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The Real Problem With School Shootings: Why Is No One Talking About This?

The Real Problem With School Shootings: Why Is No One Talking About This?

Go to the profile of Jacob Burdis

My social media feeds are filled with angry, passionate posts from sincere people, many of whom are very close friends, reacting to the horrific school shooting in Florida. Who can blame them? Death is not fun. Early deaths are tragic. Homicide is angering. Mass homicide is rage-inducing. Mass homicide on a school campus resulting in 17 early deaths is beyond words.

But it is despairing, in my opinion, to see the contentious debates about gun legislation in the wake of such atrocities. At a time when we, as a country, should be united in grief for the lives that were taken in such a hateful manner, we are as divided as ever.

This post is not meant to advocate one way or another on the controversial topic of gun control legislation. It is meant to explore and discover what the problem really is that we are reacting to, so that we can move forward with shared understanding towards a legitimate, effective solution.

If I had an hour to solve a problem I’d spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes solving it.” — 

Albert Einstein (possibly?)

Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” — 

Abraham Lincoln (possibly?)

I’ve asked several people to articulate the problem underlying the solutions they are proposing in response to the Florida shooting. What I’ve mostly heard are vague and relatively unhelpful answers like “people like that shouldn’t be able to buy guns and use them to kill people” or “the problem is people are dying on in schools and we are doing nothing to stop it.”

I totally get how an emotionally charged issue like this can result in statements like these above. These are often my first reactions as well. But these aren’t very helpful articulations of a problem, and without that I fear a true solution will be elusive. It is clear to me that we as a society need many more cycles in digging in and truly understanding the problem before we can unite towards an effective solution.

So what is the problem?

I’ve spent some time trying to really understand this. Here is my attempt to articulate the problem as I see it.

Someone with pre-meditated, homicidal intentions can legally or illegally obtain firearms, conceal and bring those firearms onto school property without being detected, and use those firearms to shoot, wound, and kill multiple people before being stopped, apprehended, or killed.

Is this a perfect articulation? Not at all. But you can probably see how ideas are already starting to flow about potential solutions, because the problem has become much more clear and definable.

What I’ve seen is that people are trying to solve the aspects of this problem that are the hardest to solve (and therefore might not be the best solution in the interim).

Example 1 — Universal Gun Control

Those who support universal gun control are probably trying to solve the aspect of this problem that “someone…can legally obtain firearms…and use those firearms…to shoot, wound, and kill multiple people.” Universally restricting access to firearms certainly would prevent someone from obtaining and using firearms to kill people. But no one can deny that with the current divisive and political climate in the US, plus the fact that there are literally hundreds of millions of firearms spread throughout the country (and the majority of them are unregistered, and therefore practically undetectable), it will be a long time before any meaningful strides are made towards this solution. I’m not saying that we should or shouldn’t pursue this solution, just acknowledging that it won’t’ make a huge difference towards the problem in the short term.

Example 2—Selective Gun Control

Another example is those who support selective gun control measures, such as expanded background checks and mandatory waiting periods for purchasing firearms. These people are probably working to solve the aspect of the problem that “Someone with pre-meditated, homicidal intentions can legally or illegally obtain firearms…” Background checks are meant to analyze a person’s historical indicators that correlate with potential malicious intent regarding firearms. Waiting periods are made to prevent those with impulsive homicidal intent from obtaining firearms. The hope is that the impulsive, often emotionally-driven homicidal intent will dissipate with time. The person will come to her/his senses during the waiting period and realize that she/he doesn’t want to go through with a violent solution.

These solutions seem very reasonable to get at this aspect of the problem and are, I believe, a good step in the right direction. However any researcher in psychology can explain how difficult/nearly impossible it is to measure intent. So where these procedures will certainly prevent some with homicidal intent from obtaining firearms, the difficulty of the task means these solutions alone will never be fully effective.

Example 3—Mental Instability

A third example from the “other camp” is those that propose improved research and practices aimed at improving identification and treatment of mental instability that causes homicidal intent. These people are probably working to solve the aspect of the problem that “Someone [has] pre-meditated, homicidal intentions…” in the first place. The argument is that by early detection and treatment of homicidal intentions (in the form of mental instability or other mental health issues), the rest of the problem is moot. If no one wanted to kill anyone, then access to firearms wouldn’t be an issue. Again, the problem with this solution is that the either detecting or removing homicidal intent before it is acted on is impossibly difficult. Should this solution be pursued? Certainly. However it cannot be expected to be foolproof enough to prevent any future tragedies.

What about improved school screening and security?

So what about the other aspects of the problem? I’ve become more and more surprised that there are aspects of the problem that don’t seem to be addressed at all. And I’m even more flabbergasted that these, in my mind, point to fairly straightforward, effective, albeit short-term solutions, to prevent future school shootings.

The aspect of the problem in this case is “Someone with pre-meditated, homicidal intentions can…conceal and bring…firearms onto school property without being detected…”

Why aren’t we talking more about this aspect of the problem? The airline industry has taught us that there are ways to make it nearly impossible to bring a weapon onto an airplane. Why aren’t we proposing solutions such as metal detectors, improved screening, etc. for entrance into schools? While it’s nearly impossible to globally restrict access to firearms, or to universally “cure” homicidal intentions, it is already accepted that security measures can greatly reduce the chances of a weapon being used in a controlled, localized environment (like a school).

This solution, like any other, comes with multiple hurdles and drawbacks. There have been reports of schools in areas such as New York and LA that have implemented metal detectors and random weapons screening. Those who oppose these measures cite the practice as turning schools into prisons, making students feel like and identify with criminals, and inhibiting a comfortable learning environment that should exist in a place of education. Also, implementing such practices at scale would be very expensive, and school administrators already feel that their budgets are pinched to the point or breaking. These drawbacks and hurdles, however, seem much more manageable and approachable than the hurdles of universal gun control or improved mental instability screening and remediation.

Another aspect of the problem is “Someone…can…bring…firearms onto school property.. and use [them] to shoot, wound, and kill multiple people before being stopped, apprehended, or killed.” Perhaps there are solutions to this aspect of the problem that are also more obtainable in the short-term. The airline industry again has made progress in this area by staffing flights with armed security personnel, disguised as an average passenger, so that in the event that a weapon does make it past screening, she/he could have a chance to intervene. Currently, police departments staff schools with an armed resource officer. Could it make a difference if there were more officers staffed at each school? What if the job description of a “teacher” or “administrator” at a public school included a contract with a police department to be trained and armed for the security of the school?

My point is (whether Einstein actually said it) that the principle behind the idea of studying, understanding, and clearly articulating a problem before working to solve it rings true. I believe that if we as a society could channel our reactionary energy after such horrific events towards a diligent, disciplined study of the problem at hand, we would be a lot closer to finding a creative, effective solution that we all could get behind.

Please comment below

What am I missing or not understanding? What aspects of the problem have I omitted? What potential solutions based on a better understanding of the problem have you discovered?

DMU Timestamp: December 19, 2018 18:14

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