It’s been hard not to notice the arguing over gun-control and gun violence happening now. The Parkland school shooting has sparked new energy into the debate. And, as with just about every debate in this country, no side is hearing the other. It’s as though they’re speaking two separate languages. But, more than that, it seems everyone is trying to place blame rather than examining our society and our place in either continuing the problems or being a solution. I will address a few of the arguments that I have seen.
First, I want to point out that most mentally ill people are not violent. Second, I think that many people are so uncomfortable with or don’t understand the desire to kill that when someone kills another person (or people) that the person must be mentally ill. Yes, some people who kill are mentally ill and few of them kill because of their mental illness (think about how many people who’ve murdered are found insane), but you don’t have to be mentally ill to want to kill someone. And, while you’re not supposed to follow such desires, there are perfectly logical reasons to want to kill. Here are a few:
-Vengeance: You find out your wife is having an affair, you want to kill your wife or her lover.
-Envy: You want what someone else has. Remove them and it’s yours.
-Safety (whether physical or emotional): Remove the person and they will no longer hurt you.
Now, I want to reiterate, YOU DON’T MURDER PEOPLE no matter how logical your reason may be. I’m just making this point to show that a person doesn’t have to be mentally ill to want to murder someone.
Maybe some people who are murdering others are mentally ill. These are mostly preventable incidents. We need healthcare for all that prioritizes mental health. For those with reasons, we have jails for them.
This one is particularly personal for me. I’ve seen a lot of hostile responses from the argument “why don’t you walk up to the weird kid and befriend him? Maybe, he won’t want to shoot you.” It’s often seen as victim-blaming and in some ways, it is, however I think it’s more of a comment on our culture.
I remember when the Columbine shooting happened. I was still in college and raw from my experience in primary and secondary schools. When I heard that the shooters asked the jocks and cheerleaders to stand (I suppose to be killed), I thought, “Yep. They probably had it coming.” Yes, I admit it. I THOUGHT IT! But, I think what’s more important than the fact that I thought it is how I got to that point.
I grew up in a small town. It had about 400 people. I went to school there from kindergarten through tenth grade when I left for a magnet school. Throughout the years, we had between 20 and 30 people in my class. We grew up together. From the beginning, I was the odd-child out. I was an ugly child. My huge front teeth had a gap, I had sideways teeth and my eye-teeth grew in above my front teeth. (I refused to smile in photos until I had braces.) My classmates never let me forget it. As time progressed, it got worse. My family listened to rock-n-roll (not country). We went to the wrong church. I wore clothing from yard sales. And, so on. I did manage to find a few friends, although I never really felt that I fit in with them either.
I had a friend who was one of my best friends throughout school. She was messed up like me. We bonded over music. As we grew, she turned to drugs and stealing. I remember people warning me about her (“If you lie with dogs, you’ll rise with fleas”), but she never pressured me to engage in the same behaviors. She actually respected my decisions. I made another friend in fourth grade who had a serious skin disorder (no one wanted to be near her). She eventually rose through the popularity ranks because she was an incredible cheerleader.
I had a breaking point in about sixth grade where I started to espouse the idea of “I didn’t want to be your friend anyway.” Even though I’ve worked through that experience, it can still bring up searing rage. And, I think it’s appropriate that I’m writing about it today.
I had this major crush on Kevin. He was cute and was the only boy in my class taller than me. Everyone knew. One day, he pulled me into an alcove outside the school and said, “I really like you. Will you be my girlfriend?”
I was elated. I exclaimed, “YES!”
Not only was I crushed by his joke, I suddenly heard laughter, lots of it. I looked out of the alcove and there stood my classmates laughing at me. This humiliation was planned.
As we grew and matured, the social hierarchy became more apparent and more entrenched. The popular kids, composed of mostly jocks, cheerleaders and Baptist Church members, got away with anything and everything. They were often praised by school staff. Those of us on the lower rungs used to talk about how hypocritical they were.
I managed to survive school by befriending teachers, some of whom appreciated my intelligence and enthusiasm for learning, and by banking on the fact that I was going to leave that place and those people behind. I’ve pretty much stood by that. Periodically, one of my parents will send me a text regarding or a photo of one of my former classmates. They will tell me about them and give me their contact information. I thank my parents and delete the information. I do realize that people can change and maybe they have, too, but I’m not interested in reconnecting. That doesn’t change the fact that they were so horrible to me (and, I didn’t even receive the worst of it), that I assumed that the people killed in Columbine were just like my popular classmates.
Dr. Bruce Perry had this to say about school shootings:
“I have often been asked to help develop a mental health response following traumatic events that I believe are the direct results of a fractured community and our unrelenting focus on competition. Some of the most distressing of these have been school shootings. What I’ve found time and again is a winner-takes-all school culture, where bullying is pervasive and accepted and where the ‘losers’ are not considered people who need understanding and support, but utterly deserving of their alienation and exclusion. In these situations it is not only the teenagers who have built and enforced a strict social hierarchy that causes unmitigated misery for those on the bottom, but also the teachers, parents and school administrators. Humans have always been a hierarchical species, of course–that’s another part of our biology–but when you emphasize merciless competition at the expense of all else, in a culture that glorifies violence, an occasional violent uprising by those who feel left out is hardly surprising. I don’t believe we will be able to prevent these incidents unless we work much harder to ensure all students feel included in their school community.”*
When a school shooting happens in this way, I see it as having similar underlying characteristics to battered-women’s syndrome. As kids, we’re trapped in our school community. We can’t leave. We have little agency over our own lives. Our parents choose where we go to school, sometimes based on economics (where the jobs are and what they can afford) and sometimes based on quality (those lucky enough to have such choices). Kids don’t decide. The law requires kids to go to school. (This is appropriate–education is extremely valuable.) So, they have to return every day to a place that may treat them terribly. They can’t leave and they can’t fight back. When they get desperate enough, kill. The saddest of these are those that kill themselves. We, as a society, have created this situation and this problem. There’s a move to reduce and eliminate bullying, but it’s going to require a complete change in our society. Are we willing to do that? I don’t know. How many kids will die before we decide? The body count is climbing.
I like guns. I like shooting. I think it’s fun, although I’m not interested in shooting living things. Here’s the thing: I don’t own a gun. It’s too dangerous to my welfare and safety, because it’s too easy. If I get suicidal, I just have to pick up a gun and kill myself. If I don’t have a gun, I have to be more creative about my death, which gives me more time to reconsider. It’s the same for shooting others.
My dad used to say to me, “guns are the great equalizer.” This is true. A person with a gun doesn’t even have to get near their target. Some guns can shoot a person from hundreds of yards away. A person with an AR-15 can just walk into a building and start mowing people down from feet away. They have little concern of people fighting back. Most likely, the people are going to run, hide or freeze. Even if people do fight back, the shooter has a gun! The shooter doesn’t even have to witness or deal with the death. They can be disconnected.
With a knife, baseball bat or hands, the killer doesn’t get that luxury. They get to watch as their victim’s life drains from their victim’s body. They risk their own safety as they execute their victim. They don’t get to be far away and disconnected (unless, they’re like Loki-trained to throw daggers). It’s much more difficult this way, both physically and emotionally, and has a lower body count per incident.
I’m not going to make a legal argument here, but I will state this: The Second Amendment does protect our right to bear arms. But, arms hasn’t really been adequately defined. Most people agree that it doesn’t protect our right to privately own nuclear weapons, missiles and bombs. So, the question we have to answer as a society is: where is that line? I’m really not sure, but it needs to be made very clear.
The Good News and the Reality-
The Pew Center reports that violent crime has significantly decreased over the last 25 years. This may be hard to believe given how publicized every single shooting is and how it impacts those who have been affected by violence. It is so hard to feel safe.
For example, almost three years ago, my coworker was shot and murdered by a client in the parking lot next to the building where I work. I knew both of them. I even knew two of the three other people murdered earlier in the day by that woman. I wasn’t present for the shooting, although I often walk through that parking lot to get home. That day, I felt an urge to leave early and I did. Lucky me. Even though I wasn’t there for the shooting, I was present for the aftermath and am still living with the scars of that day.
A few months after the shooting, some jackass threatened to “return with a rifle to take care of your ass.” I did what I was supposed to do-reported the threat- and completed my day like any other. Then, I was too afraid to leave the building alone. Some people in the system believe that such threats will help the outcome of their case. It doesn’t, but they still say it. A year after the shooting, I broke down crying in front of a group of people at a festival because I’m too scared to go to work some days. I have a great counselor and really good coping skills, but some days, it’s too much. I still check the parking lot before I leave my work and then, I’m on alert the entire time I’m getting to my car or walking home to work.
I know the statistics and how unlikely it is that someone is going to come to my work and shoot me. I know this, but my emotional brain can’t accept it. And, I’m an adult with resources and coping skills.
Now, put yourself in the shoes of the kids at school with the same fears, but without our adult knowledge and coping skills. They deserve some compassion. Children have a right to feel safe, at school, at home, everywhere. We are failing our children and we desperately need to do something about that. What are you willing to do?
*The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog, Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D, and Maia Szalavitz, 2006, pages 242-243.