Several respected criminologists say school shootings are like attempted Presidential assassinations. They are statistically very rare, which makes them hard to type and harder to predict, much less to prevent, and they are very important.
Some of this importance has to do with news media marketing, but mostly it has to do with the targets. Who’s more important than our chosen leader and our children?
Leaders tend to pose as fearless, but children are more honest, and a recent Pew Survey found that a lot more high schoolers worried about the possibility of a shooter in their school a lot, or some of the time than didn’t. Girls were more worried than boys. Whites were less worried than African-Americans or Hispanics. But the clearest statement in the survey was, the less money your family made, the more you feared a shooting at school.
As to proposed solutions, the Pew survey showed large majorities of high school students supported more mental health care (86%), banning assault weapons (79%) and installing metal detectors (66%)…but only 39% favored arming teachers of school staff.
The survey was taken from March 7 to April 12, 3 to 8 weeks after the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas HS in Parkland, FL in which 17 people, 14 students and 3 staff were killed and 14 students were injured.
But before Parkland, there had already been 10 previous school shootings in 2018, shootings in which 4 students had been killed and 26 students and others had been injured by gunfire.
And during the 5 weeks the Pew Survey was being taken, 3 more high schools enduring shooting incidents in which 3 students were killed and 4 were injured, in Birmingham, AL, Lexington, KY and Great Mills, MD.
On the other hand, ESPN’s 538 reported that in the weeks after Parkland at least four potential school shootings were averted. How? — because the would-be killers spoke or wrote about their plans and someone told law enforcement.
For those criminologists, maybe the biggest thing that links perpetrators of school shootings and Presidential assassination attempts is that the perpetrators couldn’t keep their grievances, their hatreds, their plans to kill, to themselves.
Certainly these angry people don’t lack for opportunities. America has among the most gun-filled environments in the world today. And too many guns fall, too easily, into the hands of people who should not have them.
For many of those mentally-ill, malignly-obsessed people, school was a place of great unhappiness, and almost every one of them has seen media coverage modeling how to express anger and revenge at school.
So, is this the new normal? And what if it is? How do we make our schools, our children, safer in a dangerous environment.
Dr. Ronald D. Stephens was named executive director of the National School Safety Center in 1985. In this capacity, Dr. Stephens has served as consultant and frequent speaker for school districts, law enforcement agencies and professional organizations worldwide. He serves as executive editor of the School Safety News Service, America’s leading school crime prevention newsletter.
Dr. Stephens holds a California teaching credential, administrative credential and a certificate in school business management. His experience includes service as a teacher, assistant superintendent and school board member. His administrative experience includes serving as chief school business officer and as vice president of Pepperdine University in Malibu, California.
Dr. Stephens received his B.S. in business administration and an M.B.A. from Pepperdine University. He received his Ed.D. from the University of Southern California.