GUEST OPINION: Leaders need profile in courage

By BRIAN HOWEY, guest columnist

In the tragic wake of the 18th American school shooting so far in 2018, at this writing, my email inbox had yet to receive one of those trite “thoughts and prayers” news releases from the Indiana congressional delegation and Vice President Mike Pence.

Progress comes in baby steps.

President Donald Trump did fall into briefly into this trap, tweeting, “My prayers and condolences to the families of the victims of the terrible Florida shooting. No child, teacher or anyone else should ever feel unsafe in an American school.”

At least he got the second sentence right. But in nationally televised remarks Thursday morning, Trump said, “Our entire nation, with one heavy heart, is praying for victims and their families. To every parent, teacher and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you whatever you need.”

Trump later said he plans to work with state and local leaders to “tackle the difficult issue of mental health.”

Remember John F. Kennedy’s “Profiles in Courage”? In 21st century America, with an inert Congress unable to lift a finger in the wake of domestic terror campaign for fear of attracting National Rifle Association campaign opposition funding, this is an ongoing profile in cowardice.

Since the Sandy Hook school atrocity in December 2012 where 26 kids and teachers were slaughtered, 439 people have been shot in 273 school shootings. There are 112 of these students, teachers, coaches, educators who have been killed.

Phrases like “active shooter” and “lockdown” are now becoming the normal lexicon for our kids.

The nightmare of parents is to get an alarming text and watch on cable TV police swarming the neighborhood school, once deemed a safe place.

If they’re fortunate, they’ll watch their kids stream across parking lots with their hands in the air.

Clint Van Zandt, a former FBI profiler, observed on MSNBC that a few decades ago, “Our teachers ran tornado drills. Now, they have to be experts in crowd control and know how to calm and shelter kids amid horror.”

Our Hoosier churches are now conducting massacre evasion tactics.

Think about that. This is what our kids are getting used to. It’s the new norm.

We’ve become the modern Bloody Kansas, or the Civil War-era Missouri engulfed in an atrocity-filled guerrilla campaign.

The perps of today emerge from shadowy basements after years of violent videos. Their new heroes are the shooters who end up in the headlines and CNN.

The Washington Post reports that shooters often carried more than one weapon; one was found with 24. At least 166 of mass shooters’ weapons were obtained legally, and 49 were obtained illegally. It’s unclear how 77 weapons were acquired.

Semiautomatic rifles have been used in some of the country’s deadliest shootings, including Newtown’s Sandy Hook, Orlando, San Bernardino and Las Vegas.

The AR-15, a lightweight, customizable version of the military’s M16, with no hunting application, soared in popularity after a federal ban on assault weapons expired in 2004.

Some of the Las Vegas shooter’s guns had been fitted with legal devices called “bump-fire stocks,” which allow semiautomatic rifles to fire as quickly as automatic ones.

How this in acceptable in any way is the essential question of our times.

Thus far in Indiana, beyond several multiple homicides in homes, there has only been one mass shooting in a public or work environment, coming in 2002 at South Bend’s Bertrand Products, where five were killed and two were injured.

But what we are witnessing every three days or so is a contagion that inspires the copycat. Hoosiers have dodged bullets. We may not be so lucky in the future.

So when President Trump vows to teachers and students to be there for “whatever you need,” what we need are courageous lawmakers and a president willing to take on the proliferation of assault weapons, to ban add-ons like bump stocks that helped kill 58 country music fans in Las Vegas last fall. There needs to be billions of dollars spent on mental health screening and support. There needs to be more extensive background checks.

This doesn’t even need to conjure political courage beyond standing up to the NRA. An October Politico/Morning Consult Poll revealed 55 percent of gun owners favor reforms.

Some 88 percent back background checks on all gun sales; 87 percent back preventing gun sales to known criminals or those with documented severe mental health issues; 87 percent want expanded screening and treatment for mentally ill; 84 percent want gun show background checks; 82 percent back gun bans on those on no-fly or watch lists; and 72 percent favor banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines.

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, the former Indiana health commissioner, tweeted Thursday: “We must let the police investigate fully, but we can and must do better as a country to address the factors which lead to gun-related violence. The status quo is not an option.”

Perhaps this is just the seed, the start. Maybe Dr. Adams is on to something.

Brian Howey of Nashville is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana at Find him on Facebook and Twitter @hwypol.