“Mr. Fox is in the building…” It’s a code one of my previous schools used for lockdowns. Looking back, it wasn’t the most discrete code, but all of the students knew what it meant. We had a real lockdown at one of my schools and I don’t really remember it being scary. There had been a situation blocks away with someone in a hotel. They’d kept us afterschool though, and I remember parents everyone, showing up and wondering where the heck their kids were.
It’s really different to be a staff member during lockdowns now, rather than a student. I’m the one making sure the door is locked and the blinds closed. I’m the last one to the designated spot.
A week ago today was the Parkland shooting in Florida. It was the biggest school shooting since Sandy Hook. Since then, the media has predictably and figuratively exploded. Everyone is talking about it. There’s at least one conversation about it each day at work, and more at home. Since yesterday alone, there have been 2 districts within 100 miles that have reported threats. At least 1 additional district had a lockdown today that was reportedly not a drill. Police presence on campuses has increased. More doors have been locked. Name tags are required of staff. Students are watching their words and asking what they should do if they see a threat on social media. Class debates on gun control are a daily staple. Classes are never left unsupervised. And some students are certainly being handled as fragile. Less conversations happen around them and everyone is more wary.
Blame is thrown every which way. Of course, with my background in Sociology and having taken criminology, terrorism, and specifically studied school shootings, a lot of staff and students come to ask me questions. “What’s different with this one?” “Do they know the motive?” “Where?” “How old was the shooter?” Having kept up on the news articles and other reports, I’m usually able to give answers to a lot of these questions, particularly what’s different. I’ve spent the time analyzing statistics on the topic. I’ve ran the tests myself to look for significance and understand what the common shooter, and the shooting “looks like.”
What I struggle with is the speculation and redundancy of “solutions” and blame. I wish I had a word analysis of frequent use in articles, media, speech and news following instances such as this. If we did, I think a lot of the common words (besides the obvious shooting, shooter, school, etc.) would include: Gun control, violence, video games, motive, here, my kid(s), they should be in trouble too, why didn’t they…, what if, why, liberals, conservatives, republicans, Columbine and (insert whomever is currently President or FBI director here).
A lot of times, I keep my mouth shut tight while these conversations go on. I know that if I get involved, I will get frustrated and have difficulty explaining in simple Facebook-layman’s terms the statistics and other things I have studied. I also like to take the time for the event to cool down so that I can formulate my thoughts, hence the reason this post hasn’t come out sooner, even with a previous shooting. Additionally, I always find it incredibly useful for controversial situations to focus on supporting the argument opposite my opinion. This allows me to see the strengths and weaknesses of both sides and gain understanding of where everyone else is coming from. Altogether, I feel I’m able to come up with some decent arguments for either side that I like to use to counter conversations with. Let it be known that each of the articles I will cite in this post will be scholarly peer-reviewed articles with actual studies unless otherwise stated.
For the argument of “video games cause/bring/encourage violence” (one of my favorites to counter) I’d like to bring to the table the article, Video Games and Youth Violence: A Prospective Analysis in Adolescents by Christopher J. Ferguson (2011) which findings conclude that both violent video games and television are insignificant in comparison with crime (not just shootings, but all violent crime among teens). The sample size for this article was 300 youth. Not enough for you? Here’s another: Violent video game effects on aggression, empathy, and prosocial behavior in Eastern and Western countries: A meta-analytic review. by Craig A. Anderson (et. al). This study additionally found very limited correlation. The samples that did have a correspondence were few and far between. There was no differentiation between males and females, which I would say is another big part of this argument, that males are more subject to video games to lead to violence than females. This study says differently. There are countless other articles studying the same thing with different samples and different focuses that have resulted in very similar findings. So tell me again how video games and/or television is the cause of violence? And why is your personal experience better than a study of hundreds of randomly selected teens? Oh, I didn’t realize it was you yourself that feels more violent when you play video games…carry on then….
For the argument of “it’s this idiot generation that spends their time eating tide pods. It was different in my day.” With this idea, I’m not going to go out and say that kids are smart, however I am going to say that you probably weren’t much smarter in your day. One thing I will agree is different: stress and the way mental health is handled. I’m not going to focus on that a ton right now, but I personally believe that stress levels have changed. Students, particularly teens have an immense amount of school work and pressure placed upon them. It’s often said that Generation Z (current elementary-high school students) are the ribbon generation, where everyone gets something for their participation. That had to come to be somehow, and who is it that is giving those ribbons? Who is pushing their children to win and putting that pressure on? Blue participant ribbons aren’t enough for many people, and we push student to do more. They are drowning in life and in school work and in the mere controversy on every topic surrounding them every day. This is not to say that this all hasn’t existed previously, however it is amplified by ever present social media and communication. With this argument, I hear a lot of “kids brought guns to school when I was a kid and no one did anything then.” My article to help with this point is not a scholarly approved, however I believe the purpose will be served the same with a mere Wikipedia article, focusing in on the dates of school shootings. The first one listed is in the year 1764. Take a moment to think about that. The United States was founded in 1776. Over a decade earlier IN WHAT BECAME THE UNITED STATES, there was a school shooting. 10 people died (more than just guns were used). Jumping ahead past several instances, into 1900-1910 there are 17 schools shootings. In a single decade. This continues on. There are 479 reported shootings listed on this page. There were shootings when you were in school, no matter your age. You may not have heard of them, but during this time, news was very local or very world based. It was not until the 1980’s into the 1990’s where broadcasting became more available and constant. 1980 was the year of the first 24 hour news broadcast and at that point, it was boring. This is why media began spinning stories. They were bored. Their viewers were bored. They wanted money. Now we have constant news from hundreds of sources. You are certain to know within hours, if not minutes of an event’s happening. This has it’s pros and cons, but again, that’s another post.
Moving onto our beloved topic of gun control. It is really difficult to take something away from people that already have it, particularly when that something is a given freedom. But let’s play with that idea. Take away guns. What happens next? Suddenly there is no way to hurt people? I always like to tie this idea into motive. Motive is never a clear idea because there are so many factors that influence everything we do. However one thing is common, and that is that events like this take place to create chaos, pain and confusion. Attacks work because they do that. The media, again, helps in this by spinning stories and spouting off even more things. If you take away guns, violence and attacks do not go away. In an article by James Alan Fox and Monica J. DeLateur in 2013 titled Mass Shootings in America, analysis found that enforcing more gun control would have limited results in prevention of mass murder. There have been a number of situations, including terrorism situations in recent years where guns were not needed to create chaos. Other weapons like knives, can create this same chaos. Sure, there aren’t as many deaths, but this still induces fear. Another common one is driving vehicles into things. For this reason, most government buildings have really large flower pots outside them, and it’s not for decoration. Those are blockades to protect. This problem will not go away with guns being taken away. If this situation were to play out and cause guns to become illegal, the underground sales would initially skyrocket and likely level off later on. In addition to that, grandparent laws would prevent current gun owners from losing their guns. That’s the same thing that keeps people in prison even if a law is altered in a way that would have made their crime legal or less of a punishment. So then we decide not to take away guns. Then what happens? Nothing really changes….unless, there is another solution. But what is it?
This brings me to motive, my least favorite question to be asked when incidents occur. Every single time though, someone inquires, “Do they know/have the motive?” No is the answer. It’s always the answer. Even if there was a note from the attacker, deliberately laying out the motive, there will still be questions. You are asking to know the cause of the effect when it is much more complicated. Why do you do anything that you do? It’s a complicated collaboration of influences from a variety of sources, values, beliefs, peers, learned and observed behavior, and so, so much more. No one and nothing is without influence, both conscious and subconscious. You may not even know what is motivating you to do whatever it is you do. This is where I like to turn my attention away from the media and away from the attacker. I like to look at those in the community/area/school. A student may commit an act of violence like this, but why, did the other kids in their class not act in the same way. Sometimes in order to best understand why a behavior happens in some, you have to look at why it doesn’t happen in others. What is causing these other kids to not act out violently? Is it their beliefs? Their friends? Love? Family? Goals? What is it? I don’t think that there is a clear answer to this question either. There is no one answer and as far as I know, it hasn’t been studied in depth (likely due to sensitivity around students within the premise of what the study would include). What is it that motivates people to act in accordance with the boundaries of comfortable society and maybe more importantly, should they?
I don’t have all the answers; I don’t even have most of them. I can’t say what the solution is to stop things like this. Perhaps there’s an underlying problem/theme altogether that we are missing; something that is broken and has to be fixed. I can say that I don’t think situations like this will decrease. With each one, it triggers another set of discussions and situations. Sometimes the tipping point for one person is for another to act. I don’t enjoy watching all of this unfold in the world, but it is our reality and we have to learn to either accept or change that.
Be sweet, parakeet.