Saturday, March 24, 2018

March For Our Lives: A reflection on youth mortality

Reflection on the school shooting crisis in America and failing institutions

Followed the #MarchForOurLives event today and was impressed by the oratory and the organizing. It was a remarkable day.  Civil rights leader John Lewis and members of the Martin Luther King Jr. family spoke out for an end to gun violence. Emma Gonzalez, one of the survivors of the Parkland shooting gave a powerful speech with a moment of silence for the time that it took for the shooter to murder 17 of her fellow students.

The conversation around school shootings on the surface appears simple but the history, and details, reveals a level of complexity that is largely absent in the current national conversation. Unfortunately all sides in the debate are foregoing nuance in favor of sound bites. We can all agree that there is a real problem and it is getting worse. Sixteen of the 27 worse school shootings in U.S. history took place after 2000.

Something is going on but the polarized political climate makes it difficult to get a handle on.

Not a "white violence" thing
The left wing narrative, based in identity politics, would have you believe that this is a white male problem and write of "white violence." It is half true, it is predominantly a male problem, but the 2007 Virginia Tech shooter who killed 33 and injured 25 was an Asian immigrant born in South Korea and immigrated to the United States at age eight. Out of the sixteen high profile school shootings that took place since 2000, eight were white males, six involved non-white male shooters, and two were female shooters. According to the U.S. Census Bureau 38.45% of the population of the United States are white males and they made up 50% of school shootings after 2000. Meanwhile Asian males make up 2.85% of the U.S. population but account for 18.75% of post 2000 mass shootings. White males are over represented among shooters but they are not the only racial grouping over represented. Percentages were arrived at by dividing White population and Asian populations in two accounting for the male/female split with data taken from the census bureau. Let me underline my utter rejection of identity politics.

Good person can stop a bad guy with a gun
The National Rifle Association narrative adopted by many on the right is that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Recent history has demonstrated that is not necessarily true.  In August 2013 a school teacher calmed down a 20-year-old male gunman who had stormed the school with an AK-47 assault rifle and 500 rounds of ammunition. No one was hurt and the assailant was sentenced to 20 years in prison. On September 20, 2017 another school teacher saw a student with his finger on a semi-automatic pistol about to shoot a young girl. The school teacher tackled the young man and although the gun went off, and one student was wounded, the other shots went into the ceiling and she managed to hold him down until the police arrived and arrested him.

There have been times when a "good guy with a gun" has stopped a "bad guy," but emphasizing on the use of deadly force first, when other options are available, is a dangerous disservice. A good person with or without a gun can stop a "bad guy with a gun." In either case one is risking their life and things can go wrong, but the alternative of doing nothing is often times worse. However nonviolent strategies need to be prioritized.

Gun control hasn't worked in the countries with the worse gun violence
CNN has produced a chart that shows in red the countries with the worse gun-homicide rates in the world, and it centers in Latin America. Many of these countries have strict gun control laws but they have failed to reduce gun violence. Insight Crime, a foundation dedicated to the study of organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean, reported some disturbing facts relevant to the United States
Latin America has some of the highest gun homicide rates in the world, despite certain countries having relatively strict gun control laws, raising the question: to what extent, if any, does tighter legislation help to lower homicide rates and violent crime in the region?
The short answer to this question is that there is no clear correlation. A look at six countries with widely differing gun legislation and gun homicide statistics — Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, Honduras, Chile and Uruguay — shows that gun legislation, on its own, means little in terms of gun violence. Understanding gun violence seems more predicated on understanding the dynamics of crime in a country, and the weaknesses of state institutions, than on studying the laws in place.
Other complicating factors are that there is conflicting data and claims on whether overall the number of school shootings have gone down, but large scale shootings seem to have multiplied in the United States but others claim that it has not. Despite Latin America having a much higher rate of gun homicides they have much lower numbers of school shootings. On the other hand  Germany, which has a much lower number of overall gun homicides than the United states, has still suffered mass shootings in their schools. In 2009 a frustrated 17-year old killed sixteen and wounded nine in Baden-Württemberg in South Western Germany. In 2002 in Erfurt, Germany another gunman, a 19-year-old expelled student shot and killed 16 people: 13 staff members, two students, one police officer and one person was wounded. Germany has strict gun control laws. Nevertheless they have had school shootings. It is important to point out that the numbers have been higher in the United States.

George Mason University Professor of Economics Walter Williams makes the case of long term moral failings having unforeseen consequences in American society. Could it be, as was seen in Parkland, that federal, and local institutions are weakening. Laws are not being enforced leading to failures that create openings for these massacres. If crime data and reporting were faked at Parkland to under report crimes and threats then how much under reporting is taking place elsewhere? If that is the case then the school shootings are a symptom of a crisis of American democracy and governance.  It will not be enough to make reforms, but to ensure that U.S. institutions enforce the law and get serious about school safety.

Memorial to victims
Take a simple step to reduce the leading cause of death among teenagers
This is not just an issue of guns, but of young lives lost. The stories of the makeshift memorials with flowers and balloons for shooting victims moved me and reminded me of the many memorials around Miami to young victims of traffic accidents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, "[m]otor vehicle fatality is the leading cause of accident death among teenagers, representing over one-third of all deaths to teenagers." There is a debate underway to raise the age for gun ownership to 21 because younger people can't be trusted with guns or alcohol. This leads to an obvious question. Should the age to drive also be raised to 21 considering that they are the leading cause of death for teenagers.

If we are going to march for the lives of America's youth shouldn't we focus on all areas that can prevent their untimely deaths? Costa Rica is considering raising the minimum age for a driver’s license to 21 "in an effort to reduce road-related injuries and fatalities." The president of the Costa Rican Commission for Cooperation with UNESCO, Rocío Solís, "made the case that neurological studies have shown that 18-year-olds still do not have the brain maturity necessary to effectively prevent the risks involved with driving." Driving is a privilege and not a right in U.S. law and the age could be easily raised to 21 saving many young lives.

Let us get serious about school safety and saving young lives by targeting gun violence with preventive and nonviolent solutions and also address the top killer of our youth, motor vehicle fatalities. U.S. vehicle deaths topped 40,000 in 2017, and 38,658 gun deaths were reported in 2016.

We can do better. We must do better. This slaughter of innocence must end. This can be done and at the same time protect Constitutional liberties.

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