Bowling Green residents grapple with recent school shootings

Karen Simpson, a 72-year-old from Tulsa, Oklahoma, bought her first and only gun after she divorced her husband and he began trying to break into her house. Simpson recalled the story as she browsed cans of peanuts in a Bowling Green Walmart at about 10 p.m. on a Monday night.

“My gun’s name is Betsy,” she said with a smile.

Simpson said the recent mass school shootings in Benton, Kentucky, and Parkland, Florida, are a “sign of the times.” A semi-retired author’s assistant with a background in education, she called for more education of children, particularly about responsibility with firearms with an emphasis placed on the value of life.

“A lot of things go back to bullying, and bullying goes back to parenting,” she said.

Simpson is one of many Americans grappling with the complex causes of gun violence in America following the recent school shootings. These incidents are among the 34 mass shootings that have occurred since the start of the year as of Feb. 21, according to the Gun Violence Archive. This count defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are injured. Four of these mass shootings have taken place at schools.

A Jan. 23 shooting at Marshall County High School left two students dead and 18 injured, according to the Courier Journal. The suspect, 15-year-old Gabriel Ross Parker, will be tried as an adult

In a Feb. 16 interview with the Cincinnati Enquirer during a stop in Covington, Gov. Matt Bevin blamed video game violence and other cultural influences for the tragedy. Bevin has previously dismissed gun regulation as a solution to mass shootings.

“To all those political opportunists who are seizing on the tragedy in Las Vegas to call for more gun regs…You can’t regulate evil…” he tweeted after the Oct. 1 shooting in Las Vegas.

Survivors of a Feb. 14 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, have taken to Twitter and the steps of the Florida Capitol Building in Tallahassee to dismiss accusations of politicization and push for legislative action to prevent more school shootings.

“This isn’t about the GOP. This isn’t about the Democrats,” high school junior Cameron Kasky said to CNN on a Feb. 18 broadcast. “This is about us creating a badge of shame for any politicians who are accepting money from the NRA and using us as collateral.”

Student survivors of the Parkland shooting are planning a “March for Our Lives” demonstration on March 24 in Washington, D.C. Two walkouts are also planned for later this spring, including one on March 14 led by the organizers of the Women’s March and another on April 20, the anniversary of the Columbine High School massacre.

That evening in Walmart, Simpson’s niece, Stephanie Gillespie joined her aunt in the peanut aisle holding her granddaughter, Elizabeth. Gillespie, a 42-year-old Bowling Green resident who is the owner of Unique by Design Catering and the executive chef at Park Mammoth Resort in Park City, Kentucky. The resort is home to Rockcastle Shooting Center, a gun range with “Second Amendment Living” estates on the property. The Rockcastle Estates website describes itself as a community of like-minded “firearms enthusiasts,” similar to golf course living communities or fly-in communities for pilots.

“I’m not a gun enthusiast, but I believe in the Second Amendment,” she said.

She later added that she sees gun ownership as a civil right.

“Why are we stamping on what my women and men are fighting for?”

Gillespie said she grew up with her father’s guns in the home but was taught gun safety from an early age.

“You don’t touch them,” she said she was taught. “ It’s no different than a hot stove.”

Jordan Steakin, 22, of Nashville, was in a feminist theory class when news broke about the Feb. 14 shooting in Parkland. Steakin, who studies gender studies and sustainability at Lindsey Wilson College, said the professor introduced a discussion about the shooting from a feminist perspective.

“We talked about how it’s because there’s a social stigma of lack of help for men reaching out when they’re dealing with depression or anxiety or anything like that,” Steakin said.

According to data from Mother Jones, of 95 U.S. shootings that took place between 1982 and 2017, 92 of the shooters were men (two shooters were female and one shooting involved a male and a female). This count includes incidents in which four or more people were killed by the attacker in a public place whereas the Gun Violence Archive considers a mass shooting to be an incident in which four or more people were killed and/or injured. Government-funded gun violence research in America has essentially been at a standstill since 1996.

“Most women are more collaborative, so they’re willing to express their feelings. They’re willing to find an issue and discuss together to solve it,” Steakin said. “Instead, men usually keep in their anxiety, keep in the problems they’re facing, and they don’t usually express it. They react with it, so their reactions are usually with anger or violent actions.”

Steakin also noted that people often use mental health as a fallback, but there is no documented correlation between mental health and mass shootings. According to a 2016 report by the American Psychiatric Association, the overall contribution of people with serious mental illness to violent crimes is roughly 3 percent. The authors of the report, James Knoll and George Annas, conclude that gun policy that focuses on people with mental illness perpetuates stigmas related to mental illness and ignores the greater reality that suicide using firearms accounts for the majority of gun-related deaths.

Steakin said he agrees with the Florida teenagers’ calls for gun policy reform instead of “thoughts and prayers.”

“I feel like younger generations are looking more into solving problems, solving issues instead of just ‘thoughts and prayers,’” Steakin said.

Michael Madison, a 26-year-old Bowling Green resident, said he feels that people who oppose guns react emotionally to tragedies like school shootings without understanding the issue that gun owners have.

“If you’re going to hate something, you should at least know what you’re talking about and vice-versa,” he said.

Madison also said he would support allowing teachers to carry guns if they pass all the requirements to obtain a concealed carry permit.

“You’re already letting the teacher protect your kids while they’re at school anyways whether you like it or not,” he said, noting that regulating how the guns were stored would be important. “I feel like that would be something worth trying out.”

Madison said he grew up around guns and has been allowed to shoot them for as long as he can remember. He said he grew up in a family of hunters who owned “all kinds” of guns, including assault weapons, which he said they used to hunt coyotes that scared their dogs. He said many people should understand the ways guns can be used for good.

“Do you want to walk around and be as defenseless as the next person or do you want to have a leg up on the guy who maybe wants to take your purse?” he said. “That’s all it boils down to.”

Elizabeth Heller, a 36 year old from Bowling Green, said she is in support of what she calls “sensible legislation.” A stay-at-home mom, Heller is a mother of two children, Henry and Holly, ages 7 and 3.

“If we didn’t do anything after Newtown, when are we going to do something?” Heller asked. She later added, “People say, ‘it’s too soon, it’s too soon.’ So I say, let’s talk about what happened in Las Vegas. Let’s talk about what happened in Marshall County. It’s time to have that conversation and do something sensible.”

Heller noted that most Americans are in favor of universal background checks — 94 percent according to a June 2017 poll by Quinnipiac University. She said she thinks the Parkland shooting has signaled a tone shift in the gun control debate to demand action from legislators.

“I feel like the tone is a little bit different this time,” she said. “I feel like people are a little more demanding.”