Feb 22, 2018

Following the atrocity in Parkland, America is once again at a crossroads. If we fail to act yet again, our nation will continue to witness the annual slaughter of nearly 40,000 of our fellow citizens. The status quo is not sustainable as the social fabric is being torn apart. Young people are growing up in a world in which they believe that everyone they encounter may be a shooter or predator.

The proportion of citizens who would like to see reasonable gun laws enacted is growing. A recent Gallup poll shows that half of Americans favor stricter gun laws and just 8 percent favor weaker laws. However, polls show that gun owners are more politically active, contributing more money to political campaigns and contacting their legislators more frequently than non-owners.

As for solutions, ramping up school security brings diminishing returns. Many schools already have strong perimeter security, lock-down procedures, and security personnel. Stifling security also raises fears which, in turn, undermine the learning process and may lead more kids to arm themselves. We ought to lock up guns, not kids.

Semi-automatic military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines have no place in our communities. When these weapons are used in shootings, an average of eight more people are shot. Following their most lethal mass shooting in the 1990s, Australia bought back such weapons and have not experienced a public mass shooting since.

We also need to do a better job of vetting gun owners. All firearm transfers should involve a criminal background check. In addition, we need to improve this flawed system as a simple check of FBI databases is insufficient. It’s a system that permitted the Parkland shooter to buy a gun legally even though many people were aware of disturbing behavior and statements on his part.

In other countries, gun buyers require a license and the application involves an interview and reference checks. In Germany, following three devastating school shootings in the 2000s, a psychological evaluation was added for all male license applicants under the age of 25.

We must also face the fact that many American communities are not functioning well. Young people are becoming more socially isolated, spending more time alone, having fewer close friends, participating less in organized activities, and more often living in unstable family situations. High residential mobility characterizes many communities in Florida. Where people are less invested in communities, they are not likely to intervene or report troublesome behavior.

We must build strong, compassionate, and inclusive communities that can identify those at risk of extreme behavior and offer support to these individuals. Ultimately, such initiatives and smart gun laws will pay for themselves as they will help avert the devastating human, social, and financial costs arising from a mass shooting.


Editor’s note: Gabor isa criminologist living in Palm Beach County and author of “Confronting Gun Violence in America.”