You arrive to school ready to attend the first lesson of the day. Though you’re worried about turning in a project, the atmosphere is one of excitement, mainly because it’s Valentine’s Day.
Someone has sent you a vase of 3 roses. A secret admirer perhaps?
The fire alarm goes off before you have a chance to put the roses away.
What is to follow is one of the deadliest school massacres in history.
You see people stampeding to the exit followed by the ringing of bullet shots.
You run too.
The roses still in your hand, albeit crumpled. You make it out the school alive.
You are worried for the lives of your friends and family who are still in school. You are scared if they are still alive.
Violence is concerning wherever it happens but usually with a solution we can solve or curb it. Typically within a few years a visible reduction in crime statistics shows, quite frankly, that the solution has worked – to varying degrees, but this is rarely never the case in the US when the cause of violence is (or is accompanied with) guns.
The discussion is shut down by either side before a resolute solution hits the ground. Social media is a battleground with accusations of hypocrisy or cowardice and petty insults drown out bipartisan support in favour of gun safety legislation. The government’s inaction in the aftermath of school shootings have become something of a tradition in America.
Highly politicised events, by their very nature, create a lot of noise but little legislation action.
Mass shootings have been on the decline in America until 2007 when they suddenly became more frequent.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) sends campaign contributions to a number of Republicans running for office, but it’s quite obvious that the NRA are heavily invested in Donald Trump.
Peculiarly enough, they even endorsed Trump before he earned the Republican nomination for President. Chris Cox, the NRA’s executive director, justified this break from the NRA tradition by claiming that Hillary Clinton was too much of a threat to the Second Amendment.
From the annual NRA conference, Trump warned members that Hillary Clinton wanted to “abolish” the Second Amendment. While Clinton has previously campaigned against handgun ownership, she has never hinted any intention of amending the US Constitution.
Trump has stayed unwavering in his support of the NRA; he has yet to turn back on his words from the conference, “I will never, ever let you down”. So far the ban on bump stocks and other limited gun control initiatives have been endorsed by the CEO of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre – although the Republican base are supportive of Trump, for the same gun control legislation, Obama was constructively halted by Congress every time he tried.
The immediate response from Trump’s reaction to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting can be found on Twitter. He seemingly blamed the students and school authorities for failing to report the shooter’s “erratic behaviour”.
However, Nikolas Cruz was receiving mental and emotional treatment but had stopped a year prior to the shooting.
Trump’s response is hypocritical considering that early on in his presidency Trump repealed an Obama-era piece of legislation which kept guns out of the hands of the mentally ill.
His latest Fiscal Year 2019 Budget also stripped the Medicaid budget by $1.4 trillion, Medicare by $500 billion and Social Security Disability Insurance by $10 billion.
Medicaid and Medicare are the largest providers of substance-abuse, mental health and disability services in the US. More than 70 million people rely on these programmes, greater than the entire population of the United Kingdom.
Trump’s rhetoric against gun violence does not match what he has legislated in the past at all.
The reaction to school shootings, which are heavily politicised anyway, is also generally marked with large outpourings of shock, sympathy and grief (in that order). A week later from the Florida school shooting, however, the mood is noticeably more angry and full of frustration.
One survivor from the Florida School shooting who requested not to be named told me, “We’re the future. The adults who have failed us better find new jobs now, because we will outnumber and vote them out of a job”.
The sentiment of the survivors can be summed up by the words of their fellow high school senior, David Hogg, in response to attacks from the NRA, “You might as well stop now because we are going to outlive you”.
Donald Trump’s supporters have used the shooting to scapegoat mentally ill people and push their agenda that the Democrats have an interest in taking away gun rights, along with abolishing the Second Amendment.
Many conservative pundits and figures have insulted the survivors of the shooting. The reactions from the conservative camp is strictly on the defensive in respects to their guns. They have made a pre-emptive strike defending gun rights from those who they call “gun grabbers”.
When people say “something needs to be done” one can rest assured that nothing of substance will happen that would last long-term. It is poor enough that one side is willing to ignore the plight of students to defend their freedom, vilifying the mentally ill and poisoning the debate on gun control breaking with expected professional decorum.
In the hope of avoiding another school shooting there are a number of lessons to be learned from this one. I’m not going to purview the right to bear semi-automatic rifles, as I believe the problem to school shooting to be multifaceted and a complex issue that won’t be resolved by impulsive decisions. There is still a convincing case for banning military-inspired weapons like the AR-15 rifles, but just like former President Bill Clinton’s Federal Assault Weapons Ban, such legislation needs to be comprehensive, otherwise they become ineffective.
However, there are a number of important concerns that arise from the current situation. It is necessary to increase federal funding to mental and emotional care. Nikolas Jacob Cruz is not a victim here, but he displayed the characteristics of a disturbed individual relating to delinquency, crime and violence.
His social media show Cruz toting guns, posing with knives and pictures of dead animals (birds and toads) that he reported to have killed. There is one rather telling post where he pointed the barrel of what seems to be a semi-automatic rifle aiming outside a window. His Instagram profile picture shows him wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap.
State investigators and health providers did not have access to his social media. They did not have him on their radar for a long enough time to establish an accurate assessment of his mental and social wellbeing, nor were they able to follow up with school authorities that he was a threat to other students. State investigators assessed that he “was at low risk of harming himself or others”.
Nikolas Cruz’s public defender even made the point, “This kid exhibited every single known red flag, from killing animals to having a cache of weapons to disruptive behavior to saying he wanted to be a school shooter”, he concluded that this was a “multisystem error” as someone who suffered from emotional problems and mental illness like Cruz, and with the problematic social media posts, should have failed the background check for a gun.
To emphasise, gun violence is a public health problem as well as an issue of criminal justice.
The American College of Physicians (ACP) have advocated for firearm safety to patients and have campaigned against handgun ownership. Increasing numbers of health professionals are asking their patients if they have a gun at home since some doctors believe it is important to know the environment and access to harm of their patients.
If gun violence in the US truly is a cultural phenomenon then an approach to pacify the violence may be found by treating gun violence like drug abuse. Rather than hoping mental illness provisions will weed out at-risk students and potential school shooters, a comprehensive public-health approach begins in counselling the public in firearm safety because without knowing how to safely handle and live with firearms then more people could potentially be exposed to gun violence (including unintentional fatalities). It is important to note that firearm injuries is the second leading cause of death due to injury after motor vehicle crashes.
A medical policy paper said on the issue of gun violence, “Strategies to reduce firearm violence will need to address culture, substance use and mental health, firearm safety, and reasonable regulation, consistent with the Second Amendment, to keep firearms out of the hands of persons who intend to use them to harm themselves and others, as well as measures to reduce mass casualties associated with certain types of firearms”.
Public health research into responsible firearm ownership can inform legislation into what types of weapons should be handled by citizens by law.
Perhaps a multidisciplinary policy objective is key to understanding, if not curbing, gun violence. The shooter in Stoneman Douglas High School was obsessed with guns, the disturbing content he uploaded online were missed by mental health professions and state investigators who assessed him. Clearly a misunderstanding occurred here, a 19-year old young man fell through the cracks of a failing system, exemplified by the increased frequency of these mass shootings (Umpqua Community College shooting, San Bernardino Attack, Orlando Nightclub shooting, Sutherland Springs church shooting and the Las Vegas shooting – 5 major mass shootings in total over 3 years).
The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting should not have happened. Yet it did under the watch of President Trump and his administration. All the institutions which are supposed to be overseeing and preventing school shootings are facing cuts. Failure at the federal level, and a database that is missing millions of records and staff shortages – which has been deemed too costly to fix – are contributing to the problems which previous administrations sought to resolve.
Trump’s rhetoric against gun violence does not match what he has legislated in the past – in fact, they’re in direct contradiction. There’s no point in saying you will focus on mental health and school safety, when those are the very things you focused on revoking as President. There’s no point in saying you care about mental illness when you strip funding for the provisions of mental health and make massive cutbacks to mental health budgets.
With all its problems, I fail to see how Trump is taking this issue seriously, his recent comments on arming “20%” of teachers is a typically Trumpesque policy decision with no details on viability.
If Trump wants to deal with these issues, then he needs to overcome the shortcomings of his administration right now.