Given the extent to which school shootings have become the norm in America, I was deeply saddened but not surprised by what occurred in Oxford, Michigan, last month, when a 15-year-old boy is alleged to have unleashed gunfire on his fellow students, killing four of them and injuring several other people.
I was, however, shocked and repulsed by Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Ky., who, within days of this heartbreaking event, posted a holiday message on social media featuring himself and his smiling family, each member posing with a gun. Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., then joined ranks with Massie by sharing a picture of her own minor children posing with their own large guns, as though the incident in Oxford hadn’t occurred the week before.
I hope that one day I’ll live in a country where parents, communities and lawmakers work to shield schools and children from gun violence with the same energy they apply to banning accurate portrayals of American history, books and little-known academic theories. But for starters, I would like elected officials to stop glorifying the instruments of death and injury that are devastating so many families.
According to Everytown Research and Policy, a group that tracks gun violence, there have been “at least 149 incidents of gun fire on school grounds” this year. And according to a study conducted by the Child Welfare League of America, “Participants identified that frequent media portrayal of guns glorifies their use and promotes using gun violence as an acceptable means of conflict resolution.”
Exploiting their children as props to glorify and promote gun-wielding is nothing short of alarming.
With gun-related research funding largely blocked by the government, studies haven’t clearly connected the glorification of guns to the rate of gun deaths. But it seems intensely counterproductive for public officials to normalize the appearance of deadly weapons in what should otherwise be innocuous holiday photos, given that children and teens in the U.S. “experience staggeringly high rates of gun deaths and injuries” compared to other high-income countries, according to Everytown, and that firearms are the second-largest injury-related cause of death for children and teens. Exploiting their children as props to glorify and promote gun-wielding is nothing short of alarming.
While the country is certainly reckoning with a gun violence epidemic, Massie and Boebert show us that we’re also facing an empathy and humanity problem. Where are the empathy and basic humanity for the victims, families and communities that will spend this coming holiday in a wave of gun-violence-induced grief?
Holiday photos posted by public figures depicting children fraternizing with weapons in the wake of the deadliest school shooting since 2018 translate into an egregious lack of compassion for the latest victims, families and communities — which my work connects me with. Since my institution has vast connections and partnerships with teachers and students across Michigan, my colleagues and I all know someone who knows someone who was either directly or indirectly affected by the shooting in Oxford.
The lack of decency and care by politicians like Massie and Boebert is matched by their bold refusal to consider any kind of sensible reforms that could reduce gun violence, even when, according to the Pew Research Center, the vast majority of the country favors at least some restrictions on firearms.
This means that the strategy of fighting gun violence simply by limiting access to guns isn’t sufficient. Thankfully, prosecutors such as Oxford’s Karen McDonald are tackling gun control via alternative routes, such as holding allegedly negligent parents accountable for their children’s crimes.
The Oxford High School suspect’s parents have been charged with involuntary manslaughter and are being held in the same county jail as their son. All have pleaded not guilty. McDonald has alleged that the boy’s parents bought their son a gun even though there were glaring signs that he could be a danger. The charges have been described as potentially signaling a new trend.
Massie, whatever his intentions with his holiday picture may be, is a poster child for a different national trend — the desensitization of Americans not just to guns, but also to mass shootings and their victims. When public-facing figures use their platforms to advertise and celebrate their gun fetishes and offer no compassion for dead children and their families, the country needs people like McDonald finding other ways to prosecute, manage and potentially prevent future tragedies.
My hope is that, thanks to the powerful message McDonald’s prosecution sends to all who may be watching, a large swath of the gun-toting public is soon to be re-sensitized to this country’s gun violence epidemic. When it’s made clear that gun owners can be held legally accountable for their offspring’s crimes, perhaps then they’ll understand how their interests converge with those of us who’ve been begging, pleading and voting for a safer country. And perhaps they’ll be interested in sending out season’s greetings with messages of peace instead of advertising our national love affair with assault rifles.