Well, here we are. In the wake of yet another school shooting. The drama has commenced. The outrage, the finger pointing, the “it’s the guns” people, and “it’s not the guns” people, arguing until they’re blue in the face, with neither side budging. It’s the thoughts and prayers, it’s the “now’s not the time to talk about gun control” permanent political staple. And in a few days, or a few weeks, everyone will stop talking about it, chalk it up to another day in America, and go back to their daily lives…until it happens again. And then the cycle starts all over.
I for one am ready to break this cycle. I can no longer sit silently by and pretend this isn’t a real issue. I can no longer live with the terror I feel every time I drop my daughter off at school. Or when I go to a concert, or a sporting event, or a movie theater, or even church. These are places I should feel no fear. These are places we should all feel safe. Our children have the right to feel safe at school.
Clearly there are many sides that all disagree as to what is the root of the problem. It seems most only point a finger at one particular issue. Here is the answer: It’s not ONE problem. It’s a multi-faceted problem, it’s many things that culminate and drive a person to kill. The truth is, it isn’t just guns, or mental illness, or bad parenting, or entitled kids. It’s all of these things, and more. And instead of each person on the defense of one of these issues pointing fingers at the other, we need to come together, examine these issues individually, and do everything we can to change it.
Before I delve into this, I will just come right out and say what most of you are already thinking: I am anti-gun. If you know me, you know that I have a certain naïveté, a certain dreamer-style way of looking at life. I believe in the fairy tales. In the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, I still believe in the good. That being said, I believe in the civilized society we live in today, there should be no guns. If there were no guns, there would be no need for guns. That’s my stance.
Now I know what you’re thinking: This chick is bat-shit crazy. A little, but that’s neither here nor there. However, I do realize that my idealism is not the real way of the world we live in, and that I have to adjust my views and expectations. Those views exist in a perfect world, and I am aware we do not live in a perfect world. Saying that, I am pro-Second Amendment. I am okay with citizens owning (certain) guns, but I expect safeguards to be in place. I also expect our laws to grow and change, just as our society has grown and changed. So idealism aside, I want to address this is issue head-on.
First, let’s define the term “mass killing.” A mass killing is defined as the killing of 3 or more people (excluding the killer) in a single location, at the same time. So now, let’s look into the numbers of mass shootings that have occurred in the US.
- Since Sandy Hook in 2012, which left 20 first graders and 5 educators dead, there have been roughly 1,600 mass shootings in the US, killing at least 1,800 people and wounding over 6,400. This number is broad and includes mass shootings of all types, including gang disputes, robberies gone wrong, and domestic disputes. Of these, 239 have been school shootings. This is just in the past 6 years.
- According to the US Secret Service and US Department of Education, in 81% of these school shootings, someone had information that the attacker was thinking about or planning the shooting. 68% of these school shooters obtained their weapons from relatives or from their home. 73% of these shooters have no prior criminal record. 17% of these shooters were under the age of 15.
- Data from the Gun Violence Archive says there is one mass shooting in the US every 9 out of 10 days.
- America has 4.4 percent of the world’s population, but has almost half (48%) of civilian-owned guns worldwide. The US also holds 31% of the world’s mass shooters.
- From January 1st 2018 to February 14th 2018, there have been 30 mass shootings.
These are horrifying numbers. And what is even more horrifying, is that our government has refused to do ANYTHING to put a stop to this violence. It seems to be an untouchable subject. Our leaders play the 2nd Amendment card, extend their thoughts and prayers, and move on. Our children are dying. This should be a top priority of our government. But it isn’t. That means we, as citizens of this country, have to step up and make it their problem. This isn’t just one administrations fault, but only the people in power now can do something. President Obama made strides, including a rule that required the Social Security Administration to report disability-benefit recipients with mental health conditions to the FBI’s background check system, which is used to screen firearm buyers. President Trump rescinded this rule in 2017.
There are many instances, however, where people died and the government intervened to help prevent it from happening again. I’ll start with cars. As auto fatalities continued to rise, research was done and laws were enacted to help prevent deaths. Seat belt and helmet laws were created, and auto makers were required to improve safety standards and install airbags in vehicles. When the number of meth labs increased and the number of deaths from this drug kept climbing, the government stepped in and required that Sudafed be purchased from behind the pharmacy counter, that you have to show an ID to purchase it, and you cannot purchase more than 9 grams per month. After the terrorist attack on September 11th, 2001, TSA protocols were strengthened and pre-flight security was heightened, including limiting the quantity of liquids that may be taken on an airplane, many everyday items being blacklisted, and security measures that include removing your shoes when going through TSA pre-check. These are just a few of many instances where our government intervened to help prevent senseless deaths in our country. Do these measures guarantee that no more people will die from these things? Of course not. But any death that can be prevented because of them is worth it.
Now IS the time to have this discussion. With one mass shooting every 9 out of 10 days, there won’t be a time when there isn’t a mass shooting to talk about gun control or other issues that contribute to these shootings.
So what problems contribute to these school shootings, and what can be done about them? It’s time we tackle these issues head-on.
Let’s start with the big one: Guns. Many people don’t like to address this one. It’s a very touchy subject. Some people are 100% convinced guns are the problem. Others are 100% convinced it’s not a gun issue at all. So who is right? I’m gonna go ahead and say it. If you think guns have absolutely nothing to do with why these things keep happening, you’re lying to yourself. To quote the movie The American President, “For reasons passing understanding, people do not relate guns to gun-related crime.” It’s absurd. Many pro-gun supporters just say “Any lunatic with a cause will find a way to kill people.” That, unfortunately, is a true statement. However, shouldn’t we make it as difficult as possible for them to do it, and to keep the deaths to a minimum where we can? I guarantee a knife or even a handgun can kill a lot less people in a short amount of time than an AR-15.
Everyone wants to call the 2nd Amendment as their defense to keep as many and whatever guns they want. I am a staunch supporter of our Constitution and what it stands for. But it is meant to be malleable. If it wasn’t, you could still own slaves, segregation would still exist, and women and minorities couldn’t vote. It is meant to grow and change as our society does, that is why it is able to be amended. Our forefathers had the good sense to know that things would, and should change, and they put safeguards in place for that.
So let’s examine the 2nd Amendment for a moment. It states “A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” First of all, the 2nd Amendment was written in lawless times. Americans knew they had to defend themselves against Native Americans, and against any enemies that may show up. The militia was not yet truly created. Americans were also aware that the fresh, new government could become corrupt and they would need to defend themselves against it if necessary. But looking at it more closely, you could say that the intent of the 2nd Amendment is up for interpretation. Was it meant for the States to have the right to keep and bear arms, in the hands of a trained militia? Or was it meant to be an individual right? Given that the Bill of Rights refers to individual liberties, it could be interpreted as an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, which is the interpretation our country has gone with. And in 2008, in District of Columbia v Heller, the US Supreme Court ruled in a narrow 5-4 vote that the right to bear arms is an individual right.
However, the 2nd Amendment was written when most guns shot 1-2 rounds per minute. The average AR-15 shoots 45 rounds per minute. I can’t imagine our forefathers knew how technology would advance and just how dangerous guns would become. And again, it was also written in the face of a new government, when laws were just being created and they were figuring out how to enforce them. As society and technology have grown and changed, so should our laws when it pertains to gun ownership.
The media likes to portray gun-control advocates as these monsters who want to rip the Constitution to shreds and come get all of the guns. For the most part, that’s just not true. No one is trying to eradicate the 2nd Amendment. I think most people in that group, including myself, agree that certain guns should be owned by responsible citizens, but that more strict safeguards need to be in place so that the guns are in the right hands.
So while keeping the 2nd Amendment intact, what can we do to crack down on gun violence? The sheer volume of guns in this country is a good place to start. There are enough guns in America for every household to have more than one. So in my opinion, the first step is to ban certain types of guns. It’s time. Don’t like that idea? Sorry. My child’s right to feel safe in school supercedes your right to own assault weapons just for fun. Keep the handguns, shotguns, and hunting rifles. But assault weapons have no place in a civilized society. Any military person trained on these weapons will tell you, they have only one purpose: to kill. That’s what they are designed to do. Civilians have no reason to own these weapons, other than for entertainment purposes. Making these types of weapons unavailable to purchase would be a huge first step.
The next step is more stringent screening processes and stipulations that must be met in order for a person to purchase a gun. Let’s think about this. When you want to buy a car, there are many things have to do. First off, you have to have a license. To get that license, you have to take a class to learn how to operate the vehicle. You have to pass a written and physical test, as well as disclose health information. To own a car, you must register it with your state, and renew that registration every year. You must also insure it. All of these things exist for tracking and safety purposes. Why can’t we do similar things to own guns? First step: A waiting period to buy a gun. If you’re a responsible gun owner, this should not be an issue. No one needs to buy a gun and have it immediately. You may want that, but you don’t need it. So yes, this means no more gun sales at gun shows. But so what?
In addition, gun sales should be restricted from convicted felons and those that have been hospitalized for mental illness. Every single gun sale should screen for this before a purchase. A citizen should not be allowed to purchase more than one gun every 90 days. Again, if you’re a responsible gun owner, this shouldn’t bother you. All it is doing is helping keep people, including you, safer. It doesn’t affect law-abiding citizens.
I’m even gonna go a step further here. I believe there should be a limit on how many guns a person can own. I don’t know what that number would be honestly. I further believe that guns should have tracking devices implanted in them. If our phones can track our locations, there’s no reason that can’t be applied to guns as well. If tracking devices could be implanted in every gun, it would be easier to track illegal gun sales. It could also trigger an alert to a government agency anytime a gun is on school property. You can pull it up to see if that gun is legally licensed. Now, I know many people are gonna scream that that’s too much government intervention. And it might be a bit of a stretch. But those same people have no problems with their cell phones tracking their locations and giving that info to God only knows who.
Would all of these measures completely stop gun violence? Absolutely not. But it is my belief that it would extremely hinder an individual’s ability to commit a mass murder. And again, if even one life is saved because of it, it’s worth it to me.
Now on to the next contributing factor in gun violence: Mental Illness. This is a tough one for me, because I do know that mental health is not taken as seriously in our country as it should be. However, considering that men commit 98% of the mass shootings in our country, and considering mental illness is a worldwide issue but only America has such a high mass shooting rate, I wonder how much this contributes. I feel this issue is something that should be studied. Why do mostly men commit these crimes? Why does mental illness not cause people in other developed countries to commit mass murders? And why have we not investigated this further?
Our kids today are facing higher levels of mental illness than ever before. Here are just a few statistics to think about:
- 20% of youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition.
- 11% of youth have a mood disorder
- 50% of all lifetime cases of mental illness begin by age 14
- Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death in youth ages 10-24
Those are scary numbers. Children today live in a much different world than most adults now experienced. Things like social media, constant stimulation, being overextended, pressure to excel, and bullying often contribute to anxiety and other mental illness in teens. And many times it’s difficult to see.
And let’s face it, mental health care in our country is not exactly a top priority. Many top rated mental health professionals do not take insurance, causing affected people to have to pay out-of-pocket. 45% of untreated Americans with mental illness cited cost as the main factor in not getting treatment. And if the Affordable Care Act is repealed, and nothing takes its place, these numbers will increase due to the increase of uninsured Americans. This has to stop. We need to be asking the questions about how to do a better job in getting the mentally ill the treatment that they need, not after a tragedy, but before. Something to think about: 40,000,000 Americans suffer from some type of mental illness. SOME can access treatment. ALL can access guns.
Still, mental health advocates say that mental health is part of the picture in mass shootings, but focusing on that alone is not enough. Mental health issues should not be a re-direct from gun control. Both things need to be examined and changed.
And lastly, the other main contributing factor: Parenting. The way we parent our children has changed so much, even over just the last decade. We all live in a technologically run society. We all spend so much time on our phones and social media, instead of spending time connecting. As a society, we are raising our children to be spoiled and entitled and unaccountable for their actions. Now obviously, I’m not saying every parent is a bad parent or every parent is doing all of these things. But some of the things I’m going to mention apply in some part to most parents, myself included.
Social media is running the lives of our kids. They are basing their self-worth on how many Facebook likes and comments they get, how many Instagram likes they get, how many people view their Snapchat stories and watch their YouTube videos. This is dangerous on so many levels. We have to start limiting our kids’ access to social media and explain to them the impact it has on their mental health.
Many of today’s parents are trying to be their child’s best friend first, and their parent second. I have been guilty of this. But our kids have enough friends. They need parents. They need boundaries, and discipline, and accountability. Kids do not need constant stimulation. It’s okay to let them be bored sometimes. They do not need to get everything they want, when they want it. My belief is that most children today are not equipped to handle school and the adult world because they are lacking any delay in gratification. We are letting our kids tell us what to do, instead of the other way around. They do not need to be coddled and sheltered and not have real life experiences. We need to let them fall. We need to let them make mistakes. We need to let them experience disappointment and consequences. In a world of participation trophies, our kids are not prepared to handle the disappointment and heartache that life will throw their way. The harsh truth is, we are not giving our children the tools they need to survive in the adult world.
Now, more than ever, we as parents need to step up and be truly present in our kids lives. We need to step away from the phones, the iPads, the TV’s, and start connecting with our families. I’ll be the first to admit, it’s difficult. After a long day at work, trying to cook and clean and help with homework, many times it’s easier just to plop them down in front of a TV or iPad than to interact. But we need to be present. We need to pay attention. Many of the kids that commit these mass shootings show signs of trouble way before they actually do something. But these signs often times go unnoticed or aren’t taken seriously because we are all so consumed with our own lives that we don’t stop and pay attention. Many times our kids are crying for help, and we’re too busy to even look up and notice.
So, all that being said, what can we actually do about all of this? What steps can we take to prevent more children from dying? I don’t want people to just read this, and then go about their daily business. I want people to take something, anything from this, and DO SOMETHING. It’s up to us now. We must be the change we want to see. Whether you do one or all of these things, do something to help protect our children.
- Be present in the lives of your kids. Ask them questions. Know everything that is going on in their lives. If they won’t talk to you, look through their phones. My daughter knows her phone is not private and we have the right to look at it whenever we choose. Have a no-electronics policy at dinner, and eat dinner together as a family. Play board games. Limit screen time and social media activity. Do physical activities together as a family. Physical activity has been proven as an anxiety and stress reducer. Always be your child’s biggest supporter and shoulder to lean on, but also make them take accountability for their actions.
- Get your children involved in extra-curricular activities. Have them doing things that don’t require electronics to acomplish. Art classes, dance classes, music, and sports are just some things you can do that will help your child’s brain stay active and get them involved with peers.
- If your child exhibits signs of mental illness, don’t shrug it off. Don’t wait. Talk to your pediatrician. Your child may not even know they need help. It’s up to you to know them better than anyone, and know when they are in distress. Warning signs include:
- Feeling sad or withdrawn for more than 2 weeks
- Feeling fatigued and unmotivated
- Sudden overwhelming fear for no reason
- Risk-taking behaviors that can cause self harm or harm to others
- Not eating, throwing up, or significant weight loss or gain
- Severe mood swings
- Drastic changes in behavior or sleep habits
- Difficulty in concentrating or staying still in school
- Visit https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/. Sandy Hook Promise trains students and adults to recognize the signs of gun violence and provide programs and practices that protect children. Visit their site to find out how to get training, how you can advocate, and to donate.
- Also visit https://everytownresearch.org/about/. This site is designed to raise awareness and educate people about gun violence statistics and causes, and ways we can help stop it.
- Call, write, Tweet, Facebook, anything to your local representatives. Let them know you have had enough and want things to change. Do it as often as you can. Don’t let up.
- VOTE! Your vote matters, If those in power are not doing their part, it’s our jobs to get them out of office and vote someone in who will.
- Pray. Pray to whatever God you believe in. Yes, “thoughts and prayers” from our lawmakers are not a solution. But we as a society must keep praying, must keep believing in the good, and must instill that belief in our children.
It’s up to us to stop these senseless deaths. We must all come together and realize that it’s not just the guns fault, that it’s not just the parents fault, that there are many contributing factors that must all be addressed and rectified to keep our children safe. Our children are calling on us all to do something to protect them. It’s time we answer that call.