In wake of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, which left 14 children and 3 teachers dead, conservatives have been caught somewhat off guard. The traditional, muted response of “thoughts and prayers” hasn’t offered any sort of consolation to the angry young activists who are now demanding that their lawmakers pass meaningful gun control legislation.
In response, conservatives have attempted to offer a broad array of potential solutions, from installing bulletproof windows in schools to cracking down on violent video games. But naturally they’ve avoided the elephant in the room — the ease of accessibility of high-powered firearms.
Here’s a rundown of the popular talking points that GOP lawmakers have pivoted to in the wake of the Parkland massacre, and why they won’t work.
Demonizing people with mental health diagnoses
When lawmakers met on Wednesday with Trump to discuss the issue of school safety, the president made a beeline for the “mentally ill,” effectively stigmatizing the issue of mental health.
“You have to have very strong provisions for the mentally ill,” Trump said. “Now a lot of people are saying, ‘oh I shouldn’t be saying that’ — I tell you what, I don’t want mentally ill people to have guns.” It’s a similar line that Trump used to explain the shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, last year.
Demonizing people with mental health struggles ignores the studies and statistics about their role in committing violent crimes. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, only around 3 to 5 percent of violent acts can be attributed to those with a serious mental illness, and those suffering from mental health problems have actually more chance of being a victim of violent crime then perpetuating one.
Plus, Trump is fearmongering against a huge proportion of the American public. According to the fourth issue of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), about 46.5 percent of Americans will have a “diagnosable mental illness” in their lifetime.
Arming teachers and militarizing schools
Trump has advocated arming teachers to fight back against potential school shooters. “I want a hardened school,” Trump said last week during a meeting with law enforcement officials. “I would like to see true people with great talent at guns, being adept at guns, of which there is only a percentage of people. You can’t hire enough security guards.”
A similar idea was backed by Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R), who last Friday proposed a $500 million package for increased school safety — including more school resource officers, metal detectors, bulletproof glass, and steel doors.
TRUMP: "We have to harden our schools, not soften them up. A gun free zone to a killer or somebody that wants to be a killer, that is like going in for ice cream."
Calls for "hardened schools" and arming teachers. pic.twitter.com/RcqN6AdvS2
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 22, 2018
Leaving aside the fact that a building with metal detectors, bulletproof glass, and armed guards sounds more like a prison then a school, research shows that more guns will do nothing to add to school safety. In a study of 163 mass shootings, the FBI found that only one was stopped by an armed individual — versus 21 that were stopped by unarmed individuals.
What’s more, the type of training that teachers would have to go through to have a chance of stopping a school shooter — clearing rooms, dealing with panicked crowds and potentially hostages — is similar to what SWAT teams handle. This training is difficult, expensive, and time-consuming.
Armed teachers also increase the risk of accidents or violence in school, as demonstrated on Wednesday when a Georgia teacher barricaded himself in a classroom and fired a handgun, forcing the students to evacuate.
Blaming violent video games
In one of the more bizarre suggestions offered up in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting, Trump is reportedly set to meet with members of the video game industry — despite members of the industry knowing nothing about this meeting.
“The video games, the movies, the internet stuff is so violent. It’s so incredible,” Trump said on Wednesday. “I think you maybe have to take a look at it. You know, you rate movies for different things. Maybe you have to also rate them for terror, for what they’re doing and what they’re all about.”
White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders says Trump will be meeting with the video game industry after talks about school safety and gun control pic.twitter.com/VzQeiygvk0
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) March 1, 2018
The idea that violent video games are to blame for mass shootings is a theory that’s been around since the Columbine mass shooting in 1999. After that mass shooting, President Bill Clinton ordered an investigation to see whether video games could be tied to violence.
However, the link has been consistently debunked. Even conservative heavyweight Anthony Scalia agreed the connection is bogus — in 2011, the Supreme Court voted 7-2 that California could not ban the sale of violent video games.
“Psychological studies purporting to show a connection between exposure to violent video games and harmful effects on children do not prove that such exposure causes minors to act aggressively,” Justice Scalia wrote. “Any demonstrated effects are both small and indistinguishable from effects produced by other media.”
Expanding the no-fly list
Earlier this week, a group of senators introduced the Terrorist Firearms Prevention Act, which would allow the attorney general to block firearms sales to those on the no-fly list. “This bill is a sensible step we can take right now to reform our nation’s gun laws while protecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME).
Intuitively, this bill makes sense — after all, why should suspected extremists be able to get their hands on weapons? However, as Darakshan Rasha and Dr. Maha Hilal pointed out in ThinkProgress on Thursday, it has a number of problems. First, it assumes that the no-fly list is an accurate indicator of likelihood to embark on a mass shooting — and it isn’t. Under this legislation, both Parkland school shooter Nickolas Cruz and Orlando nightclub shooter Omar Mateen would have still been able to buy weapons. Second, the no-fly list largely targets Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians, while mass shootings are predominantly carried out by young white men.
By focusing on this variety of interconnected measures, Republicans are hoping to give the impression that they are willing to do something to tackle mass shootings. However, as long as they refuse to focus on the overriding need for gun control, these measures are likely to be at best ineffective, and at worst downright harmful.