Lindsay M. Harper: What could be more American than collaboration on gun violence?

We can come up with an American way, not a Republican or a Democratic way, to reduce mass shootings.

(Desiree Rios | The New York Times) The scene outside a nearby church that had been set up as a reunification area for parents to meet their children following a shooting at a private Christian school in Nashville on Monday, March 27, 2023.

The phrase “There is nothing more American than apple pie” may soon be challenged by a grimmer idiom: “There is nothing more American than school shootings.”

According to Gun Violence Archive, the United States has had 130 mass shootings in 2023, an average of 1.5 shootings a day. Approximately 10% of those shootings have occurred in schools. In fact, more civilians have died by gunshot on school property in 2023 than police officers shot and killed in the line of duty.

In case the semi-regular occurrence of mass shootings feels like a global plague, world statistics prove otherwise. Since the Columbine shooting in 1999, the United States has witnessed 376 school shootings. As of 2018, the world’s second runner-up was Mexico with a total of eight. If school shootings were an Olympic event, Americans may qualify for the gold, silver and bronze medals.

The United States’ latest mass shooting occurred March 27 when a gunman broke into the Covenant School, a private elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee. In less than 14 minutes, three children and three adults were killed. Less than one year ago, we mourned the 19 children and two teachers killed in one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas. In short, nothing has changed. We just keep mourning.

Approximately 24 hours after the Uvalde shooting in 2022, United States senators met to discuss the cause of America’s gun violence epidemic. Utah Sen. Mike Lee attributed mass shootings to “fatherlessness, the breakdown of families, isolation from civil society or the glorification of violence.” Although these societal issues may be a factor, “fatherlessness” isn’t murdering innocent elementary school children, teachers, and staff, assailants brandishing assault weapons are.

If the United States had followed the example of its international neighbors and allies (and even some enemies), it would have gathered and banned assault weapons long ago, perhaps after the killings at Columbine High School in 1999, Virginia Tech in 2007, or Sandy Hook Elementary in 2012.

New Zealand’s politicians moved to action just three days after 51 people were killed at the Christchurch massacre in 2019. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern explained: “We are a very pragmatic people. When we saw something like this happen everyone said ‘never again’, so then it was incumbent on us as politicians to respond to that.”

What, then, is preventing the United States from exercising the same kind of pragmatism that moved New Zealanders to action? Why are Americans planning candlelight vigils and funerals when they should be planning legislation to make the United States and its schools safer?

Americans’ constitutional right to bear arms is an undeniable hurdle. However, nuanced solutions that address gun violence and uphold the second amendment are possible with bipartisan cooperation and support. Unfortunately, politicians seem more concerned with protecting their political parties than protecting Americans. While Republicans and Democrats are caught in a political stalemate in Washington D.C., gun violence is claiming innocent lives across the country. Hence, mass shootings in the United States have become less of a societal problem and more of a political problem.

Now, I’m not arguing that the United States’ best option is to adopt New Zealand’s gun legislation. Nor am I arguing that the United States should adopt Republican- or Democrat-proposed gun policies. I’m arguing that the United States’ best path forward is for Republicans and Democrats to reach across the aisle, collaborate, and develop an “American way” to address gun violence.

The American people and the politicians that represent them must be more concerned about doing what’s right than proving each other wrong. When political contempt thrives, all Americans suffer. Until Republicans and Democrats are willing to lay down their metaphorical political weapons of war, we are unlikely to see a decrease in literal weapons of war in our communities and schools.

The last thing America wants to be known for is something as sinister, tragic and avoidable as school shootings. Let’s encourage our citizens and the politicians that represent us to set aside political divisions and prove that there is nothing more American than collaboration. Only then will we be able to stand united in creatively, empathetically, and wisely addressing school shootings.

Lindsay M. Harper

Lindsay M. Harper is graduating from Brigham Young University with a master of public administration degree. She is a co-founder and director of the nonprofit organization Hearts Tied Together, mother of three, and advocate for political civility.