By MARSHA MERCER
A chilling headline in The New York Times read: “Michigan shooting the deadliest on U.S. school property this year.”
Let that sink in. The qualifier “this year” makes clear, a friend wrote me, that school shootings are a given, “that this is just one deadly but inevitable school shooting among many past and present.”
Sadly, she is correct. Many Americans seem to have grown accustomed to what should be unimaginable – children gunning down other children at school.
On Tuesday in Michigan, a 15-year-old boy allegedly shot and killed four of his classmates in an Oxford High School hallway after lunch. Six other students and a teacher were wounded, some critically.
The shooting was the deadliest since May 2018, according to tracking by Education Week, which reports there have been 29 on campus school shootings this year with 11 people killed and 49 injured.
Also on Nov. 30 at Humboldt High School in Tennessee, three people were shot, one fatally, at a basketball game.
In Virginia, two high school shootings occurred this year with no fatalities – in Woodbridge in August and Newport News in September.
“Schools, in general, remain among the safest places for children to be, and shootings in schools are relatively rare,” Education Week notes. Since most children were home for school during much of 2020, school shootings were much lower than in previous years.
However, unintentional shooting deaths by children rose significantly last year, according to a count by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy group.
Authorities in Michigan said the toll there would have been higher had the school not practiced active shooter drills. In addition, a deputy assigned to the school and other deputies arrived on the scene quickly and took the suspect into custody.
In what has become a sickening routine after such tragedies, politicians sent their thoughts and prayers. Most congressional Democrats avoid even mentioning stricter gun safety measures.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat who represents the congressional district that includes Oxford, tweeted that the shocked students “will have to make sense of one of their peers doing this to them.”
One of their peers? What about the adult who bought the semiautomatic handgun on Black Friday that his son used four days later? It’s not yet clear how the boy -- I will not name him because sick individuals often crave publicity -- got the gun.
Slotkin said it’s time for more mental health services, and it surely is, but that is not enough.
Oakland County prosecutor Karen McDonald has the right idea. Citing evidence that the Oxford shootings were premeditated, she charged the shooter Wednesday as an adult with terrorism, four first-degree murder counts and 19 other counts.
The terrorism charge was justified not only for the victims who died but those who will carry emotional scars for life, she said.
“What about all the children who ran, screaming, hiding under desks? What about all the children at home right now who can’t eat and can’t sleep and can’t imagine a world where they could ever step foot back in that school?” she said. “Those are victims too and so are their families and so is the community. The charge of terrorism reflects that.”
She also said she may charge the shooter’s parents.
“We know that owning a gun means securing it properly and locking it and keeping the ammunition separate and not allowing access to other individuals, particularly minors. We know that and we have to hold individuals accountable who don’t do that,” she said.
I believe most gun owners are responsible and would agree with the need for common-sense precautions to keep their guns out of the wrong hands.
The old “don’t touch” rule many of us grew up with doesn’t work with all young people these days. There are many different ways to secure guns, from trigger locks to gun safes.
The NRA constantly harps that guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But fewer kids would be killing other kids at school – or themselves and their siblings inadvertently -- if their parents and other adults kept their guns safely locked up.
“We have to do better,” McDonald said. Amen.
©2021 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.