that drives Danes crazy… if you’re a mother and father at home with your children and talk to them daily, and mom comes home and she always has time for a chat and if something’s driving you crazy then you know you can get to your mom or dad. Then I think it it’d be all right,” she says.
She’s not the only one thinking along these lines (although, bless her heart, I’d bet dollars to donuts she’s the only Dane articulating such ideas in the Danish press).
There is absolutely something rotten in America, and mass shootings are just one of its many symptoms.
America has spent most of the last fifty years dismantling or abandoning almost every social institution that engenders feelings of community and most of the last twenty or thirty years doing its best to divide rather than unite her citizens. In doing so she’s created a generation or two of absolutely alienated Americans. You dissolve the bonds that bind people together, what do you expect?
At times like this I not only don’t know what can be done to fix America, I actually wonder whether it can be fixed.
That’s just an emotional response, and it’ll pass, but the genuine problem is that there aren’t many signs America wants to be fixed. Not if “fixing” means getting back to a place where we actually acknowledge virtue and discourage vice. Where we even just acknowledge they exist. Where we hold up marriage and family as something sacred. Where the idea that children need and deserve two parents isn’t dismissed as hate speech. Where we focus on and emphasize and encourage the many things that unite us instead of divide us. Where instead of dividing ourselves into smaller and smaller subdivisions of race and ethnicity and origin and sexuality and god knows what else, we actively work against such division. Where we begin as a nation, as a people, a process of dehyphenation: getting rid of concepts like “African-Americans,” “Latino-Americans,” “Asian-Americans,” “Arab-Americans,” “the LGBQT community,” “the trans community,” —”Jewish Americans,” “Catholic Americans,” “Muslim Americans”—throw them all out. (Not the people themselves, idiot: the labeling.)
America is a nation of 330 million gloriously unique individuals of every color, sex, and creed. All with the same exact rights. And all with the same label: American.
That’s how it’s supposed to work, after all. That’s the theory of America. It’s on her freaking birth certificate! And yet half the country, maybe more than half, are working in exactly the opposite direction. They’re working, presumably with the best intentions, on getting everyone into a little box. I don’t know why that’s supposed to help, it’s never made sense to me, but I suppose the idea is that by identifying what box you belong to, the rest of us can treat you as your box entitles you to be treated: I’m not Greg Nagan, to be judged on my own individual merits and deficiencies: I’m a white cis-hetero agnostic of European descent. Everything I say and do must be interpreted and judged through that lens. Some would even argue—and do argue, loudly—that those labels ought to control what I’m allowed to say and do.
The intentions may be good, but the consequences are terrible. It goes against everything America’s supposed to be.
Yes, yes, we all understand that America hasn’t always lived up to its ideals. They doesn’t mean you throw out the ideals, dummy: it means you double down on making the country live up to them.
We don’t have a gun problem: we have an America problem.
And things aren’t going to turn around until we face up to it.