Another school shooting brings out the same old tired mantras. “Motive unclear.” “Heroic blah blah.” “Crazed gunman.”
For those of us who actually give a shit, there was no mystery about the case of Sparks Middle School. Just as there was no mystery about Lanier High or Carver High or Taft Union. Or Paducah, or Jonesboro, or (despite the best efforts of historical revisionists to change the narrative) Columbine.
Eventually, the truth will out. And it finally has once again in the case of Sparks Middle School. It was a bullying victim who felt no other option but to take matters into his own hands.
The problem with school shootings, at heart, is one of denial. As I wrote in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Columbine:
“By all rights, Columbine should have gotten the message across loud and clear to kids across the country: don’t fuck with the wrong people or you will end up dead. It didn’t, though, and neither did the killings that came later, because people love victims. Because a couple of kids who were sick of being kicked around killed their oppressors, they wound up making themselves into the bad guys, and made the bad guys into victims in everyone’s eyes. People were too overcome with grief over the senseless bloodshed to think about what had driven the two shooters to do what they did. And for those jocks, having their blood spilled wound up washing away their sins as far as everyone was concerned. Don’t think about what they were really like, turn them into perfect little angels in everyone’s eyes. And, personally, I am not really in favor of giving the world of jocks any new martyrs.”
In Americans’ minds, being shot makes you the victim. Never the oppressor. No parent wants to consider that their kid brought on their own demise through their actions. No one wants to say, in effect, that they got what they deserved. We’re too busy grieving and wringing our hands to actually think about what happened.
We keep having school shootings simply because we don’t make a real effort to stop them. We add security checkpoints and metal detectors and spot inspections but we never address the underlying cause.
I’ve said before that if I’d had easy access to a gun when I was in High School, I would have wound up like one of these shooters. I was a victim of bullying just like so many others. I carry the scars to this day, even as some of the people who bullied me now try to pretend that they’re my friends.
Are we finally going to get serious about ending school shootings? If so, we need to get down to the root cause of so many of them: bullying. And I mean a real effort, not the eyewash that we’re trying to pass off as an effort now. Here’s a start.
END “ZERO TOLERANCE” AS WE NOW KNOW IT.
Our current “zero tolerance” policies only aggravate the problem. If a kid tries to defend himself against a physical attack, he gets suspended or expelled. If a kid complains about bullying to administrators, their hands are tied because it becomes a “your word against mine” situation so the bully gets away with it.
We need to change zero tolerance so there’s zero tolerance against the aggressors only. We need to start suspending and expelling bullies, not their victims. We need to have administrators respond when complaints about bullying are made, not brush them off.
We need to show kids that their problems can be solved another way, through a system that works.
Because if we don’t, more and more kids are going to feel they have no other option to end their suffering than to kill their oppressors and then themselves.