KEVIN LEININGER: Latest school slaughter calls for serious reflection and action, but it can’t stop at guns

There are sensible gun-control measures that should be considered in the wake of the latest mass shooting, including bump stocks. But the guns aren't pulling the trigger, people are. The question is: Why?(AP photo)

In Elk Grove, Calif., a long-planned Revolutionary War reenactment was canceled this week after city officials banned the use of black-powder muskets and suggested organizers deploy wooden sticks instead.

In Dallas, Mayor Dwaine Caraway urged the National Rifle Association to find a new home for its annual convention in part because President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated there 55 years earlier.

In New York, Scott Pappalardo became an instant Internet sensation by posting a video of the destruction of his AR-15 assault rifle, saying he’d “gladly give this gun up if it would save the life of just one child.”

And in Florida, students were in tears after the Legislature refused to consider a proposal to ban the type of assault weapon used to kill 17 students this week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. “They had a chance to stop it today,” 16-year-old Sheryl Acquaroli lamented, (and) “if there is another mass shooting (in Florida) it’s going to be their fault.”

Such emotionalism is a normal reaction to tragedy, but feel-good gestures will not save lives and legislation by itself will not “stop” other massacres, as high school senior Diego Pfeiffer tacitly admitted when he told CNN that “This isn’t about isn’t about . . . violence anymore, this is about hope.”

If America is to have any hope of curbing such atrocities, compassion for the victims must be tempered with objectivity concerning not only the politics and legality of gun control but also its effectiveness. Just as supporters of abortion rights often refuse to condemn even the murder of partially born infants for fear of undermining their position, supporters of Americans’ fundamental right to bear arms risk being perceived as extremists if they refuse even to consider compromise in the face of carnage. President Trump, to his credit, has signaled his willingness to consider a ban on “bump stocks” that increase a semiautomatic weapon’s rate of fire and contributed to the death of 58 people in Las Vegas last year, but there’s plenty of other low-hanging fruit that could be picked without jeopardizing the Second Amendment, including limits on high-capacity magazines and improved background checks, starting with the so-called “gun show loophole.” Even a reinstatement of a ban on the sort of assault weapons that have become a favorite of mass killers should not be off the table.

VIDEO: What is a Bump Stock?

Such things might help, but only the hopefully delusional could believe any of it would stop history from repeating itself. The facts to the contrary are simply too numerous to ignore.

In 2016, more than 17,000 homicides were committed in the United States, including — the vast majority of them with handguns. In fact, handguns were used in a large majority of America’s mass shootings between 1982 and 2017 including the deaths of 13 people at Fort Hood, Tex., in 2009; 13 deaths at a New York immigration center the same year, and the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 that left 32 people dead.

As Illinois gun shop owner Dean Hazen recently told USA Today, assault rifles are far from the most lethal weapons on the market. He believes AR 15-style rifles have been used in at least 13 mass shootings since 1984 largely because of a “copy cat” mentality among killers. “It’s really just a perception thing,” he said. “Thank God they don’t know any better because if they did they would use much more effective weapons.”

The Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994 banned the manufacture of assault weapons until its repeal a decade later, but its effectiveness is debated even today. A 2004 study reported mixed results, saying crimes involving assault weapons dropped but were “offset throughout at least the late 1990s by steady or rising use of other guns.”

Surely even the abolitionists realize Americans will never give up their guns. Any practical response therefore demands a response on numerous front: legal efforts to limit access to military-style weaponry, perhaps, but also tougher and smarter countermeasures. The FBI has rightly earned scorn for its failure to heed multiple warning signs in the Florida case, which indicates private citizens should be prepared to defend themselves — even in schools and other “gun-free” zones that in the end protect killers most of all.

But whenever inanimate objects are blamed for how people misuse them, real solutions are not the top priority. As we ponder guns, perhaps it would also be a good idea to consider why our culture, beset by a breakdown in families, erosion of religion, increasingly crass culture and an obsession with impersonal and often-violent technology seems to be breeding so many more cold-blooded mass killers than it used to.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at or call him at 461-8355.