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Arthur Smith calls for compromise, solutions after school shooting tragedy in Uvalde, Texas

Keep your thoughts and prayers. It’s way past time for action.

NFL Combine Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

This column covers a sensitive topic, and we don’t believe the comment section of The Falcoholic is the best place to have a productive discussion about it, so the comments are closed. If you have questions or concerns, contact davethefalconer@yahoo.com. - Ed.

Once again, the United States is reeling after yet another mass school shooting, this time at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday. Public figures in sports sometimes weigh in on these tragedies—Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr is one who often does—but even those who do not usually were moved to this week.

On Thursday, Falcons head coach Arthur Smith was moved to mention the need for compromise and solutions from our nation’s leaders in the wake of this tragedy.

“Essentially, I’m not going to get into some political rant. There’s part of me that probably thinks our political process is broken on both sides. It’s been hijacked, in my opinion, by extremists. And I think there’s a lost art to compromise, and again, I’m an independent thinker and I appreciate everybody’s opinion. I think there’s a lost art of debate. But again, I’m going to stay out of the political side, because that’s not why I’m concerned,” Smith said.

“It’s more — you brought up as a parent, a father, a husband, a son, and really, a concerned citizen of the community and this country, because I believe in the people of this country. And I think it’s a shame, as leaders — and again, I don’t care about your politics, but as people, I care about this community — that you can’t find a compromise solution to keep military-grade assault weapons out of the hands of mentally ill people. And I’ll leave it at that.”

The Uvalde shooter took 21 lives at that elementary school on Tuesday. Nineteen of those killed were children in second through fourth grade. Two were teachers who gave their lives to try to protect their students.

This debate has been raging in this country for decades now, since the mass shooting at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999. I was two months pregnant with my younger daughter, and as I read the story in the Columbus Dispatch on April 21, I was holding my older daughter, who would celebrate her first birthday on April 24. I remember sobbing, thinking about all of those parents who would never hold their children again. I remember naively thinking that surely something would be done to stop this from happening again. This absolutely could not happen again. I wouldn’t have to worry about this when my girls went to school.

My older daughter is now 24 years old. My younger daughter is 22. Nothing has changed except that these acts of mass violence are more frequent and more deadly, and our elected representatives at the state and federal level haven’t done a damn thing to stop it or even to slow it down.

It’s not just our kids we have to worry about, and it’s not just their safety in schools. The threat of gun violence is everywhere in this country. On May 14, 2022, an 18-year-old white supremacist took 10 lives and injured three people at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York. Since the Buffalo shooting, there have been 17 acts of gun violence with two or more victims. Those shootings have left 34 people dead and 90 people injured in this country over just 12 days.

We do need compromise and solutions

Arthur Smith is right to express his frustration and call for compromise, and he’s not alone. Safety Erik Harris and running back/wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson were among the Falcons who tweeted or commented in the wake of the tragedy. Grady Jarrett shared Kerr’s viral speech before Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. These athletes and coaches do a lot for their communities, and their heartbreak and anger are evident.

The impediment is that, while most people on my side of the debate are willing to compromise to get literally anything done that can help stop this violence, most leaders and many voters on the other side of the debate are not willing to do anything but remove barriers to gun ownership. There is polling that suggests that an overwhelming majority of Republican and Democratic voters want to prevent people with diagnosed mental illnesses and making private gun sales and gun sales at shows to be subject to background checks, and yet action is lacking.

I believe citizens do have a right to bear arms for hunting, self-defense, target shooting, etc. Personally, I’m an excellent shot and I enjoy marksmanship, but I don’t think that my right to enjoy target shooting or protect my family supersedes the right all of these victims had to go about their daily lives without being slaughtered. I desperately want common sense reform, including the reimplementation of the assault weapons ban, to make it harder for people like the Uvalde shooter to get their hands on weapons like AR-15s, which exist solely to cause death and destruction.

AR-15s are nasty business. For one thing, the rounds tumble, which is bad enough when the victim is an adult, but will absolutely destroy a child’s body because there’s not enough room for the round to tumble without hitting something essential to that child’s life. Don’t take my word for it; listen to Congressman and Iraq war vet Ruben Gallego.

Did you know that the parents of the children who were shot in Uvalde, while they were waiting to find out if their babies were dead or alive, had DNA swabs taken from them so the victims could be identified? Those little bodies were torn to shreds by that death machine. You’ve got 19 families in that tiny community planning closed casket funerals because we, as a nation, can’t agree that there shouldn’t be a “but” after the phrase “children should not be gunned down in school.”

There are other changes to our current free-for-all approach to firearm regulation that would help. I’d love to see the federal government launch a no-questions-asked buy-back program, close the gun show loophole, establish red flag laws, limit magazine size, outlaw permitless open carry, implement universal background checks, mandate training that includes safe storage, mandate registration of each firearm updated annually, and require insurance on each firearm to provide for the families of any victims who lose their life or are injured by them.

It’s really not different from how we regulate automobiles, and it’s a good way to hold gun owners accountable and personally responsible for the weapons they own and the death and destruction they may cause, in much the same way we do for drivers who are reckless and cause injury or death. The GOP is the party of personal responsibility, right? Some people will say “driving isn’t a right,” but the second amendment contains the phrase “well regulated,” and you don’t get to conveniently ignore that.

Over half of Americans in total support sensible gun control legislation, the kind many are advocating for this week, and we are being held hostage by a loud minority of voters and elected leaders who take too much money from the gun lobby to be interested in doing anything productive to solve this.

The GOP’s political leadership has no interest in compromise

People on the other end of the political spectrum will often tell me that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Guns don’t fire themselves, that’s true. But people with guns kill people, and if we made it harder for people to obtain guns, fewer people would die. They’ll tell me me we need armed teachers, armed cafeteria workers, armed bus drivers, or armed guards at school entrances. More guns are not the answer. The “good guy with a gun” concept is a fairy tale. Data shows that schools equipped with armed resource officers experienced greater casualties in mass shooting events than schools without an armed officer on site. From the study:

An armed officer on the scene was the number one factor associated with increased casualties after the perpetrators’ use of assault rifles or submachine guns.

Law enforcement engaged with the Uvalde shooter, but were unable (or, reportedly simply unwilling) to prevent him from entering the school building. And if a bunch of heavily armed police officers who are trained to handle active shooter situations were unable to go into that school in time to save children’s lives, that seems like a pretty good argument for getting AR-15s and similar weapons off the street. Surely the Back the Blue crowd should be with me on this, given that police are at risk from these weapons as well.

People will tell me that those who wish to harm others will commit crimes with other weapons if they can’t get a firearm, and they are correct. But a knife can’t snuff out dozens of lives in a matter of minutes.

People will tell me that the right to bear arms is sacred because we must be able to defend ourselves against our government. Firearms, even the high-powered ones I’d like to see outlawed, are no match for the weapons of war our government has.

People will tell me any restrictions will keep law-abiding citizens from owning firearms. If you’ve got enough money for a gun and ammo, you can pony up for training, licensing, annual registration and insurance. If you’re a law-abiding citizen, why are you afraid of a background check and other reasonable restrictions? Do you really need to carry an AR-15 to pick up your sandwich at Subway? Why aren’t you willing to sacrifice a little bit of convenience to save lives? With our rights come responsibilities. Why aren’t you willing to take personal responsibility for your decision to own a firearm?

Mental health is a factor, and not just for potential mass shooters

I’ve written about mental health here before, so I think my stance on it is pretty well understood. This debate is in part about mental health and preventing people who are suffering acute mental illness from taking lives, including their own. In 2020, 45,222 people died of gun-related injuries. Fifty-four percent of those were suicides. That’s 24,292 people who might have had time to get help and recover if guns weren’t so readily available. Unless we’re willing to ensure that all Americans have equal access to quality mental healthcare and make it more difficult for people considering suicide to get their hands on firearms, we cannot solve this part of the equation.

But speaking of mental health: The gun culture in this country and the general disregard for the lives lost is wrecking mine. I’m a very empathetic person, and this is the first mass shooting I can remember that hasn’t made me cry — not yet, anyway. I’m too angry, and I’m too tired. I’m tired of the “thoughts and prayers” and the carefully crafted words of empty comfort we hear from our elected leaders. I’m tired of the endless heartache and the overwhelming loss of human life. I’m tired of scanning every place I go outside of my house for threats, for men who might end up being an active shooter. I’m tired of mentally mapping out an exit plan and the safest hiding spots in every theater, at every concert, and at the grocery store. You might say that’s extreme, but we’ve now seen mass shootings occur nearly everywhere you can think of, and it is no longer possible to think “this will not happen here.”

This is not a reasonable way to live. It’s reprehensible, horrifying, and tragic. This kind of reasonable and ever-present fear is not freedom.

I’m tired of grieving for these shattered families and communities, knowing full damn well that it’s probably just a matter of days at most, maybe even just hours, until our next mass shooting, our next unimaginable tragedy, the next mass casualty event in a never-ending stream of mostly preventable violence. There is a reason you’re hearing from people like Arthur Smith, or athletes like Myles Garrett: They are tired of it, too.

What can we do?

If you’re with me and you want to see change, I encourage you to contact your representatives and senators and urge them to do something to stop the violence. You can sign up to volunteer with organizations like Moms Demand Action or Everytown for Gun Safety, which have been working for years to push for common sense reform. You can take a look at the current senators and representatives who are vying for reelection in November and find out how much money they’ve accepted from the gun lobby so that you can make informed choices at the polls. You can donate blood if you’re able, and you can give to the fundraisers for the victims’ families to help with the burden of funeral expenses. And you can use your voice and whatever platform you have to speak up for these victims who can no longer speak for themselves. You can use your vote to scream that we aren’t going to put up with this any longer.

If you’re not with me, I don’t know what to tell you. If Sandy Hook didn’t change your mind, if Parkland didn’t change your mind, if the dozens of other mass shootings didn’t change your mind, and if you’re indifferent to the brutal, violent deaths of these 19 children in Uvalde who were just looking forward to a fun last week of school before summer vacation, nothing I say here is going to make a difference. So I hope the rest of us will put enough pressure on our elected leaders and will refuse to let up until they take meaningful action, and that at least the kinds of common sense compromises Arthur Smith called for will actually happen.

Kids shouldn’t be gunned down at school. Nobody should be murdered while grocery shopping or enjoying a concert or worshiping in church. Nobody should be in danger of being slaughtered while they go about their everyday lives.

There is no “but.”