Time to protect our children

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On Feb. 14, 19-year-old Nikolas Jacob Cruz entered the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, with an AR-15 rifle. When he walked out a few minutes later, he left the rifle and a backpack full of ammunition. He had killed 17 students and teachers and wounded 14 more. Some of the victims were shot as many as nine times. Reports indicate his attack lasted about five minutes, and many were shot through windows of their classrooms.

The Parkland shooting was the 18th time shots were fired in an American school this year. In eight of the shootings nobody was killed or wounded, but in the other 10 attacks at least one student was killed or wounded. There have been three shootings at schools in Texas, two in California schools and two in different Michigan schools so far this year. There are 10 other states that had at least one school shooting.

The Gun Violence Archive, which tracks mass shootings (defined as incidents where four or more people are shot, not including the shooter), reports there have been 30 mass shooting incidents this year in the U.S.

The deadliest U.S. shooting happened in October 2017 when a gunman opened fire on a music festival crowd from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. There were 59 people killed and more than 500 injured. The gunfire lasted about eight minutes.

The second deadliest U.S. shooting occurred on June 12, 2016, when Omar Saddiqui Mateen, 29, opened fire inside Pulse, a nightclub in Orlando, Florida. At least 49 people are killed and more than 50 injured. Police were at the scene in fewer than three minutes after the first shot was fired and shot and killed Mateen.

The 2007 mass shooting on Virginia Tech’s campus remains the deadliest school shooting in US history and the third deadliest overall. Gunman Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at the school, killed more than 30 students and instructors in two separate attacks about two hours apart before committing suicide.

Two shootings are tied for fourth deadliest. One is the shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Nov. 5, 2017,during which 26 parishioners were killed and 20 were wounded. The victims ranged in age from a few months to 72 years old. The shooting lasted about three minutes.

In the other shooting, 20 children ages 5 to 7 and six adults were shot and killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on Dec. 14, 2012. Some of those tiny children were shot as many as seven times.

All of these shootings were committed by a single gunman armed with semiautomatic weapons and large amounts of ammunition. Each lasted only a few minutes and caused devastating casualties.

I am definitely not anti-guns. I am a gun owner and respect the constitutional right of gun ownership. The U.S. Supreme Court has consistently ruled that the right belongs to individuals, while also ruling that the right is not unlimited and does not prohibit all regulation of firearms and similar weapons. The right to own guns is not absolute and it is a right that can be lost. For example, convicted felons and domestic abusers are often prohibited.

The Second Amendment was adopted on Dec. 15, 1791. It reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

The Founding Fathers were adamantly opposed to a professional army of paid soldiers. They believed that citizens should be prepared to take up arms and defend America. Those citizens were to form a militia and would have to provide their own weapons. In 1791 Mortars cannon, Matchlock and flintlock rifles, muskets, and pistols were the only available firearms. The guns were single shot and gunpowder loaded.

Those weapons are a far cry from the guns used to murder those little angels at Sandy Hook, the teenagers and teachers at Parkland, and those music lovers in Las Vegas. Could men like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison have foreseen 9mm handguns and AR-15 rifles being used to slaughter 6-year-old children in their first grade classroom and 14-year-olds in the hallway of their schools? Would they have adopted the Second Amendment if they could have seen the future?

I don’t have the answers, but I know that automatic and semiautomatic weapons like AR-15s are not needed for hunting or for self protection. They were created to be used as weapons of war. I believe they are only appropriate for military or law enforcement use, and support laws to limit their use to those purposes.

Many oppose any laws regulating guns by repeating platitudes like “if guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns.” Yet in the five mass shootings I have cited, none of the shooters were “outlaws,” and all the weapons were purchased legally.

And while true that criminals will ignore gun laws, the same can be said about laws regulating illegal drugs, assaults, murders, etc. Does anyone think we should just legalize all drugs because dealers and users are just going to ignore the laws anyway?

The Second Amendment provides an individual the right to own guns, but it also calls for those owners to be “well regulated.” If America’s children are being murdered in their schools, it is past time for some regulations to be put in place so that no more children are victims of mass murder at school or anywhere else.

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Patsy Sheppard, a St. Pauls resident, is a retired educator and active locally in the Democratic Party.

Patsy Sheppard, a St. Pauls resident, is a retired educator and active locally in the Democratic Party.