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Ron Martz: Debate over firearms sticks to the extremes
Hard-line positions fail to consider other causes for shootings or seek real solutions
Students from Montgomery County, Md., in suburban Washington, rally Feb. 21 in solidarity with those affected by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, at the Capitol in Washington. (J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press, file)

The levels of anger and hysteria over gun control emanating from both sides in the wake of the Feb. 14 Parkland, Fla., shootings is not surprising.

What is surprising, and even more disheartening, is how little rational discussion is coming from supposedly intelligent people on both sides of what already was a highly contentious issue.

If the anti-gun control crowd thinks they are going to be able to hold onto the belief that no gun control is good gun control, they are mistaken.

If the anti-gun crowd thinks that the only way to accomplish substantive reform is draconian government control of guns, they, too, are mistaken.

Yet much of what we have seen and heard since the murder of 17 students is little more than irrational internet invective, meaningless memes or useless efforts to find a single-source cause of the tragedy.

Nikolas Cruz ultimately is responsible for the lives he took and the lives he scarred. There is no excuse for his behavior and no way to rationalize it.

But it is important for us as a society to understand how and why he got to that point, so that we might be better able to stop future Nikolas Cruzes. However, that seems to be rather low on everyone’s agenda at the moment.

It has become clear in the weeks since the shootings that there were numerous underlying factors at work here. While not directly responsible, those factors may actually have aided and abetted Cruz’s rage and increased the death toll.

In examining these complex issues, though, we see shameless partisan political posturing such as the following:

A Republican member of Congress from New York claimed that “many” of the mass shootings are done by Democrats, when there is absolutely no evidence to substantiate that.

A former journalism colleague posted a blog on a religious site with a photo of National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre under the headline, “The face of evil.”

The writer then tried to justify his assignation by claiming St. Augustine thought of “evil as the absence of good” and that the NRA is the personification of the absence of good. What St. Augustine actually said was that God, “being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works.”

n The anti-gun lobbying group Everytown for Gun Safety posted on its website within hours of the Parkland shooting that this was the 18th school shooting in the country this year. 

The Washington Post rightly pointed out that the data used to compile that number were so dishonestly manipulated as to be useless and that just five of the 18 so-called “school shootings” actually happened during school hours and resulted in injury.

Hardened, irrational positions steeped in hard-core political ideology such as these do nothing to advance the search for meaningful solutions.

Many on the anti-gun side say this is solely a gun issue. That argument is intellectually dishonest and avoids addressing more complex issues.

The same is true with making the NRA the single-source bogeyman. Sure, the NRA is a large and inviting target because of its money and political influence. But to say the NRA is the primary reason Cruz killed 17 young people uses much the same misguided logic as those who blame Islam every time one of its followers commits an act of terrorism.

If these shootings are to be curtailed, we must make a sincere effort to determine whether they are a result of a flaw in our culture, our national psyche or our laws.

The rage of Nikolas Cruz seems to have had many causes, and all of them need to be addressed, because dealing with only one or a few will not adequately solve the problem.

There is the issue of a mentally unstable young man being able to stockpile numerous weapons and large amounts of ammunition.

There is the issue of law enforcement in both the Broward County Sheriff’s Department and the FBI failing adequately to take action despite repeated reports about Cruz’s erratic and threatening behavior.

There is the issue of the school resource officer and Broward County Sheriff’s deputies failing to do their due diligence once the shooting started.

There is the issue of hardening security at public schools, much as we do at airports, government buildings and courthouses, with numerous exits but a single entry with metal detectors and guards to screen everyone who enters.

Arming teachers is not the answer because how are law enforcement officials responding to a school shooting supposed to tell the active shooter from the teachers with guns. Besides, teachers have too much to deal with already.

There also is the issue of tighter background checks for all gun buyers and restrictions on just what sorts of weapons certain people can buy.

Then, there is an issue that appeared in a few news stories shortly after the Parkland shooting, but has since disappeared: bullying. 

There were several early reports that Cruz had been a victim of bullying at the school because of his “odd behavior” since middle school, and had gone from being the bullied to being the bully as he developed a fascination with weapons.

The Miami Herald described Parkland High School as “graduating top-notch students and athletes who grow up in dignified affluence far removed from the gritty urban sprawl of Miami. Many live in vast gated communities enveloped by horse pastures and pristine nature trails.”

It went on to report that Cruz “was mocked and ridiculed for his odd behavior, according to interviews with close family friends, students and recently released police and mental health reports.”

This is exactly the kind of school where someone who looks “different” or acts “differently,” as did Cruz, becomes a magnet for bullies.

As the father of two children who were mercilessly bullied at schools similar to Parkland and who were disciplined when they fought back (the bullies were never disciplined), I know the long-term psychological impact that bullies can wreak on those who are considered “different” or “strange” by the cool, rich kids.

So before we confer sainthood on the students of Parkland, one of the complex issues that needs to be looked at is the fact that Cruz was bullied. How much? How often? By whom? And what role did it play in his decision to kill former fellow students?

Several Parkland students admitted to seeing the bullying and doing nothing.

This is not in any way meant to excuse or rationalize what he did, but it may be perhaps the most important contributing factor.

Solutions are out there and do not involve keeping things as they are now, confiscating people’s guns or gutting the Second Amendment.

These solutions are not being discussed, however, in any meaningful way.

Instead, we are hearing emotion in place of logic and political grandstanding in place of honest efforts to make the difficult, but necessary, changes with which we all can live.

Ron Martz is Marine Corps veteran (1965-68), journalist and former educator. He lives in Northeast Georgia. His commentaries appear monthly.

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