It has been nearly a year since the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. As families mourned and the nation stood appalled, the ongoing gun debate sparked up again. Politicians both in D.C. and across state capitals argued while citizens took to social media to tell everyone their opinion. Has the Second Amendment, giving citizens the right to keep and bear arms, become outdated? Will Congress keep schools safe or keep our constitutional rights, or are both possible? While the debate continues, all the evidence needs to be taken into account. It is easy to look at the numbers from Parkland or Sandy Hook Elementary and make a quick judgement, but what about the incidents that the news does not cover. What should schools do in the meanwhile to prevent a tragedy or limit the damage? What is the purpose of the Second Amendment and is it still relevant today? There are a multitude of questions for this heavy topic, and a lot of arguable answers.
The Second Amendment states that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” When the United States was still a young nation forming its government, many were worried that the federal government might use the military to oppress the people. Wanting to prevent another tyrannical government, they established the Second Amendment so the people could keep their freedom. Much has changed since the 1790s though; on the whole, Americans do not fear the government will use the military against the people. Even if this happened, the citizens’ army, consisting mostly of handguns, shotguns, and a limited amount of more powerful firearms, would stand no chance against military grade weapons and tactics. Citizens are not expected to form any militias today, but still keep guns for self-defense, hunting, and recreational activities.
Some argue the Second Amendment is outdated, but in the recent landmark case District of Columbia v Heller in 2008, the Supreme Court voted 5-4 that guaranteed citizens had the right to possess firearms to form a militia as well as for lawful purposes. The term citizens does not mean just any American, as there are steps to purchasing a gun. Interested buyers have to complete a federal background check provided by the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms, verified by the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. Questions include whether the person has been convicted of a felony or domestic abuse, uses drugs, or if a person was dishonorably discharged from the military. One could lie on a question, but getting caught results in a prison sentence up to 10 years as well as a $250,000 fine. On top of the basic federal requirement, states have added their own checks and may not acknowledge certain permits. Arguments about the Second Amendment’s relevancy will not stop anytime soon.
Everyone wants schools to be safe, but people have not been able to agree upon a solution. News reports vary, and it is rather vague what the numbers are regarding school shootings. National Public Radio researched this and found that even the government is inaccurate: “This spring the U.S. Education Department reported that in the 2015-2016 school year, ‘nearly 240 schools … reported at least 1 incident involving a school-related shooting’ . . . But NPR reached out to every one of those schools repeatedly over the course of three months and found that more than two-thirds of these reported incidents never happened. . . We were able to confirm just 11 reported incidents, either directly with schools or through media reports.” (NPR, “Shootings That Weren’t”) People want a solution, but one cannot be found with inaccurate numbers.
Recently, the Navy Postgraduate School compiled a database of every time a gun was fired, wielded, or a bullet landed on school property at a K-12 school since 1970. There have been 1,342 total instances from 1970 to today, with the most incidents occurring in California, Texas, and Florida respectively. However, in about 330 of those incidents, the shooting was accidental, suicidal, or involved an officer, and it can be said they did not intend to harm others. About 300 times, the shooter’s age was unknown, but from known ages, over 600 times the shooter was under 18. The federal minimum age to possess a firearm is 18, and even 21 in some states, but kids still managed to get their hands on a gun. This means kids either stole it from their parents, or bought one illegally. Even in states like California, where gun laws are some of the strictest, a shooter still managed to unlawfully obtain one. People who are crazy and determined enough will stop at nothing to accomplish a task. The Department of Justice found that out of over 280,000 prisoners carrying a firearm during a crime, more than half of them obtained the gun illegally. While law abiding citizens would follow any gun bans, criminals would still find a way get a weapon. Shootings at schools have been a problem for decades and will continue to be so until a solution is brought forth.
While TPSers typically do not have to worry about a school shooting happening in their classroom, these issues directly affect students attending traditional schools. Many of us have friends or acquaintances within the school system, and many of us will go on to colleges where school safety issues are relevant. Thus, these issues directly or indirectly affect all of us, and it can be difficult to know how to respond on a personal level.
Practically, there is no solution right now that will stop all school shootings, but actions can still be taken to limit the number of incidents and casualties. Schools can practice active-shooter drills, which will reduce the number of unprotected kids. Many have suggested adding questions to the background check, such as verifying one’s mental health. On an individual level, students should report anyone acting suspicious, as well as avoid trying to aggravate others or treat them unkindly.
Spiritually, we can be comforted by verses such as 1 John 4:4: “Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.” The world is a broken place, and the evil that is all around us can be discouraging and overwhelming. But as Christians, we know that God can use even these terrible situations to draw people to Himself. God’s light can shine even brighter in the darkest of times. Further, Matthew 10:28 says this: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” We must leave judgement to God, since He is the only one who knows the heart of man and is able to mete out true justice. But at the same time, we do not need to be afraid of the evil in this world, since this is not our ultimate home. If we know that and remain faithful, we can cling to the hope that we have, knowing that God can use even tragedies to help people seek Him.