The Parkland shooting and the response are still front and center in the American news agenda. Yesterday, we brought you a historical perspective on gun violence. Today we want to point forward, with your help.
Because of the frequency of mass violence in the U.S., we’ve often asked, “What’s different this time?” To answer that question, we’re asking you to weigh in on the questions that you haven’t seen asked yet. To kick off the process, Karen Yuan and I identified several of the perennial questions.
Share your ideas and questions in this Google Doc.
The Questions that Always Come Up After Mass Gun Violence
Are mass shootings inevitable? After a tragedy like Parkland, Americans often feel like the next one is just around the corner. That exhaustion is intrinsic to American culture, wrote Andrew Cohen in 2012 after the Aurora shooting: “Many people noticed [after the attack] how well the local emergency responders and hospital spokespeople handled their grim duties. That's because they've all been through it before. Over and over again. And so have the rest of us. We are undrafted veterans of the rituals of sudden death. It's an American thing.”
Will Washington ever offer more than “thoughts and prayers”? The responses of lawmakers in the aftermath of shootings sound familiar to most Americans. There are expressions of shock, calls for thoughts and prayers, and brief debates over legislation. After the San Bernardino shooting in 2015, Emma Green wrote about the usual attitude toward these responses: “Many turned their anger about the shooting not at the perpetrator or perpetrators, whose identities are still unknown, but at those who offered their prayers. This is not the first time this idea—that prayer is not enough—has come up in the Twittersphere, or in politics.” It wasn’t the last: Activists raised the same complaint after Parkland.
Is mental health a core issue in mass shootings? Atlantic writers have debated how closely the issue of mental health should be tied to the issue of gun violence. After the Washington Navy Yard shooting in 2013, Garance Franke-Ruta called out “the privacy and stigmatization issues involved in cataloging harmless people who suffer from common mental illnesses in order to label them as potential threats.” At the same time, a faction of the gun lobby supports some mental health legislation, and Allie Jones reviewed what could be actionable.
Is the AR-15 uniquely dangerous? Atlantic national correspondent James Fallows has called that weapon “a revolution in killing power.” Because it uses comparatively small bullets, he wrote in 1981, the AR-15 is far more lethal than most other types of firearms: “A large artillery round might pass straight through a human body, but a small bullet could act like a gouge.” Today, Heather Sher, a radiologist who treated victims of the Parkland shooting, made a similar point: “The bullets fired by an AR-15 are different; they travel at higher velocity and are far more lethal.”
Will victims’ stories lead to lasting change? Often, the people who have the most to add to the gun debate aren’t journalists or politicians, but victims, their friends, and family. After Sandy Hook, The Atlantic published a personal essay by Sarah Stewart Holland, a survivor of a 1997 shooting in Paducah, Kentucky. Holland wrote, “We learned that the world was not a safe place and that truly terrible things can happen when you least expect it.” Typically, personal testimony like that doesn’t impact policy. But, as Vann Newkirk wrote, Wednesday’s CNN town hall—which put student victims in direct conversation with Senator Marco Rubio and other elected officials—“might have shown that things are changing.”
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