Texas governor Gregg Abbott hosted a roundtable discussion on school safety at the capitol in Austin earlier this week in response to last week's shooting in Santa Fe. Credit: AP Photos

Instead of condemning lawmakers who refuse to make laws that might reduce the slaughter of schoolchildren, we critics of these legislators should put ourselves in their shoes. They have children of their own—they can imagine the anguish of parents who send their kids off in the morning with lunch bags and retrieve them in the afternoon in body bags. They have no more use than we do for the sullen, misfit killers; like the rest of us, they wish them gone. But there’s that devilish Second Amendment, to which they’re philosophically attached—not to mention politically and financially. You don’t knock down the pillars holding up a civilization and not expect the ceiling to land on all our heads. Children, however much we love them, are more expendable than the rights we hold dear. There are millions of kids, but only ten sentences to the Bill of Rights.

The slope is slippery, and not simply with blood. The law we pinch today to trim its excess might crumble tomorrow like pie crust. Federal researchers, if allowed to approach gun violence as a public health problem—on the grounds, let us say, that more children die at school than soldiers die in war—might conclude that the only cure is abstinence. But guns are not like cigarettes. Cigarettes are a vice. Guns are a guarantee of liberty.

So what are our lawmakers to do? Their hearts are in the right place, but they have found no way beyond prayer to express their indignation.
Let me suggest something. I have in mind a response as authentically American as those Remingtons that hung above the fireplace in the homesteads of yore. It is time for lawmakers—backed by the rest of us 100 percent!—to call out those sullen misfits and tell them to act like men.

To begin with, every fad and frenzy runs its course, and these wretched souls who lug their combat-grade weaponry onto school grounds and open fire court a shriveling infamy. At this point, they are merely copycats, and the American public will not long remember the schools they shoot up, let alone the names of the shooters. Perhaps they’ve noticed that the obligatory note of presidential regret is becoming more and more perfunctory. Schoolkids themselves now expect to be shot at sooner or later, and classroom safety has replaced playground improvement as standard fodder of PTA discussion. If there was ever anything audaciously novel about shooting up a school, this ship has long since sailed. Losers do it because they’re losers, and all they accomplish is to show that the cool kids who made sure they knew they were losers totally had them pegged.

The time is ripe for our lawmakers to call these losers out. I propose they create a distraction. “If you want to pick on somebody,” they need to say, stepping forward and pumping up their chests, “pick on us. Leave the kids alone. Shoot up city hall. Shoot up the statehouse. Hell, shoot up Congress. If you dare. ‘Cause we’ll be waiting for you.”

The problem with the way our lawmakers have been behaving up to now is the whiff I catch every now and then of an attitude that’s perfumed with piety but comes down to better them than us. Am I imagining this? When a problem doesn’t get solved, or even tackled, it usually means that the decision makers see it as someone else’s problem. Kids don’t vote. They don’t contribute to campaigns. To anyone but their parents, they’re fungible. I am so sorry to speak so harshly about our elected representatives, but that is how things look. Imagine how dramatically my feelings would change if those lawmakers were to stand tall and send a message loud and clear: If you want to shoot somebody, shoot us. If you got the guts, and we don’t think you do.

In other words, do what John Wayne used to do in all his movies and draw the fire away from the weak and innocent. I can picture our lawmakers rising to the occasion in fine fashion, though so far not a peep.