April 12, 2018
After every mass shooting in the U.S., there is a need to draw conclusions. Oftentimes we see this through highlighting the commonalities between these incidents.
For example, pro-gun conservatives might point out that the vast majority of shootings occur in gun-free zones (i.e. schools), and therefore the assailants are targeting places they know have no armed civilians. Liberals calling for gun reform highlight how easy it is to purchase a gun in the affected area and how stricter laws could have prevented this “troubled” person from obtaining a lethal weapon.
These comparisons are all well and good; acknowledging the trends of mass shootings helps us see the systemic issues rather than isolate each event as a traumatic event with no long-term takeaways. We do the same with police shootings, crime, acts of war and just about any other issue in the U.S. and abroad.
Yet I find that there is one major fact left out when comparing school shootings. We harp on gun laws, the victims, the weapon, but quite rarely do we talk about the assailants in the proper manner. We individually dissect shooters every time, combing through their entire life up until the trigger was pulled.
But the investigations focus on each shooter independent of the others, failing to draw connections between them all. What do Peter Lanza of Newtown, Nikolas Cruz of Parkland, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold of Columbine, and many others have in common? Their age.
Have you ever looked back in your Facebook feed, like way back, and seen the posts of your high school years in disbelief because of how much you’ve changed in a short few years? Me too. Nonsensical rants, drama with friends grounded in nothing, and just about every emotion on the spectrum can be seen in the actions of children entering adulthood.
But this is normal because the mental state of people in their late teens and early 20s is constantly changing. Anxiety and selfconsciousness are at the highest levels some people will experience in their entire life. High school is a psychologically taxing environment for many students, where the opinions of others can feel like life or death situations in the moment. Before we address any other issue of mass shootings, I think an assessment of the teenage mind is imperative.
The reality is that those responsible for the death of innocent people must be held accountable; I am in no way denying that closure to the victims’ families. Some people, including Nikolas Cruz and others, are truly troubled minds that have a capacity for evil far exceeding that of you and I. But they are no Jeffery Dahmer. They still deal with teenage angst and have a severely incomplete view of the entire world with only about 20 years of life experience.
I do not have a specific prescription for addressing this issue. Frankly, I see flaws in both sides; I believe that the actions of a troubled teenager are far from solid enough grounds to demand revoking the right for every civilian to own a gun.
I also think that the ease in which these young people obtain firearms is concerning. But in my opinion these shootings are often times not a systemic legal issue but above all a teenage mental wellbeing issue.
As a 20-year-old who has experienced the ongoing process of “growing up” and stands straddling the line between youth and adulthood, I can relate to both parties and call on the adult to community to proactively reach out to youth and provide them with the life context that they simply cannot obtain before their emotions run away with themselves.
Jim O’Brien is a sophomore finance major.