UPDATE, Feb. 14, 2:35 p.m. PT: Today's shooting at a high school in Parkland, FL, brings the total number of school shootings in America in 2018 to 18, according to the nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety. There have been 45 days in the year so far. At the time of this report, local authorities say there are at least 14 victims in the incident, which took place midafternoon at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. A suspect is in custody, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel confirmed to CNN.
"By the time he pulled the trigger, it hit me that this kid ... he's shooting at us, he's shooting at us," Kentucky high school shooting survivor describes experience. https://t.co/hLHoaFTxPI pic.twitter.com/LhXjz23lxM
— ABC News (@ABC) January 24, 2018
Jan. 23 was a grim day for the residents of Benton, KY, a small town at the west end of the state where a school shooting killed two students and injured 18. The suspect is a 15-year-old boy who opened fire with a handgun on a group that appears to be composed of students only. The suspect's identity and motivations are still unknown, but he is likely to be charged with murder and attempted murder. It is still to be determined if he will be tried as an adult or juvenile.
What's most distressing about this story is that it piggybacks on a Jan. 22 school shooting in Texas, where a teenage boy fired several shots at a teenage girl, and a drive-by shooting at a school in New Orleans on the same day. While this may appear to be a fluke triple beat of violence, it actually fits into a larger portrait of violence in 2018: these school shootings are three of 11, which breaks down to a shooting nearly every other day of this year. As The New York Times aptly noted in a headline, "School Shooting in Kentucky Is Nation's 11th of Year. It's Jan. 23."
There are many things going on here. First, firearms are responsible for the deaths of roughly 18 children and young adults each day. Moreover, homicide is the third leading cause of death for young Americans age 10 to 24. Apart from the aforementioned intentional shootings, 2018 has already seen at least 10 unintentional shootings of children — though nonprofit Gun Violence Archive suggests that number is much greater.
Closely tracking reports of the tragedy in Benton, #Kentucky at Marshall County High School and my thoughts are with the students, teachers, faculty, and the entire community. Thank you to the first responders who continue to put themselves in harm's way to protect others.
— Leader McConnell (@SenateMajLdr) January 23, 2018
The intersection of teens, guns, shootings, and schools reflects an ongoing storyline of American dystopian violence: we, as a nation, have become immune to the power of guns and the death that they create. Since 2012's devastating shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, very little has changed in the landscape of gun control or regulation. This fact is best exemplified by high-profile Kentucky politicians like Rand Paul and Mitch McConnell recently tweeting — tweeting! — brief condolences instead of taking action.
For reference, early reports suggest that 2017 saw a three percent increase in death by guns. That means that last year could be one of the deadliest on record, and already is for mass shootings. As former FBI official and active shooting researcher Katherine W. Schweit shared with The New York Times after the Benton shooting, "We have absolutely become numb...I think that will continue." Schweit's comments are backed by a recent study of active shooters from 2000 to 2013 that concluded that a quarter of incidents occurred in educational environments.
The problems raised by the Benton shooting won't be solved by arming schools or preparing students to fight back but by taking a sweeping examination of the United States' handling of guns. This isn't a novel or new idea; it's one that occurs after every mass shooting. And moments like this are a sad reminder of the work to be done and the obvious answer they beg for. As former Arizona Representative and gun-control advocate Gabby Giffords succinctly said recently, "Why do we keep allowing this terror to happen? We know how to solve this problem."