Readers’ Forum: Tired and devastated, but not without hope

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Law enforcement conduct a search after a mass shooting at the Highland Park Fourth of July parade in downtown Highland Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb on Monday, July 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

I still remember my first lockdown drill. I was in Mrs. Ibarra’s classroom in the blue wing of my elementary school. The blue on most days was a happy, comforting color, but that day in the dark it felt more sinister and scary. My classmates and I huddled silently in the corner as Mrs. Ibarra piled a mound of desks in front of the door. Earlier that day, she told us that in the event of a real shooting, we were to do everything we could to protect ourselves. She pointed out the window at the undeveloped plot of land behind our school — a wavy wheat field typical of Kansas summers.

“If a bad person ever comes in with a gun and starts hurting people, you jump out those windows and run as far and fast as you can,” she said in an intensely husky tone. Several years after that day, my family moved to Rexburg, Idaho.

In my eighth grade year, a kid from one of my old soccer teams was suspended for threatening to “shoot up the school” as he played a video game with his friends. He made that threat over the weekend, and only about half of my classmates showed up for school at the beginning of the next week.

These tragic acts of violence have hit very close to home indeed.

One day, I was sitting on the couch with my mom, watching as she scrolled through Facebook during the weeks leading up to a local election. Suddenly, a picture of a candidate for a contested office popped up. In the ad, the candidate was holding two assault rifles across his chest, brandishing them at the camera. The bright caption read, “NOBODY can take away MY guns!!!”

That sort of brazen slogan raised my eyebrows. I wasn’t old enough to vote at the time, but I sure followed the election. And guess what? The candidate won by a landslide. That’s a true story. There are numerous people like that scattered all across the country … especially in places like Kansas and Idaho.

Most people, however, are not as extreme. I have family members who own guns; some of them own several. I’ve gone shooting with my friends many times. My neighbors go on semi-annual hunting trips. These people are my family, my friends and my community. Thankfully, it’s people like them — not like our dear political candidate — who make up the vast majority of the population of rural counties across our country.

However, the fact remains that weekly, and sometimes daily, mass shootings rip through our country, leaving behind them a wake of blood, tears and regret.

At a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, a gunman killed 23 people in August of 2019. The unexpected event and the staggering number of people killed shocked the nation. But since then, the number of mass public shootings has only accelerated.

In November of this last year, five people were killed and 17 more injured at a mass shooting in a bar in Colorado County. However, this event was only one of 23 mass shootings in the U.S. during the year 2022.

At the end of January of 2023, there had already been 39 mass shootings. In four weeks of this year there had already been more shootings than in all of 2022. The problem is only accelerating, and it is devastating.

I am tired and devastated at the tragic loss of so many happy and hopeful lives.

I am tired and devastated that we do not have more legislation in place to control the trade and use of guns.

I am tired and devastated that even in counties where we do have these restrictions in place, they are not being enforced.

Remember that shooting in Colorado County? Well, it turns out that in Colorado County there is a statewide red-flag law in place. Red-flag policies allow police officers to gain a warrant and seize the weapons of those who are deemed to be a threat to themselves and others. Such a seizure could have taken place against the Club Q shooter, who was deemed mentally unstable long before he used his weapon to kill five people and injure 17 more. But, there was no weapons seizure instituted. Isn’t it sad what happens when these laws are ignored?

The law enforcement of El Paso County, home of the 2021 Walmart shooting that claimed the lives of 23 people, also falls under a statewide red flag policy. But, the police department in El Paso has never used its red-flag policy to seize weapons. Yet another tragic example of the heartbreak that follows the neglect of laws that are designed to protect us.

Why, though? Why this gross neglect of these laws? Our laws are so painstakingly drafted, debated and passed. Well, it all goes back to the attitudes of communities and law enforcement.

Beliefs, attitudes and values in rural communities are slow to change. A recent study showed that 60% of counties in America have been declared “2nd amendment sanctuary” areas by state or local leaders. A further look into this study is enlightening. These counties aren’t the New Yorks, San Franciscos, or Chicagos of America. Instead, they are the rural communities. They are the Bentonvilles, Sedonas and Beauforts. Innumerous small towns that make up states like Idaho and Kansas.

In such communities, there is strong opposition to red-flag policies, background checks and other firearm regulations. Many people argue that policies such as red-flag laws and required background checks when buying weapons are a violation of Second Amendment rights.

The matter has already been resolved, however, by the United States Supreme Court. A landmark Supreme Court case arose in 2008 on the issue of gun control. A law in the District of Columbia banned ownership of handguns for personal protection. However, a man named Dick Heller sued, arguing that his Second Amendment constitutional right allowed for ownership of a handgun to protect his home. After much debate on the issue, the court ruled in Heller’s favor, and he won the case. But the next part is very important.

Fearing that this ruling would be interpreted as a blanket right to the ownership of all weapons, as it indeed has been, the Supreme Court justices also issued a statement about the scope of the Second Amendment right. Justice Antonin Scalia declared, “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. (It is) not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.”

This is the part that so many citizens in rural communities miss. The Second Amendment right, like so many others, is not unlimited. And when a right is allowing the death of so many innocent people, it should be limited.

Remember that political candidate I talked about from my hometown in Rexburg? The one who won by a landslide? Something tells me that this is not the interpretation of the Second Amendment he has in mind. There was, however, another tragic recent shooting that may have helped him reconsider his ideals a bit.

Rigby Middle School sits just 15 miles from my family home in Rexburg. It is also only 13 miles, or a 19-minute car ride, from Madison High School, where my little brother is finishing up his junior year of high school. One of the saddest stories happened here when a twelve-year-old girl used her parents’ gun to shoot two fellow students and a teacher. Yet, another episode of the heart-wrenching saga of America’s mass shootings. But the Rigby shooting surely will not be the last.

This, like so many other events, will no doubt cause ripples throughout the community. The question is, how far will the ripples go?

I hope they go far. Today, I call for change. I call upon rational citizens in rural counties to embrace red-flag laws and required background checks. We must elect legislators in our communities who will promote and support these policies that will keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous people. Let’s hold our appointed law-enforcement officials accountable for enforcing the laws that our elected representatives create.

I, like so many others, am tired and devastated. But I am not without hope. Attitudes can change. As attitudes and ideals change, so will laws and legislation. As our attitudes, ideals and laws change, we can put a stop to these tragic stories and innocent deaths.

Caisen Chandler

Rexburg, Idaho

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