On the surface, the school shooting at Newtown defies any rational or irrational explanation. The utter malignancy of the act is so heinous that it has provoked a shocked numbness among many people. The lives of the survivors in Newtown will never be the same, not just because their town will be known for this act of infamy but more for the monstrous enormity of the acts committed at the elementary school just days before Christmas.
The shooter left no message behind revealing a motive for committing such an outrageously violent act. The shooter also destroyed his computer hard drive so that no information could be gleaned from it that might reveal a clue to his savagery. While a number of school shootings have been cited as acts of revenge perhaps connected to bullying, no such motives were in play in this situation according to school officials.
Why would a young man from a relatively affluent family, an upscale neighborhood who attended quality schools and was not bullied according to school officials, act with such cruel insanity. Some have pointed to the fact that like many other school shooters in the U.S. and around the world, this young man had a mental health diagnosis. Reports suggest that the young man may have been on the autism spectrum, more specifically Asperger’s syndrome. Most experts have stated that there is no correlation between violence and Asperger’s syndrome.
What this young man did have in common with school shooters around the world is that he was male, between the ages of 12 and 20, had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, was rejected by his peer group or lived on the fringes of his peer group, had a disrupted family home and had access to guns, lots of them. Many school shooters have been described by school staff and peers as loners, quiet or someone that did not really fit in.
Herein lays a great difficulty because there are millions of school-age young men and women who are loners, who are quiet and have a mental health diagnosis that would never commit an act of violence let alone such a murderous act as the one in Newtown. I believe that it would be next to impossible to profile students with such characteristics and in addition that profiling would be inherently discriminatory and patently wrong. The great majority of these students may somehow be different, but clearly, they are not violent.
Not too long after the shooting at Columbine, I can recall some adults feeling fearful about students that wore all black clothes or long dark trench coats. It suffices to say that we cannot tell who might commit these unthinkable acts by how they appear.
Pictures of the school shooters from around the world are largely unremarkable; we won’t ever know them by how they look or how they dress. While school officials and national leaders rush to confront this terrible tragedy many different approaches are on the national consciousness. Some say that getting into school should be more difficult. Bulletproof glass entrances that can only be accessed by an identification process that includes a human being that controls who gets into the school. We have learned from a variety of experiences that machines can be duped, a human being armed with the proper training and technology can keep the wrong people out of schools or they have the best chance of doing so.
Others want to turn schools into armed fortresses with full time police or security forces in the school mix every day. Some have suggested that teachers be armed with guns, body armor and training on how to actually kill someone if the need arose. I wonder what the impact of turning schools into armed fortresses might be from a student’s perspective. In addition, I wonder if teachers, as I know them, would or could level a weapon at a student and kill him or her. This idea seems entirely counterintuitive to me, as teachers teach and nurture and should not be put in the role of enforcer.
Ironically, firearm death in the U.S. including suicides, have declined from a high of 18 per 100,000 in 1980 to 9 per 100,000 population in 2010. Still, America is one of the most violent cultures in the world when compared to other wealthy democracies. America’s assault deaths per 100,000 population are nearly five times higher than most of their international peers. This ominous statistic alone may be telling us that a country with high levels of violence throughout the society might also expect to see that violence manifested at that country’s schools or other important institutions as.
While some would say that all guns must be more regulated, I do not agree with this position. I believe that rapid fire weapons should be removed from our culture along with the super clips that feed large volume weapons. Removing assault type weapons could save many lives as it would remove the technology that allows a shooter to rapidly fire a large capacity weapon. This change could and should be made.
Going forward we must endeavor to know why our culture is so much more violent than other wealthy democracies in the world. Perhaps when we can understand why men are always the shooters, is their a link between mental illness and violence, is there a link between violence and being socially awkward or somehow different and is there a link between the large scale use of psychotropic drugs such as Ritalin or others and violence. Perhaps fewer people will die at school or elsewhere in America when we can answer at least some of these questions.
Remember, all kids count.
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