Midwestern Conservative Thought for the 21st Century

Five Things We Can Do To Stop School Shootings

by Steve Summers

The effects of the Parkland shooting have been immense. It was horrifying. There are now 17 empty chairs around tables, and 17 families that must come to terms with their child being gone. We are hurting as a nation.

And we are divided. Like clockwork, this tragedy was turned into yet another political circus. I’m told again how “thoughts and prayers,” aren’t enough, and I’m called on for “sensible gun reform,” to save these kids’ lives. I’m told that if I don’t support these new gun laws, I have blood on my hands and that I want children to die.

You’ve seen the interviews, the town halls, the marchers calling for us to do something.

The problem is that most, if not all, of the things that have been suggested, won’t stop a school shooting or save one kids life. They’ll just be added to the over 10,000 laws that are already there that we ignore.

Many of the details of the shooting have come out, and we’re finding that there were multiple points of failure on the local, state and federal level. Laws that could have stopped it, but weren’t enforced.

What’s more, since Parkland, we’ve had another shooting, this time in Santa Fe, Texas. Ten more bodies were added to the long list. It’s interesting though: we haven’t heard much about that shooting, even though the suspect matches the profile for kids who commit these horrible crimes. Why is that?

It’s because the details and the weapons in that shooting don’t match the story that the “common sense gun laws” people want you to think about. All the tough talk is just a mask for the real goal: making it harder for people to legally acquire guns.

But many of you are already rising to defend yourself… “okay, tough guy! What do you offer that’s more than ‘thoughts and prayers?'”

Glad you asked.

Here are five things we can do that actually will help to stop school shootings in the future. Are they the only things we should do? Of course not. But they will save more lives than banning weapons that look scary or limiting the size of magazines will.

Let’s get to it.

1. Give teachers the option to train and carry concealed in school

Let’s start with a controversial one. You’ve probably heard this mantra a fair bit, “the only way to truly stop a bad guy with a gun is to have a good guy with a gun there also.” Why do I suggest this? It’s a numbers game. The number of people killed in a shooting incident where police show up to stop it is much higher than when it ends due to someone already there. The reason is simple. The armed civilians were there when it started.

Before you argue that forcing teachers to carry is a terrible idea, I’m going to agree with you. Yes, I had many teachers that I wouldn’t want within a country mile of a gun, but that’s not what I’m advocating. Let teachers who are trained to concealed carry (or wish to become so) carry their weapon in school. If a teacher (or anyone else) doesn’t think they should carry, they’re right.

Teachers don’t have to be Navy SEALS; they just have to be there. One of the chief reasons that people do these kinds of shootings is because they have the idea that they’re invincible and going to be the next big thing. Once they’re engaged, the bubble bursts and they often commit suicide.

Now before you tell me about all the horrible things that will happen with teachers carrying, let me tell you this: it’s already happened. Alabama, Arkansas, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah and West Virginia and already allow teachers to concealed carry. Many of those states have teachers with CCW in the classroom. If you want a complete list, you can look here. (Just so we’re clear: that site comes at this issue from a very different direction, but it still tells you the important details: we don’t need to wonder what would happen, we already know).

2. Don’t publicize the names of shooters

The next thing we can do that will really help to deter school shootings is to not publicize the name, show pictures, or tell the story of the people who commit these crimes. Why do people do crazy, evil things like this? Many reasons, but one of the biggest ones is that they know they’re going to be the next big thing. Everything about their life may be terrible, but this is their ticket to infamy. The news cycle will be about them for weeks, months, or even years. Everyone is going to know their name and hear their story.

The shooter in Florida made videos about what he was doing, and why he did it. He explained that this point was exactly what was behind what he did. Part of his video shows him saying:

When you see me on the news you’ll know who I am …You’re all going to die. Pew pew pew. Yeah, can’t wait.”

And that’s true. As I am writing this, my news feed is still full of stories about the shooter. I know a lot about him, and I’m going to know a lot more before this is over. That’s. Exactly. What. He. Wanted.

The next shooter said he didn’t shoot people he liked, “so he could have his story told.”

He saw what happened in Parkland and emulated it. And now the next shooter is seeing that news play and thinking “that could be me!” That has to stop.

One interesting take on this issue comes from the “Some Asshole Initiative,” you might want to take a look if you’re comfortable with some swearing.

I don’t want to know one thing about the shooter, because I don’t want him, and anyone else to think they can win by killing people this way. If you don’t get the fame, that takes away one huge incentive to do this. I want to know about the people who were there and helped, who made a difference. If you want to talk about someone 24/7, let’s choose some of those people.

3. Work to Really Stop Bullying

We’ve all heard about bullying for a long time. Most of us had to experience it from time to time. Anti-bullying initiatives are all the rage, and they have been for years now. It’s interesting to note that they haven’t actually stopped bullying one bit. Your clever Youtube video or dismal attempt at rapping doesn’t actually stop bullying from happening.

Don’t get me wrong: that’s not an absolute. There are excellent anti-bullying initiatives out there, and some of them do work. What we need to do is take the ones that work and get rid of the rest.

A huge part of that, a huge one, is that teachers have to step in and make it stop. And not do this in a way that makes things actually worse for the kid who’s being bullied by not assigning any blame—or even worse—blaming both people equally.

I know this is a tall order, but it has to be done. Teachers have to step up and do their part, and the administration has to have their back. Zero tolerance policies that blame the victim every bit as much as the bully doesn’t work. If anything, they make the kid who’s getting bullied want to talk about it even less. And the bully isn’t thinking about their future, about how this is going to go on their “permanent record,” they’re laughing at that.

What’s more, teachers and school staff sitting there and doing nothing when someone is being bullied—which happens all the time—has to stop. I come from a family of teachers, so I understand how difficult it can be to teach along with enforcing standards of good behavior that are becoming increasingly rare. And I know that getting involved with bullying is a tough thing to do, with parents and the administration not having your back, but it’s part of the job, and it’s something you signed on for.

It’s tough, but this is a huge step we can take: the hatred and self-loathing that these kids feel fills them up with rage and hatred until that’s all that’s left. The person inside is gone, and what’s left is devoid of humanity, because they haven’t been treated with any. The Parkland and Santa Fe shooters look to be classic examples of this process in action.

When we see the people, who should be protecting us turning a blind eye, or worse: punishing us when we try and protect ourselves can start down the road to despair. And that can lead to very dark places.

Stopping bullying is exhausting work, and many teachers tell me the administration gives zero support. They are just trying to move everyone along and get them graduated, the point where they were no longer their problem. It’s genuinely hard to work to address this issue, but it’s part of the job for school staff to do so and is one of the most important things. And passing the buck is something that happens in many of these cases, including the ones in Florida and Texas.

As I write this section, I’m sure that some will read it as excusing what happened. Not at all. I’m talking about why the incidents happened, but make no mistake: the shooters are the ones to blame in all of this.

Seriously Make a Comprehensive Study of Mental Health Issues

So now I’ve started talking about the darkness of the human mind and soul, so let’s go all-in. We need to work with mental health issues far more than we’re doing. And that is going to cost money. Yes, we’re at the third point, and this is the first time I’m talking about spending money. But this is one of the most important places we can spend it.

Mental health issues are at the heart of school shootings, as are the drugs we use to treat them. We need to understand far more than we do about the developing human brain before we prescribe drugs that affect how that happens. If you’re one of the few people who still watch commercial television, you have no doubt seen ads for different drugs to treat depression. One of the things I’ve noticed about just about all of them is that they say, “not to be used by children or young adults.”

Here’s my point: the human brain develops into young adulthood, and the consensus on that currently is that it continues until age 25. How do the drugs we use to treat depression, anxiety or ADHD affect the young brain? We don’t fully know.

What we do know is that almost 100% of the kids who’ve shot up schools have been on them. It’s a near perfect correlation.

I have known a lot of people who’ve been on these types of medicine, and I’ve seen their powerful effects. If you need to use one, you need it, and it can make a huge difference in your life. If you’ve seen the effects of an ADHD medication, you know that they are amazing for people who need them. I’ve had them described as causing the world to come into focus, sometimes for the first time!

In practice, however, many people are taking them who don’t need them, because they have powerful effects and they’re an easy solution to problems. I have also seen the effects of those medicines in high doses: they can turn someone into a zombie if they take enough.

And that’s the problem. Kids, especially young boys, are many times out of control. Determining who needs drugs and who just needs parents and teachers to work with them is hard. Giving medication is easy, and it ‘solves’ the problem.

Solving mental issues is a misnomer, though, because you don’t really solve them. You manage them; you give people tools to deal with them. Taking medication, even medication you need must be combined with counseling and the care of a doctor over time, because the human body changes. And that’s hard. Here! Have some pills! That’s easy, and we like easy as a society.

And there you have it. Kids who may not need medication are getting it, and that’s combined with not getting the counseling and care they need as they grow and their brains change. Combine that with side effects that might just include violent mood swings and thoughts of suicide.

That’s a problem.

I’m not going to pretend to have the solution here, but I do know this: mental health issues are complex, and “have these meds” isn’t the solution, however easy it may seem. When so many people who commit these crimes are on those meds, you must investigate it.

You also need to treat cases of being strong and acting out as perhaps, just perhaps, being a young growing adolescent, and not as a medical problem.

See Something, Say Something, DO SOMETHING

Oh, those kids these days with their googles and youtubes and Insta-whatnots, they’re just moving too fast for me.

That’s my attempt at telling you that teens and young adults spend a lot of time online. They say a lot of stupid things there, and have no understanding of how that can come back to haunt you. Because most of the time it doesn’t.

But, as in Florida, it gives us warning information before, and post-mortem it starts to tell us why. The interesting thing in Santa Fe is (as of the time of this writing) a lot of these obvious warning signs were not present. Of course, the fact that the shooter there was wearing a trench coat almost every day in Texas heat might have been a warning sign.

And that’s point four. Most of the current generation lives their life online, with everything on display in full view. In the recent Florida case, people had seen what the shooter wrote and gone to the school. There are reports they also went to the Police and even the FBI.

“If you see something, say something…” remember that … vaguely disturbing saying a lot of people adopted after 9/11? It’s a good idea. And in Florida, people—teens—actually followed it. Even in a culture where “snitches get stitches.” They told us this was going to happen.

And then the people who could have stopped it did nothing. If you see something, say something, and then if someone does that, you need to do your god-damned due diligence to find out if it was just teen angst or warning signs for an upcoming shooting.

We have at last reached the very core of what caused the shooting in Florida. The kid was bullied. Hated. Expelled. He became angry, spoke out and told people his intentions. They reported it. Multiple times. And then the system failed and ultimately did nothing. 17 people are dead.

We have a long string of bad events that led us to this point. But the last one in the chain should have been a point of light: there is an intervention, treatment and … hope for the future. That didn’t happen. Why?

We don’t know. As I’m writing this, we have many of the details, but not everything. Sadly, we’re going to know much more about this point before it ends up as fodder for an SVU episode. We may never know everything, as law enforcement and the FBI are loathe to admit when their (lack of) actions resulted in the death of 17 people.

We know a lot about failures, however, from the program the shooter was in that he didn’t finish, to the visits of police out to his house, to the failure of on-site police to engage the shooter. How could this all happen?

We don’t know, and we likely will never know completely, but I’m going to theorize, and you may agree with my thoughts, or not.

First, we don’t have enough resources dedicated to issues like this. The people who are doing this are overworked. I’d also suspect they’re underpaid. That’s on us as a society.

What’s on them is that investigating these issues is hard. It should have been blatantly obvious in hindsight, but investigations like this are difficult to conduct, and 99% of the time nothing happens. Of course, in this case, something did happen, and everyone involved will have to deal with it for the rest of their lives. That’s on them.

This is complicated by the fact that the shooter in Parkland is legally an adult, and CPS has more trouble investigating it as a result. That’s still no excuse. The Santa Fe shooter is described as the “quiet sort, who kept to himself,” but many of the most common flags seem to have not been present. Still, he was a moody loner who wore a trench coat, had hygiene issues, and was separated from his friends not too long ago, so there were some signs.

Do Something? Do What?

Here’s my recommendation: every school needs to have a way to report these issues in a way that can be anonymous. The people who get these reports need to be mandatory reporters and thus contact CPS every time they get a report. And CPS with the help of law enforcement needs to chase down every case that comes in.

That’s going to cost money, but I’m willing to spend it, because you’re not only helping people who are desperate for someone, anyone, to throw them a lifeline, but you’re also seeing into the lives of people who are troubled but won’t go to as far as these latest shooters did. Maybe they’ll just kill themselves, or drink/take drugs to put themselves in an early grave. School shootings are rare, but troubled kids are all over the place.

5. Harden the Targets

I’m going to end with a point that we all should be able to agree on, but sadly haven’t yet. We need to protect our schools at least as much as a concert or sporting event.

If you’re one of the few people going to NFL games, you know that they’ve put metal detectors in place. There are restrictions on bags you can bring in, typically only allowing see-through materials only. You can get wanded if there’s a problem when you go through the gates. There are more armed security than ever. We do that to watch football.

Why not do the same thing at our schools? We have a cultural obsession with school shootings, and yet we’re resistant to doing this one thing that will absolutely affect to halt the shootings. It won’t work perfectly, but it will stop the vast majority of them. Why are we resisting this?

It’s because the obsession is based on a fear that’s irrational. There are fewer school shootings now than in the 1990s, not more. Why are we terrified then? It’s because the ones we do have are discussed constantly on social media that we didn’t even have a little over ten years ago (in case you’re wondering, Facebook only went into general availability in 2006).

We have this irrational fear of school shootings but have an equally irrational fear of hardening our schools to prevent them. This is because we simultaneously are terrified of the present, and don’t want to change it from the way it used to be in our idyllic past.

We don’t want to make our kids walk through metal detectors because it shows us that the world has changed, and it puts that on display right in front of our faces.

But if we want to protect our kids, we need a comprehensive plan for school security. It might involve fortifying our buildings and putting in metal detectors, and it definitely needs to control access to the school. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem, but it is something we need to face to keep our schools safe.

We need to put aside our fear, and let go of a past that never was if we’re going to keep kids safe.

The Way Forward

Where do we go from here? I’ve made some suggestions that will make a difference, but can any of them get any traction? They might.

In order for that to happen, we have to have a conversation about gun violence and let everybody in on it. All too often, when we say we want a conversation about something, it becomes a monologue where the person with the bully pulpit is the least informed person out there.

We hear all the time that gun owners and NRA members don’t care about innocent lives, about our kids, about safety in general, but nothing could be further from the truth. Let’s have a conversation about guns and include people who actually know about firearms and how they work.

We have time to hear the voice of non-gun owners about guns, why not ask some informed voices what to do? The truth is, we all want safe streets and safe schools. We want our kids to come home to us, and we don’t even want to think about their safety while they’re at school. Even people who own and shoot guns. Let’s hear their voices and their ideas about what to do.

Let’s start there at least.

Steve Summers works in the technology industry and was a founding member of the Institute. He writes on issues of technology, culture and the arts. He went to the University of Wisconsin – Madison and still lives in the Madison area today.

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