Gun violence is so old that saying its getting old is old, but even that has been said by others already.
However, in wake of yet another tragic school shooting, this time killing 17 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in South Florida, students, parents and teachers across the country are asking the same question: “Will this be the day I face death?” No one should have to fear bullets piercing through their classrooms but nothing is being done to curb this anxiety.
What we need to ask ourselves as a nation is how we can morally, ethically and justly protect our schools while being realistic, constitutional and pragmatic at the same time. Even if school-related gun violence diminishes, its overall threat still lingers in our society. Are there any feasible solutions?
My answers to these questions are found partially within the voice of one parent who sadly lost their child in this monstrous act of evil.
“I’m pissed,” said Andrew Pollack, whose daughter, Meadow, 18, was gunned down at Stoneman Douglas. “I’m not going to see my daughter again. She’s not here. She’s at North Lauderdale in King David’s cemetery. That’s where I go to see my kid now.”
“How many schools, how many children have to get shot?” Pollack said.
The bottom line is that if we can protect our schools, the rest of our society can be kept safe as well. It starts here. Our children and our future should come as first priority. Policies hoping to regulate firearms and its potential carnage should focus initially on protecting the safety and well being of our students, keeping them out of harm’s way. If our schools can become safer, so could, ultimately, our theaters, concerts, highways, churches and other sectors of our society also. The tension lies between safety and freedom. The question to ask is what right or rights are we willing to sacrifice? Do any have to be sacrificed at all?
Unquestionably, as Americans we live in a gun culture; this is the underlying issue. A consensus will, for the most part, tell us that we like guns and thus they are not going away anytime soon. This is why this issue is so complicating, problematic and frustrating. Whether it’s the frontier mentality inherited from manifest destiny or revolutionary spirit originating in 1776, there is something present within the American psyche that is fascinated with, perhaps awed by, things that explode.
This is the primary reason why other European countries don’t experience the same intensity of gun violence as the United States: gun-related deaths here have a cultural basis. Culture, therefore, not so much politicians, interest groups or lack of mental health support, underlines this issue and is the most problematic. Most would agree that the U.S. should be a gun-owning nation, yet, we have no clue how to manage them in a free society.
Then there is the second amendment. Not only is gun ownership an individual freedom, Americans clearly embrace and defend the constitution. We are skeptical – and for good reason – even looking at the amendment because any talk of reforming it possibly means sacrificing liberties. Not only is “the right to bear arms” an amendment, it is part of the original Bill of Rights. Furthermore, it’s number two, following the amendment protecting the freedom of speech, to assemble, practice any religion, and so on. This liberty might as well be sacred in the hearts of Americans.
Although the thrill of firearms is embedded in the American psychology, other factors mentioned previously are somewhat to blame in this pattern of gun-related homicides and mass shootings. One is ambitious, opportunistic and reluctant politicians, combined with the slowness of the political process in general, which is naturally antagonistic to change and progress.
“After Sandy Hook, when our nation’s politicians failed to advocate for and enforce stricter gun regulations, I felt despair and dread,” says Vicki Smith from Sandy, Utah. “I am a kindergarten teacher who now has to practice ‘shelter-in-place’ drills with my young charges.”
Demanding to “take action now,” Cameron Kasky, a 17 year old survivor at Marjory Stoneman Douglas, talked about how “students at my school felt one shared experience – our politicians abandoned us by failing to keep guns out of schools. But this time, my classmates and I are going to hold them to account.”
This phenomenon should come as no surprise. An all-too-familiar routine follows these deadly shootings: first, the nation is struck with terror, fear, and grief as the nation mourns over the tragedy, with a flood of news coverage bombarding viewers. Next, divisions arise, with gun-control advocates on the one side calling for stricter laws, and quarrelling proponents on the other, who argue contrarily, saying the time is not appropriate to discuss gun control and express that the left’s proposals wouldn’t help anyways.
Ultimately, this leads to a predictable stalemate on both sides. A political deadlock results, nothing changes, and America grows more divided. The fact that the Florida House rejected a motion to take a bill banning assault rifles last Tuesday, with a vote along party lines of 36-71, but later approved a resolution declaring pornography a public health risk, attests one unfortunate trend: priorities are ambiguous in the world of politics.
Interests groups are exacerbating this trend. Organizations such as the NRA are especially to blame, who knowingly line the back pockets of some politicians with money to advance the group’s goals and interests. These groups continually donate millions to these politicians at every level of government, who then rile up their supporters into making them believe that the opposition are conspiring together to confiscate their guns.
In turn, these individuals stockpile these weapons in advance to prepare for sweeping gun confiscation – which would never work anyways – or an apocalypse that never comes. While in the meantime, gun manufacturers, lobbyists and especially the NRA get richer.
Both sides of the political spectrum are to blame. While Republicans on the one hand, for the most part, tend to take large donations from groups like the NRA and thus fetter themselves to their selfish agenda, liberals seem to lack a clear and cohesive plan in enacting gun-control legislation and are disorganized in their cause overall. Gun control advocates, while desiring action, when asked of any specific plan as to what should be done, never offer a direct answer, seem dumbfounded, and merely throw hands in the air, proclaiming, “Well, something must be done.” The left has their interest groups just as much as the right does. The NRA may not be the sole perpetrator in encouraging gun violence, yet, if you don’t realize that interest groups like the NRA are at least partially responsible, then you’re naïve. Yes, interests groups contribute to this problem, but this is routine for every political issue conceivable.
The same goes for mental health. One common misconception, as reflected in House Speaker Paul Ryan’s comment, is that mental health is regularly a “big” problem underlying these tragedies. While some correlation exists linking mental health with these shootings, facts and statistics prove that this doesn’t necessarily cause them or is a major contributing factor.
A 2016 academic study estimates that just four percent of all violence is associated with some mental illness. A similar study a year prior found that individuals diagnosed with a mental illness made up less than five percent of “gun-related” deaths in the U.S. between 2001 and 2010. Out of 235 mass killings analyzed, only 22 percent of perpetrators had any significant form of mental illness, according to the New York Times.
“Evidence is clear that the large majority of people with mental disorders do not engage in violence against others, and that most violent behavior is due to factors other than mental illness,” said the 2016 study.
In other words, people who struggle with mental health issues are more likely to harm themselves than others. Shootings, therefore, have the tendency to only stigmatize mental health even further. Again, mental health is not the core issue, culture is. Yes, it is important to get help for those who need it. Yes, we need to be proactive about recommending counseling, reaching out to families, and advocating mental health awareness, but this is not going to completely eliminate the threat of gun violence in schools, let alone anywhere else.
“We can recommend counseling, talk to the family, dole out suspensions and even expel them if it’s bad enough. But we cannot force them to get counseling, we cannot force their families to admit to the degree of illness, and we cannot stop them from getting guns and coming to school to kill us,” wrote a public high school teacher from New York.
“Mental health often goes into the backburner of school funding. With over 700 students at our school and only two counselors staffed, for example, we need more policies that are proactive in helping people struggling with mental illnesses before they harm themselves or others,” said Bill Reed Middle School teacher Ali Lind.
Certainly a shortage of trained professionals on hand will only further perpetuate the symptoms of what students are already experiencing. Most of the time, because schools are short staffed and overwhelmed, a simple problem could automatically land a student within the realm of hospitalization. There’s treatment and diagnosis, if any at all, but no support.
“Those who blame the mentally ill for these murders are neglecting the real cause of the mass casualties,” Smith said. “A mentally ill intruder is scary. A mentally ill intruder with an automatic weapon is deadly.”
“What used to be most safe is now least safe,” said an anonymous 30-year veteran teacher from the Greeley area.
This is the heart of what I’m trying to get at. Safeguarding schools rests on supporting teachers, both financially and emotionally, not arming them. Instead of zealously sponsoring border security, maybe our president should focus on constructing impenetrable walks to protect our schools and keep children safe.
These policies need to be both reactive and proactive; including ones that can immediately suppress or eliminate the target immediately and on site, along with others that prevent the shooting from occurring in the first place. Reactive policies could be revamping lockdown procedures and making them more extensive or increasing the number of school resource officers on campuses. Designing or requiring schools to include a single entry point into them could also prove effective. Arming teachers and providing incentives for them to carry in schools, while a reactive measure, is not ineffective, but also a useless and absurd policy for a plethora of reasons. such as priorities in funding, the risks involved, and ethical morals and principles.
Proactive policies, on the other hand, could come in the form of more universal and thorough background checks, a stronger mental health support system and greater enforcement of laws already set in place allowing public officials to take action. The FBI, for example, admitted its failure to follow through an anonymous tip “close” to the 19 year old suspect, explaining his “desire to kill people,” “erratic behavior” and “disturbing social media posts.” Establishing red flag laws, preventing straw buying, and increasing the age to purchase a firearms are also potential proactive measures to consider.
The goals of these policies are to avoid two extremes: the abolition of the second amendment and the reinforcement of a police state in our halls of education. To gun advocates who question the infringement of their constitutional liberties when the word “gun-reform” springs: how exactly is this manifested simply from filling out extra paperwork, taking another class or getting another visit? It’s a little much to say any of these protocols would threaten the essence of the individual living in a free and democratic society as defined by the constitution. Bureaucracy and red tape can no doubt be aggravating, but if it keeps us safe then so be it; it’s better than totally eroding our second or fourth amendment rights.
This last point may seem controversial, but considering the facts, needs mentioning. There is no need for an “assault” style rifle, either semi or automatic. A hunting rifle and an instrument of war are diametrically opposite. It’s not that hard figuring out the difference between the two. If there’s any confusion, just look at the shootings in Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, Pulse Night Club, Las Vegas and Florida as examples. Wal-Mart and Dicks Sporting Goods have no problem understanding. Weapons like the AR-15 are typically purchased not to check tyranny or add to some antique gun collection–most often, they are used for target practice – a toy, in other words.
The question therefore, is not whether America is willing to sacrifice their freedom for safety, it’s what are we specifically exchanging? The tradeoff has to equalize. Otherwise, we could forfeit a good portion of our rights with only perpetual safety in return. Our way of approaching hasn’t worked this far, so why not try something new and start with our schools?