Anger is not a diagnosable mental illness, but anger and hate often lead to violence and murder, even in schools. We also need to recognize that school shootings cause psychological harm, even to children who are not themselves shot or killed.
Therefore, we must ask could the sale of guns, especially assault weapons, be restricted under our constitution and laws to make our schools safe for students and teachers?
Are Children Safe in Schools?
Let’s turn to a professional consultant on public safety. Kevin R. Brock, former assistant director of intelligence for the FBI and director of the National Counterterrorism Center, answers the question by stating,
“No child in our schools today is completely safe from being shot and killed while in the classroom. If that is an unacceptable risk to you as a parent, you should not be sending your children into these unsafe environments.”
You might at first think Kevin Brock is exaggerating the danger. Yet, as Brock goes on to explain more than 300,000 children have been subjected to gun violence in schools. He also states that there have been 185 deaths from gun violence in schools. Uvalde was the 24th act of gun violence in a K-12 school this year. Notice that he is only quoting statistics from gun violence in schools, not the streets, not the neighborhood—just schools.
Yes, schools have become very, very dangerous places indeed, and, no, at present it is not physically safe for children to go to school. Even more, however, the psychological harms of school shootings spread far beyond classrooms full of dead bodies.
Does Gun Violence Cause Psychological Harm?
I’ll just give one example for now. We’ll talk more about fear and the psychological harm that fear causes in Part 2.
For now, I turn to Nicole Hockley, mother of Dylan, a first grader who was killed at Sandy Hook, and Jake (at the time a third grader at the same school). She writes to say she asked Jake (who is now 17) how he was feeling after he heard about the Uvalde massacre. Jake’s response was, “I just felt numb.”
She goes on to explain,
“I realized this is all my son has ever known. Almost 10 years ago, he hid in his third-grade classroom, listening to what he thought were metal chairs crashing into each other over the school’s messaging system. What he was hearing was 154 bullets being fired from an AR-15, killing 20 first-graders and six educators. What he heard was his little brother, Dylan, being murdered.
“In the 10 years since Jake hid in his classroom, 948 school shootings have occurred, taking the lives of and wounding more than 35,000 children and teens, according to Gun Violence Archive. In the first five months of this year, we have had 233 mass shootings in the U.S., and 27 shootings in schools. This is the trauma that is shaping the psyche of this generation.
“When not hearing about school shootings in the news, these are the kids that are practicing for them multiple times a year in active shooter drills. I remember two years ago, after the shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., seeing a young student on the news saying she wondered when her school would be next.
“This is what too many youth believe – that school shootings and gun violence are an inevitable part of their lives.”1
What Should We Do about the Unsafe Conditions in Our Schools?
As a parent whose child died at the Sandy Hook massacre stated,
“… escalating gun violence will not stop if we don’t address easy, unrestricted access to firearms. It’s not about taking away Constitutional rights – it’s about sensible regulations that protect our collective right to life.”
This parent raises an important point: Do children sitting in the classroom have a right to live?
Before you answer, remember that we have been bombarded lately by pro-life supporters claiming that we are ignoring the rights of the unborn fetus. No, I do not plan to dive into a discussion on abortion, except to mention that the same people and politicians who vocally profess to be pro-life are also staunch supporters of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and assault rifles. Politicians were actually dancing and partying at the NRA convention while families were mourning the death of children in Uvalde. Obviously, the NRA and their politicians did not care that children had died.
How can you be pro-life and stand by pretending to care while children are being murdered? No, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot be pro-life and pro-murder at the same time.
Children have rights, too. Children have the right to live and go to a safe school where they can learn without sitting in fear that someone will come charging through the door and kill them.
Shouldn’t a Living, Breathing Child Have Just as Much of a Right to Live as an Unborn Fetus?
Yes, I know, I can hear the screaming all the way from here—It’s a mental health issue. That’s the first thing Governor Abbott said, but let’s not take the word of a politician who is scrambling to win an election. Again, let’s talk to an expert.
Dr. Lori Post, Ph.D., director of the Buehler Center for Health Policy and Economics at the Northwestern University School of Medicine, explains very clearly why the mental health claim falls short.
“There is no evidence the shooter is mentally ill, just angry and hateful. While it is understandable that most people cannot fathom slaughtering small children and want to attribute it to mental health, it is very rare for a mass shooter to have a diagnosed mental health condition.”
So, no matter how much Governor Abbott and Senator Cruz would like to shift the blame away from assault rifles, there is absolutely no proof that a diagnosable mental illness caused the massacre at Uvalde.
Is Gun Violence Caused by Mental Health Disease?
To solve a problem, we must find out what causes it. Many people think that better mental health care will prevent school shootings. As a psychologist, I strongly support better mental health care. Yes, we need funding for professional mental health services in the schools. Mental health, however, is not the main cause of school shootings.
Don’t get me wrong: anger and hate are problems in our society today. Anger and hate are real, and they are dangerous, but they are not a diagnosable mental illness. Can anger and hate lead to mental illness?
Anger and hate could possibly lead to a diagnosable mental disease, but they are much more likely to lead one to violence as demonstrated by the prevalence of gun violence in our country.
Anger is an emotion. Uncontrolled anger leads to outbursts and violence.
As Lauren Simonds, from the National Alliance of Mental Illness, explains very clearly,
“Violence is not a product of mental illness…. Violence is a product of untreated anger. The contribution of mental illness to overall gun violence in the United States is smaller than two percent…. Mental illness is a significant underlying cause of suicide. But mental illness is not an underlying cause of community violence.”
I’m sorry politicians, you will need to find another scapegoat. While I believe that we desperately need to provide funding for professional mental health services and I hope that we do, blaming mass murder in schools with assault rifles on mental illness will not work. If mental health is not the problem, could it be that weapons are the problem?
Are Assault Rifles the Problem?
Yes, plain and simple, one of the problems is large-magazine assault rifles. We must remove them from civilian use. We must also realize that mass shootings in schools are being caused primarily by a particular age group.
The majority of mass shootings in schools are by young men 21 years or younger. As Nathaniel J. Glasser, pediatrician and health services researcher, and Harold Pollack, professor at Crown Family School of Social Work at the University of Chicago explained,
“… most firearm violence and gun homicides are committed by relatively young people, with homicide risk peaking between the ages of 18 and 24. This is conspicuously true of accused, convicted or slain mass shooters: Salvador Ramos (18) in Uvalde; Payton Gendron (18) charged in Buffalo; Nikolas Cruz (19) in Parkland, Fla.; Adam Lanza (20) in Newtown, Conn.; Dylann Roof (21) in Charleston, S.C.; Robert Aaron Long (21) in Atlanta; Elliot Rodger (22) in Isla Vista, Calif.”
The exception of course was Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris at Columbine. They had not turned 18 yet, but the friend who purchased the weapons for them was 18 years old.
Age and gender are major factors in the mass murders that are occurring in our schools.
Some researchers who study mass violence in schools are pointing to the fact that the “decision-making” portion of the brain does not fully develop until age 24. This decision-making area in the brain also controls impulse, judgment, and the ability to think through decisions and make long-term plans.
Still other experts believe that the mass shootings in schools are intertwined in male identify and adolescent behavior. This can extend all the way into the early twenties. Experts remind us that many firearm advertisements link firearm violence to masculinity.
As Glasser and Pollack explain,
“In 2012, shortly before Adam Lanza used a Bushmaster XM-15 semiautomatic rifle to kill 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the firearm appeared in a series of advertisements that enticed prospective buyers to reclaim their “man card” by purchasing the weapon.”
Yes, some people will do anything to sell a gun.
Plain and simple, assault rifles should be banned from our streets and sent back to soldiers fighting wars. Young people should not be allowed to buy any guns.
Yes, I know that you are going to say that these young people have rights. The students who were murdered at Uvalde, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Parkland, Santa Fe … and the list goes on… also had rights. Yes, each of the students who were killed had rights as well. Unfortunately, their right to live and grow up was taken away by non-existent gun laws and uncaring politicians who will not pass restrictions on guns.
Why is one young person’s right or freedom to own a gun more important than another young person’s right to live?
Can We Legally Restrict Guns?
Naturally, when you talk about restricting guns, people begin to chant about the 2nd Amendment, but does the 2nd Amendment actually give young men or anyone the right to own an assault rifle? I want to turn to two individuals who talked about this very question.
First, Kennan E. Kaeder, a trial lawyer, who wrote an article entitled: Do you have the right to a gun? Yes. A constitutional right? No. I hope you read this insightful article. I’ll just quote one passage:
“… no right is unlimited. That there is a limitation of our rights is fundamental to being civilized. So, for instance, the Supreme Court long ago held that your right to self-expression stops at the tip of the other guy’s nose. You have the right to own a car, but you don’t have the right to drive it at 100 mph through Downtown San Diego.
“You do have the right to own a gun, but you shouldn’t have one that can kill dozens so quickly. Just like the state can require you to have a license to drive a car by being a certain age and demonstrating competence with driving skills and regard for public safety, so, too, the state can place reasonable limits on property ownership, such as guns. There is no legitimate purpose to own a semi-automatic rifle, any more than you should be able to own a ballistic missile. And that’s all there really is to it. You can own a gun, as many as you like, but the type can be limited for the safety of others. Mass shootings could so easily be made a thing of the past.”
It's ridiculous to think we cannot restrict gun ownership, especially assault rifles. Listen to another well written comment on guns by Gary Cosby, Jr.:
“… the Second Amendment does not provide the completely unrestricted right to keep and bear arms. There is the mostly ignored phrase that begins the amendment, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State ….
“In the late 1700s, folks used muskets that fired a single ball, which had to be manually recharged with powder, wadding and shot before the gun could be fired again….
“The volunteers who made up George Washington’s army were farmers and shop-keepers and everyday people who were expected to come to the defense of their nation should the need arise.
“They had to have firearms to do that. Had the framers of the Constitution ever considered that the Second Amendment would be used to enable mass murderers, they would have never written it in such an open-ended manner. No rational person would have done so.
“… [the framers of the Constitution never] could have imagined a day when a gun rights lobby would buy off congressmen and congresswomen who, for fear of losing an office, would do everything possible to gloss over the violence, taking what amounts to blood money to maintain the status quo.
“There is a literal mandate within the Second Amendment itself that gun ownership would be a protected right within the scope of a well-regulated militia. There is no guarantee of gun ownership apart from such a condition. Congress has both a moral and a constitutional mandate to come up with reasonable laws and regulations to put the brakes on the accelerating violence because turning a blind eye to the situation is clearly costing lives.”
I chose to share both of these statements because they speak very directly to one of the primary problems that we have with guns. People on the streets and our elected politicians, even judges and the supreme court are interpreting the 2nd Amendment to meet the dictates of the NRA and its large financial campaign contributions rather than actually looking at what the 2nd Amendment says.
For clarification on the actual wording of the 2nd Amendment, read Bill's: Harpine's Thoughts about Public Speaking: Why Does the Second Amendment's Ambiguous Wording Cause So Much Confusion?
It’s time for a change. We must stop gun violence. Every time you stop at a stop sign, you are adhering to an infringement on your freedom to do as you very well please. We accept such infringements on our freedom to choose in order to maintain order and safety on the road. It's time that we do the same for guns. No one has the constitutional right to go out and kill children or anyone. The only way it will stop is when we start passing laws to make it stop.
For more on the 2nd Amendment, read Bill's: Harpine's Thoughts about Public Speaking: The Second Amendment's Creative Ambiguity
It is time for us to stop killing children pretending that we are protecting 2nd Amendment rights or someone’s freedom to purchase and own a gun. Wrong. What we are doing is condoning the mass murder of children. Politicians who refuse to enact gun control laws are supporting the continuation of the mass murder of children. It has to stop. Now.
Children have the right to live. Be “pro-life” for the children sitting in the classroom. Let them live. Let them grow up. Let them have a chance.