© copyright 2006 Betsy L. Angert
In the last few weeks, school shootings have dominated the news. The frequency of these seems to be increasing. People throughout the nation are panicking; what are we to do? President Bush spoke of this situation in his Saturday, October 7, 2006, radio address. He proclaimed, “We will bring together teachers, parents, students, administrators, law enforcement officials, and other experts to discuss the best ways to keep violence out of our schools.” Conferences have been called. The problem has been discussed for years.
President Clinton convened such a forum in 1999. Educators, policy-makers, law enforcement officials, and adolescent-development specialists came to the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study on May 21, 2002. Each group was equally intent on investigating the causes and effects of Lethal School Violence. In the symposiums, experts sought solutions. Everyone wanted [and wants] to protect our progeny.
At the time, programs were initiated; yet, the violence continued. In the last month or more, we as a nation are wondering; is there no end? Will our children ever be safe?
Citizens are again asking how can we secure our schools and shield our offspring from societal harm. Finally, an answer comes from a Wisconsin lawmaker. Representative Frank Lasee is proposing that teachers and administrators carry guns daily and use these when necessary.
In the wake of school shootings in Wisconsin, Colorado, and Pennsylvania during the last two weeks, a state legislator says he plans to introduce legislation that would allow teachers, principals, administrators, and other school personnel to carry concealed weapons.
Representative Frank Lasee, a Republican, said Wednesday that, while his idea may not be politically correct, it has worked effectively in other countries.
“To make our schools safe for our students to learn, all options should be on the table,” he said. “Israel and Thailand have well-trained teachers carrying weapons and keeping their children safe from harm. It can work in Wisconsin.”
Now there is a solution! Certainly, our communities will be safer if everyone is armed. The National Rifle Association believes this is true. Organization enthusiast state “Guns do not kill; people do.” While this may be a fact, I remind the vitriolic members of such a vigilant organization, guns cannot cause death unless they are in the hands of humans. We might consider accidents among trained hunters. Vice President Richard [Dick] Cheney comes to mind, or we might contemplate what occurs when weapons are found in the hands of young innocents.
Perhaps this determination is too rash; a conference might allow calmer heads to prevail. We as a society must evaluated the circumstances more completely.
We know that communities have long been concerned with gang violence. However, what has occurred in recent years differs. On January 29, 1979, individual outbursts came into our collective consciousness. “Brenda Spencer, 16, opened fire with a .22-caliber rifle at an elementary school across the street from her San Diego, California, home. She killed two people and wounded seven because she `didn’t like Mondays.'”
Upon hearing this story, our country held its breath as it does now. Jointly we release a communal sigh. Still the violence increases as is evident in these last five weeks. There is talk. What measures can we take to guard against weaponry?
Metal detectors were introduced in educational institutions after a 1992 shooting.
In 1994, the federal government began requiring school safety programs in an attempt to crack down on violence on school grounds. Many schools introduced metal detectors to check for guns, knifes and other weapons . . . although the Supreme Court eventually overturned the federal requirements, most school safety measures remained in place. In Los Angeles, for instance, [as of 1997] all high schools still use some sort of metal detectors.
However, it is clear, these actions do not secure the premises. Zero tolerance campaigns were invoked. Violations are and were numerous.
Parents, administrators, teachers, and staff were told to observe student behaviors; they were asked to attend to warning signs. Discipline problems were considered predictors; yet, this was not always the case. Offenders did not only come from within the school system, they enter and exist throughout society. Witness the killings within the last month or more.
Whatever we choose to reflect upon, when looking at violence in our schools, our homes, or in our airports I ask us to bear in mind that traditional methods for preventing violence are not working. I think we must look at why people do what they do.
Violent crime continues to be a major problem and I suspect this will continue as long as we look for simple solutions. I observe, when we as a country, focus on machines and mandates as a means for deterring violence in schools and within society at-large. We ignore the violator. I believe the life of the perpetrator is most telling. This is the key component in a crime that can be influenced and altered. If we address it early enough and treat root causes sincerely and seriously we can make a difference.
However, instead, we look at guns, knifes, box cutters, gels, powders, matches, lighters, and bombs as though these are the killers. We work tirelessly to prevent these from entering the systems, schools, airports, office building, and prisons. Rarely do we address the authentic reason for killings. People and what goes on in their heads, hearts, and souls cause death.
I propose we look at life, at our daily existence and the stress our culture promotes, rather than hypothesize; how might we use technology and authority to control the minds and misdeeds of men and women. I theorize if we assess the way in which we live and the life standards we choose to accept, then, we might be able to prevent these carnages.
I request that you, dear reader, consider what passes for the “common wisdom.” Is it sensible? Please ponder accepted theories and simple solutions with me. Then ask yourself, what might we do to truly change what comes?
On Monday, October 2, 2006, a deeply distressed man entered a one room Amish schoolhouse. He excused all the male pupils and personnel. He was interested in only the young female students. It is not known whether the church-going milkman intended to molest the girls; though there is evidence to suggest that he did. However, what is certain is that the perpetrator shot these little lovelies before taking his own life. Pennsylvania schoolhouse killer Charles Carl Roberts IV revealed in a telephone call to his wife, at the age of twelve he molested two young relatives. Events of 20 years past haunted the man throughout his life. Guilt took Roberts’ life and the lives of several young innocent Amish girls.
Five days earlier, in Bailey, Colorado an armed drifter walked into Platte Canyon High School. He then entered a classroom. The transient demanded that all the men leave the area. He wanted to be alone with the girls he corralled into a classroom. According to a student and her mother, Duane R. Morrison seemed to prefer smaller, blonde girls. This disturbed wanderer with his quarry of petite flaxen hair maidens proceeded to sexually assault some of the six young girls he held hostage. Ultimately, he shot one before killing himself. Some social scientists are theorizing `girls are the targets in school violence.
After the crime,
at their home in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Morrison’s stepmother said she and her husband, Bob Morrison, “have no record of him being, having any trouble before.” “We just know the way he was raised,” Billie Morrison said, declining to elaborate.
How was he raised? Some experts think the relationships established in the lives of the killers might offer answers. In the series of recent rampages there is a seemingly notable consistency.
“The predominant pattern in school shootings of the past three decades is that girls are the victims,” says Katherine Newman, a Princeton University sociologist whose recent book examines the roots of “rampage” shootings in rural schools.
Dr. Newman has researched 21 school shootings since the 1970s. Though it’s impossible to know whether girls were randomly victimized in those cases, she says, “in every case in the US since the early 1970s we do note this pattern” of girls being the majority of victims.
Prior to these two incidents, the focus and fantasy was on troubled adolescents. These were thought to be the person responsible for such horrendous school crimes. Some behavior experts hypothesized; violent young persons had been bullied in school. They were browbeaten at home. These youthful aggressors were tormented by their own inner struggles. They act out after years of deep-seated frustration.
Forensic psychiatrist Keith Aldo says mental health problems, especially among young people, too often go ignored and untreated. “Everybody in the class often knows who the troubled kids are. Parents know. Teachers know,” he says. “And if anything we should know that there is a preventative bit of medicine, psychological medicine to be dispensed in our classrooms earlier than we have been doing.”
Aldo urges parents and teachers to talk more openly about problems that could erupt into violence at school. He says unresolved issues can continue to haunt a child throughout life. “The more that you can express your feelings of fear, the more that you can talk about your reactions to terrible events, the less that those events are going to be toxic to you later on.”
Aldo says airing such concerns helps build a stronger and safer community. Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, agrees. He says the community must work at making schools safe places. “It happens by making sure that the first and best line of defense is a well-trained, highly alert school staff and student body who are aware of changes in behavior of other students as well as strangers who are walking around in parking lots and the hallways of our schools.”
While I do not quibble with this later premise and I am willing to consider the earlier hypothesis, I think each supposition negates a broader problem. I believe the more recent incidents confirm the quandary has many causes. The dilemma is not limited to youth acting out against their harassing, haranguing, or hounding classmates. These incidents are not only a reaction to discrimination from peers. Parents are not the central problem. This transgression is as all others, complex.
The complexities that cause violent crime in our nations schools are similar to those that create terrorism.
Terrorism usually results from multiple causal factors – not only psychological but also economic, political, religious, and sociological factors, among others. There is even a hypothesis that it is caused by physiological factors, as discussed below. Because terrorism is a multi-causal phenomenon, it would be simplistic and erroneous to explain an act of terrorism by a single cause, such as the psychological need of the terrorist to perpetrate an act of violence.
For Paul Wilkinson (1977), the causes of revolution and political violence in general are also the causes of terrorism. These include ethnic conflicts, religious and ideological conflicts, poverty, modernization stresses, political inequities, lack of peaceful communications channels, traditions of violence, the existence of a revolutionary group, governmental weakness and ineptness, erosions of confidence in a regime, and deep divisions within governing elites and leadership groups.
International terrorists, sadistic student rebels, and lone executors have a common bond; society and stressors impact their lives severely.
Student’s killers are often exposed to frequent slights from peers or parents, just as some terrorists feel slighted by our treatment of their culture and religious practices. These snubs are evident if society as a whole and those functioning within the system choose to recognize them. The stress in young lives can be reduced or eliminated if we attend to these grievances quickly.
We might realize that lone shooters, those that walk into our schools also are victims of a fragile upbringing. There are reasons that these solitary shooters might aim at young girls, blondes, or the most innocent among us. Again, if we as a community chose to be aware of what we are creating for our children, we can save them before they become adult or adolescent killers.
Religious or political zealots, the defiant, defensive, and the righteous also are products of their environment. They may act out against nations or peoples; still, the source of their rage is apparent if we choose to look for it. Each of these executors feels persecuted and why not.
In a world where frustrations are ignored or attributed to authority figures, women, or circumstances beyond our control, there is much to feel frustrated about. Students feel stuck in school, at home, or in lives that demand much of them and give little in return. Adults, loners and cult followers alike, feel lost in the unresolved circumstances of their past and present. They want to affect the future. However, in the future, as in the present, and the past, people are not the focus. Folly and failed systems are.
We evaluate preventive mechanized and legal measures. We disregard the fact that these are not effective.
I propose we look at life, at our daily existence and the stresses our cultures promote. I theorize if we assess the way in which we live, the life standards we accept, then, we might be able to prevent these mass and individual tragedies.
I invite us all to pay homage to the notion that problems are not resolved by outside solutions or systems. What is real, meaningful, and elicits change is knowledge and understanding. If we are to embrace people more so than policies, I believe we will all be encouraged and empowered.
I think it vital to accept and acknowledge that any of us might turn in a split second, or so it will seem to an outsider. However, all of us are stewing, marinating in our own milieu. Without exception, we could easily be a mild-mannered, church going, milkman in a moment, a sullen student, a scholar, or a vagrant in one moment and a murderer in the next. We know not what the mind might perceive and act upon.
Yet, in assessing this novel crisis, we negotiate matters that are of little consequence, metal, gels, powder, fluids, steel door barriers, and the soles of shoes. We ignore or avoid assessing the souls and spirits of human beings.
For the 54 million Americans with mental illness, broad access to services and treatments is not a luxury; it is a fundamental need. It is imperative that state policymakers not target mental health as a way to save money with state and local governments providing more than 50 percent of funding for services through programs like Medicaid and SCHIP.
America’s mental health system is at risk of plunging from crisis to catastrophe. Cutting budgets and instituting draconian limits to needed treatments and services not only increases human suffering, but also puts additional strain on state economies through increased reliance on emergency services, correctional systems and welfare programs.
We must stop asking, “Are our schools safe?” “Are our streets secured?” “What can we do to “prevent” violent crime in our nations educational institutions or on our shores?” I think the better questions are, what are we doing, how and what are we feeling? What can be done to improve our lives and what resources are we bringing to bear on these core problems.
I propose what effects our youth [or our nation] affects us all. We drown our sorrows in drugs. We suffer silently. Americans no longer spend time with family; they seek support in superficial forms and forums. Mental health care institutions are closed to all but a select and wealthy few. The hospitals of today are not equipped to handle the multitude of mental and physical health concerns. Yet, we as a nation create more of these lost souls everyday.
Parents are working two and three jobs, just to survive. Families are rushed about; people do not know their neighbors let alone siblings. Americans are isolated; yet not insulated from all that surrounds them. We are stressed and fighting to seem stable. We react to real pressures and just as the man that took, the lives of the Amish girls; guilt or anxiety ultimately may grip us.
Can we as a nation protect ourselves from aggressors? I contend, only if we face the genuine pain that causes their reactive behaviors.
We must understand the intentions of the people that perform malicious acts against others if we are to prevent future outrages. The mind is our master. Where there is a will, there is a way. I ask that we address human resolve and spirit as a means of prevention. I believe placing guns in the hands of potential victims will do more harm than good. Ultimately, it will cure nothing.
References For Reflection . . .
- President’s Radio Address. Office of the Press Secretary. October 7, 2006
- Clinton On School Violence. Online News Hour. April 22, 1999
- Researchers aim to understand school shootings, By Beth Potier. Harvard Gazette. May 30, 2002
- Strategies to Keep Schools Safe (Unabridged), By Alexander Volokh with Lisa Snell. Policy Study No. 234. Reason Public Policy Institute. January 1998
- Are US Schools Safe? Cable News Network.
- Wis. lawmaker wants teachers to carry guns, MSNBC News. October 5, 2006
- Survey: 1.7M kids at home with loaded guns, By Marilyn Elias. USA Today. September 6, 2005
- Wrestling For Our Children’s Future, Remarks of FCC Commissioner Gloria Tristani. October 12, 1999
- Timeline of incidents. School violence around the world, IndyStar.com. Updated: Oct. 2, 2006
- A pattern in rural school shootings: girls as targets, By Gail Russell Chaddock and Mark Clayton. The Christian Science Monitor October 04, 2006
- Police: School killer told wife he molested family members. Cable News Network. October 3, 2006
- Details from Colo. school shooting emerge. MSNBC. September 28, 2006
- The National Rifle Association.
- The National Rifle Association [NRA] Official Suggests Guns for Teachers. NewsMax.com Wires. Saturday, March 26, 2005
- Do We Need Zero Tolerance? Report on the Implementation of the Gun-Free Schools Act in the States and Outlying Areas; School Year 2000-2001. Youth Violence Project Homepage
- Cheney accidentally shoots fellow hunter, By Dana Bash. Cable News Network. Monday, February 13, 2006
- Deadly School Shootings Point to Untreated Mental Problems, By Rosanne Skirble. The Voice of America. October 4, 2006
- Police: School killer told wife he molested family members, Cable News Network Story. October 3, 2006
- The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why? By Rex A. Hudson. The Federal Research Division, Library of Congress. September 1999
- Researchers Investigate Aggressive Students’ Mental Health, By Michelle Trudeau. Morning Edition. August 14, 2006
- Where We Stand, Nationwide Threat Level Remains Yellow/Elevated. Transportation Security Administration … Vigilant, Effective, Efficient. U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
- Domestic Security: The Homefront and War on Terrorism. Compiled by Dave Belt. Online NewsHour. March 27, 2006
- Oregon school shooter showed signs of mental disease. Cable News Network. November 5, 1999
- U.S. schools: Security by metal detector? In Los Angeles, all high schools use metal detectors. By Anne McDermott. Cable News Network Story. December 2, 1997
- Airport detectors still vulnerable to terrorists, By George Lewis. Today Show. MSNBC News. September 8, 2004
- Airports allowing two tries at metal detector. Cable News Network. Thursday, January 15, 2004
- School Violence Prevention, By Dean Walker. Clearinghouse on Educational Policy and Management. March 1995
- Isolation. Insulation. The Go-Go Garage Society and Its Islands © By Betsy L. Angert. Be-Think. June 26, 2006
- Mental Illness and the Family: Stigma: Building Awareness And Understanding About Mental Illness. National Mental Health Association.
- Access to Mental Health Care. National Mental Health Association.
- Did You Know? National Mental Health Association.
- Leading the Way For Americans Mental Health. National Mental Health Association.
- Stress. Well-Connected Reports. Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. Nidus Information Services.