Addressing school shootings

Three things that need to be done to put an end to the violence

“I thought/felt seriously about the Parkland shooting for about an hour or so. Then I checked basketball scores and then went on with life. I too am a part of the problem,” read the Facebook status of a friend of mine, the day after 17 people were killed and another 14 hospitalized at Stoneman Douglas High School with a legally purchased AR-15 assault rifle, one of the deadliest school shootings to date.

My friend’s reaction to the incident is hardly surprising given the frequency of mass shootings. They have been incorporated into everyday news like the weather or stock market fluctuations. It is hard to keep up with them, let alone maintain a level of outrage and put pressure on representatives to push for government intervention.

Several things can be done to curb school shootings, and the first is properly labeling them as terrorism.

The proliferation of social media; the senseless arguing in comment sections; the validation sought by posting selfies; and the commodification of the “like” or “retweet”  all contributes to a desensitization.

— Shane Ostram

Through terror tactics, schools are transformed into danger zones where anything can happen anytime. That is how terrorism works: it targets a larger population — such as students — with a crippling fear that something deadly can happen to them at random. The victims of Stoneman Douglas serve as examples of this.

However, for some reason, the media does not report these shootings as terrorism. This is likely because of the strong association between terrorism and middle-eastern countries, especially after former President George W. Bush declared war on terrorism in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, suggesting terrorism is something that can only come from the east.

But this reservation of the terrorist label makes domestic gun violence appear less of an issue and allows the entire American population to remain in an ignorant state: ignorant to the fact that there were over 30 times the number of homicide victims to firearms compared to terrorist attacks in America between 2001 and 2014, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Global Terrorism Database.

This demonstrates how labels can frame how events are interpreted and portray what is seen as more alarming or dangerous. With the media downplaying the circumstances of the acts of violence, instead of following other countries that responded to mass shootings, usually with gun control laws, people in America argue about what the Second Amendment means.

Some have gone so far as argue for arming teachers so they can intervene in school shootings, which some cities are already considering. Footage released from the Parkland shooting showed the armed school officer standing outside of the building and not attempting to intervene in Cruz’s killing spree. The officer resigned shortly after. If this incident tells us anything, it is that guns don’t always fight off terrorism.

Perhaps the biggest puzzle to Americans everywhere is what drives these acts of violence. As a culture, we’re at least aware of the long-standing complexities behind Islamic terrorism, and we expect it even if we condemn it.

But domestic terrorism is something no one confronts head on. President Trump and others have suggested that it is a mental health issue and incidents could be stopped with better mental health institutions. This is likely correct.

These shooters have often simply gone unheard for too long. Perhaps they’re outcasts at school, at home and on the on the internet as well.  Maybe what pushes them over the edge is an awareness of how they are put on the edge of society by everyone before they eventually snap. If they are bullied, they will be defensive and if they are dismissed as “weird” they will be lonely; but what if these people know that they are “weird,” lonely, or even sociopath, and are simply ignored because they are that way?

If parents, friends, teachers, police and government institutions all just look the other way when someone needs to be heard, is it very surprising that some would get that attention using any means necessary? It happens time and time again: suicidal gunmen that leave nothing but fear, bodies, and a manifesto of the things that the world needed to listen to sooner. We can call these horrid massacres inhumane, but how inhumane is it to want to die a martyr when all other options are off the table?

The Parkland shooting was a distinct school shooting on account of the brave students that survived the massacre and campaigned on social media demanding change. Their powerful arguments were accompanied by brutally real, hard-to-watch footage that was captured on a cell phone during the shooting.

Putting all arguments about guns, mental health, and terrorism aside, the final point I would like to address is something more bleak: specifically, why did it take live footage of a massacre of high school students to strike a chord in some of the politicians, lobbyists and citizens? Have we become so desensitized to violence that we had to watch  young adults get murdered to know it was actually happening? Yes.

The proliferation of social media; the senseless arguing in comment sections; the validation sought by posting selfies; and the commodification of the “like” or “retweet”  all contributes to a desensitization. Social media can satisfy our needs for human engagement and expression without really engaging anyone, and because the content is made to compete for your attention, everything is sensationalized, including news media that rely on dramatics to pique interests, keep up ratings, and make money.

So when the public hears of another school shooting, it emphasizes the ways in which the event is “abnormal” to our expectations, and this abnormality translates into meaning. Whether something in the media is sickening, funny, or just celebrity gossip, the media reports the circumstances as a “larger than life” anomaly, making it difficult to actually sympathize with the real-world events taking place.

So where do we go from here? First, I believe we need to confront the fact that there are larger underlying cultural factors that contribute to how we register school shootings. Simply by altering the ways in which we discuss the matter and confront it as the terrorism it is, we can change our understanding of it to something more visible to all Americans, regardless of political alignment.

And fake news aside, the media’s reliance on sensationalism and ratings is hurting our species by making them approach news as entertainment, which works to normalize these shootings in society. And finally, we could attempt to understand mental health as a complicated predecessor to violent acts, not as an excuse or cause.