Friday, May 27, 2022

Another School Shooting: What--If Anything---Can We Do?

Here we go again. Another school shooting. That the 27th time so far this year. This time 19 students and two adults dead with just days to go before the end of the school year. Many, no doubt, looking forward to carefree summer vacation with trips to Big Bend National Park, one of the many beach on the Gulf Coast, or just staying home and playing with neighborhood friends and help out around the house.

But that's not to be. Not just for those murdered, but for all the students, their parents, their families, and their friends. That Tuesday will forever be seared in their individual and collective memories. It was the day...the moment they had their childhood innocence stolen from them.

That Tuesday, which should have been an ordinary school day like any other, the children of Robb Elementary School in the small town of Uvalde Texas joined an exclusive but growing club of victims of school violence. 

There's nothing special about Robb Elementary or Uvalde Texas. Perhaps it was its very ordinariness which stands out.  Uvalde has a population of just over 15,000. The town (it hardly qualifies to be called a "city") occupies just 7.6 square miles.  It's closer to Mexico, which is just 53 miles away, than to just about anywhere. The closest actual city is San Antonio, which is 80 miles away.

The largest demographic is Hispanic, which make up just over 78% of the population. Whites comprise 19% while Native Americans make up 11%. Blacks or other races barely show up on census record statistics. Voting records shows Uvalde has consistently voted for a Republican president since 1952. The only exception was 1964, when it voted for Democrat and fellow Texan, Lyndon Baines Johnson. 

It's claim to fame are a couple of Old West gunslingers, a few sports personalities, celebrities Dale Evans (wife of Roy Rogers) and Mathew McConaughey, Apollo 12 astronaut Pete Conrad, and former Speaker of House and Vice President under FDR, John Nance Garner.  It's also, according to the magazine, Outdoor Life,  one of the best places in the world to hunt whitetail deer.  

Now it will be remembered alongside Sandy Hook (2012), Virginia Tech (2007), Stoneman Douglas High School (2018), Columbine High School (1999), and some ten other schools known for being the deadliest school shooting in the United States. But, it appears no place is truly safe, not even in locations not known for violence (and especially gun violence).

In 2002, Erfurt Germany, a former student targeted his former teachers among others and murdered 17 before committing suicide. In 1996, a 43 year old man in Dunblane Scotland killed 17 children and one adult, while wounding 15 others before killing himself.

Between 2008 and 2009, 37 students, teachers, and adults were killed in school related shootings (two in Finland, one in German, and one in Greece. In Kerch Crimea Ukraine, in 2018, 20 college students were murdered while 50 were injured. From 2004 and 2020, 15 individuals died in 20 attacks on schools in Mexico. In South America, between 2001 and 2013, six school attacks resulting in approximately 20 deaths.

 In most cases, the perpetrators used handguns. A few used homemade explosives, crossbows, knives, and hatchets. A handful used semi-automatic rifles (which typically get misidentified by the media as "assault rifles") or pump action shotguns. The assailants typically chose self inflicted death or "suicide by cop" rather than surrendering to law enforcement. Only a few were captured by the police.

Excluding incidents which involved former students or adults who had no connection to the school, most of the students involved in the shootings ranged in age from 12 to 16. The majority were male. They tended to be loners, non-physical, or were subject to constant bullying.  Psychologists reported that many were more immature than most of the same age group. They often acted out of emotion, tending to be more impulsive and aggressive.

In 1994, Congress passed the "Gun Free Schools Act" which called for greater school safety plans and adoption of a zero tolerance gun policy, which was generally expanded to include weapons of any sort including knives.

The act was part of the "Improving America's Schools Act", signed by President Bill Clinton, and required school districts to adopt a gun-free policy in exchange for federal funds. A similar law was signed by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 called the "Gun Free Zones Act of 1990" as part of the "Crime Control Act of 1990". 

The purpose of both acts was to create a gun (and weapon) free area in and around schools in order to provide for a safer learning environment. This included hiring full or part-time security guard, prohibiting admission during school hours (except through a specially designated entrance), adding metal detectors, security cameras, and a mandatory one year suspensions of any student caught with a weapon on school property. In some cases, school districts also included mandatory home visits and/or counseling of the students in order to head off any potential issues.

Some school districts went further and included additional training for teachers which included methods to prevent forced entry into classrooms, extra locks on doors and windows, methods for contacting authorities, and even allowing some teachers or administrative personnel to covertly carry firearms (with proper training and appropriate licenses). The identity of these individuals was restricted to a few administrative personnel to ensure security.

Politically, the topic of classroom safety became the hot topic de jure, usually following some tragic incident, making gun control efforts more successful given the public's mood at the moment. Those on the Left typically call for total banning of certain types of firearms while increasing restrictions on the purchase of firearms along with limiting the sale and type of ammunition.  

Specifically, the Left wants to limit or (ideally) prohibit the sale of semi-automatic rifles (which, based on the design of the stock, are incorrectly labeled "assault" weapons). The availability of actual military grade weapons are already regulated.

The sale of specific types of ammunition such as those designed to penetrate body armor or metal (except to law enforcement and military personnel) which were restricted in 1995. Calibers in excess of .50 are in most cases also prohibited. "Dragons Breath" or "Hell Fire" incendiary shotgun shells (which shoot 200+ yards), hollowpoints, flechette darts, elephant slugs, "flash bang" shotgun shells, or anything containing depleted uranium, radioactive, or poisoned shells are illegal too in many states. 

Following the mass shooting at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas in 2017 in which the alleged shooter, Steve Paddock, used a "bump stock" which in effect, converted a semi-automatic rifle into a de facto full automatic, were banned for general sale and reclassified as a "machine gun", which requires the appropriate licensing. The way the bump stock worked was by using the natural recoil of the weapon to eject, reload, and fire as long as the trigger remained suppressed.

After a series of court hearings, the Department of Justice was successful in getting "bump stocks" re-categorized and banned as of March 19, 2019. It should be noted that in 2017, following the Mandalay Bay shooting, 72% of voters agreed with the decision, of which 79% were Democrats and 62% were Republicans. In 2018, that number increased to 81% of registered voters. The shooting left 60 individuals were killed with another 867 wounded. No motive was publicly disclosed.

While the Left has been pretty unanimous in their call to prohibit or at least restrict many types of gun or ammo, the Right has been a little less unified. Many conservatives are generally in agreement that certain restrictions are necessary, such as prohibiting the sale of armor piercing ammo or availability of certain types of guns and accessories such as the "bump stocks", "sawed off" shotguns (under 18"), or 10+ magazines.  

However, others are of the opinion that the Second Amendment is not open to judicial or political interpretation. The Founding Fathers wrote it with the intention of providing a means for citizens to protect themselves and others from a government bent on overreach and ultimately tyranny.  Therefore, the citizenry should have every means of defense available to them bar none.

They interpret that to mean no registration of guns, ammo, or other weapons, which they see as a thinly disguised attempt at restricting ownership through both intimidation and as providing a handy readymade list of everyone who might resist.

Of course, the primary reason for owning guns is self-protection. Few can argue that crime isn't a persistent and growing problem, and the chief source for school children intent on causing harm. Security locks for most firearms are available for free from various law enforcement agencies or even some pro Second Amendment groups.

It's worth noting that some of the Left would like to see firearms either voluntarily or mandatorily surrendered to the government and destroyed. Their position is that if there are no guns, there will be no shootings. However, that would be equivalent to the position taken by some during Prohibition; if there's no booze, there will be no drinking.

Reality was differently. Liquor became illegal and criminals became rich. If gun ownership was illegal, criminals would still acquire them. Those without guns would simply become potential victims. As the expression goes, when seconds count, the police are minutes away.

We need to accept the fact that we can't prevent violent crime, and that includes school shootings despite our best of intentions. All we can do is mitigate the likelihood of them happening. That means schools need to step up with additional preventative measures.

Metal detectors, security cameras, additional or reinforced locks are good. So are discreetly armed security guards (no one, especially kids, want to feel they are in prison instead of school). So is the barring entry points (save one primary entrance) during school hours. But these only protect those inside of the school, and to a limited measure.

They don't protect from homemade bombs, poisons (which have been used in several instances), or from physical assaults. They don't help on the playground or going to or from the school bus. Nothing will protect everyone from a determined individual, especially if they feel they have nothing to lose.

Therefore more attention needs to be given to students displaying any of the key warning signs like subtle destructive behavior such as "cutting" or are withdrawn (or students who act out through bullying, gang activity, or are persistently disruptive). They could be potential perpetrators of school violence, however, they are just as likely to be victim of someone they routinely pick on.

More parent/school contact is needed. Parents can't just assume that schools are "dealing with the problem". Typically schools aren't aware of the home situation, which are often a contributing factor.  That means everyone, from the bus driver to the principal, needs to make an personal investment in the wellbeing of the students.

Discipline too is often lacking, with the extremes of abuse (including over-prescribed medication in lieu of firm guidance) and total neglect on the other end, as well as physical, emotional, and psychological abuse must be avoided. Children, and especially teenagers, require a balance of support, encouragement, and a gradual loosing of guidance as they age. The "anything goes" attitude does more harm than good.   

Non-abusive ways of securing parent or regular adult involvement are critical. I think the return of art and music classes could help as a way for kids to express they're feelings. Not everyone plays sports. Encouraging academic success shouldn't be viewed as a "white thing" by minorities, who often ridicule "smart" kids who are minorities, resulting in frustration, depression, and acting up in order to fit in.

Households with guns need to ensure their weapons are secure (including periodic checking). They need to pay attention to the video games and sites their child have access to. Personally, I think video games which glorify violence (including killing zombies) are a key factor in youth violence in and out of school. They desensitize killing and accustom the individual to violence and gore. But in real life, once you pull the trigger, there's no "reset button".  No one comes back to life. Saying you're sorry counts for nothing.


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Do countries with stricter gun laws really have less crimeor homicides?


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27 school shootings have taken place so far this year

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