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School Shootings: The Symptom or the Disease?

Anna is a pastor, writer, and theologian who obtained her BA in religion in '06, Diploma of Ministry in '16, and Diploma of Divinity in '17.

What are the root causes of gun violence in the US?

What are the root causes of gun violence in the US?

What's the Cause of Gun Violence?

It's been more than 20 years since the Columbine massacre. This means that every single student who is in school today has never known a world where school shootings were not the norm.

How is that affecting the students? How does it affect them as adults?

We can argue about arming teachers, placing retired military personnel in the hallways, having more or fewer guns, and banning video games and rock music, but it seems that all we do is argue. Empty words with no attempt at a solution may make us feel like we’re addressing the problem, but we’ve done enough of that. The time to act was20 years ago.

Before the Columbine massacre, there were a few school shootings. After Columbine, there were many. The violence couldn’t be contained within the schools, however, and it seems as if it bled out into the rest of society. The violence flowed into our movie theaters, churches, concert halls, and nightclubs.

What on Earth is going on with our young men and boys? What drives them to commit, not murder, but mass murder? Easy access to powerful guns is an obvious problem with an obvious solution, but despite overwhelming public support in favor of common sense gun-control, politicians continue to buckle to the lobbyists. That’s just the nature of the beast.

Even if we did ban all guns and prevent criminals from getting guns, we’d be merely putting a band-aid on the problem. Don’t get me wrong—band-aids are useful—but it's better to treat the disease rather than its symptom.

Unfortunately, we can’t seem to agree on the actual causes of the disease. Is it violent video games? Japan has a much bigger gaming culture, but mass shootings there are non-existent. Research has also shown that video games can decrease violent tendencies and help those suffering from PTSD. So what is it—violent music and movies?

A Culture of Violence

The truth is that our culture is saturated in violence. From the time we’re born until we die, we’re bombarded by death and destruction. Most of the violence we’re exposed to is either read about in books, seen on television, heard about in musical lyrics, or watched on movies.

We like our heroes tough, unemotional, and no-nonsense. We want them to get the job done by any means necessary, skirt the law if they must, and kill the bad guy in the end. If a few buildings get blown up along the way, well, all’s the better.

We have a violence problem in America, but we also have a problem with poverty and alienation. Young men who despair for their own future decide to go out in a so-called blaze of glory. They commit suicide by cop or via mass slaughter. Some teenage boys and young men see how cool Vin Diesel looks and conclude that his methods are an option.

And while it would be nice if we glorified problem-solving skills and non-violent solutions over destructive barbarism, the problem is more complex than that. We’ve all seen violent movies, and the overwhelming majority of people don’t commit mass murder.

A Narrow Definition of Violence

A big part of the problem is our narrow view of violence. Obviously, inflicting physical pain on another individual would fall under that umbrella, but what about ignorance and poverty?

Most (not all) instances of domestic abuse occur to people under the poverty line. Stress is a major reason behind that. Young men witness violence inflicted on them or their families and some (not most) grow up with violent tendencies of their own in what’s called an ‘inter-generational chain of violence.’

This is no secret among those who seek to do harm. ISIS targets young men through social media, and it’s not grown men with stable jobs who join, it’s the young and disenfranchised. Interviews with prisoners in the UK and the United States have found similar results; those who joined the IRA in the UK or the white supremacists in the US joined when they were young and lost.

Terrorist organizations know this and specifically target young men and boys who are vulnerable. Programs that help at-risk youth are important, but we need more. As a society we need to remember that we are our brother’s keeper, we should all look out for those who are undergoing difficult times.

School shooters, mass murderers, terrorists, and serial killers all have one thing in common—they’re human beings. If we save them while they’re young, because they’re human and deserve to be saved, then we can prevent future victims. Nicholas Cruz gave out a plethora of obvious warning signs. He even went so far as to identify himself as a ‘‘future school shooter.”

The police had been called to his house on many occasions, fellow students knew that he needed help. His rampage surprised nobody. Common sense gun control is an obvious solution that most people want, but we need more. We need more counseling in place for troubled youth. We need to get them while they can still turn their life around.

After Columbine

Columbine happened my senior year of high school. Before Columbine, we were just kids enjoying the spring weather. We couldn’t wait to graduate and enjoy a future that lay before us.

Even though I didn’t attend that school (indeed, I lived over 1,000 miles away from the carnage), after Columbine, everything changed. We were no longer carefree kids who were worried about failing Algebra II. We were kids who were worried about getting shot.

Rather than look out the window and daydream about springtime and lazing about in the sun, we looked at the windows as a place an active-shooter could burst through. We talked about installing metal detectors (now a fact of life) with dread; with those in place, the school would feel even more like a prison to those of us who would rather be anywhere else.

What should have been one of the happiest springs of our lives had morphed into an atmosphere of dread. Rumors sprang up about which student would be most likely to snap, the principal interrogated students he thought may have some knowledge of potential threats. School had changed.

Thankfully, there was no shooting at my high school that year. We were lucky. But that atmosphere that had changed for us then has become the norm today. Alongside fire drills, tornado drills, or gas drills, students also do active shooter drills.

To them, a world without violence is unknown. All of them have grown up in a world where they could become a casualty of mass violence—at school, at the movies, church, or any other public space. This is not fair to them. When I was a child I never imagined that I would be shot; today’s kids plan for it.

How is that affecting their psyche? We have no idea how this will shape them as adults because there’s no way to study it, this hasn’t happened before in the history of our country.

One thing for sure though, it will have an effect. Actions in our youth shape us as adults. Putting our children in a place where they fear they may get shot is bound to have a profound effect on them as adults. The odds are high that before the year is out there will be another school shooting, though the odds are low that it will be the school that your children attend.

But it will be somebody’s school, it will be somebody’s child huddled under a desk in fear. So far, I’ve focused on the majority of students who attend schools with the mere threat of violence. We know already that students who are survivors of school shootings struggle with PTSD, depression, and other issues.

This is unacceptable. Our children deserve to learn in a safe environment. As a country we have failed to demand that. And students are taking a stand for it. I could not be more proud of them.


Immediately after Columbine the country was in shock, nobody could believe that such a thing would ever happen. Today we have become numb to it. We sit back and mourn tragedy, after tragedy, after tragedy, but as a culture we do nothing to stop it.

We pay lip service to the massacres, stating that we will think about the victims and pray for their families. Still we continue to allow these random acts of mass violence to happen. One of the more devastating ones, Sandy Hook, took the lives of young children and those who watched over them, yet we’ve done nothing to prevent it from happening again. And it has happened again. Many times.

I’m heartened by the students-cum-activists in Florida, even while I’m dreadfully sorry that it took yet another massacre to prompt it. Children deserve to go to school without the fear of dying. Parents deserve to send their children off to learn without the haunting question of whether or not they’ll ever see them again.

I applaud their efforts while despairing that it’s not enough. We have a gun problem in America, but it’s made worse by our culture. The culture that cheers violence with wild abandon, even as it watches the vulnerable fall through the cracks.

© 2018 Anna Watson


Jay C OBrien from Houston, TX USA on March 20, 2018:

Anna, I agree with you and offer this article to assist others:

Anna Watson (author) from Atlanta, GA on March 19, 2018:

Hi Brad,

To first just get this out of the way: tragically, since 2000 there have been 188 school shootings, which comes out to roughly just over one per week. In those shootings, 200 children have been killed, and i can't find figures on how many have been injured.

Perhaps you meant massacres when you said their have only been four?

For your other points:

Suicide is definitely an issue, especially since

1) research shows that it's contagious,

2) some of the school shootings appear to be "suicide by cop" where the perpetrators are trying to cause the most damage before being killed themselves. But I touched on that in the article (thoughi didn't elaborate).

Suicide should very well be part of the public discourse, but this article was about the school walk out and our culture that celebrates violence.

You also mention addiction, that is another societal issue that we need to solve. But again, it wasn't the focus of the article. A topic like that deserves its own article.

I agree with you that the media glorifies it. I think that is why we saw such a sharp increase after Columbine. Several of the school shooters have been found to have had an unhealthy fixation with the Columbine massacre.

You mention that laws are futile to things one holds dear. I agree with this statement too. But the bigger question, in my opinion, is why are we holding guns so dear? I wrote an article last year about how guns are an idol to some. The vast majority of gun owners are reasonable, responsible, compassionate people. I have no doubt about the goodness of most gun owners. But there are also those who are less reasonable and rational. A person's first reaction to any tragedy or crisis tells what a person really believes. For some people (hopefully not most!) their reaction after a tragedy is not "those poor victims." It's "hands off my guns." Why are we putting a hunk of metal before life?

That said, the article was mainly about our culture that celebrates violence as a problem solving tool, and the disenfranchised youth who, in turn, perpetrate violence against others. Guns were a secondary point. Until we address the violence in all forms of media, focus on poverty, broken families, and domestic violence, removing guns won't solve our problems vis a vis murder.

Brad on March 16, 2018:


How can you say school shootings is the focus and its walk out limiting your article.

If you want to do that than the school shooting is a very limited and infrequent event.

There have been only four school shooting in this century. That is 18 years.

I did an article on them, so I won't repeat it here.

I don't know what your research on suicide shows, but it certainly doesn't fit with the statistics. Guns are not the only way, as drugs can cause not only suicidal tendencies, they also contribute to overdosing deaths, and serious health issues.

Suicide is more of an issue than school shootings, because it affects more students across the country than guns do.

As far as gun control putting guns out of reach, there are guns available from the criminal world. Gun running is a product of the Drug Cartel putting them across the open border, and available for sale in this country.

We already have background checks, but when the police and the FBI ignore threats, like they did in Parkland, it goes to show that they are the weak link, not the NRA, and not the 99.9999999% law abiding gun owners.

The other contributor to the gun shootings is the media. They give the shooters a reason, fame, They also harp on gun control every time there is a shooting. This is the same futile attempt as is Abortion and Pro life.

Gun control is not a solution, and it never has been. When people want something as bad as they want their guns, you can't control it. A perfect example is Alcohol. Even a constitutional amendment and the entire law enforcement of the country failed to stop people from drinking Alcohol. Even the creation of MADD in modern times has not prevented people from driving under the influence and killing and injuring innocent people.

I add this because it shows how futile laws are when dealing with people and what they hold dear.

Anna Watson on March 16, 2018:

Good morning to you both, thank you for taking the time to reply.

@ Jay,

Most violence is learned in the home. I am glad that you were able to escape the snare that your brother and step-father fell prey to. Gladder still, that you're okay.

Unfortunately, it seems that the safety nets we put in place to protect against domestic violence are full of holes.I believe that we can do better than that as a country.

You mentioned bombs. My fear is that if guns are harder to come by then murderers will resort to bombs. The deadliest school massacre in the country was carried out by dynamite. Not that we shouldn't have common-sense gun control, but it does, in my mind, emphasize the need to save children before they get to the point where they perceive violence to be the only answer.

Re: duck and cover drills-- That was a response to a threat that people genuinely believed could one day happen. Active shooter drills are a response to a threat that happens several times per year. It's no longer a matter of 'if' its not a matter of 'when'


Many gun owners are law-abiding citizens. And most gun owners agree that we need to do more to keep guns out of the hands of criminals. We live in a world where the few dictate policy for the majority. Labels on hair dryers tell you not to dry your hair in the shower. I have a bag of dried mealworms that I use to feed wild birds and it says very plainly "not for human consumption." Some stores have packages of Tide Pods under lock and key. 12 year-olds can't drive cars, 16 year-olds can't purchase alcohol. A society is only as strong as its weakest link. Asking that gun laws be federal instead of state level is reasonable. Requesting federal background checks is not unconstitutional. Banning bump stocks and raising the age to 21 is not taking away freedoms. It's merely asking an inch. The majority of Americans (over 3/4s by latest estimates) are in favor of those proposals.

As you rightly point out, this is not a partisan issue. The Obama presidency could have enacted tougher laws after Sandy Hook, they failed to do so. More children have died as a result. This is unacceptable, yet we allow it.

The article was in response to the walk-out, and as such it only covered school shootings. You bring up several points that I believe would be better covered in a separate article. But I'll touch on them since you mentioned them.

Suicide: It is a shame that that is not part of the greater discourse, but I believe that is due to the fact that its still taboo to talk about. Research has shown that making it harder to commit suicide actually prevents suicide. Bridges that add fences see not only a drop in suicide at that bridge, but a drop in suicide altogether. People are lazy, and when it comes to suicide thank God that they are! Keeping guns away from suicidal people should be a priority and part of the discussion.

Your other point; keeping guns away from gangs and criminals--- I believe falls under gun control and more thorough background checks. If a criminal can't get a gun in Maine, but can drive to Vermont to purchase one, then what's the point of Maine having any laws? To be effective, gun laws will only work if they're federal.

Brad on March 15, 2018:

"We have a gun problem in America, but it’s made worse by our culture. The culture that cheers violence with wild abandon, even as it watches the vulnerable fall through the cracks."

Do we really have a gun problem in America? I don't think so, when 99.9999999 percentage of the gun owners are law abiding. What we have in America is a political problem. The congress has been ineffective since the 1970s.

They have spent their time countering the other party, instead of finding solutions that will benefit the entire country.

In 2009-2011 The Obama presidency and the democrat controlled super majority congress could have written any gun control legislation and easily passed it. They didn't do it.

Now, gun control has become the issue, but once again if that was the issue then why didn't the democrats solve it?

Half the gun deaths in the US are from suicides. That is an issue that doesn't get coverage. Another substantial issue of gun deaths are gangs and criminals. Many of them are illegal aliens and many of them have been convicted of felonies.

When they serve their sentence, instead of being deported, sanctuary cities hide them from the feds. What possible purpose could that benefit. Keep them here after they have already committed felonies?

Why aren't these other issues as important, when it comes to the safety of the public?

Jay C OBrien from Houston, TX USA on March 15, 2018:

When I was in first grade (1958), a man came into the school yard and demanded his child, when refused, he exploded a bomb hidden on his person. Several people died and some were crippled.

In fifth grade we were taught to hide under our desks in case of nuclear attack.

Growing up my older brother would beat me due to his paranoid schizophrenia.

In my teens my step father beat and shot at my mother until she divorced him. He only choked me.

What do you do about violence in the home?

Why did I grow up loving Peace rather than committing violence?

Here I offer a solution:

Set a high Ideal.