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GUVERCIN: Gun control may be only part of puzzle

Opinions Column: The Bigger Picture

School shootings are one of the most horrifying recurring tragedies in this nation. Last week we were reminded of the gut-wrenching feelings of loss and helplessness that tragedies like this are always accompanied by. School shootings do not just affect immediate communities. They send ripples of pain and anger throughout the country. 

It is unfortunate that each time a shooting occurs, we are reminded of the loose legal threads we left with the last one. We are reminded of the deep need our country has for serious reformative action, and we are reminded again that nothing will likely change. There are some very obvious statements that can be made about our nation’s gun laws, and although gun control is probably the biggest piece to the puzzle, we cannot disregard the mind of the shooter when confronting these types of tragedies. It is very easy to see just a problematic psychopath when we see the mugshots on our TV screens, and it is very normal for us to have averse, disgusted reactions. But, if we as a nation are seriously looking to address this issue, gun control is not our only concern. We must look into the minds of these shooters and learn how to identify threats rather than try to pick up after their pieces. 

While we may not identify all school shooters as “mentally ill," we have seen a consistent pattern of interactions with the law, questionable social behaviors and disturbing social media presences in these individuals, which could definitely have been addressed by family and school systems. Peter Langman, leading expert on the school shootings phenomenon and author of "Why Kids Kill: Inside the Minds of School Shooters," said that potential shooters are not "simply abused children but experienced multiple difficulties that caused unstable, overwhelmingly stressful lives." The notorious Eric Houston, who shot 14 people at Lindhurst High School in California in 1992 had a life filled with “incest, alcoholism, physical abuse, suicide and murder.” 

The 1999 Columbine shooters, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were two prime examples of classic shooter archetypes. The investigators who dealt with the Columbine case said Klebold was “easier to comprehend … hotheaded, but depressive and suicidal,” while Harris was “described as 'nice.' But Harris was cold, calculating and homicidal.” The investigators outlined a pivotal distinction between two types of school shooters with the statement, “Klebold was hurting inside while Harris wanted to hurt people. Harris was not merely a troubled kid, the psychiatrists said, he was a psychopath.” It is essential for us to realize that these school shootings are a matter of psychopathic behavior or deep emotional turmoil caused by experience and environment. 

The most recent case involves Nikolas Cruz, who was responsible for the devastating attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. According to CNN, Cruz was said to have suffered from mental illness and was described as being "emotionally handicapped." He allegedly had multiple run-ins with the law and although he had been “on the radar” of people in his immediate environment, he was “still able to pass the nation’s gun background check system,” to legally obtain a firearm. It is evident that several police interventions had resulted in no long-term action against Cruz, and his alarming social media presence, where he would make statements like “I wanna shoot people with my AR-15," were not deemed enough of a threat to incite serious intervention. When the signs and intentions are this obvious and yet no serious actions that could have potentially prevented this tragedy were taken, it demonstrates a harrowing flaw in the second most important facet of this phenomenon, after gun regulation. 

None of this is to say that gun violence is simply a result of mental illness. It is vital to make the distinction between a system that does not adequately regulate who has access to guns and mental illness itself. But when looking at the cases of school shooters, there is a pattern of anti-social and emotionally void behavior that can easily be exploited by unregulated gun laws. As parents, siblings, friends, educators and communities, we must be more invested in identifying children and adolescents who demonstrate alarming behavior, and to not hesitate to intervene before we allow a tragedy to prove that something is seriously wrong with an individual. School shootings can never be justified regardless of mental status. Though, in the same way that we should advocate for gun law reformation, we should advocate greater awareness and intervention in students’ lives in order to at least reduce the chance of these individuals resorting to fatal actions in the future. 

Dilara Guvercin is a School of Arts and Sciences first-year double majoring in philosophy and psychology. Her column, "The Bigger Picture," runs on alternate Fridays.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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