Tragic Friday

May 19, 2018

Friday’s news was dominated by tragedies. Over 100 people died after a Cubana Airlines flight crashed moments after take-off in Havana. And at least 10 people are dead after a 17-year-old student (who, as is my policy with those who seek fame through violence, will not be named) went on a shooting rampage at Sante Fe High School in Sante Fe, Texas, near Houston. After his arrest, he waived his Miranda rights and admitted to police that he’d shot multiple people with the intent of killing them, and he avoided shooting classmates he liked “so he could have his story told.” His private journal and cell phone revealed that he planned to commit suicide after the shootings, but apparently lost his nerve and surrendered.

Before anything was even known about the shooting, many were already trying to politicize it. But the more we learned, the more obvious it became that this atrocity didn’t neatly fit into any simple narrative, such as “lax gun control laws,” “mental case ignored by authorities,” or “victim of vicious bullies.”

For instance, some classmates said he was a quiet loner who was bullied, and he wore a trench coat every day. He also might have put off signals, such as posting images of a black trench coat with Nazi insignias and a “Born to Kill” T-shirt on his Facebook page. On the other hand, a friend told the A.P. that he sometimes seemed a little sad, down or “sluggish,” but he never talked about being bullied or wanting to kill anyone. Another classmate said, “He was actually a pretty nice kid,” not really popular but not an “outsider,” either. He added, “Nobody was expecting this…nobody.”

The shooter didn’t use a so-called “assault rifle,” but a shotgun and a pistol which Texas Gov. Greg Abbott confirmed were not obtained illegally. He reportedly took them from his father, although we don't know yet whether the father knew he took them.

Reports that he wore a black trench coat and a “Born to Kill” T-shirt, and that pipe bombs and pressure cooker bombs were found in the vicinity, might suggest some sick fascination with the Columbine High School massacre. Police detained a second student on suspicion of being an accomplice, but as of now, we really don’t know what the motivation for this heinous act was, and what we do know so far defies easy explanation.

Of course, that didn’t stop a lot of people from trying to explain it in ways advantageous to their agendas. But it doesn’t appear that the tragedy will spark an anti-gun movement in Texas: Lieutenant Gov. Dan Patrick said that he talked to students and parents affected by the shooting, and they all told him their reaction is to support arming teachers.

Of course, that was not the narrative in much of the national media. USA Today set off Twitter alarms with one of the most eye-popping write-ups, an attempt to paint the Texas attack as very similar to other recent school shootings with only two differences: explosives and the use of “less-lethal guns” than the AR-15. I understand their impulse to try to exploit any tragedy to promote the anti-AR-15 rifle agenda, but this was so patently clueless, the story was quickly rewritten after it was cited by critics as the worst coverage of the day.

First of all, the use of explosives (homemade pipe bombs and pressure cooker bombs) wasn’t a mere detail, it was a significant factor in derailing the "gun control will fix this" narrative. Will we now have Home Depot do background checks to buy pipes and wire, or Crate & Barrel impose waiting periods for pressure cookers?

Second, the notion that a shotgun and a .38-caliber revolver are somehow “less lethal” weapons is staggeringly dumb, especially when the story is about the deaths of ten people (the updated version clarifies that “clearly, the use of any gun can be deadly, especially a shotgun at close range.” Yes, clearly.) Two of the deadliest shootings in US history also took place in Texas and involved pistols: the Luby’s cafeteria attack in 1991 (23 dead, 27 injured) and the Fort Hood shooting (14 dead, 33 injured). So much for pistols being "less lethal."

Several major media outlets also repeated the bogus CNN statistic that there have been 22 school shootings so far this year. That’s only true if you count many incidents that clearly don’t apply, such as a “shooting” with a BB gun, an accident discharge during a gun safety class and attempted robberies in parking lots near schools.

But the Bad Taste Award for politicizing the deaths of innocents has to go to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who tweeted an “open letter” to President Trump, seemingly blaming him and demanding he do something to prevent such shootings. But his partisan shot backfired, sparking a tsunami of tweets asking, if Democratic mayors know how to prevent shootings, why do so many of their cities have the highest murder rates; and if he’s not trying to politicize these deaths to launch his 2020 presidential run, then why didn’t he also blame previous Presidents for mass shootings that happened on their watches? It was a perfect example of the old saying that when you point your finger at someone, three fingers are pointing back at you. It’s ironic that that’s also the universal symbol for pretending you’re shooting at someone.

One person who did distinguish himself by his compassionate and selfless response to the tragedy was Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt. The NFL star was already a local hero for taking the lead in helping raise $37 million last year to help victims of Hurricane Harvey. He called the shootings “absolutely horrific” and reportedly contacted school officials privately to offer to pay for the funerals of the victims himself.

As of now, that’s about all that is known of what happened, and the focus should be on praying for the victims and comforting their families, despite the scorn from those who insist that we must “do something” without suggesting what that "something" might be that would have made any difference.

I’ve mentioned this before, and I know there are millions of Texans who had the same experience: I grew up in a world where the school parking lot was filled with pickups with rifle racks, with rifles in them. But the thought never entered any student's mind to bring one of those rifles into the school and start killing classmates. Memo to USA Today: that’s what’s different. It’s not the weaponry or the laws, it’s the culture.

I’m not sure if it’s the loss of respect for the sanctity of life, an inability to distinguish fantasy violence from reality, the banishment of the Bible from the public square and the erosion of moral standards, an oversensitivity to personal offenses, or some combination of those and other factors. But take away all the guns and this kid still would have built pipe bombs and pressure cooker bombs. This isn’t a hardware problem, it’s a software problem. The software is the pressure cookers inside the shooters’ heads. Trying to solve this with more gun control laws is like trying to cure AIDS by coming up with a better ointment for the skin lesions. That’s not the cause of the sickness, it’s just a symptom.