I have a 14-month-old son. I’m not sure if I quite fall into the “new dad” category anymore, but I’m still pretty fresh. And of course, I worry a lot.

I worry about him falling as he grows steadier on his feet. I worry about him outsmarting our cabinet locks. And from the day he was born, I haven’t gone into a single building without worrying about how to get him to safety if someone were to open fire while we were inside.

I think about how fast I can get from my pew to the nursery if a gunman came into our church. I think about how fast I could get him out of a cart at Kroger and whether I should run through the dairy section or the bakery.

I read stories about children learning how to hide in bathrooms. Of little girls afraid that their clothing might give them away. Of elementary school boys volunteering to charge a gunman so the rest of their classmates might be able to run out of the room. I read these stories, and I weep openly every time.

These children, just a few years older than my own son, are being asked to contend with something no child on earth should. The idea of my son learning how to hide behind a bookcase at the same time he’s learning his ABCs is gut-wrenching.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Mass shootings

Mass shootings, and specifically school shootings are not new. I grew up with them. I was in 5th grade here when Heath happened. I remember Columbine vividly. I was in college when the Virginia Tech shooting happened. And in January I was home with my son as news broke about a school shooting in Marshall County, which left two more Kentucky children dead.

I keep thinking each one will be the last:

  • A classroom full of first graders was murdered.
    • Surely this will be the last one.
  • Over 500 people were shot in Las Vegas.
    • Surely this will be the last one.
  • Nearly an entire congregation in Texas was killed or wounded, including a pregnant woman and a one year old boy, the thought of which was especially devastating.
    • Surely this will be the last one.
  • There have been two separate attacks where members of Congress were shot.
    • Surely … surely one of those would be the last one.
  • And now 17 people at a high school in Florida were slaughtered.

Despair

Still, all too much like clockwork, another one happens. And just as regularly, people will do anything but admit that guns themselves are making this problem worse:

  • In Florida, six days after the Parkland shooting, the State House wouldn’t debate a ban on semi-automatic weapons or high capacity magazines.
  • In Kentucky, an AR-15 is being raffled off for the benefit of a 10 year-olds’ softball team—kids the same age as others around the country who had their lives ended by such a weapon.
  • Weapons manufacturers doubled production the year after Sandy Hook.

It couldn’t possibly be the guns. It must be anything else:

  • It must surely be mental health issues, despite the fact that people with mental health problems are responsible for less than 5% of crimes and are ten times more likely to be the victim of a crime.
  • Maybe it’s violent video games or media as our Governor and President have suggested, despite evidence to the contrary.
  • Maybe we just aren’t praying enough. But the victims at Heath High School were part of a prayer group. There was the congregation in Texas. There was Charleston.

These ideas are wrong, offensive, and in some cases harmful. Games, movies, and mental health issues exist elsewhere in the world. Blaming those with mental health problems creates a stigma around those issues and makes people unjustly afraid of them.

And the idea that a child got shot because someone else didn’t pray hard enough is absolutely offensive. I pray for my wife and son every day. But no matter how devout I may be, my prayers will not stop a bullet.

What is Kentucky doing?

Regardless of your stance on guns, no one wants mass shootings to happen. To prevent the next shooting, our lawmakers have come up with several solutions. The policies proposed by our leaders range from effective to ridiculous.

Arming teachers

The idea currently generating the most discussion is to make schools safer by bringing more guns into the classroom. SB 103 would allow for designated school marshals in KY. These marshals would have access to firearms while at school. They would also be given limited liability for their actions. SR 172 and HR 176 urges school boards to allow personnel to be armed. SB 162 would allow for “less than lethal” weapons to be available to schools.

This idea of arming teachers, that more guns is the answer to gun violence, is based on the myth that a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun. This common NRA talking point has no basis in fact.

In reality, more guns makes a chaotic situation even more chaotic. It becomes harder for police to find the actual shooter and increases the chances that more innocent people will be shot by mistake. And of course, there’s always the possibility that teachers may become an issue, as was the case in Georgia.

It would also take time. Shooters don’t tend to set up shop before they open fire. They just start shooting. They don’t warn you. In the Texas church shooting, an armed civilian did respond to the scene, but only after 26 people had been killed. A teacher trying to make their way to a shooter amid thousands of running, screaming students would not be effective.

Furthermore we know this is not a solution. An armed guard was present during the Marshall County shooting. Armed officers were present at Marjory Stoneman Douglas. The Pulse nightclub in Orlando had an armed off-duty officer who exchanged fire with the gunman.

In reality, mass shooters are over four times more likely to be stopped by unarmed civilians than armed ones — good guys without guns. It is safer and more effective still to make sure the bad guys don’t get a gun in the first place. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

There are other issues with this proposal. Teachers are not universally sold on the idea. My mother and sister are both high school teachers. Neither wants a gun in their class. It can be hard to teach when you are mentally prepared to shoot one of your students. A teacher’s mindset should be to educate, not execute.

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There are racial issues at play as well. Many black teachers may feel uneasy about being armed, and for good reason. A legally armed black school worker was murdered in Minnesota. America has never been as supportive of the rights of black people as they are of white people when it comes to the Second Amendment (or any Amendment really). In a crisis situation, there is a legitimate concern that armed black teachers wouldn’t be seen as the “good guys.”

And, allowing for armed personnel at schools may also increase the level of confrontation between students and officials. Already black students are much more likely to be arrested at school, often for minor disciplinary issues that get overlooked when the offender is white. Adding more armed guards is not likely to lessen this disparity.

Concealed carry

The other major category of legislation being proposed relates to concealed carry. HB 210, HB 315, and HB 36 would all expand the ability of people in Kentucky to carry concealed weapons, even allowing them to be brought into meetings of the General Assembly.

Again, much of this is based on the idea that more guns makes places safer. And again, this is not supported by the evidence. States with more permissive concealed carry laws have higher homicide rates and can increase crime rates in an area by 13-15%.

Pike County combined these proposals in February, with the Pike County School Board voting to allow teachers to carry concealed guns inside the classroom.

Both of these proposals also attempt to end so called “gun-free zones,” which critics say make places more prone to attack. But this also has little support. Most attackers had some personal reason to target the places they did. Most school shooters are students. The gunman at the church in Texas had family connections. Other attackers chose places specifically because there would be more people to kill, not because of the lack of guns.

Neither arming teachers nor expanding concealed carry will prevent the next mass shooting or individual shooting. In all likelihood, they will increase the number of people killed or injured. Every additional person with a gun is one more chance for an accident. One more chance for tempers to flare. One more chance for a conflict to be escalated more than it needed to be.

Better options (the Scott and Meeks bills)

There are some bills in Frankfort which would help make our state safer. Most of them are sponsored by Representatives Attica Scott and Reginald Meeks.

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HB 411 would allow for confiscated guns to be destroyed rather than resold or used by police, keeping guns off the street. HB 387, HB 189, and HR 68 would allow for greater local government control over firearm regulation. HB 409 deals with firearm accessories. HB 31 and SB 184 deal with firearm storage, and HB 412 deals with reporting lost or stolen guns.

HB 410 would create a registry of those convicted of offenses involving deadly weapons. And HB 209 would make it a felony for people convicted of a hate crime to have a gun in their possession.

HB 498 creates a new definition for “assault weapons,” which includes most types of semi-automatic weapons, and raises the age to purchase from 18 to 21.

The most comprehensive is HB 502, introduced February 26, 2018 which contains many of the elements of bills discussed above. In addition, it seeks to register and track the sale of “assault weapons” and ammunition and deals with circumstances where people must surrender their firearms.

These bills will not stop mass shootings or individual gun crimes (though HB 502 would make a sizeable dent). They will, however, make it harder for people who shouldn’t have guns to get one. They work to make gun owners more responsible for their weapons. And they let local governments decide what sort of laws might be needed to better protect their citizens.

What else can be done?

The bills proposed by Reps Scott, Meeks, and others are all positive steps toward decreasing gun violence. But there are bigger policies that need to be considered.

To begin, we must ban all semi-automatic weapons, not just AR-15s. Banning one specific semi-automatic will just cause people to use another. Semi-automatic handguns already kill far more people than rifles, and plenty of mass shootings, including Marshall County, have been carried out with them.

This is one of the biggest, most effective policies to enact, and one with little actual downside. There is no practical use for these types of weapons. You can hunt without a semi-automatic. You can defend your home without one.

But simply banning these weapons will not do much good on its own due to the sheer number of them already owned by Americans. To be effective, this policy would have to go hand in hand with a buy-back program to incentivize people to turn in dangerous weapons that they do not need.

For all other firearms, there should be a strict licensing procedure, which includes background checks, training, storage requirements, and insurance. Doing this would be little different than the process for buying and operating a car, and like a driver’s license, it should be renewed periodically.

The model for this sort of policy is Australia, where an entire country banned and gave up their semi-automatics, ultimately destroying hundreds of thousands of guns. The policies in Australia also played a role in a huge reduction in gun crimes, cutting gun-related homicides by over 50% and gun-related suicides by nearly 75%.

Japan went even further with firearm bans, and in 2006 had only two (two!) firearm-related homicides in the entire country.

And we know gun control laws can be effective in the US. The best example of this comes from comparing Connecticut and Missouri. Connecticut passed a “permit to purchase” law in 1995, while Missouri repealed a similar law in 2007, setting up a policy experiment. Connecticut’s law is estimated to have saved 300 lives, while Missouri saw a 23% increase in gun homicides.

We can also tighten laws to restrict access to guns by those convicted of domestic violence. Around half of all women killed are killed by a significant other, and this chance is greater if the partner is in possession of a gun. Furthermore, many mass shootings can stem from a domestic violence situation. Depending on how mass shootings are classified, it may be up to half.

Ideally these policies would come from the federal level to ensure that guns from more permissive states don’t find their way to neighboring states. Following the repeal of Missouri’s law, states like Illinois saw an increase in guns coming from their neighbor.

We can also increase support and funding for mental health treatment—not because this would make much difference in crime rates, but because it is the right thing to do. We should help people with mental health issues because that’s what a good society does, not because we are unjustly afraid of them.

These proposals will not solve everything, but they will help. State level restrictions will not stop guns from coming in from out of state, but they will make it harder and more expensive for criminals to get them.

Even something as broadly popular as tightening background checks won’t solve much, as 82% of guns in mass shootings are legally purchased. And it is often the case that people who commit mass shootings have never committed a crime before, meaning a background check isn’t likely to come up with much.

It’s commonly said that if you outlaw guns, only the outlaws will have guns. And while that’s true technically, it does make it much harder for them to have guns, and ultimately it means fewer outlaws. Yes, gun related murders will still happen. But there will be far fewer of them.

Hope

I tend to be optimistic about what society can accomplish when we come together. After so much death and so much inaction, though, it can be easy to let that hope turn into despair. But I’m not old enough to be that cynical. And while I have no faith at all that those currently in charge of our government will do anything other than comfort victims with their right hand while cashing NRA checks with their left, I still have hope.

My hope rests mostly in our future. We often talk about the American public as if it is a constant group. But it isn’t. Each year, nearly 4 million new Americans are born. That’s one new person every 8 seconds. That means that each year, there are 4 million Americans who turn 18 and become eligible to vote. In 2018, there will be 8 million 18 and 19 year-olds who couldn’t vote in 2016.

And these new young voters are tired of getting shot. Tired of thoughts and prayers. Tired of being ignored.

Change is coming. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas have shown us what that change looks like. They are brave, outspoken, and not willing to take any BS from our elected officials. The sadness that gripped so many Americans is nothing compared to the righteous anger they have shown. And there are millions more like them. They give me hope.

Despite how many times we have let our children down, they show no signs of letting us down. I will do everything I can to make sure that our country is worthy of my son, so that he and every other child can learn and grow up to be happy, safe, and free from violence.

So if you are an elected official who bows to the NRA, if all you can offer is thoughts and prayers, and if you think the right to own a gun is more important than the right of my son, or any child, to not get shot, change is coming for you. Those students are coming for you. Get ready.

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Neal Turpin
Dr. Neal Turpin is a recent PhD graduate of the University of Louisville’s School of Urban and Public Affairs, where he focused on public policy and participation, democratic structures, and efficiency. He enjoys spending time with his wife, Sara, working out at the Southeast YMCA, where the two of them met, and teaching Sunday school at Buechel Park Baptist Church. Neal also has an appreciation for trivia, movie scores, and the Muppets.

1 COMMENT

  1. So proud of you Neal! You definitely are intelligent, proud, honest and ambitious young man! Just what our country needs

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