HOW CHILLINGLY matter-of-fact this account of a seventh-grader's reaction when bullets began to fly at Fort Gibson Middle School in Oklahoma Monday: According to his mother, "Justin immediately laid down on the ground and shouted to his friends to get down. Of course, we had been through this after seeing the other school shootings on television." As in those "other school shootings," some kids couldn't duck or escape fast enough. By the time their 13-year-old fellow student had emptied the clip of a 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun, four kids were wounded. But this time the gunfire took no lives--and therefore failed to grip a numbed public to the same degree.
The hideous truth is that kids and adults are shot dead all the time in this country, some by students at schools, some by hardened criminals and still others by disturbed people or by their own hands. Only the other day, a shooting rampage in a Baltimore house left five women dead and the immediate neighborhood shaken. But even when the deaths by gunfire in the schools do come in sufficient numbers to regenerate nationwide public concern about the free flow of firearms in this country, nothing happens.
When Congress is in town and perhaps facing elections, the hand-wringing about moral decay gets frenzied for a while; some gun safety proposals are kicked around, weakened and ultimately abandoned. So how will this latest terror at Fort Gibson affect efforts to get handguns out of anybody's easy reach?
Likely not at all. No deaths, no Congress in session, no sense of urgency. Public pressures clearly have stirred some positive movements on Capitol Hill from time to time. But how many times must gunfire wound or kill kids or grown-ups before the lawmakers move seriously to stop the flood of firearms?