Guns drawn, local law enforcement had to march toward a school bus full of students Feb. 16 after a report that one of them had a firearm. This week, local school officials rushed to tamp down social media rumors that a student brought a gun to a Flowery Branch school. On Thursday, students in Dawson and Forsyth counties were arrested for making threats against schools in their areas.
Anxiety about mass shootings roils through the nation, from the tearful rage at the White House listening session to the Hall County and Gainesville cops who were forced to bark orders — “Keep your hands outside the windows, now!” — through a loudspeaker at school children.
Local churches put the victims of the Parkland shooting in their prayers and pray for a solution to the problem of mass shootings, as the pastor of Friendship Baptist Church in Cleveland did at Thursday’s meeting of the Hall County Board of Commissioners.
Partisans on the left and right debate what to do about mass shootings. Should the nation ban high-capacity magazines or the AR-15 rifle platform? Should we get more armed security in public schools or metal detectors — or even arm teachers? Does the nation need to invest more money into mental health treatment?
Citizens and lawmakers aren’t coalescing around any of these ideas.
But what is a state or a nation to do when, year after year, front pages and televisions scream the names and faces of people murdered in schools, workplaces and in public places?
This week, students across the country walked out of their schools in protest, and gun control groups demonstrated at the Georgia Capitol and many others to demand action on gun laws.
But at the same time, more than 400 million guns are legally owned in the country — more than there are people — and several rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court have resolved that the Second Amendment confirms the individual’s right to own them.
There’s not one clear solution, and Republicans in power in Washington, D.C., are left with an uncomfortable position: They don’t think there’s anything they can do.
“I can’t legislate an idiot from walking into a school. I can’t do it,” said Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, in a Feb. 19 interview with the Gainesville Times. “I can’t make a better law to fix where an FBI agent should have checked out a report.”
When a gunman opened fire on a concert crowd in Las Vegas last year, the public found something to be blamed or banned: Bump stocks, a device that allowed the shooter to increase his rate of fire beyond that of the shot-per-trigger-pull semi-automatic firearm.
The response to that demand is still churning amid a review from federal law enforcement, through President Donald Trump announced this week he wanted the devices banned.
With the latest high-profile mass killing in Florida, what is there to ban or blame? Reporting after the incident has shown local law enforcement were well aware of the shooter’s violent history, and the FBI received a tip about his online threats and didn’t follow up on it.
An armed school resource officer was on the scene and waited outside the building while people were being killed inside. He has since resigned.
But with so many causes to blame, Collins said he doesn’t want to do something for its own sake.
“If there are issues out there that need to be fixed that are within the scope of what we do now that can fix a law or make something (better), then that’s something we need to do,” Collins said. “Simply to pass a law to make people feel good but really doesn’t do anything is as bad as turning a deaf ear and not saying there’s something wrong.”
It is frustrating, he acknowledged, to see again and again these attacks on innocent citizens. Collins said in the case of the Florida shooting and in the Sutherland Springs, Texas, shooting inside of a church, law enforcement were aware of both shooters and, had the system worked as the law prescribed, neither should have had a weapon.
But banning a piece of equipment, he said, won’t solve the nation’s mass-shooter problem.
The worst school shooting in United States history — but not the worst attack on a school — happened in 2007 at Virginia Tech, when a shooter killed 32 people and wounded 17 using only two handguns.
One of his handguns was a .22-caliber, a small-bore round often used for target practice. The same caliber firearm was also used in the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.
The worst attack on a United States school happened in 1927 in central Michigan, when a farmer detonated a fertilizer bomb in his truck outside of an elementary school — killing 38 elementary school children, six adults and wounding 58 other people.
Louisiana Republican Steve Scalise was almost killed in an attack in June 2017, during which the gunman wielded an SKS semi-automatic, fixed-magazine rifle (which is fed from the top by a stripper clip with 7.62x39 ammunition) and a 9mm Smith & Wesson handgun.
Collins is quick to note he’s the son of a state trooper — but this week, he notes a different aspect of that life: Growing up seeing a firearm on his father’s dresser.
“I never thought about touching it,” Collins said. “I’m not one of those that looks back and says everything was great 40 years ago ... (but) how do you deal with folks who have such low regard for life that the first thing they want to do is take a knife, a gun or something and go kill somebody?”
Collins represents 18 counties in Northeast Georgia and two partial counties. He gets death threats by the month, and one woman was sent to jail in 2015 after credibly threatening Collins and his daughter.
“You’re going to kill me over a vote?” Collins said. “You’re going to say, ‘I killed you because I think health care could be done differently.’ Really?”
A “culture of hate” is not just affecting U.S. politics, Collins said, but the country at large and is being compounded by social media-fueled isolation.
“Where else in the world can a kid who doesn’t have anybody who talks to them at school have 20,000 friends on a Facebook account?” Collins said. “They live vicariously through their Facebook account and yet go to school, sit by themselves, eat lunch by themselves and never carry on a conversation with anybody else — and call that whole.”
Whether that’s the cause — and what the viable, American solution is to mass-casualty events in schools and other public places — isn’t known to Collins or other lawmakers.