Have Americans become numb to school shootings?
This past fortnight two more crazed gunmen opened fire on US campuses. In Santa Barbara, a college town in southern California, seven people were killed and seven others wounded in a mass shooting and then at Seattle Pacific University a gunman armed with a shotgun opened fire in a university building, fatally wounding one person before a student subdued him with pepper spray.
The list goes on and on, there is even a chronicle of school shootings on Wikipedia – which lists 39 school shooting incidents resulting in 10 deaths by April this year. The latest incidents now add to that tally. Have Americans become numb to school shootings? These are our children we are talking about.
If they cannot go to school to learn and feel safe we cannot fulfill the most basic elements of education.
Studies of perpetrators of school shootings show that profiling is difficult. Some lived with both parents in "an ideal, All-American family." Some were children of divorce, or lived in foster homes. A few were loners, but most had close friends. According to Keith Darling-Brekhus, "Since 1982 almost all school shootings have been perpetrated by white males." These shootings have happened in "suburban and rural school districts" and many seem to be random with random targets. Most of these shooters tend to come from two-parent households and have been found to appear on the honor roll at their school.”
While it may be simplistic to assume a straightforward "profile", a U.S. Department of Education study "The Safe School Initiative"conducted with the help of the Secret Service did find certain similarities among the perpetrators. "The researchers found that killers do not 'snap'. They plan. They acquire weapons. These children take a long, considered, public path toward violence." Princeton's Katherine Newman has found that, far from being "loners", the perpetrators are "joiners" whose attempts at social integration fail, and that they let their thinking and even their plans be known, sometimes frequently over long periods of time.
Clinical psychiatrist Daniel Schechter has written, that for a baby to develop into a troubled adolescent who then turns lethally violent, a convergence of multiple interacting factors must occur. Gender traits also come into play, nearly all school shootings are perpetrated by young males, and in some instances the violence has clearly been gender-specific.
For sure access to weapons and lack of access to help and support for mental issues contribute, both to the frequency of these incidents, as well as their impact through the use of multiple high powered weapons and an abundance of ammunition. Unfortunately these two elements have become political footballs in our gridlocked system and the gap between those that have been directly touched by school violence and others that have been untouched seems to grow wider and more impassioned with every shooting incident.
So what can be done practically to keep our kids safe?
Many of the shooters told Secret Service investigators that alienation or persecution drove them to violence.
According to the United States Secret Service, instead of looking for traits, the Secret Service urges adults to ask about behavior:
1.What has this child said?
2.Do they have grievances?
3.What do their friends know?
4.Do they have access to weapons?
5.Are they depressed or despondent?
While fast responders in many of these school shootings have been praised for taking actions to prevent a higher death toll – the real action needs to occur before any shots are fired.
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