Why the School Violence?
by Ari Armstrong, March 6, 2001
A few weeks ago, Jon Caldara made a chilling prophesy on Denver radio that has now come true: with all the foiled attempts by students to shoot up their schools, perhaps it was only a matter of time before another crime was carried out undetected. In recent weeks, reports have come in from around the country, including one from Fort Collins, about students who were caught making plans to terrorize their schools. Yesterday a student's warnings went unheeded and he carried out an act of violence in Santee, California, killing two and wounding thirteen.
So why the continued violence? The factors are numerous, but some of the important ones are discussed below.
Ignored Warning Signs
The following text from Ben Fox' Associated Press article tells the story.
Over the weekend, ["Andy" Williams] "was joking on and off that he was going to shoot people," said Joshua Stevens, 15, a friend of the boy.
Apparently, Reynolds didn't consult a lawyer before talking to the press. But if he'd had that much common-sense, he would have prevented the deaths in the first place.
Poor Family Life
Williams has been living with his father. His mother is living in another state. Consider the following excerpt from James Sterngold's New York Times article, and then consider whether young Williams felt loved and accepted.
[William's mother Linda Wells] added that she spoke with Andy by telephone earlier this year and that he seemed normal... She said her son was like most teen-agers, obsessed with sports. She said that to her knowledge, he played most sports, including baseball, soccer and football.
Nice job, mom. (And more interesting tidbits about this Reynolds fellow.)
The Copy-Cat Syndrome
The most obvious factor in the continuing episodes of school violence is also the factor reported least often in the mainstream media. That's because the mainstream media drives it: the copy-cat syndrome. By now, every disgruntled teenager in the country knows that the way to make a statement and gain instant, global infamy is to shoot up a school. Maybe some media personalities editorialize against the right to bear arms precisely to draw attention away from this uncomfortable fact.
A Culture of Irresponsibility
Government schools were created for one main mission: to train young people to be obedient servants of the state. (Outright bigotry leading to forced integration was another motive for the creation of government schools.) Now, when the government spends half the country's wealth and regulates every facet of life, is it any wonder that students particularly in government-run schools lack personal responsibility?
Alon Stivi, who offers self-defense classes in Grand Junction and who has trained SWAT teams and Navy SEALs, says that in his home country of Israel students are trained to either flee or attack the assailant. Williams (allegedly) had a low-caliber .22 revolver. Why didn't any of the students tackle him, throw a desk at him, do SOMETHING? The killer had to reload at least once and possibly several times.
Fox reports that one student "said he took photos of victims and another student videotaped the gunman's arrest." So the students had time to grab their cameras and videocameras, but no time to interfere with the shooter? How utterly chilling.
Too often, parents hand over responsibility for raising their children to the government schools, which exacerbates the problems their children face.
Strains of Nihilism
Yes, I know: students have always gotten into squabbles. My grandfather got into numerous fist-fights when he was a kid. However, even though guns were easier for youngsters to obtain back then, childhood scuffles were resolved by hand-to-hand fights. My grandpa said he usually ended up becoming friends with his adversaries. When we look at the rising eco-terrorism, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Columbine murders, and gratuitously violent lyrics, we've got to wonder why some elements of our culture are so obsessed with death and destruction. Christian conservatives look for religious renewal; I tend to look for answers to positive, freedom-oriented, humanist movements such as Objectivism. (David Kelley of the Objectivist Center wrote a fine letter to students following the Columbine tragedy.)
I don't have children yet, but I have already decided that I will never, ever send my children to government-run schools. Government schools are too big, too impersonal, and too sterile. School "administrators" rarely even know when students are being harassed or brutalized. For instance, the Washington Post reported that in one case bullies at Columbine twisted a student's skin into bruises and made anti-Semitic slurs.
According to Fox, one girl said the alleged murderer "was picked on all the time... because he was one of the scrawniest guys. People called him freak, dork, nerd, stuff like that." Fox adds, "Classmates and acquaintances of the boy described him as skinny and the subject of constant harassment." Another student told Fox that two of Williams skateboards were recently stolen (at a location not specified).
True, it is possible to overstate the problems with government schools. I quite enjoyed my high school experience, and I recognize that most of the staff at my school were both caring and competent. However, a good staff cannot overcome the institutional problems. A significant minority of students at my school "slipped through the cracks." Drug use is rampant at government schools. Students are forced to interact with others who are violent and mean. Administrators are forced to admit every student, regardless of behavioral problems. At best, students succeed in their classes, fit in socially, and waste a large portion of their time dealing with bureaucracy and the minority of teachers who are incompetent.
It's tautological that if the killer had not had a gun, he would not have killed people with a gun. The problem is, how should teen murderers be kept from getting guns?
One possibility is simply to reduce the number of potential teen murderers. Active, responsive parents tend to raise children who become productive, happy, self-responsible people, rather than mass-murderers.
The details of how Williams (allegedly) got the gun are sketchy. Fox reports, "[District Attorney Paul] Pfingst said the gun belonged to Williams' father, Charles, a lab technician at the Naval Medical Center-San Diego, since July. It had been stored in a locked cabinet, investigators said. Authorities said they removed seven rifles, a computer, a plastic crate filled with papers and files, and about a half dozen bags filled with evidence from the Williams' apartment."
Of course, California has already adopted the short-term wish list of the Million Mommers and Handgun Control, Inc. The state has expansive background registration checks, mandatory gun storage laws, the works. The evidence indicates all those laws have been massive failures. (In England and Australia, where most guns were recently banned, overall crime rates have increased dramatically. Handgun crime is up in England, where handguns are banned.)
Even though the news dictum, "If it bleeds, it leads," will likely never be overcome, it may be worth remembering that, the same day of the shootings, over a thousand U. S. citizens defended themselves against criminal attack with a firearm (by conservative estimates). Hundreds more crimes were prevented because civil arms deter would-be criminals from attacking people. This is true particularly in states with liberalized concealed handgun laws, which allow citizens to defend themselves and their loved ones.
The Rocky Mountain News ran the front page headline, "Again." As in, "A school shooting happened again." However, when two California children were killed by a pitch-fork wielding intruder because their older sister was unable to access the family gun owing to California's storage requirements, the News did not run the headline "Again." As in, "Disarmament laws killed innocent children again." Or perhaps I just missed that issue.
An off-duty police officer reportedly at the school took cover and waited for the on-duty police to arrive. No report on whether that officer had his gun. No report either on the officer's stated preference on whether he would have wanted a gun. Based on Williams' (alleged) gun selection and the prior warnings he gave, it's plausible this lash out was more a "cry for help" than the deeply malicious Columbine murders. One can only wonder whether Williams would have thought twice about his plans if several armed, anonymous adults at the school had been packing heat.
Libertarians prefer the civil law to criminal law, and I'm all for suing Williams' father and the adults who ignored the obvious warnings. The point is not the money for the victims, but the force of the action and the resulting media in impressing the importance of responsibility on others.
Running to the politicians to pass yet more ineffective gun laws is but another symptom of personal irresponsibility, the very condition that resulted in the tragedy in the first place.