Editor's Notebook: Dealing with the mass shooting epidemic

It was early December and we were in get-ready-for-the-holiday-season mode. We were looking at early deadlines, some much-needed vacation time and visits with family.

I received an email about a Dec. 14 event – a vigil marking the fifth anniversary of the shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. The group Silicon Valley Courageous Resistance was holding the vigil in Veterans Community Plaza in downtown Los Altos, not only to recognize that infamous anniversary, but also to protest a proposed federal law enabling residents of states that allow concealed weapons to enter into other states, like California, that haven’t enacted such laws.

The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 passed the U.S. House of Representatives Dec. 6. Backed by the National Rifle Association, the bill now awaits a vote in the U.S. Senate. Several opponents, including gun advocates, question its constitutionality, and, at least currently, the bill doesn’t appear to have the votes to pass.

But I digress. The reason I bring up the vigil is the image that came with the email – a collection of sweet young faces whose lives were snuffed out by the senseless massacre. I’m not ashamed to tell you that I burst into tears when I saw those faces.

And here we are in the wake of Florida’s deadliest high school mass shooting in U.S. history. More beautiful young faces, all gone, along with their wonderful – and courageous – teachers.

Part of me just doesn’t want to address the subject. What can I add that hasn’t already been said many, many times before? And yet ignoring the issue and pretending that it will all die down and go away does nothing but allow for the next mass shooting to surface, followed by the next.

I heard one parent in Florida say what I’m sure many parents have thought and said as they personally endured these tragedies. The parent said she was well aware of this country’s problem with mass shootings, but she never thought it would happen at her school, in her community.

Food for thought, Los Altos. These incidents are not something we passively grieve and then count the days until the issue fades from view so that we can feel comfortable again. Such an incident could easily happen here.

We need to tackle our mass shooting epidemic head-on, and with a sense of urgency. It’s not somebody else’s problem – it’s our problem.

On the front end, this means not only assault rifle bans and eliminating their supply, but also reviewing security measures at schools and assessing whether they’re realistically effective. And while we’re at it, let’s have a ban on those trite “thoughts and prayers” comments. They’re hollow and insulting.

On the back end, we need to take a hard look at all of the elements that breed a mass shooter. How does one go from a newborn – a blank slate ready to absorb the information of the world – to a personality so full of hate and rage with an overwhelming desire to kill indiscriminately?

Why are these shooters nearly always young men? Are they products of dismissive or overbearing parents? Are they exploding after years of being bullied and feeling unwanted, unloved? Is it simply brain chemistry gone horribly awry?

Each case is different. But I’m convinced that no matter the will of the individual to kill, if he doesn’t have the ability to acquire a tool of mass destruction, he doesn’t pull off a mass shooting. It’s as simple as that. Anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling themselves. Let’s stop fooling ourselves.

Bruce Barton is editor-in-chief of the Town Crier.

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The Town Crier welcomes letters to the editor on current events pertinent to Los Altos, Los Altos Hills and Mountain View. Write to us at 138 Main St., Los Altos 94022, Attn: Editor, or email editor Bruce Barton at bruceb@latc.com. Because editorial space is limited, please confine letters to no more than 200 words. Include a phone number for verification purposes. Anonymous letters will not be printed.

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