Following today’s tragedy at a Florida high school, the painfully high number of US school shootings taking place in the past couple of months only seems to be getting larger. The increase in the frequency of US school shootings also brings about the increase in the number of school children injured and killed.
A report by Everytown showed that there have been nearly 300 US school shootings since 2013, averaging at about one each week for five years straight. As today’s Florida school shooter is still at large, according to local police reports, with at least 20 hurt and 14 reported dead, a five-decade-old question emerges yet again – what can we do to prevent more US school shootings from happening?
Reducing the answer to the extremely nuanced and complex problem that is school shootings down to the issue of gun ownership is not just plain wrong, it’s also incredibly dangerous. The shallow, binary thinking that has created such a deep schism in American politics offers nothing more than a yes or no answer to an issue that has claimed hundreds of lives in the past decade.
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A shallow outlook on a complex problem offers a superficial solution that fails to address the roots of the problem.
In order to comprehend the magnitude of the problem, one must first be aware of the devastating numbers surrounding US school shootings. Until 1999, 254 people were killed in 226 separate US school shootings, showing that school shooting tragedies have been plaguing American history for quite some time. Of the 254 total, 114 were school children.
Since the beginning of the new millennium, and until February 1 this year, the number of US school shootings reached 211. Counting today’s Florida school shooting, that number climbs up to 212. Out of the 211 shootings, 148 happened after 2010, with 36 of them taking place in 2014 alone.
While the numbers do show an alarming increase in the number of US school shootings and the deaths and injuries that have resulted from them, they do very little to bring the tragedy closer to people. Despite some blaming it on news fatigue or being desensitized to violence, the truth is that the sheer scope of the tragedy is incomprehensible to most.
US School Shootings: The Cause
Digging deeper into the troubling problem of school shootings will inevitably lead into the rabbit hole that is modern American politics. Looking into such a serious societal problem through a very narrow ideological peephole can’t seem to be avoided.
Trying to pinpoint a single cause of school shootings also won’t yield any positive results. Most US school shootings have typically involved a mix of suicidal thoughts, despair, anger, and, more often than not, serious mental illness such as schizophrenia.
Of the 138 US school shootings since 2010, at least 11 were confirmed to be related to gang violence. Gang violence, however, is also deeply intertwined with mental and cultural issues that the affected youth face.
A 2014 study from Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York found that students being bullied are twice as likely to bring a weapon to school, putting rejection and social isolation at the very top of risk factors for US school shooters.
However, with bullying being the most commonly cited cause for US school shootings, it has led researchers to believe that it might be a red herring. A study from the College of Criminology at Florida State University pointed out the fact that the vast majority of bullied students do not become violent, as well as that not all of the US school shooters have been victims of bullying.
Crossing all of that of the list leaves us with the most probable explanation as to why hundreds of US school shootings took place – mental health issues. The Columbine shooting of 1999 was the first to draw nation-wide attention to mental health as a potential cause of US school shootings. One of the shooters, Dylan Bennet Klebold, was believed to have been suffering from depression, while Eric Harris, his accomplice, is thought to have been a textbook example of a psychopath.
With studies showing that one in five high school students show symptoms of a mental health disorder, while less than 10% utilize any kind of mental health service, it’s clear that it’s one of, if not the most important issue that needs to be addressed in order to prevent more US school shootings.
What can be done?
Seeing how the number of school shootings that were prevented during the past decade is hard to pinpoint, many experts on the field are calling for better education of students. Research suggests that a substantial number of US school shootings have been prevented since Columbine because students have been subsequently educated about gun violence and risk factors.
With numerous government-funded educational campaigns currently taking place in classrooms all around the United States, investing more resources into informing students won’t single-handedly reduce the number of school shootings.
What can, and most likely will, is educating parents.
The ever-present notion that everyone but the carers of a child is responsible for its upbringing and overall mental health is what makes these violent outbursts possible.
The troubled American school system does not have the time or the resources to address all the issues troubled children face. On average, a single school psychologist is responsible for 1,400 students. Hiring hundreds of thousands of trained guidance counselors and social workers is not a viable solution to a problem that could have been cut at its roots – at home.
While it’s clear that not all cases of children and young adults with mental health issues are the same, working in close relation with parents of young children would make a significant impact on the fight against school shootings.
Educating parents on the techniques and methods they can use to raise young children, as well as how to recognize risk factors associated with mental health disorders would drastically reduce the number of children that go untreated.
Understanding when and where to seek help, either for themselves or their children, would put parents on the front line of the ongoing battle with mental illness, and relieve teachers and law enforcement officials from much of the weight they’ve been carrying.
And while it’s hard to say whether or not tackling this issue will be what finally puts this dreadful issue to rest, attacking it at its very root seems like the most viable strategy to save a few more lives from being tragically lost.