Perry Hall Baltimore School Shooting: Why Gun Control Policy Needs Serious Rethinking Now

Another day, another shooting in America: On Monday, a student was shot and critically wounded on the first day of classes at a Baltimore County high school and police said a suspect was quickly taken into custody.

County police said the wounded Perry Hall High School student was flown to a hospital. The 17-year-old male student was in critical condition at Maryland Shock Trauma Center, a hospital spokeswoman said.

To see PolicyMic's live analysis from another former student and updates on the Perry Hall shooting, see here.

Today's shooting happened at my school.

I never thought I would say that.

Perry Hall is a charming, homey section of middle class suburban sprawl north of Baltimore, complete with rolling hills and freshly cut grasses. I attended the local high school from 1997-2001, and coached Boys' Soccer there from 2006-2010. It’s the kind of place where people sit safely in their homes, comforted by the thought that something like this could never happen here.

But it just did.

One student was shot, and is now in critical condition. The shooter is reportedly in custody.

With the danger now passed, it’s natural to wonder what failures allowed this to happen. Was it a failure of school security or public policy? Was it a failure of parenting, or perhaps something else?

Though few of these answers are clear, what is obvious is that Americans need to take a hard look in the mirror, and at the evidence, to consider the state of our society, its costs and benefits, and whether it is desirable or even possible to better manage our affairs.

Was it a failure of school security? Certainly not by those on the ground — in a school without metal detectors, faculty and staff have no way of searching over 2,000 students for weapons. Yet how to address this issue is unclear, short of putting metal detectors in every school, which, in an era of ballooning municipal debt, may not be possible.

Was it a failure of parenting? Absolutely — children should not have unfettered access to firearms unless they live in a war-torn or naturally dangerous part of the world, and a cushy, white-collar suburb with a Starbucks on every corner does not make the cut. Yet how to manage parenting failures like today’s is similarly unclear.

Was it a failure of gun control policy? Perhaps, but even granting gun control advocates’ arguments that a variety of firearms should be completely banned would do little to prevent tragedies just like this in the future. True, it is difficult to imagine that the Founding Fathers contemplated such efficient, high-powered firearms when including the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights, but a musket could shoot a student as easily as a handgun. 

Yet in a summer which has seen a movie theater shooting in Colorado, a workplace-related shooting at the Empire State Building, and now this, the relative frequency of gun violence in America is an issue that, even among Second Amendment supporters like me, needs serious reanalysis.

Now is not the time for broad public policy decisions — to attempt anything of the sort while flooded with shock, anger, and sadness is a recipe for ill-considered, foolish policies. But take it from me — nothing makes you reconsider America’s high rate of gun violence compared to the rest of the world quite like someone getting shot at a place where you’ve spent about a third of your life.

Now is a time for tough, honest contemplation. The ability to defend one’s life and property with firearms is one of the Constitution’s sacred legacies. Yet we must take stock of what that ability costs us. As our friends, family members, neighbors, and even people we don’t know fall victim to gun violence, we should reassess the large and growing body of empirical and anecdotal evidence showing that our system is simply not as good at ensuring a peaceful society as other systems are.

Can we order our society better? Can we improve? Now is the time to brainstorm solutions, consider if they are possible or desirable, and move forward together with clear eyes and full hearts.