School Shootings Are A Stain On America. Set Aside The Culture War Gibberish And Focus On Solutions.

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A little over a week ago, I was visiting Guadalajara, Mexico, getting breakfast, when I struck up a conversation with one of the workers. 

He asked me what’s the most negative impression Americans have of Mexico. 

With the recent kidnappings and killings of Americans in Tamaulipas in mind, I replied something along the lines of, “That everywhere in Mexico is unsafe, with cartel violence ravaging every city.” 

We joked about how ridiculous an idea that is. 

I then asked him, in turn, what’s the most negative impression Mexicans have of Americans.

His response?

“There are people always going into the schools and shooting people.”

“Well, yes, that’s actually true,” I responded. 

“Really?” 

“Yes, unfortunately, it happens every few months. It’s crazy.”

And, sure enough, it has happened again.

To quickly recap, on Monday, six people — three children and three adults — were murdered at an elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee.

This time, the shooter was a 28-year-old female who identified as transgender, was in possession of a detailed map of the school and had what police officials described as a manifesto.

Nashville’s police chief told NBC News the shooter legally purchased seven weapons and according to Nashville’s police chief was “under a ‘doctor’s care for an emotional disorder.’”

As is usual in the aftermath of mass shootings, the political discourse is mostly pretty stupid and unproductive.

President Joe Biden’s first press conference after the shooting involved him joking about ice cream before calling for an assault weapons ban he knows won’t happen. Because, yeah, he’s all there and totally serious. Right.

Right-wing pundits, meanwhile, fixated on the shooter being transgender mainly to score culture war points.

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson went on air to hyperventilate that, “The trans movement is targeting Christians, including with violence.” 

Right-wing podcaster Benny Johnson tweeted, with as of now 10 million views, “One thing is VERY clear: the modern trans movement is radicalizing activists into terrorists.”

And Republican Sen. J.D. Vance of Ohio tweeted, “If early reports are accurate that a trans shooter targeted a Christian school, there needs to be a lot of soul searching on the extreme left. Giving in to these ideas isn’t compassion, it’s dangerous.”

Most trans people just want to live their lives; they’re not out “targeting Christians.”

This kind of hysterical rhetoric is designed to stir up angry, defensive responses against whole groups of people based on the violence of one disturbed person. 

If the idea is to push back against extremism, the right shouldn’t be using extremist rhetoric of its own. 

That some transgender people are also criminals doesn’t mean that transgender people in general should be painted as dangerous extremists, no more than non-transgender people  who commit crimes define everyone who is not transgender. 

If this all seems like obvious, “duh” stuff, that’s because it is. I’m just spelling it out because America’s political rhetoric is dominated by people constantly trying to out-outrage each other. 

Reducing anything to hysterical partisan talking points is bound to be silly.

Now, I’m not going to leave left-wingers off the hook either.

Left-wingers can be gross too.

Popular left-wing podcaster David Pakman, for example, tweeted, “Very surprising that there would be a mass shooting at a Christian school, given that lack of prayer is often blamed for these horrible events. Is it possible they weren’t praying enough, or correctly, despite being a Christian school?”

It’s not new for secular left-wingers to angrily mock people of faith for offering prayers after a mass shooting, but Pakman revealed an obviously callous disregard for the lives of the victims for the sake of a tweet bashing Christians and conservatives, as if that’s a reasonable response to a mass shooting.

Democratic Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs’ press secretary, Josselyn Berry, thought it was a great idea to tweet out a gif of a woman pointing two guns at an unseen target with the words: “Us when we see transphobes.” She ultimately had to resign, obviously, because her encouragement of threatening gun violence against people isn’t exactly reasonable.

None of these sorts of responses are healthy or productive. 

Which finally brings to the “What should be done/What can be done?” issue.

What to do about public mass shootings is a hard problem. One, because public mass shootings are difficult to predict beforehand, two, because they usually involve handguns (not the so-called assault rifles), and three, we still have that thing called the Second Amendment (and a U.S. Supreme Court with a particular bent).

These are all constraints and complications.

Some things can obviously be gleaned from the details of any particular mass shooting. In the case of the Tennessee shooting, there might or might not be something to the shooter being under a doctor’s care and the parents of the shooter saying they believed the shooter should not have owned weapons. I don’t think there’s much controversy to the idea that people who are known to be mentally troubled probably shouldn’t have access to guns; the key is obviously how to put together a constitutionally sound law with due process and clear thresholds. 

Admittedly, every possible set of solutions possible under the existing constraints admittedly feels inadequate and throws up serious trade-offs.

Boosting security at schools seems rational, for example. But at what cost? If we’re talking billions of dollars, is it possible we’d be better off putting that money into mental health treatment or crime prevention more generally? Let’s say sales of “assault weapons” were banned, what’s the next move going to be if/when, inevitably, a mass shooting doesn’t involve an assault weapon? Then what?

There’s something deeply wrong when kids are being murdered in their classrooms and it’s just a fact of life. It’s a hard thing to figure out and even try to solve. And the hysterics on the left and right make it impossible to try to have rational policy discussions. 

Sal Rodriguez can be reached at salrodriguez@scng.com

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