School shootings are preventable

Editorial Board

As the debate rages on about school safety since the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, there is one thing everybody seems to agree on: schools are not as safe as they should be.

While some argue that gun control might be one way to prevent such a horror from happening again, others say there are effective ways to keep schools safe without impeding people’s constitutional rights.

Many school mass shootings were performed by young men, either current or former students. Doctors believe the part of the brain that deals with impulse control is not fully developed in the young.

Some factors that might induce violence in a person include mental illness such as depression, serious behavioral disorders and schizophrenia. These are often compounded by dysfunctional or broken family situations. Adding access to dangerous weapons such as semiautomatic guns could be a triggering factor.

None of these known factors, however, make it easy to predict or prevent shootings. Many school shooters have shown signs of mental instability, behavior problems or intentions to harm others on social media. Too often, adults just believe that they are “troubled” and ignore the problem.

Nikolas Cruz, the 19 year old who attacked Stoneman Douglas, claimed on social media that he would be a “professional school shooter”, but very little reporting of his posts came to the FBI. Clearly, people on social media need to treat these threats seriously.

An eerily similar situation occurred in Kingsport. A former Dobyns-Bennet High School student sent text messages to his ex-girlfriend that he had a desire to kill his family and planned to shoot up his former school. His ex-girlfriend immediately reported his texts to the police and he was promptly arrested and a mental health evaluation was ordered.

The importance of reporting someone who seems to want to cause violence cannot be overstated; at the very least, these claims could be a cry for help. Reporting these threats could save lives.

On the other hand, many people never act on their threats, and the vast majority of the mentally ill do not go around murdering people. This is where mental health evaluations and restricting some freedoms become fair game.

Recent surveys show that the majority of gun owners support extended background checks and limiting gun ownership to those over 21. People do not want guns getting in the hands of people who might harm others.

Still, a loophole in Florida’s new age restriction on guns is that this only applies to sales by gun stores; privately, guns can be sold to people under the age of 21, making the law inefficient.

Another hotly debated point is mental health care. There is a huge shortage of beds available for in-patient care for the mentally ill. This severely affects mental health evaluations, even when there is an imminent threat. Patient confidentiality rules also often prevent mental health professionals from revealing their concerns about someone to law enforcement agencies.

In order to prevent school shootings, many schools now have school resource officers, who are armed, trained professionals and know exactly what to do in such a situation. Recently, at least two school shooters have been either apprehended or shot to death by armed security personnel. Many schools now have locks that only open with a keycard or fingerprint and also very strict sign-in and sign-out procedures. All these can act as a deterrent to a shooter.

Almost all schools teach children what to do in such situations through intruder drills, so they can distinguish between a fire, when they need to evacuate, and an intruder, when they need to lock down.

While these measures will not prevent all loss of lives, they can prevent a lot of death. In Tennessee, legislators hope to create a volunteer position for police officers to act as a second resource officer to discourage would-be shooters. This legislation is temporary; if passed, it would expire in 2022.

Another point in the fight for a solution to the problem of school shootings is governmental efficiency. Although the FBI has stopped many threats, even a few falling through the cracks can be devastating. This means that government agencies, including the FBI, need to spend more time screening social media and treat every threat seriously.

In the end, however, it all comes back to gun control. While US citizens have a right to bear arms, the government has a responsibility to ensure their safety and protect the lives of all citizens. Achieving school safety without trampling on constitutional rights should be the goal of government. This is a difficult balancing act.

School shootings are horrific acts, and unfortunately, they have become part of American history. The time has come to end inaction, learn from the past and take the best course of action that protects lives of children.

That might mean impeding some freedoms. Dedicated school resource officers, excellent mental health care, reporting all threats, and some limits on gun ownership may be enough to radically reduce school shootings.

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