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The Mass Shooting Lessons We Won’t Learn

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
AP Photo/Matt Rourke

The shooting last weekend in Buffalo was a horrific tragedy. But we can expect that the media will turn it into a political circus. Just as we could have expected the NYC subway shooting to fade from the headlines.


The media picks and chooses which mass shootings to highlight and which to ignore entirely based on whether they might provide useful political fodder for the Democrat Party. I’ve seen this up close and personal. After my daughter, Meadow, was murdered in the Parkland school shooting, the media spent months covering a handful of students who wanted to go on a political crusade for gun control. But after children were murdered in the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, and the kids there didn’t want to jump on CNN to attack the NRA and Trump, that tragedy faded from the headlines within days.

The truth is, there are all sorts of extreme racialist ideologies that could flip a switch in a psychopath’s brain and become a pretext for mass murder. The Buffalo shooter seems to have adopted one extremist ideology commonly found on the fringes of the internet. The NYC subway shooter seems to have adopted another extremist ideology commonly found on the pages of The New York Times. 

It's a sick and sad thing to live in a country where the media’s main interest in mass murder is whether they can leverage it to attack their ideological opponents. Part of the reason we have so many of these shootings is that we almost never have a clear-eyed public conversation about public safety after such atrocities. We almost never look directly at the common denominators behind these shootings, and how we could take concrete steps to address them.


One lesson comes from the places that are attacked. Although I hate to draw attention to the Buffalo shooter’s manifesto, we must note part of it. He declared that

“Attacking in a weapon-restricted area may decrease the chance of civilian backlash. Schools, courts, or areas where [concealed carry permits] are outlawed or prohibited may be good areas of attack. Areas where CCW are low may also fit in this category. Areas with strict gun control laws are also great places of attack.”

In this, the Buffalo shooter simply said the quiet part out loud. By and large, mass shootings tend to take place in “gun-free” zones. It turns out that would-be mass murderers aren’t actually deterred by a public ordinance asking them to drop their weapon. Rather, they realize that other law-abiding citizens will be, and that therefore those will be the safest possible places to attack. The NYC subway shooter also undoubtedly knew that subway riders wouldn’t be packing.

The second lesson comes from the fact that neither of these men should have been enabled to do what they did. The NYC shooter had a long rap sheet. But, undoubtedly, the system took it easy on him every step of the way. In the mid 90s, court records reveal, he made a terroristic threat – but was sentenced only to probation and ordered to undergo behavioral health treatment. The Buffalo shooter allegedly threatened to shoot up his school around graduation time. The police were informed, but he wasn’t arrested – he was only told to undergo some mental health counseling. Despite making serious and credible threats, and interacting with the police about them, neither were tagged with a felony. Both were allowed to buy a gun legally.


In the weeks to come, you’ll probably hear a lot more about gun control. But here’s where that argument broke down for me after my daughter was murdered: the laws already said that felons can’t buy guns. Threatening to murder your classmates is a felony. The laws on the books in Broward County, Florida, and in Buffalo, New York, weren’t the problem. The problem was that the laws were not enforced. If our society is not willing to arrest and prosecute people who threaten to commit mass murder, then the whole “gun control” argument is at best a distraction.

But it’s actually worse than that. Because what always seems to happen is that these tragedies get exploited to push for policies that make them more likely. To push for more gun-free zones, to push for more restrictions on gun ownership or concealed carry, to push for more places that murderous psychopaths can properly see as soft targets. Meanwhile, the push to decriminalize offenses – to make it harder for system to prosecute felonies that could prevent would-be mass murderers from buying guns – proceeds apace.

The power of the state to protect its people is breaking down. So, ultimately, people must take the necessary steps to protect themselves.


Andrew Pollack is the co-author of Why Meadow Died.

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