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Last week, in Parkland, Fla. there was another mass shooting at a high school, which has caused a firestorm of debates about gun control. Unlike some other cases in the past, this shooting has illustrated a severe breakdown in just about every governmental and law enforcement system that could have (and should have) prevented this from happening.

First, we should address a problem with media coverage that remains in spite of expert advice. It is impossible to view coverage of this shooting without seeing at least a photo of the shooter. Psychological experts have repeatedly stated that at least part of the motivation behind these crimes is the spotlight, so the media is tempting future events simply by giving the perpetrators what they want – media attention. This applies even when the shooter commits suicide, because they die knowing that the media will make them famous in their last act.

While it is tempting to demand that our leaders “do something” in the aftermath of a tragedy like this, it’s also important to evaluate what actually happened. In this particular case, there are no new laws that would have prevented this attack, but existing laws and governmental systems could have prevented it if they hadn’t failed. The shooter’s threats to commit this crime were reported to the FBI, the school district was aware of his instability, and the family either should have seen signs of danger or should have been told by members of the community that there was a problem. While the weapon(s) the shooter acquired may have been purchased legally, there was good reason for the family to request that law enforcement remove them from the home.

Our nation does have more school shootings than any other nation in the world, and it is true that part of the reason is because our citizens also have the most weapons. However, comparisons absent other factors do not paint an accurate picture of the situation we are facing as a nation either. Our problem isn’t the fact that we guarantee the right of citizens to bear arms, but that we are comparing ourselves with nations that do not.

On the world stage, there is arguably only one nation we can accurately compare ourselves with when it comes to bearing arms – Israel. Many citizens in Israel not only own weapons, but also carry them on a daily basis. There is compulsory military service, so there is no question about whether or not any adults have attended gun safety courses. Teachers are regularly seen in the streets with automatic weapons, while guiding their students on school outings. While some citizens may not like guns and may choose not to carry one, they fully comprehend the fact that they are tools for public safety. Most importantly, in Israel, there is no such thing as a “gun-free zone.” This means that criminals – regardless of motivation – cannot choose targets where they can assume that they will not face armed individuals. As a result of this, Israel ends up on the list of countries where a mass shooting has occurred, but it is among nations where weapons are essentially banned. That is in spite of the fact that many citizens own and carry weapons every day, and in spite of the fact that Israel is not on a list of nations that miraculously doesn’t have citizens with mental health problems.

Of course, the primary difference between the U.S. and Israel is that they have a much larger problem with terrorism than we do. Mass shootings are not a common problem for them, but mass casualty attacks by other means are. However, that is a direct result of the geo-political factors for their region, nothing more. If they would suddenly broker peace in their region but continued to use weapons as they do today, mass shootings still would not happen any more frequently than they do now.

In the U.S., mass shootings do not occur where shooters know they could be faced with armed resistance. That is why schools, shopping malls and movie theaters are chosen as targets. Even one of the survivors from Parkland – a teacher with two children in the school – suggested on ABC’s This Week that having retired or off-duty law enforcement officers armed in schools might help. Her objection to armed teachers was based on her personal feelings about weapons, so maybe she would have conceded that would be a good idea if school personnel would be given proper training before being permitted to keep weapons on campus.

No matter what it is counter-productive to discuss enacting new laws when the current ones still aren’t being applied and enforced. At most, we do need to look at improving the technology we use for background checks, and we need to consolidate data from Federal to local levels. We also need to remember the simple fact that criminals and the criminally insane do not by definition abide by laws. Gun laws only restrict people who would use weapons as they are intended in society – as tools for public and personal safety. Also, we need to seriously rethink “gun-free zones” in the same way Israel would. They do not specify areas as vulnerable to criminal attack because citizens are forbidden from protecting themselves and others with weapons, and neither should we.

Image: By Marcus Quigmire from Florida, USA (Drug Free and Gun Free) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Liz Harrison

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