Editor’s Note: CNN analyst Juliette Kayyem is the author of the best-seller “Security Mom: My Life Protecting the Home and Homeland.” She is a professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School, a former assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security in the Obama administration and CEO of Zemcar. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
This newest shooting seems, sadly, familiar, but it is important that we pay attention to what is different here.
The deadly attack Friday in Santa Fe, Texas, left at least 10 dead. Terrified kids, shocked parents, authoritative law enforcement, inquisitive reporters, and somber politicians act as though they are slipping into some well-worn script.
This horror is real, but it is true that it is no longer rare: as noted by the Washington Post, the number of school children killed in school shootings in 2018 is “nearly double” the number of casualties of our service members.
Even so, the Santa Fe shooting does not fit the models we have seen before, most recently the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on February 14.
The alleged assailant in this case, Dimitrios Pagourtzis, did not appear to have a criminal record or, so far as we know, any previous interactions with police or worrisome concerns from the community. He used two weapons – a shotgun and a .38 revolver – neither of which are the focus of gun control reforms.
What’s more, the Santa Fe school had two armed police officers and had trained extensively in active shooter protocols, so it wasn’t a situation where “good guys with guns” can solve the problem.
In other words, Friday’s school attack may remind of us past incidents, but it was different – and its lessons are very important.
First, Pagourtzis got access to the guns from his father who, as far as we know, legally owned them. Advocates for protecting the Second Amendment often talk about safe gun ownership. They should then be at the forefront in promoting safer gun ownership standards, as well as liability for parents who negligently, or even purposefully, allow their kids access to guns that the child couldn’t otherwise buy.
If I, as a parent of teens, allow their friends to drink at my home, negligently let them leave in their car and they end up hitting and killing others, I am legally responsible for the activity. The same should be true for guns.
Using lock boxes and keeping ammunition separate from firearms are sensible protections parents who own guns should embrace. To the extent that our society is looking for common ground on the gun control debate, responsible gun ownership – and using the law to prosecute adults who don’t promote it – is essential. Unfortunately, the NRA has traditionally taken a hard line against legal liability for those whose guns are taken, no matter the negligence that allowed it, and used in a crime.
Second, Pagourtzis – who, Gov. Greg Abbott told reporters, allegedly did not go through with a suicide attempt, but instead was captured – also reportedly put explosives near the school and outside the school. And officials, rightfully, are not being specific on the details as they assess any continuing threats.
While we do not know what animated Pagourtzis, we do know that a mere “school shooting” did not seem enough for him. The use of explosive devices suggests that assailants who want some sort of “differentiator” to distinguish themselves from any other school shooter, will seek more spectacular harms.
This phenomenon is often true with terrorist groups; al Qaeda, for example, abandoned its use of explosives at buildings or popular sites and chose to weaponize airplanes because it would set their tactics apart from other terrorist groups. This Santa Fe case shows that suspicious purchases or behavior (such as detonations) must also be monitored by schools and communities.
Simply because today’s tragedy is different doesn’t mean that it, too, can’t be confronted and solved. I’ve spent too much ink on these pages, too much time on air, pushing for gun control laws that protect our children. Maybe no law would have stopped what happened today, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t do better. Parents who own guns: take a look around and make sure you are doing better.