Zero tolerance policies: the seedbed of school shootings

Since the Parkland, Florida school shooting, many commentators have laid blame on the diminished state of morality in today's society, and there can be no doubt as to the corrosive effect on people of depictions of violence, hyper-sexuality, and immorality in popular culture.

But through the strident calls for more restrictive gun control laws and the wise recognition that it is evil we fight – not the tool evil employs – I believe we have been talking past the most obvious root of school shootings and violence in society overall.

That root is the willingness of societies to police themselves by addressing individually those with the capacity to commit such acts, through the enforcement of societal norms, privately, by other members of the society.

When was the last time you heard of someone getting a sound thrashing for being a jerk?  When this occurs today, an arrest and prosecution surely follow, although the behavior of the "victim" warranted the physical response.

No, in today's society, we hear of fights over turf, being "dissed," or some other direct and personal offense, and these conflicts are frequently punished lightly, even overlooked in the name of tolerance, excusing the anti-social behavior by blaming "root causes" instead of the perpetrator.

People who once would've punched someone in the face for bad behavior no longer do so, fearing the full wrath of our litigation-driven society, knowing that such an act will be punished by "zero tolerance" tick-box bureaucrats who have spent decades devising formulas for controlling human conduct and thought.

When conflicts arise, and school authorities treat both aggressor and victim as equally responsible (nearly all school systems have adopted this "no one is right in a fight" mentality as policy), then we are teaching our children that there is no difference between right and wrong, that there is nothing worth fighting for, no principle worthy of physical defense.  When we treat violence as an intrinsic evil, we teach acquiescence (even to evil!) as the normative good.

And then we wonder why our kids have a nihilistic view of morality and principle.

We are seeing the results today: a society where the only option for restraining the troublemaker is a call to the police, who themselves are restrained by a hyper-vigilant bureaucracy devoted to adherence to its formulas over the more appropriate response from a police officer, which oftentimes is "try that again, and your ass is mine!"

We have defanged ourselves by micro-managing every human interaction to the point that we have eliminated the private enforcement of accountability, absent a judicial order.  And it all started in the education centers of our youth...

When I was in school, we had far fewer incidences of violent bullying because the "good kids" would take up for the victimized kids and enforce appropriate behavior from the bully.

We can more quickly address the problems of our society by replacing the present bureaucratic, formulaic mindset with a more proactive, protective mindset, insisting that our schools, government, and judicial system again respect the concept of "he had it coming."

It will take some time, but we can again return to a time when society was far more polite and respectful because being an a-hole had immediate, painful consequences.

Not every punch thrown requires a cop or attorney.  Some just require a pat on the back and a thank you for nipping a problem in the bud.

The author writes from Omaha, NE and welcomes visitors to his website at

Image: ResoluteReportMedia via Flickr.