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Editorial: No words are sufficient for school tragedy, but partial answers implemented together may do some good
Texas school shooting
A family pays their respects next to crosses bearing the names of Tuesday's shooting victims at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Thursday, May 26, 2022. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

There are 26 letters in the English alphabet. 

No selected combinations of those 26 letters, no juxtaposition of their order, no editing or arranging of syllables, is sufficient to convey the pain and suffering and loss and bewilderment associated with a mass shooting of elementary school students.

None. Words are just not sufficient. 

Senseless. Tragic. Evil. Sick. Heartbreaking. Soul crushing. All of those choices and many more apply, but none are sufficient.

Sadly, another word applies as well, one we’ve become too willing to accept.

Repetitive.

It keeps happening. We keep throwing words at the problem, and it keeps happening.

As a nation, are we truly so impotent as to accept as unavoidable the sort of mass shootings in our nation’s schools that have claimed the lives of 175 children and adults since 2008? The evidence would indicate such is the case.

After every such event there is ample finger pointing – the guns are to blame, society is to blame, mental health is to blame, lawlessness is to blame, godlessness is to blame, evil is to blame. Take your pick, choose a side, let the debate begin anew and throw more words at the problem.

But one thing is for certain. The 19 children and two adults killed at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday weren’t to blame. And during the 40 minutes of gunfire that terrorized everyone inside that supposedly secure school building, words provided no cover to prevent children from being killed.

At one extreme, the anti-gun forces want to blame each subsequent school tragedy on inanimate hunks of metal and look quixotically for ways to remove them from the world, believing that doing so would result in a fantasy land of love and peace.

At the other extreme, the pro-gun forces want to believe, in spite of evidence to the contrary, that the guns that fire the bullets aren’t really the cause of death and that doing anything about their existence would fracture forever the foundation upon which the country sits.

Somewhere in the middle there has to be an answer with which the children can live. But it’s clear at this point that no one seems really serious about finding it, because we’ve obviously had plenty of opportunities to do so and have failed.

Columbine. Sandy Hook. Parkland. Uvalde.

More words, each dripping with blood and emotion and pain and fear and anger and death.

Are we going to do something this time? 

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This opinion piece is developed by Times leadership, including General Manager Norman Baggs and Editor in Chief Shannon Casas, to address issues that matter to our local readers and foster healthy debate and discussion on those issues. All local readers are welcome to respond with letters to the editor of 500 words or less emailed to letters@gainesvilletimes.com. Please include your name and city of residence. The Times also has an advisory panel that meets monthly. Anyone interested in joining the panel can apply by emailing the following to letters@gainesvilletimes.com: 

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It would be naïve to think there is a single, simple solution to the problem. There isn’t. But it’s beyond time to try some partial answers that, when implemented together, may help prevent such tragedies in the future.

We’ve got to get beyond the “slippery slope” fears and consider that we possibly can restrict access to certain types of weaponry without doing permanent damage to the Second Amendment. We don’t authorize everyone who drives a car to also drive a tractor-trailer; neither should we expect everyone proficient with a single-shot .22 to be eligible to own a semi-automatic rifle with 30 rounds in the clip.

We have to remember that the need to “insure domestic tranquility” and “promote the general welfare” are as much a part of the Constitution as is the right to bear arms. 

At the same time, we’ve got to get past the issue of guns and their availability and deal more with the problems of people, the sort of issues that would lead an 18-year-old to go on a planned rampage to kill as many random people as possibly. The gun is dangerous because of the person holding it. 

One of the steps being taken in some states is the passage of “red flag” or “extreme risk” laws, which allow the courts to remove access to guns for those who may pose an immediate danger to themselves and others. The laws vary from state to state, but in general allow family members or law enforcement to take concerns about the mental state of an individual to court and empowers the courts to temporarily remove access to guns for that individual.

About 19 states have some form of such a law in place now, and there is talk about the possibility of some sort of national “red flag” legislation. In those states where versions of the law now exist, there frequently has been bipartisan support for passage, which may increase the possibility of action on the federal front.

In states where no such laws exist, there often is little that can be done to keep someone showing signs of being a danger to themselves or others from buying or accessing guns. In such cases, law enforcement may be aware of a potential problem, but without authority to do anything about it. 

Yes, such laws have the potential to be misused. There is potential for a loss of personal freedom. There is a potential for judicial abuse. But there also is the potential for saving lives. We won’t know whether passage of a federal red flag law makes sense until we can see details, but the topic is certainly one worthy of discussion and may potentially result in some words that do some good.