Littwin: It’s not only hearts that are broken when kids are killed in school shootings |

Littwin: It’s not only hearts that are broken when kids are killed in school shootings

Mike Littwin
Fair and Unbalanced

If we didn’t know better — and, of course, we do — we’d think it was pretty much impossible for a president to appear on TV to console a nation after the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, and mention only once, and in passing, the critical fact that the 17 victims died in a mass shooting.

But that was Donald Trump’s mission — to comfort those whose hearts are broken, to offer whatever help he can to the victims and their families and, most especially, to not say a single word about guns or the epidemic of gun violence, although to be fair, he did once use the word “gunfire.”

In his brief address, Trump made what sounded like an important point. He said that when addressing these massacres “it’s not enough to take actions that make us feel like we are making a difference — we must make that difference.”

That’s true, or would be if we didn’t understand what he was actually saying.

Here’s the easy translation. The actions that “make us feel like we are making a difference” all have to do with addressing gun violence. And the actions that actually “make that difference” are those actions that have nothing to do with gun violence.

Trump didn’t mention any kind of action that might be taken — difference-making or otherwise — other than falling back on the Republican/NRA go-to position, that the real problem is mental illness and not guns. You don’t need to be a psychiatrist, though, to know that there are mentally ill people everywhere else in the world, but only in America do we have this problem because only in America do disturbed people also have such easy access to guns.

In an early-morning tweet, Trump had said that potential shooters must be reported to the proper authorities as if that were the problem. But this shooter apparently had many interactions with the proper authorities. The police were often called to his house by his mother. He had been to a mental health clinic. He was seen as a problem by school authorities at Stoneman Douglas before he was expelled and transferred. And he had been reported to the FBI for his apparent comments on a YouTube post that he would become a “professional school shooter.”

With red flags flying, he legally purchased an AR-15, “countless” rounds of ammunition, a gas mask, smoke grenades and then killed at least 17 people. Meanwhile, according to The New York Times, it’s easier in Florida to buy an AR-15 — the semiautomatic used at Newtown, San Bernardino, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs and Parkland — than it is to buy a handgun. More shocking still, it’s that way in most states.

If Trump had no plan to offer, that’s because there is no plan that can work without addressing gun violence as a societal crisis. Maybe we should have a study. But no, we don’t have studies because studies might show that there are ways, many ways, to reduce gun violence, and that nearly all of them are opposed by the NRA, meaning nearly all of them are opposed by nearly all Republicans.

What we have instead is a broken social contract in which we repeatedly watch our children die and then do nothing. It has been clear at least since Sandy Hook, where, remember, 6-year-olds were slaughtered, that Congress would not be moved. Remember Las Vegas and bump stocks and how those would be banned? There has been no action. Remember Sutherland Springs and the Air Force’s failure to report a court-martial that would have shown up in the FBI database? Nothing there either.

Here’s maybe the most tragicomic story to come out of Parkland, as if anything here could be funny. At a hearing of the House Ways and Means Committee, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was asked if there were any money in the proposed budget to combat gun violence.

Mnuchin said he wasn’t sure, but then added: “I will say, personally, I think the gun violence — it’s a tragedy what we’ve seen yesterday, and I urge Congress to look at these issues.”

It sounded like Mnuchin was saying — against all Trumpian logic — that Congress should look at these issues, but a Treasury spokesman soon explained that the secretary wasn’t actually talking about new gun laws, but, uh, something else. Anything else.

Meanwhile, reporters were digging into the Trump budget and how it was funding one of Barack Obama’s responses to Sandy Hook — a small government program to make schools safer “and increase access to mental health services.” It was a $64.7 million program which the Trump budgeters have reduced to, as one reporter put it, $0.00.

According to Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, the lack of action by Congress and by the Trump administration makes them complicit in the violence.

As he said to his colleagues on the Senate floor, “This epidemic of mass slaughter, this scourge of school shooting after school shooting, it only happens here. Not because of coincidence, not because of bad luck, but as a consequence of our inaction.”

After reading that, I rechecked the tweets from Cory Gardner, Mike Coffman and Ken Buck. Looking at the first tweet from each on the shooting, the word “tragedy” appeared in all three, “hearts” made two, as did “prayers.” But none mentioned guns. None mentioned shooting. Not a word.

The sad state of gun violence is such that we have websites dedicated to keeping track of mass shootings, school shootings, child shootings, etc. There is some argument about how many school shootings there have been already this year and what actually qualifies as a school shooting. But in its fact-check on the question, The Washington Post offered an analysis that I guarantee will shock everyone.

It found that since Columbine in 1999, more than 150,000 students, attending no less than 170 elementary schools and high schools, have been on campus during a school shooting. That number doesn’t include suicides. It doesn’t include after-school shootings. These were simply kids having gone to school and having been exposed to the trauma of a campus shooting.

The number is staggering. The number is appalling. The lack of response is just heartbreaking.

Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for


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