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Reasons Behind School Shootings Run Deep

Published: Monday, March 26, 2001

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01


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Students mourn the loss of fellow classmates in teh 1999 Columbine shootings.

It gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I hear about: another school shooting. And for millions of others across the nation, I’m sure it is the same thing. There is nothing quite so disturbing as the idea of children dead, dying and killing.

It was not so long ago that we, college students, confident and mature, were frightened high school kids. It doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to remember the fear of rejection and failure. But were you ever so angry or confused that you were capable of murder or suicide?

I moved to my school district in1993. I euphemize when I say I was not the most popular kid in sixth grade. What amazes me is how creative and cruel 12-year-olds can be. Andy Williams, the latest troubled teen to take arms, had also recently moved to Santee, CA from Maryland. So, why is it that Williams and other shooters that feel like outsiders have turned to murder? Experts attribute Williams’ difficulties to lack of parental care, drugs and music.

I spoke to a clinical counselor, Karen L. Panasevich, to get her opinion on teen psychiatry. Panasevich works at the Lewis Middle School in Roxbury, Massachusetts. The school and teachers deal regularly with violent and emotionally unstable children, weapons and even with an occasional physical attack.

Panasevich attributes violent behavior to witnessing, living with and experiencing violence, as well as being unable to express stored rage. The media comes into play by bringing some of this violence into living rooms, but in general, experience is more powerful.

So, what is the treatment? Panasevich believes that it is vital to start treatment early. Children need to learn conflict resolution, how to express their anger and think first and foremost with their heads, not fists or trigger fingers.

In response to the question of what makes some children capable of arming themselves and following through, Panasevich sees it as purely psychiatric. There are warning signs, she says, but parents and teachers are often in denial. They don’t want therapy; they just want the problems to go away. The fact is that kids don’t just snap. They have been snapping for a long time before they are capable of killing.

It is clear, then, that many of today’s teens exhibit signs that could mean they are on the road to being a danger to themselves and others. Unfortunately, with the recent rash of shootings, it has become common for school administrations to pounce on kids that don’t fit the mold of ideal high school student, a practice that might cause individualists to feel even more alienated.

Panasevich sees that gun control is essential. Putting guns at the disposal of unstable kids is ridiculous. Having guns in general is ridiculous, in her opinion. She believes the necessary laws are not in place.

And so we come to the crux of the argument: the guns. They are a fascination to children. The power that they yield and the validation they can give to any kid who has ever been picked on or pushed aside.

Recently, ABC’s PrimeTime ran an exposé on how children react to finding guns. Two sets of children were given lectures by a local policeman on the dangers of guns.

Both sets were attentive; both sets swore that if they were to find a gun, they would notify an adult or the police. Both lied. A few weeks later, kids ranging in age from 10 to 17 were placed in situations in which disabled guns were planted for them to find. Each child upon finding the gun became sneaky, covert or excited. They would hide the gun in their bags, put it in their pockets or play shootout games with friends.

Although some eventually turned in the weapon, a surprising amount left the room with the gun, seemingly intending to keep it until informed that they had been watched and asked to hand over the weapon.

An alarming number of the kids could identify the guns and knew how to load and unload them. The most interesting child in the experiment was one who months earlier had witnessed the shooting of his best friend in a street gang fight. He had been in counseling since the incident and, according to his YMCA peer counselor, was recovering well.

This boy, age 13, when finding the gun, pointed it exactly in the direction of his friend. He then hid it among his things before leaving to fetch other friends. The guns changed the personality of their finders without exception. They were nervous, careful, sneaky, but above all, excited. You can push rationale and reason on children only so much and then hope for the best when you aren’t watching them. Are we willing to take the risk?

The solution to me is clear: gun control. Today, more than ever, the argument is solid against that of the NRA: Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Yet, children are killing children. In the past, kids that felt overwhelmed and depressed committed suicide. School shootings are simply a way of making a statement on the way out. The new fashion is to make the bullies pay.

Cruelty is popular, despite TV series like Sesame Street and 7th Heaven that preach kindness and compassion. In addition, the modern American family structure is suffering from a breakdown.

Divorce rates are high, both parents often work, and as much as these circumstances are often unavoidable, they are leading to the consequence that many children are being raised in the classroom.

Their lessons in morality, ways of dealing with problems and advice come from peers. So what happens if these peers shun you for your style, weight, music choice or your intelligence? Adolescence is the hardest, most frightening period of our lives, and I can think of only one way to make it worse: The fear that you won’t live through it. The younger generations of Americans have been more fortunate than the 500 million others in the world that experience the horrors of war.

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