On Wednesday, February 14 2018, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz visited his former high school in Parkland, Florida with a legally acquired AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. He opened fire. On Thursday, he was charged with 17 premeditated murders, becoming the perpetrator of the worst North American school killings since Sandy Hook in 2012.
This is just one of the numbers that tell the story of the place of firearms in the United States.
18th school shooting
17 dead and many injured in a high school in Parkland. Two others and about 15 injured in a Kentucky high school on January 23. One injured in a Texan school, another in the parking lot of a New Orleans college on January 22… One figure caused a lot of reaction after the shooting in Florida: it is the eighteenth in the United States since the beginning of the year.
This chilling figure lists all the shootings that took place in elementary schools, colleges, high schools or universities, without necessarily causing any victims. The pro-gun control NGO Everytown for Gun Safety points out that of these 18 events, eight have not caused any injuries. The figure includes, for example, shots fired at a school bus in Iowa or a bullet that went through the window of a Washington State high school on January 4. Two of the incidents were suicides.
Several massacres in schools have marked recent history, notably in Columbine (12 students and a teacher killed in 1999), at Virginia Tech (33 dead in 2007) or more recently at Sandy Hook Elementary School (20 children and 7 adults killed in 2012). Since this massacre six years ago, 239 shootings have taken place in schools, according to the NGO Gun Violence Archive.
In its latest report on mortality in the United States, the Federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported 36,252 firearm deaths in 2015. Many of these were suicides – more than 22,000 – but the report also reported 12,979 homicides. There were also 489 accidental deaths and nearly 500 deaths during police interventions. The same report states that 248 victims of firearm homicides were under 14 years of age, and 4,140 were between 15 and 24 years of age. According to the Gun Violence Archive, which keeps track of firearm-related incidents, 402 minors have been injured or killed in the United States since the beginning of the year.
179 million dollars
This is the amount (about 143 million dollars) spent since 2004 by the NRA (National Rifle Association), the powerful arms lobby, to influence US policy. Compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, an NGO specializing in political finance, this figure includes lobbying expenses and direct and indirect contributions to candidates. With five million members and annual revenues of more than $400 million in 2016, the NRA is watering down elected officials to ensure that no laws imposing stricter gun control are passed.
Among the most fortunate is Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, where Wednesday’s shooting took place. “We always pray that a terrible day like today never comes,” he wrote on Twitter, immediately earning the wrath of many critics, blaming him for his hypocrisy. And with good reason: according to calculations by the New York Times, Rubio has received more than $3.3 million from the NRA since the beginning of his career. This makes him the sixth most supported politician by the powerful organization.
Two million licenses
Nicknamed the “Sunshine State” for its sunny climate, Florida is also ironically called the “Gunshine State” because of the ease of getting a weapon. The southeastern U.S. state, home to 21 million people, holds the record for the number of gun licenses in the U.S.: more than two million. The number of weapons in circulation is undoubtedly much higher, some of which do not require a license, while others are illegal. According to a study conducted in 2015 by the medical journal Injury Prevention, 32.5% of Florida residents owned a weapon – slightly more than the national average (29%). Prior to the Parkland tragedy, Florida has seen two other particularly deadly shootings in recent years: at the Fort Lauderdale airport in January 2017 (five deaths) and especially in Orlando, where a man claiming to be from the Islamic State group had killed 49 people in June 2016 in a disco frequented by the gay community.
70.3% of U.S. public schools organize training sessions.
A sign that these dramas are being experienced as a new norm by school principals, since the Columbine massacre, American schools of all categories are more and more numerous to organize exercises to give students reflexes and better protect them against shootings. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), just under half of U.S. public schools (46.5%) conducted such training in the 2003-2004 school year. Ten years later, they were 70.3% (2013-2014). And for the year 2015-2016, almost all (95%) of the schools conducted student containment exercises. The “lockdown” does not explicitly refer to the response to shootings, but is recommended “when there is a crisis situation outside the school and an evacuation would be dangerous”, or “when the crisis situation takes place inside the school and movement inside the school would endanger the students,” NCES explains. The 3,000 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, the school targeted on Wednesday, participate in such exercises every year.
During this exercise, a message is broadcast to schools with containment. Students are then asked to gather in their classrooms, lock the doors and remain silent.
However, some instructors recommend instead a protocol known by the acronym “Alice” (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate), which considers that lockdown makes students and supervisors too passive and makes them immobile targets. Developed by a former school principal after Columbine, Alice puts more emphasis on movement and noise to “disarrange” shooters, and in some cases encourages adults to take action before the arrival of law enforcement.
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