I've always been a fan of the horror genre. Some of my best childhood memories involve having the crap scared out of me watching A Nightmare on Elm Street movies and reading R.L. Stine books. And not much has changed since then. Scary movies are still my favorite, and my bookshelf holds an almost-complete collection from Stephen King's bibliography.
But my affinity for terror and violence is strictly confined to the parameters of fiction. When it comes to real life, I can't stomach it. And, lately, the borders between real life and horror fiction have seemed pretty thin.
Seattle businessman (and concerned father) Alex Algard's website www.stoptheshootings.org shows a digital map of school shooting incidents in the hopes of providing accurate data and proving that these acts of violence in schools are far from rare. According to the data he has collected, there have been 387 school shootings in the U.S. since 1992.
When you let this number sink in, you can kind of understand why students in Indiana are lobbying for the right to carry a concealed weapon within schools. Senate Bill 97 would prohibit state agencies (including state-supported universities) from regulating the possession of guns. This would mean that students who have a permit to carry a gun would be allowed to do so on state-supported college campuses.
However, the reason I said "kind of"is that, while I understand that students fear for their safety and want to protect themselves, I don't think having the right to bear arms in school is the answer.
This isn't fiction, and students aren't gunslingers galloping around on horseback and shooting down the "bad guys." I don't even think that gun violence can be stopped or prevented with more guns in the real world. The concept feels a little like fighting fire with fire, and I don't see it having a good outcome.
If you'll forgive another Stephen King reference, it brings to mind a part in Dreamcatcher when a hunter almost shoots a man because of a condition dubbed "eye fever." When the hunter hears the telltale twig-snapping of an approaching creature, he trains his gun on the area and is so focused on waiting for that instant when the deer surfaces (and he will have a clear shot) that, when what actually appears is a human in an orange vest, the hunter's eyes, for an instant, still see a deer.
In King's story, the man in the orange vest turns out to be hosting a deranged and murderous alien species and meets a brutal end, so he probably would have been better off if the hunter had killed him. But, in real life, I don't see it panning out this way. Instead, I see "eye fever" causing students to see danger where none exists, with the end result being needless injuries or even deaths.
I tend to agree more with a statement that recently went viral on Facebook. It made the online rounds after the school shooting tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut last month. You've probably seen it or, at least, heard about it. If not, here are a few excerpts (or you can check out the full story):
"…You want to know why? This may sound cynical, but here's why. It's because of the way the media reports it. Flip on the news and watch how we treat the Batman theater shooter and the Oregon mall shooter like celebrities. Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris are household names, but do you know the name of a single victim of Columbine?
…CNN's article says that if the body count "holds up," this will rank as the second deadliest shooting behind Virginia Tech, as if statistics somehow make one shooting worse than another.
…You can help by forgetting you ever read this man's name, and remembering the name of at least one victim. You can help by donating to mental health research instead of pointing to gun control as the problem. You can help by turning off the news."
Unfortunately, at some point in its flight around the Web, this message was falsely attributed to Morgan Freeman. I have a feeling that credit for the message was given to Freeman under the assumption that more people would take the time to read/listen/process it if they thought it came from him. (Think about it; the man was cast as God in Bruce Almighty for a reason.)
This led to controversy and, unfortunately, undermined the value of the message. I think it's a shame that the misattribution happened because, in reality, it had the opposite effect from what was intended. In all of the mass confusion over whether or not it actually came from the great mind of Freeman, the intent (and integrity) of the message was lost. But, despite the fact that it got tainted, I still stand by most of what it said.
As a writer, I am sensitive to the power of words. By saying that the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting was the "second-worst" tragedy, media outlets are turning it into some sort of sick competition. In addition, by focusing more on the shooter than the victims, they are helping to transform shooters into infamous celebrities. Although I think that the Facebook message on this point is quite harsh, I do agree with the sentiment behind it:
"Disturbed people who would otherwise just off themselves in their basements see the news and want to try to top it by doing something worse, and going out in a memorable way."
Not all school shooters actually commit suicide. But in the vast majority of studies and articles I have read on school shootings, the shooters were found to be suicidal either prior to or during the time of their attacks. Most were also deemed clinically psychopathic. So I don't doubt that the misguided and psychotic motivations of school shooters are born, at least in part, from the appeal of getting 15 minutes of infamy.
To me, the fact that most shooters are suicidal and/or psychopathic also seems to indicate—in a big way—that something is seriously amiss with mental health care in the U.S. Maybe it’s a lack of availability (or affordability) when it comes to obtaining quality mental health services.
Or maybe it's education and public awareness that are lacking. Are family and friends missing the warning signs? I don't know. I don't have the answers, but somebody better start putting increased effort and resources toward figuring it out. Otherwise, I'm scared of what the school shooting stats will total in another two decades.
What do you think the root causes of school shootings are? How can they be prevented? Unless we all start asking and answering these questions, I think reality will continue to feel like the horror genre.