Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Witches of High School

So somebody in Texas government (a state Rep., IIRC) was on the radio talking about school shootings and putting some of the burden on safety on the students themselves.  The theory was "if you see something, say something."  It was the usual litany:  mood swings, moodiness, loners, people who isolate themselves, people who seem emotionally troubled, people who, in other words, act like high school students and adolescents.  Such people must be reported as suspicious if we are ever to have safety in our schools again.

The parents of the shooter in Santa Fe insisted they were as surprised as anyone by their son's actions; until they declared he was the victim of bullying at school.  If the parents can't predict it, and don't understand it, how are the students supposed to?  The gunman at Sandy Hook presumably surprised his mother by shooting her in her sleep before going on his rampage.  Why are we so anxious to blame someone else for not seeing into the future, as if the answer were there for those "paying attention"?

The people I went to school with 50 years ago, were subject to mood swings and loneliness and emotional troubles; and certainly it would describe me, especially 50 years ago.  Oddly enough I was never either suicidal (despite making jokes about it; humor is a good way to defuse fear) or homicidal.  Even if I'd owned a gun, I grew up in a gun culture where gun safety, not gun possession or, Heaven forbid!, gun wielding, were emphasized.  I still say one of the biggest shifts in that 5 decade period is away from gun safety and toward rabid gun possession and the implied threat of usage; and the institution that changed from one to the other, is the NRA.

Coincidence?  I think not.

But getting back to this state rep. advising all the public school students in Texas to be suspicious of their classmates (you can't be too careful!  They might be Commies, too!) because we "know" what these shooters are like, right?  Or do we?

In the aftermath of the Columbine shooting in 1999, researchers at the U.S. Secret Service and Department of Education got together for a study of targeted school violence. Based on their review of 37 incidents that took place between 1974 and 2000, they concluded that attackers varied widely in their social competence. Just 12 percent lacked any close friends, while 34 percent were either characterized as “loners” or felt that way themselves. Meanwhile, 41 percent “appeared to socialize with mainstream students.”
I was a "loner" in junior high and high school; or would have identified myself that way.  I had a small coterie of friends (still keep in touch with some of them) and even a girlfriend (we married after college).  Maybe I appeared to be a loner; maybe I "appeared to socialize with mainstream students."  Either way, I was normal; as most school shooters are, apparently; until they decide to start firing.

The question is not:  are shooters really quiet, or not; really loners, or not; really isolated and even bullied, or not.  The question is:  do we even know what we're looking for?  After all, even the NRA thinks people who present a threat of harm to themselves or others, shouldn't have guns.  But we can't really identify those people until they've proven they are a threat to harm others.  At least we haven't so far.

And yet we think we know what these murderers are like, and that if we just paid attention, we'd spot 'em a mile away.  But what kind of witch hunt are we encouraging now?  And why are we doing it, except to avoid the responsibility for our failure to protect our children and to provide a society where this kind of thing is uncommon instead of common?

The problem is quite plainly in front of us, at least the problem that government could solve, and that is the problem of gun ownership.  Ammunition can be taxed and guns can be more tightly controlled. The father of the shooter in Santa Fe is now complaining that he is a victim, that his son's actions were a response to "bullying."  Under Texas law, he can't be held responsible for not keeping his shotgun in a gun safe, or not keeping a trigger lock on his pistol.  2nd Amendment rights, donchaknow?  We can take governmental actions to prevent this kind of gun violence, and it may take the kind of extremism the NRA has profited from for decades.  Charlton Heston famously intoned that you would pry his gun from this cold, dead fingers.  It is time to tell the NRA that can be arranged, because free and easy access to guns is making life in these United States untenable.  Had he not chickened out, we'd be prying the gun from the cold, dead hands of the Santa Fe shooter.  Would that have been an NRA victory?

We can do better than this.  And we can do better than to blame someone else, anyone else, for what we should be responsible for.  Parents are calling schools again, demanding action to keep their children safe.  How many of those parents own guns?  How many keep them unloaded and locked up, the ammunition locked away somewhere else?  "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," we've all been trained to say.  Nonsense.  People kill people with guns.  They are dangerous objects which must be handled carefully and intentionally.  The NRA used to preach this gospel regularly.  It is not "gun control" to insist gun owners treat their firearms they way we insist explosives be treated.  It is not a violation of the 2nd Amendment to control ammunition for guns they way we control fertilizer sales (the stuff McVeigh used in Oklahoma, which led to regulations and controls on its purchase).  It is not a "jack booted police state" which insists guns be used for hunting and for no other purpose; that guns be stored in a way they cannot be accessed by others; and if those demands mean gun owners can't afford the guns because they can't afford the gun safes and the trigger locks, then so be it.  The hue and cry is that there are too many guns "on the streets" and so there is nothing we can do. But few if any of the students involved in these shootings seem to be going to "the streets" to get armed; they find it easier to do at the house where they are living.

We can do something about that.

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