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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

The deadly plague mushrooms. The list of its victims grows longer. Yet, the mercurial president and his lap-dog lieutenants send out mixed messages, promising measures to keep us safer, then backing away from any corrective that might save lives.

I'm not talking about COVID-19 (the disease caused by the infamous coronavirus). I'm talking about gun violence, which has long been a pandemic in the United States. On Wednesday, a troubled employee of Milwaukee's Molson Coors brewery killed five of his colleagues on the sprawling campus before fatally shooting himself. According to The Washington Post, it was the first mass killing of 2020 — defined as an attack in which four or more people are killed. Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes said it was Wisconsin's 11th mass shooting (wherein four or more people are injured) since 2004.

Let that sink in for a moment. In the last decade and a half, one state — and far from the most populous — has had 11 mass shootings. Yet, the Milwaukee atrocity barely broke through news coverage of President Donald J. Trump's disastrous press conference on his administration's response to the recent coronavirus outbreak.

Even so, mass shootings draw more news media attention than the routine gun carnage that wreaks havoc on communities across the country. We have grown inured to the child shot dead by a stray bullet on a playground, to the crazed motorist firing at the driver who cut him off in traffic, to the estranged husband gunning down his wife.

In 2017, the last year for which authoritative federal data were available, about three-quarters of all homicides in the U.S. were committed with firearms, according to the Pew Research Center. And here's something we don't discuss: About 60 percent of firearms deaths are suicides.

For some perspective, consider these statistics: So far, there have been 60 reported cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. — with, luckily, no deaths so far (though that could quickly change). By contrast, nearly 40,000 Americans were killed by firearms last year, and there's no reason to expect this year to alter the statistics significantly.

We have panicked over COVID-19: Certainly, Trump's casual attitude in minimizing a possible pandemic — even as his medical experts had just told the public to expect more cases — did little to reassure us. We buy masks, hand sanitizer and household antimicrobial cleaners. We avoid shaking hands with business acquaintances, we cancel travel, we swear off ocean cruises.

But we don't vote out the politicians who cower before the gun lobby. When 20 little children and six adults were gunned down in Sandy Hook in 2012, I was certain that Congress would finally find the guts to stand up to the National Rifle Association and its power-mad allies. It didn't.

Now, we just shrug when Congress fails to pass the sensible measures that the overwhelming majority of Americans support, such as background checks for private gun sales. Instead, we hire security guards to patrol our sanctuaries during worship and teach our children to cower under their desks during active-shooter drills. We lay wreaths at the scenes of mass shootings.

While we have not conquered the opioid epidemic, we have found the will to bring massive lawsuits against the pharmaceutical manufacturers who blanketed the landscape with their addictive drugs. But gun manufacturers are protected against lawsuits, even though their deadly products do so much harm. Worse yet, the gun lobby — strangely enough — has even fought new technology for "smart guns," which could only be fired by authorized users. Why? What sort of madness would inspire that stance?

Recently, I listened to my fifth grader's school principal explain that the district is considering adopting a new approach for active-shooter drills. Instead of teaching the children to hide in a closet — the shelter-in-place technique is outdated, it seems — schools may be telling kids to run, to scatter or even to tackle the shooter. This is the instruction that could be given to 11-year-olds. As many psychologists have pointed out, that sort of training is likely to scare kids into nightmares while doing little to protect them from harm.

Trump, who is wrong about so many things, was misinformed when he suggested at his press conference that scientists are close to finding a vaccine for the COVID-19 virus. They are not. But they will find a cure for that coronavirus much faster than for the firearms madness that is killing so many of us.

Poll: Most Parents Oppose Rapid School Reopening

Numerous local school systems around the country are plowing ahead with plans to resume in-person instruction despite growing evidence that children are just as capable of spreading the coronavirus as adults.

Classes were set to begin on Monday in Baker County, Florida. Masks for students will be optional, not required. "It looks like it's back to normal this morning, honestly," a local television reporter observed as parents dropped their kids off in the morning. Many students wore no face coverings.

The Trump administration and the GOP have pushed for full reopening of schools for months."Schools in our country should be opened ASAP," Donald Trump tweeted in May. "Much very good information now available."

"SCHOOLS MUST OPEN IN THE FALL!!!" he reiterated on July 6.

"The science and data is clear: children can be safe in schools this fall, and they must be in school this fall," demanded Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ) on Aug. 1.

"I believe our schools can, and should rise to the occasion of re-opening for in-person education this fall," agreed Rep. Andy Harris (R-MD) two days later.

"The CDC and Academy of Pediatrics agree: We can safely get students back in classrooms," tweeted House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) last Tuesday.

But while Scalise, Mike Pence, and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos have all cited the American Academy of Pediatrics in their arguments for reopening, a new study by the group and the Children's Hospital Association raises red flags about how safe that will be.

Their report found 338,982 reported coronavirus cases in children as of July 30 in the United States. Between July 16 and July 30, the nation saw a 40% increase — 97,078 new infected children.

Last week, a high school student in an Atlanta suburb posted a photo online showing few students wearing masks in a crowded school hallway. Since that time, at least six students and three adult employees in the school have reportedly contracted the coronavirus, and the school temporarily has switched to online classes.

Another Georgia school district has already seen at least 13 students and staff members test positive since reopening a week ago.

A recent study in South Korea found that children aged ten and older spread the coronavirus at the same rates adults do. A separate study in Chicago suggested young kids might also be effective spreaders.

These contradict the false claims made by Trump and his administration that kids have an "amazing" near immunity to COVID-19.

"If you look at children, children are almost — and I would almost say definitely, but almost immune from this disease, so few. They've got stronger, hard to believe, and I don't know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this," Trump told Fox News on Wednesday.

"You got to open the schools. They have a stronger immune system even than you have or I have," he told Barstool Sports on July 23. "It's amazing. You look at the percentage, it's a tiny percentage of one percent. And in that one case, I mean, I looked at a couple of cases. If you have diabetes, if you have, you know, problems with something, but the kids are in great shape." Children have made up nearly nine percent of all cases, even with schools mostly closed.

And DeVos incorrectly said in a July 16 interview, "More and more studies show that kids are actually stoppers of the disease and they don't get it and transmit it themselves."

In early July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines for how schools could operate more safely during the pandemic.

Trump publicly ridiculed the guidelines, dismissing them as "very tough & expensive" and "very impractical."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.