As of November 3, the U.S. has seen over 300 mass shootings in 2018, in which four or more individuals were shot or killed in the same general time and location. While the U.S. possesses 5 percent of the world’s population, it holds 31 percent of global mass shooters, leading against the Philippines, Russia and Yemen.
While the majority of mass shootings in the U.S. are related to domestic or family violence, Everytown reports, the sites of such shootings have increasingly expanded, and where a shooting is most susceptible to occuring has only become more incoherent, according to City Lab reports.
With over 120 search results posted on Google.com including “school shooting” within the past 24 hours (November 3, 1:30 P.M.), there is an unequivocal concern for school safety. As of October 31, the U.S. has seen 28 students and 7 adults killed, and 77 injured people, according to Valdosta Today. Read more regarding these incidents here.
Tallying the frequency of school shootings runs into some problems, as government data often dawdles a few years to provide concrete numbers. This sets the calculations into the hands of third party reports which track the numbers as they grow. Most media outlets rely on Everytown.org or GunViolenceArchive.org for such statistics, according to Time.
Since the pivotal Columbine Shooting of 1999, more than 187,000 students attending at least 193 primary or secondary schools have encountered a school shooting during school hours, according to a year-long Washington Post analysis. While school shootings withhold only a very small fraction of the gun-violence pandemic which has taken the lives of over 26,000 youth between 1999 and 2016, the fearful hysteria that each key incident entices has only escalated.
With a student enrollment count of 1,945 students in 1999, Columbine High School, snuggled immediately left of Littleton, Colorado, lost it’s peaceful and unfamiliar reputation within a matter of minutes. On April 20 1999, the city became synonymous with the worst school shooting the U.S. had ever seen at the time. 12 students and one teacher were killed by 17 year old Dylan Klebold and 18 year old Eric Harris, students of the high school.
The two students who commited the killing spree at 11:19 A.M. and took 13 lives by 11:35, later turned the gun on themselves shortly after 12:00 P.M. and were found dead in the school’s library.
The motives for the shooting remain irresolute, as different media outlets reported varying suspicions for the root cause of the incident. Just 15 miles south from the media metropolitan of Denver, the shooting was quickly broadcasted on the news; cameras stationed along the high school within the next half hour were able to air the incident at Columbine unlike any school shooting before.
The shooting at Columbine high school led the U.S. into a frenzy as hysteric students, parents and politicians demanded an explanation. This torpedoed the media into a hunt for answers. Some accused the boy’s motives stemmed from allegedly having been active in the group ‘Trenchcoat Mafia,’ a racist organization at the high school which embraced gothic culture. Others blamed repeated bullying that may have struck a nerve for the the two students. Discussions broadened beyond the two as indirect causes like violent video games and television shows also became a part of the debate regarding youth violence.
However, some reporters from the scene understand the circumstance differently, including Andrew Gumbel, a reporter at the sight of the incident just after it unfolded. He explains that the media was heavily misinformed and the students were neither a part of Trenchcoat Mafia, nor were they bullied or poor performing students. The boys had far more sinister motives than the media understood, as later discoveries of the students’ journals revealed a severe hatred for the world and everyone in it. The shooting served as an enjoyable moral obligation for the two to dismantle the one thing they hated so much.
In fact, gunfire turned out to be a modest alternative for the students as later discovery of two unsuccessful bombs were found on the campus. The boys resorted to their spree after the bombs failed to detonate, which would have resulted in a far larger casualty count.
The incident at Columbine high school sparked widespread school safety discussions and implementation of several procedures were introduced to public schools in the U.S shortly after.
Some short term solutions included the introduction of metal detectors, security cameras, banning of certain backpacks, requirement for students to carry ID and posting of police in school hallways for a number of schools, CNN reports. Some states, including California, require students to practice lockdown drills as a result of the Columbine massacre, shutting down window blinds, locking the doors and creating a version of a safety barricade.
However, the public demanded larger measures be taken. Money for a school counseling grant program had increased since Columbine, with $52 million set aside for 2009, compared to $20 million in 2000, CNN reports. However, not all implemented programs stayed for long; a program that put about 6,300 police officers in public schools as a result of the 1999 shooting was dumped by the U.S. Department of Justice after 2005, according to Corey Ray, a spokesman for the department.
Classroom environments saw radical changes as a result, with operations of Zero Tolerance policies enacted in public schools around the U.S. Students reported being sent home for allegedly violent behavior, including dyed blue hair and acquiring nail clippers on campus, Time reported.
Located just east of Newtown, Colorado, Sandy Hook Elementary School broke media headlines when 20 children aged six to seven years old and six adult staff members were killed on December 14, 2012. 20 year old Adam Lanza grabbed three guns from his home the morning of the incident: one semi-automatic AR-15 assault rifle and two pistols. He first fatally shot his mother the morning of the incident, prior to massacring the school and later shooting himself on site. The weapons were all legally purchased by Lanza’s mother.
Sandy Hook school principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung implemented a new security system earlier in the year which required visitors to be visibly identified and buzzed in; the doors of the school were locked after 9:30 A.M. It was later identified that Lanza shot his way into the building before entering the first grade classrooms, according to CNN.
At around 9:30 A.M., shots were heard across the campus as students were desperately escorted into closets and bathrooms; dispatchers at the local police station received calls regarding the incident at approximately the same time. The first officer arrived on the scene two minutes and 41 seconds after the first police radio broadcast of the shooting, CNN reported.
While it is known that Lanza attended the elementary school from first through fifth grade, a summary report following the shooting indicated there were no warning signs leading up to the massacre and nobody was aware of the shooter’s plans for execution. “The evidence clearly shows that the shooter planned his actions, including the taking of his own life,” the report states. “But there is no clear indication why he did so, or why he targeted Sandy Hook Elementary School.”
What is known, however, is that Lanza had severe mental health issues which inhibited his abilities to build relationships and did not seek help as an adult; his troubled behavior did not set off alarms of his plans, though. Lanza also was reported to be familiar with firearms and possessed a bizarre obsession with school shootings, particularly the massacre at Columbine High School in 1999.
The incident at Sandy Hook sparked mass concern regarding gun violence as several groups arose with hopes to increase gun control measures. Although many anticipated major gun reform to subsequently follow the disaster, just months later, the Assault Weapons Ban of 2013 and the Manchin-Toomey Amendment, which would have required universal background checks for firearm sales, failed to pass the Senate, ABC News reported.
However, in the 5 years following the incident, there have been 210 laws enacted to strengthen gun safety, according to Griffords Law Center. The reforms included background check laws to be implemented in four states and the expansion of instituted background check laws in seven states.
Then-president Barack Obama openly wept when addressing Sandy Hook in a speech regarding gun control two years after. In the months leading to the 2012 election, Obama campaigned to address gun violence and hoped to push for efforts to ban assault weapons. However, Obama had made little federal progress in passing what he coined "common-sense gun laws." The new assault weapons ban lacked traction in Congress under Obama partly due to unsuccessful efforts of the previous assault weapons ban, from 1994 to 2004. For example, one of the weapons used in the 1999 Columbine shooting, an IntraTec TEC-DC9, was on the list of banned guns, ABC News reported.
On February 14, 2018, 19 year old Nikolas Cruz had no plans of attending his normal GED class, as he refused to be present on Valentine’s Day. However, the events which followed Cruz’ decision to appear on his former high school’s campus instead led to the murder of 17 students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, located in the suburban city of Parkland, Florida.
Cruz later took an Uber to the high school, arriving at the scene at 2:19 P.M.; accompanying him was a.223-caliber AR-15 rifle concealed in a soft black case. A school employee recognized Cruz and alerted his colleague that the former student was "walking purposefully" toward a school building, CNN reported.
Cruz proceeded to pull down a fire alarm, ushering over 3,000 students out of their classrooms; many were confused with the situation, considering the school day was almost at a close and a fire drill had been practiced earlier that day. Cruz began the open fire, initially targeting the first floor of the building, as the first 911 call was made at 2:23 P.M. Nearly 80 minutes after the first 911 call, a police officer spotted and pulled over Cruz, whose description and clothing matched the shooter's, walking along the side of a residential street, CNN reported.
The incident was the worst school shooting the U.S. had seen since Sandy Hook Elementary. Cruz surrendered without incident.
Cruz had bought the rifle he used during the incident legally, and had obtained at least 10 rifles in the time leading up to the shooting, according to CNN. Cruz displayed his rifles on social media and sometimes called himself a ‘school shooter,’ on social media and in person, a classmate recalls.
Although Cruz presented unusual behavior in the years leading up to the massacre, the procedure to provide a mentally ill person with care varies heavily from state to state, especially in Florida, where the focus ends up becoming whether the person is dangerous to themselves or someone else, director of the Treatment Advocacy Center John Snook told The Atlantic.
Florida received criticism for underfunded mental health efforts, ranking 44th in the nation. Snook regarded Florida’s efforts to address mentally ill severely starved, in which care is only provided via law enforcement.
Movements set to ban assault weapons, similar to the one used to kill the 17 at Stoneman Douglas High School, were well underway just days after the incident. Many organizations run by students demanded action from federal lawmakers. In solidarity for the lives lost, thousands of students from various high schools participated in a walk-out on March 14, and over two million attended the March for Our Lives ten days after, which hoped to encourage conversation regarding gun violence.
Although the shooting at Parkland garnered national attention, federal progress had not gone far. Florida governor Rick Scott implemented statewide legislation in March 2018 when he signed Senate Bill 7026, known as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which tightened gun control in several ways, but also allowed some teachers to be armed. Scott’s appeal to arming teachers gained federal attention, as the White House proposed implementing a similar system on a federal degree, arming some school personnel. This caused a heated public debate as to whether this would only worsen school safety measures.
Almost two decades since Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris brought forth an era of high-profile, high-casualty school shootings with the Columbine massacre of 1999, what was invisible to the public eye, hidden within rural neighborhoods void of news media, became the flame for hysteria across the U.S. Headlines addressing youth gun violence and school shootings paraded across television screens within the years following Columbine, as the fatal events now had a platform and a desperate demand for action.
“I was in high school when Columbine happened,” Assistant principal Janice Chen recalled. “That happened and everybody kind of thought it was a ‘one and done’ kind of thing.”
However, what came to Chen’s surprise, as well as millions of others across the nation, was that Columbine was only the opening act for the decades of school shooting showmanship that would occur across the States in the years after. With nearly 200,000 students encountering school shootings during school hours since Columbine, the trends called for concern.
In the weeks after Columbine, Chen remembers the reactions playing out much differently than those manifested today. Most of the conversation which roamed the nation focused on processing the situation and looking for answers. Trying to bring psychological reason to the motives of the two students served as the foreground of the conversations — conversations which had never needed to be exchanged before.
With a wave of young adults and maturing youth readjusting the conversation to align with the pivotal school massacres of their generation, incidents beyond Columbine present themselves as new eye-opening events for many.
Senior Karishma Chari recounts her 11 year old self seated in front of the television screen that displayed dramatic panning from contestant to contestant on the X-Factor special she was viewing. It was only afterwards that she understood the emotional performance of Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone” was a tribute to the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting which took 26 lives on December 14 2012. This was Chari’s first encounter acknowledging school shootings.
To Chari, gun violence was a foreign concept. As the incident at Sandy Hook tempered, the concept only became more abstract to a youthful Chari; she recounts her privileged background and upbringing to have sheltered her from dealing with such matters.
“I remember I didn't even know anything about gun regulation or anything; guns were just not a concept to me,” Chari said. “I was definitely very detached from the situation. [...] I think especially because I was so young at the time and wasn't even aware that there were problems with things like this.”
It was years later when the mass shootings that headlined the television in Chari’s living room were shown at an unsettling frequency that garnered her immediate attention, specifically recounting the mass shooting on October 2017 in which 59 festival goers were massacred in Las Vegas, Nevada.
For a number of American youth, the first account of gun violence in schools striked within the year, as the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School this February was one of the first to circulate not only television headlines and new outlets, but also infiltrated social media timelines for weeks.
Junior Alex Yang remembers enduring a series of reactions following the incident, beginning with detachment. Like Chari, Yang was sheltered from such incidents and his initial reactions played out accordingly. However, he recounts facing the situation in a much more tangible manner thanks to chemistry teacher Elizabeth McCracken.
“McCracken had us make cards to the people [affected by the Parkland shooting,] and it feels dumb, but I got a name and I was writing a card [to someone,]” Yang said. “That person with that name — I think that was a big thing that made the whole [situation] real.”
Although school shootings are technically still uncommon, manifesting a minute fraction of youth fatalities via ammunition, the concern has no intent of subsiding any time soon.
For the victims of the Parkland shooting, returning back to school was not as simple as packing backpacks with pencils and notebooks. Two weeks after the incident, students returned to the haunting campus, greeted with dozens of therapy dogs and other activities which were aimed to ease the antsiness of recovery. Accompanying the jamboree were law enforcement and police presence.
The sense of security which schools implicitly guaranteed to each student was lost for over 3,000 students in February, and the resulting insecurity spiraled beyond the suburban Florida city. However, many Monta Vista students don’t feel the threat has shimmyed its way into their own lives.
“Never personally have I [thought], ‘I don't want to go to school today because I feel like something could happen to me.’” Chari said. “That's why I also think that we're just so extremely unprepared. [...] No one [here] cares. Like, it's weird. We have such a lack of exposure in the Bay Area. We're living in such a bubble where it's almost impossible to take these things seriously.”
Several families affected from the incident at Parkland hope to defer the mentality that such violent scenes are far from home, propagating that it could happen to anyone. These same mentalities several Parkland families attempt to eliminate continue to manifest in the minds of MVHS students, a mindset which Yang recognizes to create the lack of concern.
However detached, the increasing unease that has resulted from recent school shootings has sparked minor administrative changes. One of the main modifications has been an altered Lockdown protocol. Following the blaring announcement that called for immediate lockdown was a school-wide effort to hide in a classroom and barricade.
However, Lockdown drills have since been renamed Run Hide Defend drills, in which the procedure now entails running far from potential harm when possible, followed by protocol to hide wherever possible or provide self defense when necessary.
“I don't really think the school is doing a super good job. I also don't think it's entirely the school's fault,” Chari said regarding the implementation of the Run Hide Defend drills. “I think people are just so used to having a very peaceful life here that whenever we do these drills, nobody takes him seriously.”
Chari believes the main reason students actively partake in the drills is to receive the “extra credit” which teachers sometimes offer for participating. Otherwise, she doesn’t feel at all well-versed with the procedural expectations for a situation which requires Code Red protocol.
For Yang, the changes were underwhelming. He criticizes MVHS’ efforts to subdue the tensions present as a result of school violence. He understands MVHS’ tendencies to be shallow, exploiting “buzzwords” and failing to target a rudimentary change for more than the duration of a school year.
Chen, whose first year at MVHS includes managing student safety, feels vehement about keeping the environment at ease. She recounts previously experiencing a lockdown at Palo Alto High School after suspicions of an active shooter alarmed the school. When the threat cleared, Chen recalls the confused and unsettled students who were expected to carry forth with their days.
“After the threat got called off, school resumed and it was kind of weird because people were like, 'What do we do? Do we go to class?' People were scared,” Chen said. “Some teachers wanted to talk about it and make sure the kids were okay. [...] Other teachers didn't really know what to do; they’d never been in this kind of situation before. And if they had a test or quiz that day, [some] actually kept it.”
With an unfamiliar scene like that which Chen had experienced, the reparations were uncoordinated and mediocre, enticing concern for students like Chari and Yang who feel that MVHS is not appropriately prepared.
With each breaking headline, Americans become desperate for answers. Yet, targeting the cause of school shooting frequencies has remained an unresolved puzzle, with pieces missing from its multifaceted jigsaw.
Conversations regarding gun control subsequently heighten after each school shooting, as hopes for increased background checks and stricter regulations wave over numerous Americans desperate for change. The massacre of 17 students and teachers at Stoneman Douglas High School, the worst high school shooting in the U.S., propagated conversation focused on gun legislation.
The discussion extended beyond exchanging words, finding itself taking over the streets of Washington D.C. and other cities during the “March for Our Lives,” a demonstration in support of stricter gun control efforts. Chari attended the March for Our Lives demonstration in San Jose, paying solidarity to the lives lost due to gun violence while also shedding light on a greater cause.
“I was marching for change, not necessarily to [eliminate] guns,” Chari said. “I was just ashamed that I lived in a country where innocent civilians were facing punishment for politicians’ lack of interest in reforming gun control laws.”
While Chari hopes for federal legislation to be passed in order to provide stricter background checks and tighter control, she recognizes such an expectation to be somewhat far-reaching. She believes that the first step for political reinstitution should begin on a smaller scale, specifically via state government, as radical demand for federal change would be too sudden a blow.
“I think definitely starting out with small scale governments and working on policy changes is what would really be effective,” Chari said. “The people who tend to present their opinions to higher ups [officials] or the people that change policies — their opinions are very radical.”
Gun laws vary significantly from state to state, as most regulations regarding firearms are left to state level legislation, independent of Federal firearms laws; these include decisions regarding permits, carry laws, sales, and self-defense laws. In California, requirements include a permit, registration of firearm, background checks and magazine size restrictions. Read more regarding state-by-state gun laws here.
One of Chari’s key concerns is the possession of firearms by mentally ill Americans. She argues that those in an unstable headspace should not be able to man weaponry. After several medias diagnosed Parkland shooter Adam Lanza with mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, the conversation shifted: ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people,’ many Americans argued.
The National Rifle Association stood aside that notion. NRA President Wayne LaPierre blamed “delusional killers” for violence in the U.S. in the months after the Parkland shooting, calling for a “national registry” of people with mental illness. Several states also enacted a number of bills which limit access to guns by the mentally ill.
Chen shifts the cynosure of the school violence conversation away from gun violence and points her focus towards mental health concerns, negative social media influence, and societal pressures, addressing them all as different sects of the larger all-around issue.
“I think [with social media,] people feel isolated in a sense and not accepted, per se. So it all blends together with the mental health and beliefs and values and morals and all of that stuff,” Chen said. “It's definitely a very multifaceted issue. I think people try and connect the dots between the different perpetrators, but each one of them has a unique story and unique reason for why they did what they did.”
Mental health concerns do permeate the school violence debate, as numerous reports suggest up to 60% of perpetrators of mass shootings in the United States since 1970 displayed symptoms including acute paranoia, delusions, and depression before committing their crimes, the US National Institutes of Health reported. Read more regarding links of mental instability and gun violence here.
Other media outlets have also taken the heat from many concerned Americans as the blame has shifted towards violent television shows and video games. While a number of Americans argue that frequent exposure to media violence elicits more violent behavior among those provoked, others excuse the concern as a generational gap in which many older adults misunderstand the implication and effects of more modern medias.
However debatable the concern for violent media is, the American Psychological Association declared a concrete answer: “Violent video game play is linked to increased aggression in players but insufficient evidence exists about whether the link extends to criminal violence or delinquency.” The debate shifts to an argument regarding the extent in which violent media causes mass shootings, and whether it is worth becoming a focus of the conversation. Read more about the debate around violent media here.\
Yang, unlike Chari and Chen, believes the root of the evil is planted deep within the corridors of the same allegedly-innocent locations targeted. There is a major flaw in the U.S. public education system, Yang argues, and efforts for change have barely been addressed.
“It’s a fatal flaw. [...] The fact that kids are violently attacking the places that they're learning in — that should set off warnings,” Yang said. “I feel like the flaw in [the] education [system] quickens the manifestation of things that might already be there.”
In 2015, about 5 percent of students reported they had avoided at least one school activity, one class or one or more locations in school during the previous school year because they thought someone might attack or harm them, the U.S. Department of Education reported. This proves to be a statistically significant insight on classroom environment.
This flaw has only recently been accepted as the topic of conversation within the school violence debate, as many teachers across the nation have come forth with their own experiences with student insecurity and deprivation at school. Teacher Dayna Abraham posted about her thoughts on her blog, Lemon Lime Adventures, highlighting the large teacher-to-student ratio that has only increased, the lack of funding which has raised that ratio disparity and the expanding pressures on both teachers and students.
Efforts have been made to combat the concerns which Abraham underlined, as the Obama administration hoped to indirectly secure schools via improving overall education, getting kids more involved in their studies and strengthening school communities, CNN reported.
Woven between heavily disputed debates remains a constant unease between opposing viewpoints over the topic of school violence. However, there seems to be a glimmer of hope as enacted legislation expects to sever the school violence norm.
A month after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, the House voted to pass a new school safety bill; results displayed major support for increased safety measures (407-10). The bill attempts to curb school violence by providing more training for school officials and local law enforcement to respond to mental health crises, and deterrent measures like metal detectors and locks. The bill did not address gun violence measures directly.
In June 2018, the Department of Justice announced its first grants under the Stop School Violence Act during a meeting to address The Ecology of Schools: Fostering a Culture of Human Flourishing and Developing Character. This will provide $50 million to train teachers and students to develop reporting systems for threats of school violence.
Acting Deputy Secretary Claire Grady of the Department of Homeland Security follows with promising news at the same June meeting, stating, “The [National Threat Assessment Center] is also providing in-person training and consultation on creating effective school-based threat assessment programs, instituting processes and procedures for identifying students who may be exhibiting concerning behavior, establishing protocols to assess the risk a student poses to themselves or others and identifying intervention and management strategies to mitigate the risk of a student engaging in harms to the school community.”
Whether the answer lies within gun legislation, mental health concerns, youth violence exposure or flaws in education systems, the problem of gun violence remains irresolute. New hypotheses accompany each school violence tragedy as the spectrum of answers broaden. What many politically active Americans, like Chari, can only wish for now is increased awareness and efforts to voice opinions.
“People need to formulate their own opinions,” Chari said. “Once people formulate their own opinions, whether they agree with my opinions or not, that's when things can start to get done.”