America is still mourning and reeling from Friday’s school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, that left eight students and two teachers dead and 13 others injured. You may be even more stunned to learn that even in Texas, the shooter can’t receive the death penalty because he’s not yet 18. And thanks to a controversial 2012 Supreme Court decision that juveniles can’t be given life in prison, the mass murderer might someday be eligible for parole. That decision was based on psychologists’ claims that people 17 and younger don’t have the cognitive development to tell right from wrong. I'm sure that comes as news to many of us, who were aware from the time we were in kindergarten that murdering our classmates was wrong.
Police are still trying to understand the motivation for this heinous crime, but no matter what alleged reasons they come up with, it will never be fully explained because there can never be any sort of rational explanation for such an inexplicable act. But that isn’t stopping people from theorizing about why we are seeing so many such attacks when just 20 years ago, guns were easier to purchase, bullying was less vigilantly policed, but school shootings were virtually unheard of.
Oliver North made one such suggestion that is highly speculative but might be worth thinking about. He suggests that drugs might have something to do with it. Not illegal drugs, but prescription drugs such as Ritalin that are handed out like M&Ms to boys to make them stop acting like boys. He notes that nearly all the attackers are male, that many young males have been on Ritalin since kindergarten, and there aren’t enough studies to tell us what longterm effects that might have on the brain.
Of course, that’s purely conjecture, and maybe has nothing to do with this. But despite the shaky grounds for the theory, it wouldn’t hurt to have a society-wide discussion about the wisdom of drugging our kids, as well as whether normal boyhood behavior such as being aggressive, fidgety and rambunctious is really a mental condition. It’s long past time to question the ludicrous notion that masculinity is a toxic disease calling for drastic pharmaceutical treatment.
Meanwhile, David French in the National Review points up another possible explanation for the rise in school shootings, and it’s even more disturbing because it makes sense and trying to reverse it would be like trying to unscramble an egg. It’s a theory put forth by Malcolm Gladwell (a New Yorker writer, not an NRA conservative), based on studies by a Stanford sociologist. The theory is that school shootings aren’t isolated incidents, they are a riot happening in slow motion, sparked by the 1999 Columbine High School attack.
The argument is that riots are a social process in which more and more people do things they wouldn’t normally do. For instance, most people have too high a threshold of morality ever to throw a brick through a store window and steal something. But if one person does it first, then a couple more may join in. Those with slightly higher moral thresholds will resist until they see three or four people doing it, then they’ll join in. And on and on, up until the last holdout with the highest scruples sees everyone else smashing and stealing and thinks, “What the heck, why not grab something for myself?” Then you have full-blown chaos.
Gladwell argues that the Columbine shooters set off this slow-moving riot by laying down the “cultural script” for school shootings, complete with trench coats, pipe bombs, a manifesto and a website. Gladwell points out that virtually all the school shootings that occurred or were thwarted over the following eight years were inspired by Columbine. Even the Santa Fe shooter reportedly wore a trench coat, posted threatening images online and built pipe bombs, like the Columbine shooters.
To put it plainly, once the Columbine shooters did the unthinkable, it was no longer unthinkable. They lowered the threshold for what was unthinkable. The idea of shooting up your school was now out there in society, standing as a real option for achieving revenge and fame.
That’s why I don’t give the names of these shooters: I refuse to accord them the notoriety they dream of. That may be a small personal protest, but if every major media outlet joined me, maybe at least one potential killer would be swayed by knowing that he would never be famous, only shot or jailed. Please note I hope everyone would agree to that policy voluntarily. But if someone did argue for banning the reporting of shooters’ names by law, it would be hard for the press to protest. “If it stops even one shooting, it would be worth it” is the same argument liberal media outlets make to gun owners for revoking the Second Amendment, so shouldn’t they be willing to give up just a tiny fraction of their First Amendment rights for the same reason?
But that would be an easy out and not really address the bigger issue. You can’t stop these shootings by taking guns away from law-abiding citizens, any more than you can stop a riot by taking bricks away from bricklayers. This is not a hardware over-supply problem, it’s a sickness of the soul.
Our society has spent decades lowering the threshold for what is morally acceptable. Our children now grow up surrounded by celebrations of immorality and amorality, and the mocking and banning of traditional moral principles and their sources, especially the Bible. If we ever hope to stop this bloody, slow-motion riot, it won’t happen by banning bricks. It will happen when we start teaching our kids from the cradle that such disregard for the sanctity of life is absolutely unacceptable…and we start setting that example ourselves.
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