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In the 10 years since Sandy Hook, gun laws in the U.S. haven't changed much

Emergency personnel gather near Robb Elementary School following a shooting Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen children and two adults were shot and killed.
Dario Lopez-Mills
/
AP
Emergency personnel gather near Robb Elementary School following a shooting Tuesday, May 24, 2022, in Uvalde, Texas. Nineteen children and two adults were shot and killed.

A teenage gunman walked into an elementary school Tuesday in Uvalde, Texas, and opened fire, killing 19 children and two adults, making it the second deadliest school shooting in American history.

The mass shooting at Robb Elementary School comes nearly 10 years after the deadliest school shooting on record, where 26 people were killed and two were injured at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012.

In that 10-year span, gun laws in the United States have not changed much.

NPR interviewed Ron Avi Astor, a mass shooting expert and UCLA professor, who said he is not sure why that is, and was hopeful the Sandy Hook shooting would spark new legislation. But he suggests that Americans reframe their approach to the problem.

Here's what he had to say:

Outside of school shootings, violence in schools has declined for years

If you look over the last 20 years, really since Columbine, there's been a massive, massive, massive ... decrease in victimization and violence in schools. When you look at bullying, and you look at, even weapon use ... the magnitude of the reductions is like 50 to 70% depending on the issue, particularly for California. But, that's true nationally in almost all the states. So some of the stuff we were doing for regular school safety and school victimization, things actually have been working for all ethnic groups, all ages, genders. There's been big reductions and that's actually a story that doesn't get out very often.

But I think where we maybe went astray in the last 20 years in terms of legislation, is we kind of connected the idea of school safety and bullying — all these things that happen to kids in their schools on a daily basis — we connected them with the shootings. And I think they're different.

The community must intervene with services before the crime is committed

When you look at these shooters, they have a lot of things in common that happen together. So for example, almost all of them have long histories of mental health struggles. They're things like obsessions with firearms that are endless, amassing arsenals of guns in their house, obsessions with Hitler or dictators or ideologies that are hateful.

They have long histories of letting people know, whether it be at school, or their friends, or they post a lot of their stuff. They might even write about it in essays at school. And then, to top it all off, they're suicidal. Almost all of them have suicidal tendencies, and they become homicidal. In other words, they're gonna do both. And finally, they want to be remembered. They don't want to be forgotten.

My opinion is after it's happened, it's happened. Those lives are not coming back. That person needs to pay the price for taking the lives. I think where we have a lot of leeway is before it happens, because it's a long process. Nobody just wakes up in the morning and does it. It's years. It's years. It's telling lots of people.

So we have opportunities and many points along the way within the school, within the peer group, within the family, within the community.

The media holds a responsibility in minimizing the impacts of mass shootings

I think it's an interesting dynamic because I think the media is amplifying school shootings. You get almost no coverage with stabbings or clubs or any other kind of weapon. Or even if there's a shooting and it didn't kill people. You have to kill a lot of people, right? Let's just say you miss people or you got people injured. We don't even log that.

If you look back 20 years, the percentages [of violence] were, again, 50 to 70% higher. My guess says that it was those policies and the media coverage that actually helps those day-to-day kind of things that kids go through, which is a really good story.

But the reason why it doesn't get out there is because the media is driven by the school shootings. So you can have the most peaceful, successful school in the world right now, and then an outside shooter will come in and shoot, and that's what we're left with.

If you remove the reporting about the person — who they were, what their cause was, why they did it — it stops. The copycats stop, and you you reduce dramatically the frequency and the intensity in which it happens. I don't know, with social media, regular media, if we're going to be able to do that.

Where is the legislation?

I don't really have a good understanding why [there hasn't been more gun control legislation]. Maybe it is money. Maybe it is the gun lobby. Maybe it's become politicized and an ideological thing, but it should be treated as a public health measure. You have the right to drive, but you need a driver's license. You need a passport to fly in and out of the country. This shouldn't be any different than any other hazardous material that somebody has to deal with. So, I mean, at that level, I don't really have a good answer to your question.

There needs to be more advocacy on a local and state level

I think we've spent too much time on top-down, in terms of 'why aren't the legislators doing this?' The more we get ground-up from students and parents and community talking, actioning, discussing, planning, the more it's going to move above. I think part of the complacency from the politicians is the fact that they anticipate that people are gonna get tired about this after a week or two, they'll forget and move on to the next topic.

Politicians will respond if they see sustained action, and voting, by the way. So that's what I would love to see. Not legislation, not rules right now. Have an open, democratic, free discussion about what kids' parents think. Let's have an open discussion about it, rather than school boards screaming back and forth.

With Parkland, I would have thought more would have come out of it, but not as much came out of it that we thought. We thought we'd get major change after Sandy Hook, but that didn't happen. I think it was very disappointing and disillusioning.

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