School Shootings – Beyond the Hype and Spin

Every school shooting is tragic, including the recent massacre in Uvalde, Texas. Predictably, politicians and pundits are quick to politicize the issue to suit their personal agendas, while not offering any thoughtful analysis or potential solutions. It is impossible to eliminate wanton murder that dates back to Cain and Abel and is, unfortunately, part of the human condition, but certain measures might prevent some of these horrific incidents in the future.

Start with the spin. President Joe Biden, in prepared remarks after the Uvalde shooting, asked, “But these kinds of mass shootings never happen with the kind of frequency that they happen in America.” Actually, the opposite. The five worst mass shootings worldwide occurred outside the U.S. as did 32 of the top 50, contradicting Biden’s assertion.

Then there is the inevitable blame on ill-defined “assault weapons,” which is a made-up and ambiguous term invented by the anti-gun lobby in the 1980s. Perhaps the confusion lies in the distinction between automatic and semi-automatic firearms, the latter being what most gun owners and law enforcement use and the former being machine guns, which are incredibly difficult for civilians to obtain legally.

President Biden claimed, “When we passed the assault weapons ban, mass shootings went down.  When the law expired, mass shootings tripled.” Yet a Department of Justice-funded study reported: “The decline in assault weapon use was offset throughout at least the late 1990s by steady or rising use of other guns equipped with large capacity magazines in jurisdictions studied.”

In other words, ban one type of gun and a different one will fill the void. After all, it’s not the gun itself that chooses to murder people but the person holding the gun, knife, bat, or another lethal weapon of choice.

What can be done? First and foremost, the American mental health system is broken. This is not a new problem. Nearly 60 years ago, President John F. Kennedy addressed this issue:

Mental illness and mental retardation are among our most critical health problems. They occur more frequently, affect more people, require more prolonged treatment, cause more suffering by the families of the afflicted, waste more of our human resources, and constitute more financial drain upon both the public treasury and the personal finances of the individual families than any other single condition.

Little has changed since 1963, and any subsequent president could have delivered the same remarks.

How many mass shooters are mentally ill, untreated, or inadequately treated, due to deficiencies in our mental health care system? A Stanford University team: “Studied 35 mass shooting cases that occurred in the United States between 1982 and 2019 and involved shooters who survived and were brought to trial.” They discovered that “28 had mental illness diagnoses. Eighteen had schizophrenia, and 10 had other diagnoses including bipolar disorder, delusional disorder, personality disorders and substance-related disorders.”

America’s mental health system is fragmented due to politics and money. For some administrations, mental health is a priority and for others a pot of money that can be spent on other initiatives. Inpatient hospitalization has given way to outpatient therapy, which may not be enough for some. Clearly, those that need help are not getting it.

There are also the medications used to treat some mental illnesses, specifically, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, commonly prescribed for depression. For those with depression, increased serotonin levels can be life-changing for the better. But there is also a potential dark side.

These SSRI antidepressants carry the following on their product label:

Anxiety, agitation, panic attacks, insomnia, irritability, hostility, aggressiveness, impulsivity, akathisia, hypomania, and mania have been reported in adult and pediatric patients being treated with antidepressants for major depressive disorder as well as for indications, both psychiatric and nonpsychiatric.

Is there an association between these SSRI antidepressants and violent behavior such as shootings or actual causation? Wouldn’t that be a more useful area of inquiry rather than a knee-jerk blaming of the weapon, ignoring the state of mind of the person holding the weapon? But mental health care is expensive, we are told.

The U.S. just sent $40 billion to Ukraine while ignoring problems in our own backyard, including mental health and an open border, the latter admitting potential shooters or terrorists, and creating a constant state of lockdowns in near-border towns such as Uvalde, leaving many dulled the danger they were in until it was too late. Aside from school shootings, which garner media and politician attention, what about the carnage in American cities?

Chicago leads the way with 811 people killed and injured in mass shootings since September 2018. While Uvalde was tragic, is there similar outrage over mass murder in Chicago and other U.S. cities?

Then there are other common-sense measures, as former President Donald Trump described in his recent speech to the NRA. School buildings with a single point of entry. Fencing, metal detectors, and other tech measures to stop unauthorized school entry. Hardened classroom doors, like airline cockpits. After 9/11, did we ban air travel and planes, or did we secure cockpits and screen passengers?

Retired police or military could be hired as school guards, meaningful work for already trained and competent individuals who may be happy to earn some extra money for a good cause during their retirement. Select teachers could also be trained and armed, as an added layer of protection, like air marshals flying on airplanes.

A real-life example of how an armed civilian can stop a shooter occurred in West Virginia at the same time as the Uvalde shooting, which not surprisingly, is being ignored by the media. Zero Hedge reported, “Instead of waiting for the police to arrive, a woman with a concealed carry license in West Virginia acted fast to stop a crazed man with an AR-15-style rifle who was about to kill dozens of people at a graduation party.” Suppose she was a teacher at Uvalde. The story might have played out differently.

Labeling schools as “gun-free zones” is an invitation for shooters who know there will be no one to offer resistance or stop them. Would additional laws help? The shooter committed a felony simply by carrying a gun on school property. Homicide is already illegal. Additional laws only seem to hamper the law-abiding, not the criminals who by definition break the law.

Waiting for the police to arrive and neutralize the shooter is a nonstarter. The expression, “when seconds matter, help is minutes away,” understates how poorly Uvalde was handled by the police. Instead of minutes, it was at least an hour, during which police surrounded a school but were apparently told to stand down, giving the shooter more than an hour to rack up the death count. Imagine if there were armed teachers or security guards at the school to neutralize the shooter? Or if police responded immediately, rather than waiting an hour for reinforcements?

A famous quote falsely attributed to Edmund Burke applies: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” The police, for whatever reason, did nothing until it was too late. Ultimately schools need to protect themselves from evil. Additional gun control measures ironically make matters worse, preventing schools from self-protection.

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Suppose government officials and the media took a thoughtful and reasoned approach to national tragedies including school shootings, COVID, border security, energy, inflation, and a host of other problems creating misery for so many Americans? Instead, we hear the same hackneyed excuses and foolish proposed solutions, that only exacerbate existing problems.

Rather than doing the right thing, it’s all about politics, how to spin tragedy to score political points. No wonder America is in such a mess and less than a quarter of Americans think the country is heading in the right direction. Instead of leadership, we are served up a whopping dose of hype and spin.

Brian C. Joondeph, M.D., is a physician and writer. Follow me on Twitter @retinaldoctor. And on Truth Social @BrianJoondeph.

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