Once again, we awoke to news of another school mass-shooting accompanied by lots of misinformation, conjecture, and justified outrage. The focus of the outrage is directed at the usual suspects: the NRA, conservatives, the Second Amendment, and indifferent parenting. We hear responses about arming teachers and putting more police in schools and replies of, "We don't want our schools to be fortresses or prisons." The guns used in this most recent shooting in a Santa Fe, Texas, high school were an illegally modified "sawed-off shotgun" and a .38 caliber revolver that holds six shots before reloading. Neither qualifies as an "assault weapon." Both were illegally acquired and possessed by the shooter.
Those who resist hardening schools by closing campuses, limiting access through one entrance only, using ballistic shielding on classroom doors/doorframes and installing bullet-resistant glass must answer this question: Are your children less valuable than your money? Your bank accounts are held in armored vaults. Procedures in most schools make it easier for a killer to gain entrance to a school than it is for a mother to obtain release for her child to attend a dental appointment. Hardening of schools, which are also targets for terrorists, should not be controversial. It's something we can do immediately, and federal funding should pay for it.
Misinformation after such massacres abounds, and we're not helped by careless reporting. Many news outlets reported that either 18 or 22 such incidents have already occurred this year. Even Fox News cited that number. That number is wrong, not even close to being accurate as TV news station KHOU 11 of Houston, Texas, corrected. The number citing 18 shootings (or 22 in some cases) includes smaller incidents that are not "mass shootings"—incidents no reasonable person would consider a mass shooting. It includes individual crimes, such as armed robbery, accidental discharges of weapons, suicides, and one-on-one gang violence on or near school grounds. Since last autumn we've had four major mass-shooting incidents: the Las Vegas massacre, the attack on a rural Texas church, the Broward County school shooting, and now the Santa Fe, Texas, school shooting. Within the United States, going back decades, 25 percent of mass shootings are motivated by religious or political terrorism. All that being said, even one such incident is too many.
Reports citing declining national crime rates are supposed to somehow comfort us. That notion is also false. The "rate" of crime is misleading as having a larger population, improved medical treatment of trauma, and inaccurate crime databases gives a misleading impression of the amount of violence in our society. For instance, if today's medical practices were those of 1957, our "murder rate" would be triple the current stated numbers. Medical advances save many trauma victims who would have died 50 years ago. Many crimes are never reported, further skewing the amount of violence in our society.
Again, so what! Why are kids killing their peers in school? Is it because we have access to so many guns? Are there not enough gun laws? What's happening?
When I attended school in the '50s and '60s, there were few gun laws; buying a gun was easy with few restrictions. Kids brought unloaded guns to class for educational purposes, and some had gun-racks in their cars with hunting rifles without a thought. Nobody got shot. The first documented school mass-shooting by a student took place in 1975; before that, kids weren't slaughtering classmates in America. (Adults attacked schools before that date, but the kids weren't killing their peers wholesale.) So what's changed?
Several factors are at work. One is moral; we've indoctrinated several generations of students to believe they are but specks of dust in a vast, impersonal universe; life has no meaning or purpose, you're an accident of impersonal forces, and what is, is all there ever will be. Not much to look forward to. The subsequent narcissism celebrates who wins, who loses, regardless of the cost to others. Superficial traits, be it appearance, success, or popularity dominate the immature adolescent mind. Add social media and unending barrages of negative input—self-esteem is destroyed.
In girls, this results in an alarming, increasing rate of suicide. In boys, it's often manifested in outward aggression, usually identifiable by self-isolation, reflecting a sullen attitude or mode of dress. The Santa Fe killer often wore a black T-shirt emblazoned "Born to Kill" under a black trench coat in Texas' 90-degree heat and humidity (as did the Columbine killers). Nobody seemed to notice except his peers. Where were the school counselors? Classmates told media that he was bullied by school athletic staff, and a victim's mother reported he unsuccessfully sought her daughter's romantic attentions for months leading up to the massacre. She stated that the week prior he was publicly rebuffed and humiliated by her daughter before his peers when his unwanted attentions persisted. That's no excuse, but we're looking inside the mind of a teen killer.
What role violent video games played in this particular instance remains to be seen as little information about the killer's background is available. Yet we can't overlook negative influences. Army psychologist Dave Grossman, an expert on what motivates people to kill, wrote, "Practice murder ... day after day [on a violent video game] and a person, especially a kid, can come to want, expect, and seek murder ... then choose to act them out. Perversion will likely prevail on multiple levels in this kid's life ... not only in the video games he plays. Video games are good at making kids feel satisfied, are habit forming, addictive ... effective teachers and trainers ... especially good at desensitization."
Nor can the state of resources for those with severe mental health problems be overlooked. Our current availability of hospital beds to treat the severely mentally ill (as opposed to those with mental illness) has been reduced to levels not seen since 1850. These people end up on our streets and overcrowded jails with as much as 37 percent of the prison population being inmates with severe mental illness.
It's time to harden all schools immediately; the police need time to respond and even if on campus will take minutes to locate and neutralize a shooter. Hardening school entrances and classrooms will provide desperate minutes needed to preserve lives. Until we as a nation are willing to put political disputes behind us and address the problem of teen violence, these incidents will only continue and worsen. Δ
Al Fonzi is an Army lieutenant colonel of military intelligence who had a 35-year military career, serving in both the Vietnam and Iraq wars. Send comments through the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org.