Our hearts are with the parents of the four students slain Tuesday in Oxford, a hell no parent should have to endure; and with the seven others wounded in the same attack. We pray for their swift, full recovery.
We sympathize as well with parents who felt death brush past their children; with teachers who prayed they’d never stand between their young charges and a murderer, and with hundreds of Oxford High students whose hopes that that their school could provide a sanctuary from senseless violence have been forever shattered
Fifteen-year-old Ethan Crumbley, a sophomore at Oxford High School, was arraigned Wednesday on 22 counts related to the brutal attack, carried out with a semi-automatic handgun purchased by his own father just four days before. He is being tried as an adult, and faces life in prison.
Some will say that nothing can be done to prevent such attacks. Oakland County officials report that Crumbley’s parents met with school administrators over the boy’s classroom behavior just hours before the attack, but found no cause to send him home. Crumbley’s father, it seems, purchased his firearm legally.
Those same voices will argue that the hundreds of millions of firearms already in private hands make new restrictions on their sale or manufacture futile, and that any attempt to promulgate such restrictions will only violate the Second Amendment rights of lawful gun owners
There are sensible measures that state and federal lawmakers can adopt without risk of violating anyone’s constitutional rights, if they have the courage to face down the manufacturers and Second Amendment absolutists who call the gun lobby’s tune. We can’t guarantee that any of them will dramatically reduce gun deaths. But not trying them hasn’t worked, either.
A comprehensive approach
Gun violence has three prongs: High profile massacres like the devastating attack in Oxford, which are thankfully rare; shootings associated with crime and gang activity; and suicide. Public policy solutions should recognize all three.
Let’s start with Michigan.
More than 1,200 people die and more than 3,500 are wounded by handguns each year in Michigan, according to the gun reform advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, Most of the fatalities are suicides.
Guns are the second-leading cause of death among children and teens; 89 die on average each year. More than half of youthful gun deaths are homicides.
Michigan’s figures roughly track national averages. There have been 29 gun-related injuries or deaths on American school grounds this year, Education Week reports.
Poll after poll confirms Michiganders’ support for prohibiting guns in schools, daycare centers and churches, enacting red flag laws that would keep guns out of the hands of people who pose an imminent threat to themselves or others, and other precautions ensure the safe storage and handling of firearms. And Democratic lawmakers in the GOP-controlled state Legislature have tried to deliver, proposing laws that would require universal background checks, make gun owners criminally liable for failing to secure weapons where children cannot find them them, and weapons from state-owned public buildings, and increase funding for violence prevention programs. A bill with bipartisan support would keep weapons out of the hands of domestic abusers.
The same partisan gridlock that has left all those initiatives stalled in committee has stranded Republican efforts to weaken Michigan’s existing gun laws. Legislation proposed by GOP lawmakers would exempt some firearms owners from complying with gun-free zones, abolish the state’s pistol registry, reduce the fee for a concealed-carry permit, and exempt gun stores from shutdown orders imposed pursuant to a public health emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the local level, Detroit Police Commissioner Linda Bernard has proposed a gun buy-back similar to initiatives that have taken thousands of guns out of circulation in Seattle, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Although buy-backs have had mixed results in reducing gun violence, it’s an idea worth exploring.
A role for Washington
There’s also work for our federal government.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was forbidden to study the causes of gun violence for nearly a quarter century after 1994, when Congress adopted the Dickey Amendment — named after the lawmaker who called himself “the NRA’s point man in Washington.”
But in 2018, former President Trump signed legislation that allowed the agency to resume limited research, and the CDC’s current director, Rochelle Walensky, has expanded the agency’s efforts.
If you’re inclined to scoff at the notion of studying gun violence, consider that the CDC also studies obesity, fatalities among firefighters, school health, fatal injuries to youth in agricultural settings, smoking, and social behavior that contributes to the spread of viruses like COVID-19. The agency’s public health writ is far-reaching, and the number of gun deaths in this country has long commanded its attention.
The CDC is investing in 18 separate initiatives to prevent gun violence and death, and it has begun tracking the number of people who come into the nation’s emergency rooms with gunshot wounds arising from assaults, suicide attempts and accidents— something it hadn’t done before.
Congress should supplement the paltry $25 million currently allocated for this important research. While they’re at it, lawmakers should increase and redeploy funding for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which relies on just 770 investigators to oversee more than 77,000 licensed gun dealers and manufacturers and 9,500 businesses licensed to sell explosives.
A better world
There’s no evidence that implementing any of these proposals, or all of them together, would have prevented this week’s massacre. But the tragedy in Oxford does underline how reluctant Michigan legislators have been to demand that gun owners exercise even minimal caution. Even as detectives investigate how the Oxford shooter acquired a handgun he was not authorized to own, a bill that would make failing to secure a weapon beyond the reach of minors a $500 misdemeanor is languishing in Lansing for want of GOP support.
“If the incident yesterday with four children being murdered and multiple kids being injured is not enough to revisit our gun laws,” Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said Wednesday, “I don’t know what is.”
So far, Republican lawmakers have been immune to that sense of urgency. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey says he remains wary of overregulation, and cautions that if he and his colleagues endeavor to eliminate every threat, Michiganders could wake up in a world they don’t recognize.
Shirkey means that as a warning. But as Michigan residents survey the all-too-familiar damage in Oxford, they may consider it a hopeful prospect. What would a world we don’t recognize be like? It has to be better than this