Here we are again. The stories and the different takes on the stories look remarkably alike from one school massacre to the next.
In this case, the school was Santa Fe High School, in Santa Fe, Texas, near Houston. A 17 year old boy, Demetrios Pagourtzis, began shooting at around 7:40 in the morning, May 18, using both a shotgun and a .38 revolver.
Police arrived on the scene beginning at 7:45. Pagourtzis surrendered to police at 8:02. By that time he had killed ten people, eight students and two teachers, and wounding another thirteen, including a police officer.
Red Flags? False Flags?
At least from earliest reports, Pagourtzis’ life seems to have been missing some of the ‘red flags’ often noted in the case of other students who have taken similar actions. Pagourtzis has not been arrested or investigated or even had any confrontations with law enforcement prior to the morning of the 18th. He was not known to be suffering from any mental or nervous system disorder.
The immediate response from prominent politicians went according to the usual playbook. Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said, “The thoughts and prayers of all Texans are with the people of Santa Fe and those affected by today’s tragic shooting.” The President of the United States tweeted, “We grieve for the terrible loss of life, and send our support and love to everyone affected by this horrible attack in Texas.”
Such events do not generally produce any lasting and increased political demand for gun control. They produce calls for gun control, marches and speeches about gun control, etc. But they also produce talk of school bullying and its psychological consequences; the supposedly lenient parenting styles of our time; even dark mutterings about “false flags” and “crisis actors.” In time, all the speeches and the mutterings die away, only to rise up again when fate’s next chosen school becomes a battle zone.
One cry we don’t often hear: “how did the killer get hold on those guns?” We don’t hear that because the answer is quite obvious. This is the United States of America. It is a country with more guns that people, where it is always easy to get a hold on one if one feels a need for one. For the record, in this case the shooter simply (though illegally) brought his father’s guns to school.
Left Wing View
After the Stoneman Douglas shooting spree in February 2018, the philosopher Brian Leiter, a leftist by any standard, wrote on his blog that the only sensible response was to criminalize private ownership of the AR-15. That was a fairly typical view from that corner, so it is worth noting that even if every AR-15 were abolished from the planet, Pagourtzis’ victims would still be dead or wounded. He merely used a shotgun and a revolver.
In the absence of an “assault weapon” angle, a certain amount of the leftward commentary has turned to the matter of race. Greeks are ‘white’ by the common use of such racially charged terms, and Pagourtzis, as one twitter denizen has put the point, “was arrested, without a scratch … while still armed … while hundreds of unarmed, non-violent African Americans are killed by police….”
Racial classifications themselves are products of the environment: there was a time when some commentators would have distinguished between the “Mediterranean” and the “Nordic” races at such a moment.
Some commenters seemed to be casting about for a Columbine-like angle in the early hours after the Santa Fe shooting. Aaron Mak, for example, writing in the center left journal Slate, expressed some interest in Pagourtzis’ garb. Writing Saturday morning, Mak said that though the long trench coat was useful to the shooter in hiding his weapons, it was also something he wore almost every day.
But German Lopez, writing in Vox, didn’t have to cast about. He said simply “the problem is guns.” Guns of all types. Further, in Lopez’ view, the problem is a culture that supports the widespread availability of guns.
As Vox also observes, Dutch comedians have thoughtfully prepared a satirical video about the US and guns, describing US as a country afflicted by an addiction, which can start with “an innocent Colt,” but progresses to “shotguns, sniper rifles, M16s even … [some] patients use silencers to hide their condition.”
Many left wingers on social media have become pointedly uninterested in distinctions among types of weapon. As one writes, “When you saw off a shotgun it’s intended to be an assault rifle.” [As a matter of physics, the point of sawing off the barrel of a shotgun is to make the shot scatter, creating more mayhem within a small space.]
Two students who were turned into high-profile activists by the Stoneman Douglas massacre have expressed their disgust at the news from Texas. “Get ready for two weeks of media coverage of politicians acting like they give a shit,” said one: “We cannot let this continue to be the norm,” said another, “We cannot.”
Right Wing View
One surprise in this overly familiar story: the issue of the design of schools, and especially the issue of the number of doors, in a school, quickly came front and center.
The Lieutenant Governor of the state said there were “too many entrances and too many exits” on the campus, “we may have to look at the design of our schools going forward.”
He was widely ridiculed on social media for this suggestion. The reaction of one Daniel Summers was typical. Summers tweeted, “Funny thing about doors. They’re only a risk factor for being shot if the people walking through them have guns.”
But the matter didn’t die there. For some in the blogosphere have taken up Lt Gov Dan Patrick’s idea. At RedState.com, for example, one finds a lengthy discussion by Streiff saying that Patrick was “exactly right.” An office building with more than a thousand workers may have two exterior doors in regular use (excluding from consideration fire doors, which don’t open from the outside). This is appropriate: every arrival can be identified and, where appropriate, searched.
Such a discussion resonates oddly with the writings of Michel Foucault, a 20th century French philosopher who had much to say about the structures (including the architecture) associated with social control.
Another, somewhat more predictable take: many on the right believe that this tragedy helps make the case for capital punishment. A story in TheBlaze, Glenn Beck’s news-and-commentary website, complains that Pagourtzis, at 17 years, will not face execution due to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in 2005 in Roper v. Simmons.
Also, those on the right sometimes use such moments to rail against “the media” for covering the case, explicitly or implicitly supposing that the killers are each others’ copycats, looking for their own cheap moment in the spotlight. That view was expressed in this case by Chris Churchill, a columnist with the Times-Union, a Hearst Corp. daily newspaper in Albany, New York.
Churchill urged that “at the very least” news organizations should “stop reporting the killers’ self-serving Facebook rantings.” But he would rather that more, including faces and names, could be withheld.
What is oddly off here is the juxtaposition of this latest school shooting with the pomp of the wedding of a Prince and his new Princess the next day, in the Mother Country. The UK has gotten very good at staging royal weddings, and the US is getting too good at staging funerals for recently murdered schoolchildren.