Many Americans found themselves shocked and appalled as details rolled in about the Robb Elementary School shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Me, I could only be appalled. I have lost the ability to be shocked after a school shooting. There was a time when that was not the case. I am old enough to remember the Columbine High School massacre. I remember walking down the hallway, peeking into the teachers lounge and catching a glimpse of teachers watching the TV on one of those big carts the A.V. Club used to roll to class on movie day. I remember seeing the teachers whisper to each other during dismissal. I remember not knowing how to contextualize it. I was old enough to know that, unfortunately, shootings were not rare by that point, but I didn’t imagine that it could happen at school.
But that feeling is gone. With respect to the victims, all of these shootings run together in my head now. There are a few big ones that stand out over the years. Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, and now Uvalde. But unfortunately, I wasn’t surprised by any of them, nor was I surprised by the responses. Thoughts and prayers always come first. Then, there is usually some chorus calling for gun control … only to be inevitably drowned out by the strength of the 2nd amendment. This isn’t a political piece. There are already enough people telling you how to feel about guns. This piece is about a phrase that we often hear after these events:
“We are better than this.”
We heard it after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.
We heard it after the Virginia Tech shooting.
We heard it after Uvalde.
“We are better than this.”
But are we? Logic dictates that if we find ourselves saying this multiple times over the course of three decades then perhaps, we aren’t actually “better than this.” This might just be who we are.
If a basketball player averages 90% from the free-throw line but has a poor game where he misses most of them, he still has a valid claim to be better than his most recent performance.
If a player who only averages around 40% from the free-throw and shoots around 40% during the game then he can’t realistically claim to be better than that. He’s just not a good free-throw shooter.
This distinction matters because the two aforementioned players have different measures to take in order to reach proficiency. The player who shoots 90% probably just needs to clear their head and be ready for the next game. The player who shoots 40% needs to hit the gym and start practicing because his poor game was not an outlier.
This is where America is with school shootings. We’ve had 40 deaths from gunfire on school grounds this year. That is not a substantially higher number than we are used to seeing. It’s actually less than last year. The year over year data show that school shootings are actually just part of the American education system.
I’m not an idiot. I understand the sentiment behind the “we are better than this” phrase. America is more than school shootings. There is obviously much to be positive about in regard to the American experience. But just we like own those positives, we need to own those negatives.
Many people have been throwing ideas out to fix school shootings: gun control, mental health services, and even armed guards. Whatever idea you subscribe to, the first step is admitting that school shootings are a unique facet of life in the United States, and they aren’t going away unless we actually do something.