Watching the news yesterday, I was horrified to learn that at Chardon High School in Ohio there had been a school shooting that morning and, in addition to numerous wounded, the life of 16-year-old student Daniel Parmertor had been stolen. Today the news reported that tragically a second casualty, 17-year-old Russell King Jr, had been added to that total.
According to reports, a young man entered Chardon High School at 7:30am on Monday morning and minutes later the shooting started in the cafeteria. The first 911 call relating to the attack was made at 7:38am, with the police responding immediately. At 7:57am the official lockdown of Chardon began, and at 8:12am police captured the suspect a short distance away from the school, en route to his vehicle.
We later learn that in the aftermath two teachers played key roles: assistant football coach Frank Hall charged at the suspect and chased him as he fled the building, while math teacher Joe Ricci pulled an injured victim into his classroom and administered first aid until medics arrived.
We were relieved to learn that the suspect had been apprehended and taken into custody shortly afterwards, and although due to his being a juvenile the police could not publicly identify him, the family of 17-year-old TJ Lane, the sophomore being held as the suspect, revealed his name as part of a statement released through their lawyer.
What amazes me is that to the rest of the world, gun attacks at schools have become synonymous with America and American gun culture. From the University of Texas Massacre at Austin, Texas on August 1st 1966 to the horrible attack at Chardon High School yesterday, there have been a total of approximately 116 school shootings at American schools, claiming around 230 lives. That is an awful statistic with the lives of so many promising young people snuffed out.
I’m genuinely curious as to why so many of these attacks happen in America, a country where the right to bear arms is written into the constitutional rights of every American and those rights vigorously defended. However, just because a country allows its citizens to own guns and also makes it relatively easy to obtain a gun, doesn’t necessarily give an answer as to why so many gun attacks happen in American schools.
Each time a tragedy of this type hits the news, any number of specialists are wheeled out to make a TV appearances giving their opinion on exactly why the perpetrator(s) did what they did; however the US Secret Service advised people not to believe that there was a certain ‘type’ of student that would fit the profile of a school shooter, there was no friendless, heavy-metal-loving social pariah stereotype as, across the broad range of young people who carried out these atrocities, while some had divorced parents or came from foster homes, others lived in the idyllic ‘All American Family’; and although some were loners, most of the perpetrators had close friends.
It was also found that for the most part, these children do not snap: they don’t wake up one morning possessed with murderous intent nor do they endure a bullying incident that sends them running home for the gun cabinet; in most cases the attackers formed carefully thought-out plans and stockpiled weapons to support their purpose, and in most cases they publicly revealed their thought process and sometimes even their violent designs, on social forums well in advance, usually over quite an extended period of time.
Two interesting points that not too many people seem to focus on, preferring instead of draw attention to musical taste, clothing choices and amount of friends that the attacker had, is that 1) of all the perpetrators involved in the attacks since 1966, only 2 have been female. In most cases the attackers were young males, and again in most cases they focused their attention on other young males and not their female peers; and 2) most of the perpetrators had been taking anti-depressant drugs, historically documented as causing aggressive and violent behaviour.
In the aftermath of so many school shootings, have there been any major changes in the way the medical industry regulates antidepressant prescription to teenagers? AbleChild, an organisation that works against the labeling and medicating of children, accused the mental health industry of “…[continuing] to downplay the risks of drugs widely prescribed to millions…” and drew attention to the fact that a number of school shooters had been taking antidepressant medication at the time of their crimes, but most parents were unaware of that fact.
So can the violence be blamed on America’s Second Amendment, heavily influenced by the 1689 English Bill of Rights that protected Protestants against being disarmed by the King by stating that “…the subjects which are protestants, may have arms for their defence suitable to their conditions, and as allowed by law,” allowing Americans to own and carry guns?
From a defence perspective, having an armed population is a good thing for national security (with recent events in Iraq we see it’s incredibly hard to occupy and control an armed population of people), however when depressed, deranged or mentally unstable people decide to go loco they don’t go out armed with a full set of kitchen silverware or a fly swatter and have the capacity to do serious, terrifying amounts of damage.
Michael Moore’s 2002 Bowling For Columbine, a slightly biased documentary film focusing on American violence and its approach to gun ownership, querying why there was so much more gun violence in America than in other countries that also allow legal gun ownership. For me, the film raises some good points but doesn’t lead up to a satisfying finale or answer all the questions it raises, leaving you feeling a little worried that Mr Moore may be suffering from extreme dizziness after standing up high for so long on his soapbox. The film conclusion: American violence is self-perpetuating as the USA is violent, which in turn causes violence, which means that its people must be violent to defend themselves, and so on in a horrible catch 22 scenario.
However, the film drew attention to the fact that despite Canada having comparable rates of gun ownership to America, it only has a teeny tiny fraction of the per-capita gun violence, painting a picture of a peaceful, safe Canada with comparatively high gun-ownership to challenge the American media perception that gun ownership = violence, making you think about the part that culture plays in a society’s approach to gun, and a proposed culture of fear and violence prevalent in America, as well as people’s blind spots concerning it.
You could take the stand that guns are the cause of increased violence in America, however you could spin that around as Moore did, and take the stand that Americans themselves are the cause of increased violence that is subsequently blamed on guns by the media.
I think the overall culture of a country has a lot to do with the way that it approaches and handles guns. Coming from Britain, I have no doubt that if the stereotypical football-hooligan element in Europe had legal and easier access to guns then there would be far more gun-related news and attacks being reported, as well as no doubt an increase in gun-related attacks in schools.
Fueled in part by all the high profile school shootings, the USA is undergoing a ferocious internal war as the interpretation of the Second Amendment continues to be debated and updated. Last year the Supreme Court decided that the 2nd Amendment’s “right to keep and bear arms” is all about an American’s right to keep a gun at home, but not the right to bear a loaded firearm in public.
With that adjustment taken into consideration, should we not be also focusing on how those guns are stored at home, and the casual approach that some people have to owning, handling and storing their gun(s), as well as the culture that makes it acceptable for guns to be considered the norm? After each of these tragic shootings the inevitable question that arises is always, “How did these/this kids/child get hold of the gun(s)?” and unfortunately subsequent surveys reveal that most of the teenagers and children who carry guns get them from family and friends.
In 1996 the National Institute of Justice carried out a national survey of males in grades 10 and 11, finding that 52% of those who carried a handgun outside of the home got the gun from family or friends, with an additional 19% having brought the gun from a family or friend. The US Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center carried out a study in 2000 focusing on 37 violent incidents at schools: the results were that the weapons of choice were firearms and, in nearly two thirds of all the attacks, the perpetrators had obtained the gun(s) from either their own family house, a relative or friends house, or in some cases the gun(s) had been a a gift from their parents. Contrary to the misconception that school-attack perpetrators snap and break into their parents gun closet, more than half of the attackers had a history of gun use, with an obvious familiarity with guns.
As the residents of Chardon begin to pick up the pieces after this most recent tragedy, and Ohio takes its place on the list of American school shootings for the fifth time (Wickliffe Middle School in 1994, Case Western Reserve University in 2003, the SuccessTech Academy in 2007 and Ohio State University in 2010), if this is a catch 22 situation and the violent culture of America is self-perpetuating, then America needs to start to assessing how it handles teenage and underage access to guns, how it approaches the dispensing of antidepressant medication to young people, families need more involvement with the goings on of their troubled offspring and the debate as to whether or not the Second Amendment needs another shakedown will no doubt rage on.