The problem with school shootings is societal

Society has changed dramatically since I was young. Back in the 1950s, before drug culture, before technology and video games, before the welfare state and rampant single parenthood and, yes, before legal abortion devalued human life, there were riflery classes after school. Students walked into their high school carrying rifles, put them in their lockers, went to classes, and pulled them out for the “sport” they were learning as an extra-curricular activity. The kids learned to shoot, learned gun safety, and nobody worried about school shootings, which simply didn’t happen. I don’t know when that activity ended, certainly long before any of our kids hit high school but, clearly, the idea would shock people these days.

When our youngest son was in 4th or 5th grade, back in the early ‘90s, the class project was to make and narrate a video (this was before the smartphone) or create a paper and poster presentation on any “how to” subject. Our son decided on a video of himself trap shooting, and then explaining and demonstrating the methodical process he used to clean his shotgun. The teacher was a bit nonplussed, but his video nevertheless got an A.

Our children took a gun safety course at the outdoor range (sadly, closed down, of course) as young teens. It was an 8-hour course, taught by a tough instructor. We parents knew that if a child learns how to act responsibly with a firearm, there’s far less to worry about. Our children grew up to be productive adults, excellent parents, and thriving members of their communities. The firearms training was but one aspect of their experience, but one that taught responsibility, attentiveness, respect for others, and a defensive skill set we believed important.

Along with such lessons, we also valued time as a family and made it a point to gather for dinner almost every night. Above all, we taught the kids that we were always there to listen but allowed them to learn to be responsible for themselves. They started doing chores at a young age. They didn’t get mollycoddled, driven to school, helicoptered. The kids made choices, and we guided them but left them the freedom to develop their own interests and find their own motivation to succeed. If they slept in on a school day, they still walked to school. They learned to rely on themselves to get up and leave earlier the next day—or suffer the consequences.

Image: Members of the rifle club at Woodrow Wilson High School, Washington, D.C., 1943. Library of Congress.

Parenting is not a passive endeavor. Conscious parenting makes the difference, I believe, between someone becoming a productive member of society or a misanthrope. “It takes a village” is a convenient cop-out. We adults are responsible for our children, for guiding them to develop into responsible adults, and that includes getting them whatever help they need if they are troubled. Identify a problem early enough, and it can be overcome. Ignore it and it festers. I guarantee that every single school shooter had cried out for help more than once, long before he took such drastic measures.

When it comes to gun “culture,” I’ve always looked to Switzerland as a good example. The country has maintained its neutrality, but the people are well armed. The simplicity of their gun laws is changing after a few negative incidents but the country still enjoys one of the lowest murder rates in the world, pretty close to zero. It has never had a school shooting. Yet 25% of the population owns a firearm. The example demonstrates that legal gun ownership is not the problem, but a red herring.

Swiss children are encouraged to learn shooting and contests are routinely held for teen shooters. Military service is mandatory for healthy Swiss men aged between 18 and 34. They are issued military firearms that, until recently, they were expected to keep after their service was completed. Newer laws require them to have permits for the guns and they don’t automatically get to keep them. Things are changing, in this changing world, but less so there.

Here are some interesting facts that add to the picture: The Swiss are not made up of one heterogeneous group. There are four “official” languages: German, French, Italian, and Romansh. Around 20% of the population is immigrants. Hardly a unified population yet, somehow, they don’t shoot one another.

We can arm teachers and teach them to defend their classrooms. We can arm guards and “harden” the environment in which our children learn what the world has to offer them—both those things, done correctly and carefully, might help.

But what we can’t do at the school level is prevent the cause of the problem. Lack of family structure, drug-addicted parents, absent parents, over-use of social media, childhood pot smoking and the use of psych drugs (which are given to children these days without a second thought), and the cultural push for aberrant sexuality, all lead to maladjusted, angry teens who get lost in their own thoughts, with nowhere to turn for help. Under these circumstances, we are guaranteed to have more shootings.

Toby Ranley is a pseudonym.

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