The media has been abuzz lately with the news and commentary surrounding the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Much of the debate centers around solutions that might prevent another tragedy of this type. The debate has become so heated that both sides have lost sight of the one thing we all have in common - we all want to make our schools safer and prevent the next shooting. All we’re arguing about is what the most effective prescription would be to accomplish that goal. So before we move forward, can we stop demonizing the opposition and admit that we’re all on the same side? Please? Thank you.
So if the goal is to take action that will actually make schools safer, then we need to critically evaluate different policy proposals to determine their effectiveness. “We need to do something” is not an argument that I find particularly compelling, because there are many things we could do that won’t have any measurable impact on school safety, and might even be counterproductive.
Measuring the Problem
The first thing we need to determine is the scope of the issue, and the answer might surprise you. The news media has sensationalized these shootings far beyond the facts, even claiming that we have an “epidemic” of school shootings, and it’s getting worse. The facts tell a different story. There are conflicting reports on whether school shootings or mass public shootings are increasing in frequency, because there are so ridiculously few of them that it’s statistically impossible to measure a meaningful trend.
Each individual incident is unspeakably horrific, and their relative infrequency is not a reason to do nothing! But the facts should put the scope and scale of the problem in perspective. Based on my research, you are 5,000 times more likely to die from heart disease than you are to die in a mass shooting. You’re 300 times more likely to die by suicide. You’re three times as likely to be be struck by lightning, and twice as likely to die in a plane crash. And when we restrict the category to school shootings, you’re actually twice as likely to be involved in a plane crash AND survive it than you are to die in a school shooting, and that’s if you include shootings that occur at colleges, universities, trade schools, and all K-12 schools.
Again, one is too many. But how much of a priority are school shootings when 22% of high school students report drugs being offered to them on campus? Credit Donkey is reporting that fully 20% of high school graduates haven’t developed basic reading skills, and the New York Times reported yesterday that fully 66% of millennials and Gen-Z'ers cannot tell you what Auschwitz was. Now, we do quite a bit better than this in Utah, but these trends are still terrifying. Of the problems facing American High Schools, gun violence doesn’t make the top 10 or even the top 100 list.
I don’t know how to solve the drug problem. I have some ideas about how to solve the sorry state of the education system, but that’s not what this article is about. I promised you solutions to the safety problems, so let’s talk about that.
Don’t “Arm Teachers,” But Don’t Disarm Them Either
Some commentators and the President himself have suggested that we “arm teachers.” This is either a terrible idea or a great idea, depending on what is meant by “arm teachers.” Some people got the idea of the Department of Education throwing an M4 and a tactical helmet at every Kindergarten Teacher and wishing them good luck. Obviously, this is stupid. Carrying a firearm can be incredibly dangerous. Even in the worst-case scenario, not everybody wants the responsibility, and not everybody should have it. I’m young enough to remember high school, and I can personally testify that there are teachers I wouldn’t trust with a sharp plastic ruler, much less a firearm.
However, there are other teachers who have gone through the necessary training to demonstrate their proficiency and responsibility to carry. They are willing to shoulder that terrible responsibility, and it’s asinine not to trust them with it. According to the Crime Prevention Research Center, concealed carry permit holders are more law-abiding than Police Officers.
In Utah, we have some of the most sensible laws on this topic in the country. Our concealed carry permit is recognized in nearly every state due to the quality of the training carriers receive. The State has decided that a CCW permit holder cannot be prohibited from carrying in most publicly-owned locations, including schools. This is exactly the right solution! Not only will a trained carrier be better able to engage a school shooter, but the mere possibility of on-campus carry significantly decreases the likelihood of an attempted shooting in the first place. Plenty of research has demonstrated that armed victims fare far better against armed attackers than unarmed victims.
Another idea that has been suggested is to hire full-time security officers for every school. Obviously this would be a significant investment, but the supply is available. You’ve probably never thought about it, but in the United States we have an unprecedented number of combat-experienced military veterans right now. Our own Walter Gali served in Afghanistan several years ago, and now works professional security for several locations in Salt Lake County. These highly-effective, professional men and women could make expert school security officers, and many of them could use the work!
Stop Making Stupid People Famous
A growing body of research shows that many of these mass shooters are motivated by the media fame given to shooters gone before them. ABC reported several incidents where young shooters were specifically inspired by the Columbine killers, who they worshipped as martyrs in some nihilistic struggle. This is why you will never read the names or see the faces of any mass shooter on this blog or any of my other content. If the news media had the scruples, they would implement the same policies on their own platforms.
This is one area where Utah really struggles. My wife is from California, and it blew her mind when I told her that most of the doors to the high schools are never locked during school hours, and we have no metal detectors. We need to be locking schools down and doing a better job to ensure student safety. ADT has a wide range of security equipment features that could augment the efforts of security officers to keep students safe.
Gun Violence Restraining Orders
One interesting idea is to allow family members, teachers, administrators, or healthcare providers to file for a temporary removal of weapons from someone they deem to be potentially dangerous. This solution would likely have prevented the Stoneman Douglass shooting in Florida. Some critics worry that these orders could be abused as a means of bullying people or improperly removing their rights to self-protection. That’s a legitimate concern, and precaution needs to be taken to prevent such abuses, but the idea may still have merit.
Whether or not bullying is a causal factor in mass shootings is still unclear, but there is apparently some sort of link. While it’s no guarantee, there’s a possibility that teaching kids how to stand up for themselves and prevent bullying might give them a better outlet to deal with the problem than responding with mass violence. But as I’ve often said before, proper self-defense education should be more than punches and kicks - it should include situational awareness training, boundary-setting and assertiveness, legal constraints to use of force for defense, and a solid moral framework for making decisions about the use of force. We need to give kids the resources to manage conflict without resorting to violence--or when violence becomes necessary, to resort to the minimum amount of violence necessary.
Parenting for Resilience
An interesting revelation emerged in my researching of mass shootings. It turns out that younger school shooters are not “loners” as their peers usually report. In fact, they are outcasts who repeatedly try to integrate and socialize in normal ways, but are rejected by their peers. Now, this type of rejection is a part of life for everybody. A painful part, but an inevitable one. Why is it only in the last 30 years that rejection has become a risk factor for violence? I think it’s because we stopped teaching our kids to be tough. Millenials were the most emotionally fragile generation in our history, according to rates of suicide and depression. Now Gen Z has stolen that mantle, with suicide rates among teens at an all-time high.
We need to teach our kids to be tougher. They are growing up in the lap of luxury, in their comfort zones and safe spaces, noses in their smartphones, unable to emotionally cope with the realities of life. We’ve had to invent a whole new vocabulary for the spectrum of emotional disorders that result from the softness of our pathetic parenting styles. It’s not the kids’ fault that they all suffer from tech addiction and social anxiety and PTSD from that one time they were made fun of--it’s our fault. We’ve done this generation a tremendous disservice by not forcing them outside of their comfort zones and into the struggles they need to grow and develop normally. We need to discipline, we need to make them work, we need to make them face the consequences of their choices, and we need to give them the emotional tools to cope with the hardships of life. Because for lack of these tools, they’re killing themselves of they’re killing each other.
And it’s more than just resilience; it’s purpose. Dr. Jordan Peterson, professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto and all around insanely smart person put it this way. “Some people will tell you that the purpose of life is to be happy. Those people are idiots...Happiness is something that’s done in by the first harsh blow that reality deals you...The purpose of life is meaning. The purpose of life is purpose. The purpose of life is responsibility. Lift a load.” Ben Shapiro put it this way: “The reason that we are fighting with each other right now; the reason that everybody is angry at each other, so angry at each other, is because there is a purpose-shaped hole in our hearts that we are filling with anger.”
This nihilistic absence of purpose and meaning is absolutely contributing to the type of antisocial violence characterized by these school shootings. And this is admitted by the postmodern, deconstructionist, nihilistic thinkers of the 20th century on. Frankfurt School literature like Albert Camus’s L’Étranger are explorations into the absurdity of human purpose. The logical conclusion of this exploration is consistently chaos and violence. And this is the garbage being taught to your kids in school. We need to get back to teaching them that God put them on earth to do good, to help others, to make a difference, and to live honest, upright lives. It could be the difference between a healthy, productive life and a life consumed by the darkness.
Outreach to Marginalized Students
Again, many school shooters are rejected and marginalized by their peers. This is happening more and more among our tech-addicted younger generations who don’t understand how to communicate and make friends in normal ways. We need to do a better job of being friends with people who are hard to love, people who are weird, and people who are on the margins of society. Doing so may help stop the next suicide or mass shooter.
Ideas That Won’t Work
Many commentators, including some of the survivors from Stoneman Douglass themselves, have suggested that tougher gun restrictions would prevent another shooting of this type. This proposal seems intuitive, but there is a significant body of evidence that suggests that these laws are at best ineffectual, if not counterproductive. A study I’ve been conducting of 140 public mass shootings since 1990 suggests that many of these and other types of shootings cluster in areas of the country with extremely strict gun control. If you average out the Brady Score of the locations of these shootings, the result is a solid “B+”--the opposite of what we would expect if Brady Campaign laws had any positive effect.
In the same vein, prohibiting weapons at school isn’t working. At all. In fact, according to research by the Crime Prevention Research Center, 92.6% of mass public shootings occur in places where defensive weapons aren’t permitted. This is because, as other research shows, violent criminals always choose targets that are smaller, weaker, and more vulnerable. Soft targets are easier to victimize. So it follows that we should be hardening our targets.
“Okay, but guns are too easy to get. We should do more to keep assault weapons and bump stocks out of the hands of violent kids.”
Wow. A lot to unpack there. First of all, background checks are 100% required to purchase a gun from any federally-licensed firearms dealer in the United States. Remember that the next time someone talks to you about “universal background checks” or the “gun show loophole.” Closing this so-called loophole simply means prohibiting private transfers of guns, or requiring private citizens to run a background check before selling or giving away a firearm. Which I’m okay with, but there’s absolutely no way to enforce that rule, so that legislation will not stop mass shootings.
A bigger problem is that there are few requirements to report many of the things that might show up in a background check. And even when law enforcement does have sufficient information to intervene, they often fail to enforce the laws that are presently on the books. That’s exactly what happened in Florida. So rather than increasing legislation, we need to be focusing on enforcement of existing legislation.
Also, stop saying “assault rifle.” If you hear that phrase, you can 100% guarantee that the person using the term doesn’t know the first thing about guns or gun laws. Fully-automatic “machine guns” (weapons that can fire multiple shots per pull of the trigger) have been effectively illegal in the United States since 1986. The AR-15 is not a “military-grade weapon,” but a civilian variant that is extremely popular for purposes of home defense. It’s not a particularly powerful or dangerous weapon, either. It’s built to be smaller and lighter, and fires a small .223 or 5.56 mm round. Every Deer Rifle is a deadlier weapon. So what is an “assault rifle?” It’s a rifle that looks black and scary to people who don’t read books.
Further, we tried to ban these types of weapons. From 2004-2014, there were laws in place that made them illegal. First of all, it was impossible to enforce because (again) there’s no consistent definition of “assault rifle.” The law ended up demonizing the type of grip or stock on the gun, even though these features have no effect on lethality whatsoever. Furthermore, the ban didn’t work. The Columbine massacre used AR-15’s (among other weapons), and that happened in 1999. So this legislation won’t stop school shootings.
A Bumpfire stock is a reciprocating stock or “butt” on a rifle that uses the recoil from one round to rapidly reset the trigger and fire a second round - sorta kinda simulating automatic fire. These devices do not make the weapon more effective for self-defense purposes and drastically reduce accuracy, so I’m not strictly against banning them, but doing so will not make an impact on mass shootings. This is because they are very simple devices to DIY, and the same effect can be accomplished by shooting “from the hip” without any special stock. So I’m against banning Bumpfire stocks because of my belief in the principle of “don’t make stupid rules.” A rule that doesn’t have any effect is a stupid rule.
The common theme here is that legislative solutions are going to have marginal effect, no effect, or a negative effect on preventing this kind of violence. As stated above, we need to do more to heal the causes of violence in our families, churches, and communities, rather than trying to implement ineffective, tyrannical, top-down “solutions.” I take safety and violence very seriously--I’ve spent my whole life studying it. And it’s precisely because I take it so seriously that I’m serious about implementing real solutions. Not feel-good virtue signaling that leaves us all less free and less safe.