FARGO – Every time a mass shooting occurs, tempers flare, conversations crackle across social media platforms and Congressional podiums, and then fizzle. This time, after the 353rd mass shooting in America since 1966, something has changed.
Students are speaking up. They’re challenging senators, the President, principals, even the burly National Rifle Association. From Florida to Moorhead, Minnesota, students are marching, calling for stricter laws against assault weapons. Companies, such as the First National Bank of Omaha, Delta Airlines, United Airlines, Hertz, and Enterprise, among others, are cutting contracts and backing away from supporting the NRA.
But politicians, backed by NRA gold, keep opposing bills tightening background check requirements, and shifting blame to victims, asking why didn’t anyone defend themselves. Shooting from the hip and saying more guns equals less crime, doesn’t match worldwide statistics. Countries such as Finland, Austria, France, Canada, Norway, and Denmark, have strict gun laws, and all had fewer than three gun-related deaths per million people in 2010, whereas America had 66 deaths per one million people, according to the World Health Organization.
Days after students began pushing back on gun rights issues, staunch supporters of the Second Amendment began spreading conspiracy theories by besmirching the students. Prominent members of the far right, otherwise known as the so-called “Alt-right,” such as NRA board member Ted Nugent, or Alex Jones, radio show host for “Infowars,” have also repeatedly spun conspiracy theories after each mass shooting, saying students at the targeted schools are “coached” actors.
President Donald Trump jumped onto the finger-pointing bandwagon, offering more “prayers and thoughts” on February 14, blaming authorities for failure to respond on February 15, and two days later saying the Federal Bureau of Investigation was at fault.
While the FBI admitted they were at fault for failing to recognize the warning signs before 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz allegedly went on a rampage with an AR-15 style semi-automatic rifle in Parkland, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, known locally as MSD, survivors of the shooting say he should never have been able to purchase an assault rifle.
“How about we stop blaming the victim for something that was the shooter’s fault,” Emma Gonzalez, 18, and a senior at MSD, said at an anti-gun rally days after the shooting spree that killed 17 people.
“Politicians who sit in their gilded houses and Senate seats funded by the NRA telling us nothing could have ever been done to prevent this, we call BS. They say a good guy with a gun stops a bad guy with a gun, we call BS.”
Two weeks after Parkland’s mass shooting, Democrats from Rhode Island and Florida introduced the “Assault Weapons Ban of 2018,” which aims to ban all semi-automatic assault weapons with detachable magazines capable of loading more than 10 rounds. The bill includes a long list of weapons that are on the chopping block, including the AR-15 and the AR-10. The ban would not include assault weapons lawfully possessed under federal law, and would require the Attorney General to create a public record of semiautomatic assault weapons used in crimes.
So far in 2018, a mass shooting has occurred 34 times, or every 1.7 days, with four verified school incidents, killing 21 and injuring more than 35.
In 2017, 2,239 people were shot in American mass shootings, leaving 437 dead.
In the deadliest mass shooting in America’s history, 58 concertgoers were killed while attending a Las Vegas music festival in October 2017. Hundreds more were injured.
Sixteen months earlier, a gunman armed with a handgun and a semi-automatic rifle murdered 49 people and injured another 58 at an Orlando nightclub, which was then called the nation’s worst mass shooting. The nightclub’s attack came six months after a man and a woman opened fire in a Californian social services center, killing 14 and injuring 22.
From Columbine to Sandy Hook, each time a mass shooting occurs, politicians express dismay, send their thoughts and prayers, a Facebook conversation begins, but the arguments fade in time for the next tragedy.
Some media outlets have reported 18 school shootings since January 1, 2018, but many of the incidents include suicide, stray bullets, and accidental shootings. A total of 353 school shootings have occurred since 1966, in kindergartens through 12th grade public schools, private schools, and colleges. The number doesn’t reflect police actions, murder suicides, or bombings.
Narrow the scope to a public mass shooting where four or more people were killed, throw out gang disputes or robberies gone bad, and the number of mass shootings since 1966 in the United States reaches 150.
From the day 25-year-old Charles Whitman climbed 307 feet up the University of Texas tower on August 1, 1966, to Nikolas Cruz’s known preparations to massacre 17 people at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, a total of 1,077 people have been killed.
The bullets fired in each of the mass shootings didn’t differentiate between race, religion, or age, and range from one-year-old Noah Holcombe, one of the 26 victims at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, to 98-year-old Louise De Kler, gunned down at the Pinelake Health and Rehab Center in Carthage, North Carolina in 2009.
A total of 292 guns were used in the 150 shootings. Some killers carried more than one weapon, ranging from Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolvers to .308-caliber Remington rifles, to the recent weapon of choice, the Armalite AR-15 assault rifle. More than 33 semi-automatic assault-style weapons such as the AR-10 or the AR-15 have been used in mass shootings since 2004. In earlier years, killers used versions of the Chinese-made AK-47, or the M1, or Ruger Mini-14s.
The AR-15 is a lightweight version of the M16, a weapon whose popularity soared after a 10-year ban on assault weapons expired in 2004.
Fifty years before the 1966 Texas tower shooting, there were only 25 public mass shootings where four or more people were killed, according to “The New York Times.”
Americans make up approximately 4.4 percent of the global population, but own nearly half of the world’s guns, according to a 2015 study from the University of Alabama.
Time equals lives
Since Posse Comitatus leader and tax evader Gordon Kahl killed two U.S. Marshals at a road stop near Medina, former police chief of the town, Darrell Graf, has had a lot of time to think about assault weapons. Kahl, his son, and his men, armed with semi-automatic Ruger Mini-14s loaded with 30-round banana clips holding powerful .223-caliber cartridges, killed Kenneth Muir and Robert Cheshire before leading law enforcement on a nationwide manhunt.
“I do not work to this day because of PTSD from the Kahl incident,” Graf said from his home in Bismarck. “But in all fairness, I would rather look down the barrel of an AR-15 than someone with a 12-gauge with buckshot in it. They could be drunk, and doped up, and stupid, and uneducated on how to handle a firearm and still do a lot more damage than an AR-15 can do.
“We used to call them alley sweepers. You could clean out a whole alley with a 12-gauge.”
The Mini-14 is a friendlier looking weapon when compared to the more expensive AR-15, and that’s why the public is “picking on” the weapon, which resembles military-grade assault rifle, Graf said.
“They’re a very good caliber for furbearers, the bullet will go through and not tear the fur up so much,” Graf said.
Graf owns an AR-15; he hunts with it. He is a lifelong member of the NRA, and supports the Second Amendment, meaning he does not want to see a national ban on assault weapons. In small towns and larger cities in North Dakota, he would like to see armed teachers.
“If teachers were allowed to pack, and if somebody is weird enough to take on a school, and they don’t know what’s going to happen because it’s not a gun-free zone anymore, they will probably end up going to a Dairy Queen or McDonalds instead of taking on a school,” Graf said. “You see where I am coming from? The element of surprise is worth its weight in gold.”
In rural areas, law enforcement cannot arrive quickly enough on scene to be of use, Graf said.
“Take a little town like Page, North Dakota. Sixty miles from Fargo, it’s likely going to take sheriffs a while to get to that town. Well, I will tell you that I’ve dealt with professionals. All they did was screw up everything they touched.
“Now let’s look at the Florida situation. The School Resource Officer stood outside, obviously afraid to go in, the first three deputy sheriffs stood outside while the shooting was going on. What the hell good are these professionals?
“If they’re good people and not afraid of protecting their own life, they will protect the lives of children.”
A larger city like Fargo would also benefit from arming teachers, Graf said.
“I’ve put a lot of thought into this, and something needs to be done to stop this stuff. Yes, even if there are resource officers there, because one resource officer in Florida showed us what these officers can be like. They [teachers] should have the right to protect themselves. I don’t mean some 62-pound 90-year-old math teacher -- female -- who can’t hardly lift a pencil. I’m talking about the guy who goes out and practices and hunts and has an array of guns in his house because he likes to hunt.”
If teachers are armed, and are capable of neutralizing a threat, by the time police arrived their guns would be holstered, and such teachers should be denoted with a special orange tag to eliminate confusion, Graf said.
Fargo Police Chief David Todd said all high schools and middle schools have School Resource Officers. Elementary schools have officers assigned to regularly check on the schools.
“We also have our own type of intelligence-gathering network where we come across or are informed of concerning behavior, or threats, or social media situations that concern us,” Todd said. “We will intervene as quickly as possible to determine if there is a threat there or not, and the school district works hand in hand with us on that.”
Police would arrive in any school in Fargo within two minutes, and response times should be even quicker because schools already have an officer nearby.
“We treat these things differently than we did 20 years ago,” Todd said. “We go in immediately to address a threat. That’s our training and that’s my expectation. We’ve learned that time equals lives, so it’s imperative to get in there and address that threat as quickly as possible.”
News reports have indicated that the School Resource Officer and other deputies did not respond in a timely fashion during Parkland’s recent mass shooting.
“From what I’ve seen on social media that is causing shockwaves in the School Resource Office community,” Todd said. “The expectation is: you are responsible for those kids and their safety, and you will go to that threat and address that threat immediately.”
Todd is also a Second Amendment supporter, but believes laws should change. He’s talked with Fargo Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jeffrey Shatz and said both agree that arming teachers isn’t appropriate for Fargo.
“This question comes up from time to time,” Todd said. “I’m not in favor of arming teachers in Fargo, because we have rapid response and have a School Resource Officer in every high school and junior high.”
Because of training techniques, officers could easily mistake a teacher with a gun for a “bad guy with a gun,” Todd said.
“You have to recognize that when officers go into those situations, to assist the SRO or are responding in a school, they do not know who the good guy is or the bad guy is. All they’re going to see is a somebody standing there with a gun, and because it’s so imperative to stop that threat quickly, in order to save kids, they’re going to address what they consider a threat. I worry about being able to identify who somebody is with a gun when we’ve trained all this time on responding and stopping the threat as quickly as possible.
“That being said, my rationale may not be appropriate in some small town in the county that doesn’t have a police department. It may be that that community deems it is important for one of their teachers or administrators have a gun. That is not for me to decide.”
Todd doesn’t believe an assault weapons ban will help thwart gun violence.
“I don’t think it does anything because we probably have a 100 million of them out there already,” Todd said. “What I am in favor of is maybe some more rigorous background checks and mental health issues being looked at closer before people are allowed to purchase guns. I’m a supporter of the Second Amendment. I’m not interested in diminishing the rights of law-abiding citizens, but I am for training, and I am for background checks, and that includes gun shows and things like that.”
Follow the money
North Dakota, a constitutional carry, or “permitless” carry state, is one of 13 states that allow concealed carrying of a handgun without a permit, even in a car. The state has a history of voting red, and with the NRA.
The National Rifle Association made $1,085,150 in political contributions during the 2016 election cycle, and lobbyists spent a total of $54,398,558 in trying to influence elections, according to Open Secrets Center for Responsive Politics. Approximately $200,000 went to Republican committees in 2016, including $8,450 to U.S. Senator John Hoeven, R-ND, and $2,000 to Congressman Kevin Cramer, R-ND.
Days after the latest mass school shooting, Cramer posted his announcement to run against Democratic incumbent, U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp, and mentioned the Florida tragedy in passing.
“As a father and a grandfather, my heart goes out to every family impacted by this tragedy,” Cramer said. “And I believe these events don’t happen in a vacuum. I agree with President Trump when he says we need to embrace a culture of life, a life.”
And then he changed the subject to abortion issues.
Cramer’s top donator is still Energy Transfer Equity, the company behind the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline, with $31,050, according to Open Secrets Center for Responsive Politics. The National Rifle Association donated $2,500 to Cramer, so far, for him to challenge Heidi Heitkamp’s Senate seat. Cramer also received NRA funding of $2,000 during the 2014 election cycle.
Hoeven has received more monies from the NRA than Cramer, a total of $9,450 between 2013 and 2018. In 2014, Hoeven also received $1,000 from the NRA.
Hoeven voted down banning high-capacity magazines of over 10 bullets, he opposes restrictions on the right to bear arms, and received an “A” rating from the NRA, a title many politicians covet, according to voting records. Hoeven also opposed the United Nations’ Arms Trade Treaty, President Obama’s attempt to limit international weapons commerce.
High-capacity magazines have an overall capacity of more than 10 rounds, and the proposed law would have banned such equipment, which are “used to kill more people more quickly and, in fact, have been used in more than half the mass shootings since 1982,” according to U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-CT.
No records of NRA sponsorship were found for Heitkamp, but she voted no on banning high-capacity magazines of over 10 bullets, according to voting records. She also tweeted on February 20 that she supports banning bump stocks, which turn semi-automatic rifles into machine guns.
“I support banning these types of devices and it should be one piece of a needed bipartisan conversation in Congress about long-term solutions to stop gun violence,” Heitkamp said.
“We can't witness so many horrific mass shootings at schools, churches, and elsewhere across the country and accept that we can't do more to prevent them,” Heitkamp said after being asked about her position on gun control. “We need a bipartisan conversation in Congress about long-term solutions to gun violence. If the president is open to that discussion then it's a positive sign we can focus on common sense ways to save lives and keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them while protecting Second Amendment rights. There are many proposals and ideas that members of Congress should discuss, but sending children to school with armed teachers is not a good idea and takes this critical conversation in the wrong direction."
Governor Doug Burgum, a Republican, is also a gun supporter and received an “A” rating from the NRA. In January 2016, he said President Obama was overreaching on gun issues, but that the more rules passed against guns, the higher the gun sales. In 2017, Burgum signed the residents-only concealed carry permit law, or House Bill 1169, into law.
Luke Simons, District 36 House of Representatives, echoed President Trump’s call to arm teachers in a public Facebook post.
“In the light of the tragedy that we all know about, about this very sick and demented person, this individual, who committed a cowardly act and killed helpless people, I have been asked repeatedly: Do you have a solution?” Simons said. “And the answer in short is, ‘Yes, I do.’
“By having a deputy or a guard there, don’t advertise it, don’t do anything, you would simply be making it so they are guarded all the time. Oh, you might be able to hurt one or two people, but that’s about it. It’s a pretty simple solution really. Sometimes I am boggled by the lack of common sense, these things are happening in gun-free zones, people, that’s the real problem at hand, that’s the task that we really need to look at here. All gun-free zones give the right to the people to protect themselves. That’s the solution to stopping this.
“This is not barbaric, this is reality. If you live in a place with halos, well then, it makes sense that we wouldn’t need to protect ourselves. People are evil, and evil people do evil things. Protect yourself against evil people.”
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