Rejoicing and concern after school stabbing

April 12, 2014

Another year, another school, another spasm of violence.

The televised images of ambulances rushing toward a school building, students fleeing from it and, in the aftermath, attempts to uncover the motives of the perpetrator and talk of “closure” and “healing.” It’s become a tidy, predictable ritual following Columbine, Virginia Tech and Newtown.

And now we can add Murrysville to the list, after a Wednesday stabbing rampage at Franklin Regional Senior High School in the Westmoreland County municipality left 21 students and a security guard injured.

There is a crucial and obvious difference, though, between Murrysville and the other communities on that grim roll call – though they will suffer scars, both physically and emotionally, all the victims at Franklin Regional High School are expected to recover. It stands in stark contrast to the Sandy Hook horrors of December 2012, when Adam Lanza, using his arsenal of lethal weaponry, killed 26 people in just a few minutes.

We can rejoice that Alex Hribal, the 16-year-old suspect at Franklin Regional, either didn’t have access to, or chose not to utilize, a similar cache of weapons.

Opponents of commonsense measures to stem the bloodshed in our schools, streets and homes have occasionally argued that, yes, assault weapons and their ilk can be deadly, but lots of things can be deadly – cars, ladders, garden shears. Are we going to ban those?

These arguments are specious. Sure, all too many people die in auto accidents every year, though those numbers are diminishing, and tumbling off a ladder or being pierced by garden shears in the wrong spot can indeed kill you.

But motor vehicles, ladders and garden shears are designed for other purposes and can be fatal only as a result of carelessness or misuse. Assault weapons, on the other hand, serve no other purpose than to take lives, and in excessive numbers. They belong on the battlefield, not in our basement gun cabinets, and not so readily available that the unhinged, the disgruntled and the deranged can get their hands on them and enact their bizarre fantasies of revenge and empowerment.

Some would say the ease by which we can get our hands on an AK-47 or an AR-15 is part and parcel of “American exceptionalism.” To the rest of the world, it is symptomatic of an exceptional American madness.

There was some optimism after the Newtown calamity that public revulsion would finally force indifferent lawmakers to get off their behinds, stand up to the gun lobby and reinstate an assault weapons ban that had been allowed to expire in 2004. Those hopes were dashed quickly enough, though. Some states have even loosened their gun laws in the months since. A bill approved in Georgia in March would allow residents to tote their firearms into nightclubs and bars. With copious amounts of alcohol flowing, sure, there’s nothing that could go wrong with that.

It also has an “opt-in” for churches. Well, praise the Lord and pass the ammunition.

We should be glad – very, very glad – that all the students who suffered wounds in Murrysville will, if their luck holds, live to see the prom, graduation and a life beyond high school. Barring an overdue rethink of our gun laws, we should be deeply worried that other students out there will not have the same good fortune.



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