Violent crime is not new, but the slaying of dozens of children by their own schoolmates is a relatively new phenomenon that began in 1999 with the Columbine High School shooting in Littleton, Colorado.
Two students plunged their school into chaos with guns, grenades and homemade bombs. Thirteen people were killed, 20 were injured and before the two shooters could be arrested, they killed themselves. After this, school violence was no longer limited to bullying or the settling of grudges, but was expanded to terrorist-like proportions.
This is why I believe that the question of gun-control, or any inter-community violence committed with lethal weapons, is far from a straightforward problem with a straightforward answer. It is instead an issue stemming from some wrong turns in society’s advancement, and demands consideration of many facets of society and culture, not just the availability of weapons or the mental health of individuals.
We have entered an age where advancements in technology, culture, society and weapons come quicker than ever before and the future is both uncertain and terrifying. However, I think the answer to stopping lethal violence in schools is much more complex than limiting gun rights or requiring more extensive background checks. It will require time, evolution of thought and change in social constructs.
A number of obstacles stand in the way of our society beginning to look toward the future with these bigger changes. One of the most prominent obstacles is the two scapegoats that appear in Washington D.C. each time one of these school shootings happens.
The political left blames the guns used to commit the shooting and the political right blames the mental health of the shooter or the lack of security in the school. Fierce debate ensues and nothing of value is achieved as each side lets logic fall submissively to emotion.
It happens over and over again because it is so much easier to blame a single law, or lack of one, than it is to consider the wide mosaic of human actions produced by a societal structure. In short, we are asking the wrong questions by seeking out quick fixes instead of considering what went wrong in our society’s development that would produce teens who want to kill dozens of their peers.
If certain guns are banned, or even all guns, violence will not stop. If mental health screenings and school security are increased, unstable individuals will still kill people.
While I believe that strong emotions are important in creating a desire for change, I also think that too often in our country they overrun logic and result in changes with consequences that aren’t well considered. Especially as the scapegoating tradition divides the country into two angry groups, each seemingly more concerned with bettering the other than coming up with creative solutions. Examples can be seen in both sides of the argument.
In the case of banning certain guns, or even repealing the Second Amendment entirely, there are many unexplained consequences. For one, many people today seem to forget that the Second Amendment was not created only for protection from individual criminals, but from possible government tyranny. This was a real concern for the Founding Fathers escaping the clutches of Great Britain and is, arguably, a concern in our near future.
By disarming the public, U.S. citizens would create an easier circumstance for a police state or dictatorship to emerge in which someone would control the police and military in order to make drastic and undemocratic changes.
Who would stop them? Unfortunately, the voice and the pen are only stronger than the sword if they can inspire those who own guns.
Even with a more trusting view toward our politicians, the gun bans or restrictions still fall short. When such laws are made there are many people in the world, like it or not, who not only think “how can I circumvent these laws?” but also “how can I make money from them?”
We’ve seen it with alcohol during prohibition and with drugs in the modern age. Laws banning what was once widely available create a black market with dangerous kingpins; not a world void of vice. Especially when considering the question of what to do with the guns already owned and in circulation.
Trying to retrieve them all would be a literal disaster. Would the government buy them back? If a law was made, how much time would people have to stock up their arsenals before it went into effect? Of course, illegal smugglers would make millions of dollars from a gun ban, and so could disgruntled owners of large collections who chance to make more money than they’ve ever seen before.
The political right also wants to patch this controversial issue over with mental health screenings and armed guards in schools. Similar to the left’s fix, it seems good enough on the surface to gain a mass following and provoke strong emotions, but it is full of loopholes.
Mental health screenings are not always accurate. One example of this are armed service members, both in the military and police forces, who despite extensive screenings are not immune from making poor decisions or even committing heinous crimes.
Another important question to consider is would the screenings have to be renewed? The mind is a changing and complex organism and someone who buys a gun in a state of mental health at the age of 21 could experience symptoms at 30 and go on a shooting rampage. It must also be mentioned that children could still take guns from their parents.
Changing the legal purchasing age for firearms isn’t a simple answer either. Just as someone can find people to buy them cigarettes and alcohol when they’re a minor, they can find someone to buy them a gun. Of course this would be a seedier type of person than an alcohol and tobacco enabler, but they’re surely out there.
Putting guns in schools for security, whether they’re in the hands of guards or well-trained teachers, also seems to be a good idea on the surface. Most sane people don’t care to cause trouble around armed guards. But school shooters aren’t sane, and most of them aren’t afraid to die either as can be seen with their high rate of suicide.
Students fleeing in the chaos may get caught in the crossfire. The possibility of accidents occurring with guns in the classrooms must also be considered. Given school shooters’ willingness to die, it is possible that placing armed guards in schools would simply change their weapons of choice to more lethal ones like homemade bombs or poisons.
I am a pessimist and I also lack expertise in the political arena. I understand that pressures are mounting and something must be done to appease the public in this tumultuous time. Adopting one of the policies above, or some combination of them, may make a wonderful addition to the experiment that is American democracy and provide some more hurdles for violent people to jump through.
Yet, it won’t stop the path that we as a country are going down. Now is the time for action, but not the traditional action of the American scapegoating ritual where two sides battle in the media over small intricacies. Both of which will either die out or be quickly circumvented by tomorrow’s criminals.
We need to take a hard look at adolescent violence in our country: its causes, its preventions and its future path. Individual minds and variations in weaponry are merely small parts of the grand equation.
What can we change about our education systems, our government systems and our cultural institutions that would quell the violent crimes of our youth? At what point did adolescents become so disassociated from reality that they think not of life sentences, death, or ruin but only the chaos they can create by killing their peers?
There is no quick fix to this problem. This nation, that has become so entranced by instant gratification, must slow down and look deep into the past and far into the future to develop a more intricate, multi-faceted solution to violent crimes.
It could take years, generations even. However, it’s too late to go back to the simple times before guns or lethal weapons. I urge the public to become more creative and brave in their solutions, and be broader and freer in their thinking.
To start, we must ask different questions and look at different areas. Now is the time for a revolution of culture and thought that could repair or replace the scapegoating systems that have so endangered our children, sickened our minds and pitted us against one another.