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Students were escorted by police from Saugus High School on Nov. 14, 2019 after at least three people were wounded and two killed in a shooting when a gunman opened fire on the Santa Clarita, Calif., campus early Thursday.
Students were escorted by police from Saugus High School on Nov. 14, 2019 after at least three people were wounded and two killed in a shooting when a gunman opened fire on the Santa Clarita, Calif., campus early Thursday. (Al Seib/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Sixteen seconds.

That’s all it took for a 16-year-old to pull out a handgun from his backpack in his high school quad and kill two students, wound three others and shoot himself in the head. Sixteen seconds. It was over in less time than it takes to read a weather report, wash your hands or prepare a bowl of breakfast cereal. In Santa Clarita, Calif., they are mourning the terrible consequences of Thursday’s attack and are doubtless asking themselves the question that everyone asks after yet another mass shooting in a nation that leads the world in senseless mass shootings: Why?

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Here’s one reason: Because somehow in the United States of the 21st century it’s simply not that difficult for a teen to acquire a .45 caliber semiautomatic handgun. Should the staff at Saugus High School have pegged the suspect, a junior who was a member of the track team, as a candidate for murder-suicide? That seems highly unlikely (and might not have made a difference anyway). Would the usual NRA prescription, a so-called “good guy” with a gun have made a difference? Not in 16 seconds. Could the school have been fortified sufficiently to prevent the attack? Equally preposterous. The line to metal detectors could just as easily have been the killing field as the school’s quad.

There are any number of legitimate areas of public policy to explore in reaction to what advocates described as the 38th school shooting and 366th mass shooting in the U.S. this year. This year! Is there adequate access to mental health counseling? Does the American culture promote gun violence? But in the process of self-examination we simply can’t ignore our too-easy access to firearms, particularly by those under the age of 18. California already bans the sale of handguns and ammunition to minors, who are also restricted from possessing a handgun. but it’s clear that such requirements can be circumvented in a country where adults have such unfettered access to deadly weapons. It’s already been noted that the shooter’s late father was an avid hunter.

Students are escorted outside of Saugus High School after reports of a shooting on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, in Santa Clarita, Calif. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva tweeted that the suspect was in custody and was being treated at a hospital.
Students are escorted outside of Saugus High School after reports of a shooting on Thursday, Nov. 14, 2019, in Santa Clarita, Calif. Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva tweeted that the suspect was in custody and was being treated at a hospital. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / AP)

We all know what happens in the days ahead. We will see the anguish of victim’s families. There will be the frustration of community leaders. And there will also be calls for a renewed push for gun violence legislation such as the universal background checks bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives but has languished in the U.S. Senate for most of the year. And in the end, perhaps by Thanksgiving, maybe sooner, the National Rifle Association and its supporters know that public attention will move on. The dead will be buried. The furor will subside. And they will be content that their absolutist approach to the Second Amendment that values gun ownership over the lives of teens will carry the day. The self-satisfied bunch can carry on lobbying to make it easier for just about anyone to carry a gun while the kids at the local schools perform their lockdown- and live-shooter- drills.

Santa Clarita should not be forgotten so easily — if only because of its heroes like the first-responders who happened to be dropping off students of their own and ran toward the sound of gunfire. Their swift actions likely saved lives as they attended to youngsters laying on the ground. But also because young people shouldn’t have to live, work and go to school in fear. We know gun violence in Baltimore where the annual homicide tally recently surpassed 300. But there’s little any one city, even any one state, can do about the nation’s ridiculous oversupply of guns unless Washington takes action to back them up.

That’s not to suggest gun control is the only remedy. It isn’t. That’s not to imply gun control would definitively have prevented events in Southern California. It might not have. But this much is absolutely certain: If the country fails to do more to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them, whether they are too young to be trusted with such a responsibility or whether they are criminals, seriously mentally ill, or judged a danger to themselves or others, there is no chance that the attack at Saugus will not be repeated. The friends and families of the victims deserve better than that. We all deserve better.

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