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OPINION: The debate we need on school shootings

By: The Washington Examiner
March 1, 2018 Updated: March 1, 2018 at 2:27 pm
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We disagree with politicians who reacted to the horrific school shooting in Florida by pleading "now is not the time" for a debate on gun laws. A debate on gun control and all policies that could help prevent another such traumatizing event is welcome.

But it needs to be a real debate, and such a thing has been hard to come by. There are clashing values and competing rights contending here, so any debate will unavoidably include anger. But most of the back-and-forth since last week has failed to reach the point of actual disagreement. Instead, we've seen people talking past one another.

This isn't the debate we need.

We're not agreeing even on verifiable facts. Second, we're confusing emotions for arguments. Third, we're being imprecise in a way that makes debate impossible.

Media figures, at big left-leaning outlets and right-wing online outlets, spread falsehoods in the wake of last week's shooting. CNN's Chris Cuomo, who barks "facts matter!" at guests who err on matters such as Catholic nomenclature, proudly publicized a story that had already been proven false of a young man claiming to have bought an AR-15 in 15 minutes with an expired license.

Gateway Pundit, a popular pro-Trump blog, peddled a conspiracy theory that the teenagers mourning their lost classmates were actors or actresses paid by George Soros.

Rumors and falsehoods will spread, and we need news media and politicians responsible enough to ensure the truth surfaces.

Those teenagers' prominence in the week's coverage and debate has also hampered the discussion. They belong in the coverage and the debate. The pain and fear they feel are pertinent to the debate, driving home the truth that while any single student is unlikely to be a victim of a school shooting, such events are nevertheless monumentally traumatic for many of them.

But we shouldn't confuse emotion and trauma for a policy argument. We should listen to students describe their fears and pains, but no 16-year-old should be considered a policy expert. Television has turned almost exclusively to high school students for policy recommendations, confirming the late Allan Bloom's warning about the displacement of thought by passion.

Then, there is the imprecision that derails discussions. Some champions of the Second Amendment suggest that school shooters might be emboldened by the knowledge that schools are gun-free zones. Maybe an armed teacher could end or deter a shooter. Yet, somehow we've stumbled into a fight over whether the federal government should require all teachers to pack heat.

One problem is President Trump's chronically imprecise speech. It's unwise to take his suggestions as a proposed mandate.

Another problem is the inability of some left-leaning media and progressive critics to imagine any neutral ground between prohibited and mandatory. If armed teachers are part of the solution, that's the sort of thing to be decided state by state, district by district, school by school, and teacher by teacher. There is not one size that fits all circumstances and schools.

A teacher who is also a firearms instructor may make his school safe by packing heat. And the knowledge that such teachers pepper schools may deter some shooters.

The final obstacle to a real debate is the desire to expand the issue. The Left, trying to germinate a culture war in the soil of this tragedy, has made this school shooting about the National Rifle Association. If the issue is to be addressed, it won't be through political warfare.

Some conservatives, meanwhile, think it's pertinent to point out that school shootings, rifle shootings, and mass shootings are a tiny portion of shootings. To which the answer is, so what? It doesn't mean we can't consider policies to address this particularly appalling subset of homicides.

Now is the time to talk about how we can prevent school shootings. But the debate we're having is not the debate we need.

The washington examiner

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