In the hours and days following the fatal mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, variations of a familiar phrase were circulated by politicians.
After the school shooting that left 17 dead, President Donald Trump tweeted Feb. 14 saying, “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting.”
Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. tweeted: “Today is that terrible day you pray never comes.”
Vice President Mike Pence tweeted “our hearts break” for those affected by the shooting, and “These students, teachers, administrators, & families will all remain in our prayers.”
Prayer is a comfort and form of power for many, and invoking it is often done with good intentions. But using “thoughts and prayers” as the only response to the preventable murder of 14 teenagers and three adults is a display of willful ignorance.
Prayer won’t stop mass shootings. If it did, more than 400 people wouldn’t have been shot in U.S. school shootings since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, The New York Times reported.
If prayer alone worked, The Phoenix wouldn’t have felt it was necessary to write an editorial about the October Las Vegas shooting which left nearly 60 people dead.
So what can help prevent mass shootings? Stricter gun laws would be a step in the right direction. Some say gun regulations only impact law-abiding citizens, but the weapon used by the Parkland shooter was a legally purchased AR-15 rifle. This semi-automatic rifle is the same type used in five of the six deadliest U.S. mass shootings in the past six years, The New York Times reported.
These weapons are easier to obtain in Florida than a handgun.
To purchase an AR-15 rifle in Florida, you must pass a background check and have not had certain blemishes on your record, such as a felony or an involuntary commitment into a mental institution. These restrictions aren’t enough. The shooter — who we have decided not to name to avoid adding to the proliferation of his infamy — has been described as “deeply disturbed” by his public defender. There were several warning signs he was inclined toward violence — including a tip to the FBI in January that wasn’t acted on — but by all purposes of the law, he was fit to possess the rifle he used to kill 17 people.
But why does the average citizen have the ability to own an AR-15 rifle in the first place? While other types of guns can be used and have been used to kill civilians, handguns don’t work nearly as fast and aren’t nearly as deadly as a semi-automatic or fully automatic weapon, which are often designed to maximize destruction.
We don’t think getting rid of all guns is the answer, and few people who advocate for gun control would argue for a total ban. But, the constitutional right to bear arms won’t be eradicated by enacting stricter regulations on assault rifles and semi-automatics — a common sense regulation meant to protect the lives of the innocent. This is a value The Phoenix deems more important than the ability to grow an impressive gun collection or adhere in the most literal sense to a centuries-old constitutional provision.
An argument has been thrown around by those against gun control in the past week involving our own city: Several have argued Chicago, a city with relatively strict gun laws, still sees high rates of gun violence.
However, a 2014 Chicago Police Department report shows that between 2009 and 2013, nearly 60 percent of recovered guns used in a crime in Chicago were first purchased outside Illinois. Nearly 30 percent of illegal guns came from Indiana, Mississippi and Wisconsin, according to the report.
Chicago might have more restrictions on guns than other states — though not nearly the “toughest” gun laws in the United States, a claim from Trump several others have refuted — but it’s fairly easy to cross into neighboring states with less gun restrictions to purchase a weapon. To reduce gun violence as a whole, we’re going to need help from our neighbors — and the nation at large — to make sure driving a few hours across arbitrary state lines doesn’t lead to another mass shooting.
The argument calling gun control ineffective falls further flat when comparing the United States to other nations. In 1996, Australia cracked down on guns, banning rapid-fire guns after a mass shooting killed dozens of people. The nation has seen no fatal mass shootings since the 1996 legislation was passed.
To deny that gun regulations have any ability to lower the chances of future mass shootings occurring in the United States displays a grave indifference to human life — especially coming from politicians whose decisions seem to be heavily swayed by donations from the National Rifle Association rather than the needs of the country they claim to love.
Praying for less violence doesn’t allow you to wash your hands of the topic. Politicians weren’t elected to their positions to think an issue away and avoid “politicizing” a tragedy. They were elected to serve the public and work toward a better society by taking action.
Several of the Parkland survivors themselves have spared little time pointing at politicians and pleading for gun restrictions. These survivors have faced immeasurable tragedy and heartbreak and are grieving for their community, yet they’re still politicizing the topic of gun violence.
Don’t use prayer as a default replacement for implementing regulations that could save lives. If nothing is changed, we could be in this same situation weeks or months from now. And if you do think just prayer will fix mass shootings, don’t act shocked when it happens again.