Feb. 14, a day widely synonymous with love, was instead filled with sorrow as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz opened fire with a semi-automatic rifle on his former classmates at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. He killed 17 people and injured another 14, according to The New York Times.
This type of incident has become all too common in schools, churches, theaters and so many other public spaces across the country.
In the classroom alone, five firearm attacks resulting in injury and, or death have occurred during school hours since 2018 began, according to Snopes. Another two have occurred on school property, but not during regular business hours, with both ending in several injuries and one death.
The Parkland shooting is the third worst school shooting in U.S. history after Virginia Tech in 2007, with 32 deaths and Sandy Hook in 2012 with 27 deaths, the BBC reports. It is the seventh deadliest mass shooting since 1991.
Such rapid occurrence leaves many in search of an explanation, as well as a solution, with little to no agreement across the board. People generally try to dissect either the perpetrator’s mental state or their accessibility to such weapons. Those against increased restrictions on gun ownership often focus on the former and those for further regulations clearly choose the latter.
According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 46 percent of Americans reported they are unhappy with current gun laws and want stricter policies, whereas 39 percent stated they are content with the existing requirements. The remaining 8 percent was also unhappy but instead desired laxer guidelines.
In the wake of the Parkland shooting, many of the survivors have demanded the government step-up and start enacting laws that prevent more of these attacks from happening rather than aiding them.
President Donald Trump also demanded more from his government, specifically the FBI, in a tweet, writing “Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.”
Trump even placed some of the blame on Nikolas Cruz’s neighbors and classmates in a separate tweet for failing to report his “bad and erratic behavior” to authorities, labeling Cruz as “mentally disturbed.”
Trump, like many Americans, fails to recognize the common denominator in these types of situations — guns.
While mental illness may play a role in a shooter’s decision to commit a crime, it is not solely the mechanism responsible for murdering people. The firearm is not directly responsible, but a person’s access to it is, and in America, that access is substantial because these weapons are so prevalent.
According to a Washington Post article, there are currently more guns in the U.S. than residents — roughly 40 million more, excluding those which are purchased or manufactured illegally.
To suggest the reason so many individuals are being killed senselessly across the country is because of mental illness — a term which encompasses a myriad of different diagnoses — is incredibly insulting those who suffer from conditions like depression or anxiety. It also furthers the stigma attached to these ailments and people’s reluctance to get them treated.
Mental illness is too broad of a term and it should not be thrown around so lightly, especially when 9.8 million Americans diagnosed with some sort of illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
I am not negating the fact that the mental healthcare system in this country needs serious attention, but even if it was perfect, I still believe gun violence would be a major issue plaguing the U.S.
If these types of disorders are the root cause of mass shootings, then why aren’t such incidents also occurring in similar countries at the same volume?
The BBC reports the U.S. currently has the most deaths by shooters in the developed world, which encompasses countries like Canada, England and Australia.
When will we start placing the value of a human life above a piece of machinery? If we don’t, we will never change and the causalities will only rise.
There is absolutely no reason any average civilian needs an assault rifle or a semi-automatic gun.
Olivia Heersink can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @oliviaheersink