Monday, December 17, 2012

May the victims RIP; may we work to change the world

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about school shootings is that so little is understood about them. In 2002, the US Secret Service & Department of Education released a Safe School Initiative (SSI) study of the causes. The study concluded: there is no accurate or useful profile of students who targeted schools with firearms. They come from a variety of family situations (from two-parent families to foster homes); some had no obvious behavioral problems, others had many; their social relationships ranged from socially isolated misfits to popular among peers. There were no patterns of mental health or substance abuse although many had expressed suicidal ideas & depression & the majority were on psychotropic drugs. Over half the shooters exhibited interest in violent  video games & other media. Most attackers had easy access to weapons & knew how to use them.

They were 100% male, including elementary-age boys. Over three-quarters of the attackers were whites who felt bullied & persecuted & who had difficulty coping with failure. Black, Latino, & Native American kids manage a hefty share of indignities but they do not comprise the majority of young boys snapping & shooting down students, teachers, & staff. Bullying combined with privilege may be a deadly cocktail.

In one disturbing finding, many of the attackers made their plans known to others prior to the shootings but rarely did those informed take preventive action. In one instance, several students gathered at a mezzanine over the site of the planned assault to observe it, including one who brought a camera to film it.

School shootings have taken place in several countries although the US is the worst in all types of mass shootings. If you review school incidents going back through the 1800s, with only one exception of a mass shooting in Michigan, they were mostly single shootings of a teacher by a spurned suitor, or conflicts like being fired as a teacher, or grudges for slights against a family member. And that remained true until 1966, when an ex-Marine at the University of Texas-Austin went on a shooting rampage killing 16 people & injuring 31 others.

Statistics differ on the number of deaths from school shootings but even the smallest of them is staggering. According to the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, from Sept. 1986 to Sept. 1990 in the US, at least 71 people were killed in school shootings, 201 were severely wounded, & 242 were held hostage at gunpoint. According to the National School Safety Center (& most media reports attempting to assuage fear about going to school), there is a significant decrease in homicides from school shootings since the late 1990s (44 deaths in 1992 & 25 in 1999). But from 1992 to 2000, there were 276 deaths from school shootings. Not a comforting figure since this is when many of the multiple victim incidents occurred. From 2000 to today, 95 people have died, including the children & staff at Newtown, Connecticut.

According to the Department of Education, 3,658 elementary, middle, & high school students were expelled for bringing firearms to school in 1997. Now they’re reporting that is down (no reliable figure is available) & that the majority are expelled for brandishing fake guns. Right wing commentators have called for armed classrooms, which Israel & Thailand (neither a model of civil liberties) have, which means allowing teachers with firearm permits to carry weapons in the classroom. One Texas school district already allows this & there have been state supreme court rulings in several US states overturning school bans on carrying concealed weapons on college campuses. Forty-nine states have laws allowing concealed weapons & Illinois, the last hold-out is slated to change that next year.

One doesn’t have to be a proponent of gun control to see that something is terribly wrong in this society. Could it be that a government that promotes ‘might is right’, occupies countries with massive arsenals & armies indoctrinated with racial hatred,  rains down bombs by remote control on innocent civilians in several countries, allows assassination & the use of torture by its agents, & attacks peaceful protestors with tear gas & truncheons--is producing children made in its own image?

In that regard, it should be remembered that three of the worst incidents of mass school shootings were perpetrated by police agents: in 1968, police fired into a civil rights protest of 200 activists at South Carolina State University, killing 3 young men & injuring 27 others;  in May 1970, police opened fire on an antiwar protest at Jackson State campus, killing 2 students & wounding 12 others (a local grand jury found the attack justified); in May 1970, National Guardsmen shot 67 rounds in 13 seconds at antiwar protestors at Kent State campus, killing 4 and wounding 9 others.  (Photo from the Newtown Bee via Yahoo)

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