Care: America’s Troubles with School Shootings
By: Noah White
On Monday, October 24th, a gunman opened fire within Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis, Missouri. The gunman, Orlando Harris, was a former student of the school experiencing what has been speculated by the St. Louis Police Department to be mental health difficulties. The police response was rapid, with the shooter being shot only 14 minutes after an active shooter report was sent, something that should be applauded in the wake of the poor execution by Uvalde police at Robb Elementary in May. Aside from this information, how much more detail could the general public truly provide about what occurred in St. Louis? As America continues to experience an unprecedented rate of school attacks, media coverage and political action have become formulaic. In the next few minutes, we will tackle two questions: "Does America not care enough about its school safety, to the extent it’s become a normal piece of the news?" and, "What can be done to truly make us care and change?"
I was prompted to look into this issue when, this past week, I noticed a banner jump onto the top of my phone’s screen, stating that Harris (the shooter) had his weapon confiscated prior to the shooting, yet he had still managed to recover the weapon in order to stage his attack. Later that day, I tried to go back through CNN’s site in order to find the article again, but found extreme difficulty in recovering any information relating to the shooting, even though it had occurred only 4 days before and was clearly still a developing story. This remained consistent across a variety of other news sites, leading to the question of why such a tragic event wasn’t being reported on as much as an athletic-wear company dropping a partnership with a dangerously-chaotic rapper, among other topics. Had we truly normalized such violent outbursts?
Officers outside of CVPAHS in St. Louis, shortly after the soothing
I decided to dive even further and examine how the major news sites have reported on previous school shootings in the U.S. It was not challenging to find options to review. America has had 40 in 2022 (Education Week), the most in a single year in recorded history, with two months to go. I examined a base of 15 different shootings since 2018 and found that in 11 of the examined cases, news reporting essentially halted within a week thereafter. The four cases that featured articles being published by major sites (CNN, Fox, NBC, TIME, US News, AP) after that one-week time period were Santa Fe (2018), Parkland (2018), Oxford, MI (2021), and Uvalde (2022). These cases all had some of the largest death tolls of school shootings in American history, not to mention some including false testimonies by officers or school officials. Naturally, these would get some later attention as they call for many more court appearances and, therefore, more attention-grabbing quotes. Other than these few cases, within the last 5 years, school shootings have disappeared from the news in a short time.
With knowledge of the lack of news coverage of developing school shooting stories, I was beginning to form a thesis: Americans don’t really care about the dangers students face in going to school every day. With each shooting that occurs, the amount of coverage continues to get smaller and smaller. Americans have become accustomed to this issue to the extent that it becomes unimportant in the news cycle, an extremely dangerous attitude. This lack of care and focus on such a large problem is something I only further found present when examining government action in response to these shootings.
Accompanying almost every mass shooting of the past five years have been congressmen's promises to bring forth new gun legislation. Until this past summer's passing of some larger restrictions in the wake of the Uvalde events, something I’ll touch on shortly, there had been relatively no large-scale action on those promises. Another manifestation of America's careless cycle. These government officials claim that it wouldn’t be possible to pass any such bill (and therefore they should not make much of an effort). Within 24 hours of Uvalde’s events, South Carolina senator Lindsey Graham stated in reference to proposed gun legislation that "None of these things we’re talking about seems to change the outcome,"(New York Times). He later described how he, along with other conservative senators, would likely vote "no" on any legislation at the time. Another senator, Bill Hagerty of Tennessee, claimed that, "using this [Uvalde] horror to infringe upon the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens... is not a solution that will make us safer,"(New York Times). These congressmen, along with a variety of others, continue to produce reasons for why gun legislation isn’t necessary, ultimately dancing around the issue at hand.
Gun-law reform activists outside of the Capital
As previously noted, in June, a bill was passed that carried the intention of preventing dangerous people from purchasing firearms and helped to invest more in the U.S. mental health system, two changes that should have assisted with what occurred in St. Louis. This was a step in the correct direction after politicians had been gridlocked for years, but we shouldn’t have had to wait so long for a bill that ultimately was diluted to minimal effect. Now, I will preface by saying that I understand that politics doesn’t ever consist purely of doing the correct thing. However, party obligations and catering to a congressman's vote should not be the disabling factors in voting ‘yes’ to bills which pose such limited action as raising gun-purchase requirements. Many government officials continue to present how their own agendas take precedence over gun action wanted by over 71% of the public (UChicago and AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research). In the end, politicians are only a small portion of Americans who don’t express an appropriate amount of care for the American school shooting crisis but have the largest sway in any adjustments for the future. Their inaction is telling.
After having been unable to find an article that I was only limitedly interested in (I myself am not excluded from this present lack of care for this issue), I have determined the answer to the first question I posed: We truly don’t care enough. As we continue to experience crisis after crisis, we have developed a formula to respond to it. In the first days after another tragic event, major news outlets will provide detailed coverage, public protests will be staged, and government officials will "prepare" gun legislation. This formula works so well because it only lasts for a few days. Once the immediate reaction wears off, we sit back down, content with the "progress" we made. The answer to my second question is not nearly as clear as that of the first. We must exemplify a level of dedication to this problem. Our current tactic consists of a mask. We put together a repetitive act. We must adjust. Our news platforms must provide real information on this crisis as it arrives, lasting longer than a single week, allowing for the public to remain informed and engaged with this issue. Our politicians must take real action on gun usage and purchases, not purely dust these issues under the rug as if they are normal. Most importantly, we must continue to care. We are the population at risk, and we are also the most able to create this change. Please care, it could be your life.