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Sparks, Nevada

| October 24, 2013

The middle school student shot 8th grade teacher Michael Lansberry then himself on the basketball court of the school, beyond the fence, in front of almost two dozen other children.

The middle school student shot 8th grade teacher Michael Lansberry then himself on the basketball court of the school, beyond the fence, in front of almost two dozen other children.

There are any number of things I could have written about on this day: How Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is falling on her sword for her boss, President Obama, taking the blame for the horrendous debut of the Affordable Care Act website. How Texas Senator Ted Cruz shouted “it is terrific to be back in America” to a group of Houston tea party zealots who had earlier announced that any protesters would be thrown out of the ironically-named King Street Patriots’ meeting hall.

But, try as I might to address myself to other issues, I can’t get my mind off Sparks, Nevada, the scene earlier this week of yet another school shooting. Thankfully, it was not a “mass” shooting, where the suffering is multiplied exponentially. This time, a former Marine, math teacher Mike Landsberry, who had fought in Afghanistan, died on a playground basketball court, shot by a 14-year-old boy who then turned the gun on himself. Two other students were wounded.

There have been at least four shootings, including a suicide, at schools around the country since the December carnage in Newtown, Connecticut, in which 26 people were killed by a single, deranged gunman. There was national outrage then. But–just as it happened after Columbine, after Aurora, after Gabby Giffords–our lawmakers cowered in the corner, biding their time, allowing the gun lobby to do its dirty work. Railing against the phony specter of Federal agents knocking down doors to take away citizens’ guns, the gun lovers insist it’s all about improving our mental health care system, as if any mental health system could possibly contend with a nation awash in some 300 million firearms.

In Sparks, the town’s deputy police chief told CNN that the parents of the young killer, unnamed thus far, “are grieving parents and are going through” a challenging, difficult time. Well, I would imagine so. The 9mm semiautomatic handgun the boy used to kill Landsberry and himself belonged to the parents. Eventually, some answers will emerge: Where was the gun kept? Was it locked up? Who had the key? But I have other questions, and so should you: What message was conveyed to this boy, and to the others before him who decided to carry firearms to school? What lessons about guns–implicit or overt–have these shooters absorbed that have teachers and students playing a form of Russian roulette every time the morning bell rings?


Less than a week before the shooting in Sparks, several hundred gun owners converged on the Alamo memorial in San Antonio, Texas, carrying long guns, including assault weapons, in a brazen assertion of their right to openly carry rifles on the streets of their state. Did the boy in Nevada watch on TV as these loopy Texans paraded around with their guns, as if General Santa Ana were just over the next hill? Did he ask his parents what they thought about it? If so, what did they tell him? Of course, these are the questions that are never asked, but the broad answer is that the NRA and its partners in death are hammering home a message to too many kids that the solution to their problems comes at the business end of a gun.

Where is the outrage? Are we so discouraged by the sheer volume of weaponry in this country, and the lobbying dollars that protect it, that we no longer have the capacity to even raise our voices in protest when children die?

Many have argued that slaughter of another kind was curtailed only when we decided, as a nation, that driving under the influence was simply not to be tolerated. A grassroots effort led by the Mothers Against Drunk Driving persuaded us that “having a few too many after work” before the drive home was no longer to be the subject of muffled laughter and mumbled apologies. It was a crime against your family and mine. Today, a DUI not only can earn you prison time, but also can thwart your education options and permanently alter your career aspirations. Drunken drivers are punished by a torrent of national condemnation. Why can we not summon the same collective rage when it comes to guns?

Steve Robinson moved to Flagler County after a 30-year career in New York and Atlanta in print, TV and the Web. Reach him by email here.

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25 Responses for “Sparks, Nevada”

  1. Nancy N. says:

    “Why can we not summon the same collective rage when it comes to guns?”

    The answer is simple…

    1) Drunk drivers aren’t exactly a powerful voting block

    2) Drunk drivers don’t have million dollar lobbyists and control tens of millions of dollars of campaign contributions

  2. Donna De Poalo says:

    Clearly many of the laws that address drunk driving were necessary and have likely prevented tragedies. However, there are components of the DUI laws and prosecution that I disagree with such as holding bartenders personally liable for another’s bad choices.

    To get to the point..the difference is there is nothing in the Constitution that grants the
    ‘right to drink’ as it does the ‘right to bear arms’. Don’t misunderstand me, I am not advocating either side on this but the 2nd Amendment is alive and well and supported with huge amounts of money.

    I wish there was as much backing for a few of the other amendments…1,4 & 8 come to mind. :-)

  3. Outsider says:

    I was actually neutral as I read this until you made the statement, “…the broad answer is that the NRA and its partners in death are hammering home a message to too many kids that the solution to their problems comes at the business end of a gun.” The NRA has never even insinuated such a message. Just as you plant the fairy tale that this boy watched a gun rally at the Alamo and that’s why he shot the teacher and two others, you claim the NRA advocates that children kill their teachers. All of the NRA courses I’m aware of teach safe gun handling and responsible gun ownership. I may have missed it, but can you point out specifically where the NRA has advocated children solving their problems with the business end of a gun?

    • Steve says:

      Outsider, once upon a time the NRA was primarily a gun-safety organization. That was a long time ago. While the organization still sponsors safety courses, as you point out, its main purpose is to serve the gun industry and the interests of gun owners by fighting any piece of sensible gun legislation at the local, state and national level.
      In the past, gun owners knew that possessing a deadly weapon meant they had a greater obligation to depart from a tense situation. By working to push state legislators to pass “stand your ground” laws, the NRA is delivering the message that the solution to disputes is to escalate it by introducing a firearm. That is a message that clearly resonates with kids, particularly those whose parents embrace the NRA line. Kids absorb messages from all sorts of places–including movies, TV and music. I have commented on Hollywood’s obsession with guns (the bigger the better) on these pages, although I think Hollywood tends to reflect public passions rather than generate them. My point about the Alamo nonsense is that kids get most of their attitudes–about politics, about how to treat people who are different from them, about guns–from their parents. As I wrote, the police will eventually get the answers to the who, what and how of this crime, but we will probably never find out who put the idea into this kid’s head that the solution to his problems, whatever they might be, was to bring a gun to school and start shooting. A 14-year-old is certainly old enough to know right from wrong, but he is as much a victim of this country’s gun culture as the man he killed and those he injured.

  4. Florida Native. says:

    Yeah let’s round up all those mean and pesky guns that sprout arms and legs and shoot people. Give me a break.

  5. ThreeEighty says:

    Nope, no outrage of the volume of weaponry in this country. Because if an unconstitutional regime takes over. We will take ’em out and start over. To prevent that, first step is disarm the citizens, not gonna let that happen. More guns = less crimes. That fact has been proven countless times so I question why articles like this are still written.

  6. Will says:

    Seems prudent and responsible to me. Others may not agree…

  7. Gia says:

    What do you expect from a society whom adore violence ?

  8. DLF says:

    Yes, this shooting is sad and a waste of another life. The issue I do not understand is why the liberal press does not want to address the shootings in Chicago, everyday there is one or more. Why is this? Now, I see the Rev. Sharpton is moving to Chicago to address this issue, that will solve the issue I am sure. Mr.Robinson , I ask you why in your spare time instead of attacking the tea party you would not research the Chicago shootings. Could this lack of liberal press interest be because of the Chicago mayor, the people being shot ,the people doing the shooting or the liberal press can not blame Bush ,the tea party or the NRA for these shootings .

    • Steve says:

      DLF, the Chicago situation is an ongoing tragedy, to be sure, the byproduct of any number of social ills, of which the torrent of guns in that city is one part. Gun rights advocates tend to point to Chicago as an example of the failure of gun control laws, but that is a distortion. As was the case with New York City when crime was at its peak in the dismal ’70s and ’80s, local gun control laws are only as effective as the laws in other states–which is to say not very. As Mayor Bloomberg has pointed out in a number of lawsuits against southern gun stores, the flow of guns into our big cities starts in states where gun control laws are loose or nonexistent–Georgia, for example, and South Carolina. It is also not true that Chicago’s killings are ignored by the so-called liberal media. I refer you to http://nocera.blogs.nytimes.com/, which is an effort to write about every day’s gun deaths in this country, and to http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/crime/2012/12/gun_death_tally_every_american_gun_death_since_newtown_sandy_hook_shooting.html, which is a tally of our daily gun toll.

    • A.S.F. says:

      I notice that every time there is outrage resulting from another senseless tragedy involving the use of a gun, the gun lovers start chanting “CHICAGO, CHICAGO”, as though that has ANYTHING to do with the real issue. Too many guns are falling into the hands of too many individuals who should not have them, whether it’s through negligence, avarice, apathy, or a criminal and/or unstable mentality. You will not find many Liberals who will defend the violence in Chicago or any any locality, be it rural, suburban or urban. None of us is safe as long as there are high powered weapons floating around all over the place. The fact that these weapons are accessible to children in homes where there are adults who should certainly know better is appalling. And I bet these parents in question are very vociferous supporters of gun rights. We need more sensible gun laws and better compliance with the ones already on the books…period. It has nothing to do with Chicago, President Obama or the man on the moon, for that matter

      • DLF says:

        We do not need more laws we don’t enforce the silly ones we have now. What we need is a society that will use some common sense ,lock of the crazy ones and have the man in the moon run our country, ooops that is now being done.

  9. Ken says:

    Mr. Robinson,

    Perhaps you have written about what restrictions you would like placed on gun owners and gun shows. Would be interested in reading. Certainly a tragedy in Sparks and Massachusetts, with regards to that middle school Math teacher.

    • Steve says:

      Ken, thanks for the question. In general, I support the aims of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, whose mission statement is “to enact and enforce sensible gun laws, regulations, and public policies through grassroots activism, electing public officials who support gun laws, and increasing public awareness of gun violence,” and Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group formed by Gabrielle Giffords, the congresswoman who was severely injured during a shooting rampage in Tucson. Their mission statement is “to encourage elected officials to stand up for solutions to prevent gun violence and protect responsible gun ownership.”
      Speaking for myself, I support the right of gun owners to keep a firearm in their home for personal protection. This is especially applicable to remote rural areas in which law enforcement may be a long way off. Gun owners in homes with children should be required to have their weapons secured and affixed with a gun lock. I see no reason why any private citizen in this country needs to own a military-style weapon (loosely identified, though not always accurately, as “assault weapons”) or a weapon with a high-capacity magazine. I believe the Federal Assault Weapons Ban, passed in 1994, should be renewed, but I know it will never happen as long as the gun lobby has anything to say about it.
      Universal background checks should be strengthened and should be mandatory for all gun sales, including those at gun shows and between private citizens. I also believe that so-called stand your ground laws should be reexamined and narrowed so as to place a much greater burden of responsibility on anyone who chooses to carry a weapon in public.

      • Ken says:

        Steve I appreciate your response. Thanks for taking time to respond. Not sure i agree with you but respect the effort and time you took to answer my question

        Ken

      • Progressive Gunsel says:

        Yes, of course you don’t see why a citizen might need a high-capacity magazine! Never mind that high-capacity magazines have saved the lives of innocent people for decades, as modest research will reveal. This is why police, with ready backup, partners, radios etc., carry semiauto pistols with high-capacity magazines.

        The gun owners I know will not accept a politician arbitrarily mandating the number of rounds a citizen may fire in a life or death defense scenario…As was recently done in New York state with its’ 7-round magazine limit. You may not realize this: in New York, citizens are now legally buying LARGER caliber pistols such as .45ACP, and keeping two or more semi-autos handy with 16 (or more) shots available without a reload! The usual unintended consequence of emotionally-driven, poorly-thought out legislation.

        I’m afraid you have issued the standard mantra: “Somebody’s gotta do something”. And: “Common sense gun laws”. With 300 million totally unregistered weapons in the country–which will remain in good firing order for at least 100 years with minimal care–what do you think “100% backround checks” will do? Any gun made before the law is enacted may be sold for cash or traded with no paperwork whatsoever.

        The BATF and police will not be able to arrest anyone avoiding a backround check who possesses a gun manufactured before the law went into effect. In most states, no citizen needs to possess any paperwork whatsoever to legally own these guns. Many rifles made prior to 1964 don’t even have serial numbers! So, what are you recommending? Gun control for the year 2,114, when the current supply of weapons wears out and all guns sold at gunshops, brand-new with backround checks?

        Many (formerly) law-abiding citizens will simply not comply with a backround check when selling or trading used guns. This is due to fear of government intrusion, and fear of gun registration leading to confiscation. Will you put a BATF agent in every parking lot and living room in America to stop the next 100 years of the ‘underground’ sale of used guns? And criminals will continue to sell and trade used guns as they always have.

        With 300 million unregistered weapons in the U.S. which cannot be located by anyone, these “sensible” gun regulations you propose are like locking the barn door after the horse is long gone–and the horse’s bones have turned to dust.

        And you must have missed this: Florida already has a law requiring lockup of all guns stored in a home where children reside, or where a gun may be accessible to children. If the parents of this child in Nevada had locked up and secured their guns, this tragedy would not have occurred.

  10. Jim R. says:

    Maybe it would help if the Govt. set a good example and stopped droning and bombing people in other countries. Our drones and bombs kill the innocent and the guilty , all with impunity because no one dares challenge our power. Every one of these attacks is a war crime, and when the Govt. celebrates killing a militant or member of the CIA created Al Qaeda , it sends a message that killing and violence is the way to solve problems.

  11. Michelle says:

    HELLO!!!!!!!
    Where are the parents????!!!!!????
    If you have a gun – lock it up!
    Or choose to not have a gun.

    I was raised in a house with guns. I learned how to shoot a rifle at the age of 9. I was told what is right and wrong regarding guns. I was shown how to load my rifle, how to clean it, and how to put it away when I was done. I had a gun in my home, but I was worried about it.So, as a parent now, I choose NOT to have a gun in my house. When my children leave home, I may choose differently. But my first job is to protect my children, and those around them —

    So—–
    Guns are not the problem—-
    Just the people who own them – watch them and protect them just like you should do with your children..

    • DLF says:

      Well said, many people want to blame everyone and every thing else except the own lack of common sense.

    • A.S.F. says:

      @Michelle says–If everyone who owned a gun was as responsible, intelligent and sane as you, your argument would be more persuasive. Unfortunately, many of the tragedies we hear about involve troubled, careless or criminal-minded individuals who should not have that access. THAT is the problem. If it was just an issue of people learning how to use guns more wisely, we wouldn’t be continually having this discussion. It has a lot more to do with human beings and their propensity for violence and stupidity having easier access to weapons than they should have.

  12. Jean says:

    I am just wondering, when we had a rise on teenage pregnancies and std’s, we started making kids aware of the repurcussions in school. I know that our teachers should not be held responsible to teach our children, but maybe if they had an awareness for this in schools, you never know, it might just save a life. I have always talked to my children about how dangerous guns are and how they are not toys. I even went to the extreme that they were not allowed to own toy guns (that looked like real ones) as toddlers. Instead of getting on the legal guns, maybe go to the toy manufacturers and get rid of the fake guns that look real, because if the kids are playing with these, they are surely assuming that there isn’t much difference with the real ones. The legal gun owners have been through background checks, etc, go after the illegal gun owners.

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