School Shootings: From Columbine to “Whatever…”

School shootings are still the exception, and not the norm. Most students go through their days without any violence taking place.

At the same time, school shootings have become a normal or routine exception. When we hear about them, we’re not really all that surprised any more.

If you remember Columbine, back in 1999, it was utterly shocking. Now it’s simply sad, but also kind of expected.

Clearly, something has changed.

In the decades prior to Columbine (and the numerous incidents since), school shootings were virtually unheard of, at least on the scale we now see them. And this was without turning schools into the equivalent of airport security terminals or military bases, as some have done.

What gives?

Nobody has an answer. So politicians and school officials continue to go through the motions of gun control laws, even though these restrict peaceful citizens, not would-be killers; or social programs designed to make school officials look like they’re “doing something” about the problem even though the problem isn’t going away.

Nobody looks deeper. Either they don’t want to do so, or don’t know how.

Consider the most recent example.

The 18-year-old gunman who police say opened fire inside a Colorado high school Friday, injuring a fellow student and then fatally shooting himself, was reportedly targeting the teacher who had recently kicked him off the school’s debate team. reports that a student at Arapahoe High School in Centennial said Karl Halverson Pierson, 18, the man police identified as the gunman,  was in a “rage” on Wednesday and yelled at one of his teachers.

“Apparently that was enough to set him off,” the student said.

I have no doubt that twenty, thirty or fifty years ago, students’ feelings were hurt by teachers or fellow students just as they are today. But in that time, students rarely, if ever, opened fire on random teachers and students.

To understand what’s going on, we must look at the gunman’s premises. We cannot read his mind or grasp every individual nuance of his psyche. We’ll never know those things. But we know two things are present in the mind of such a person.

One, the false belief that force is meaningful.

Two, the false belief that reason is meaningless, and emotions are therefore paramount.

Mix these two together, and you’ve got a person with a desire to commit violence to resolve his problems.

Somehow, fewer children than ever before are growing into adulthood with a firm sense that reason is important. Yes, morality is part of the issue. But there is no morality—rationally speaking—without the firm conviction that reason comes first.

Force has its place, but only in self-defense. A reasonable or rational person would never consider initiating force because his or her feelings were hurt.

That’s the crucial difference to understand about what’s happening in our culture. No doubt schools are, in part, to blame. But what’s going on (or not going on) in families is the larger culprit. Even if schools did a better job of conveying the idea that reason and rationality matter, it matters little if parents don’t do so.

It’s not that most parents are teaching their children to be irrational. Some are, through example more than anything else. But the wider problem is that parents are afraid to use reason and objectivity with their children. Many parents don’t have the inner confidence or strength of mind to assert themselves in their own lives, which makes them tepid and insecure when dealing with their children.

If I’ve learned anything from counseling people over twenty-five years (including a large number of parents), I’ve seen that the major trend today is parents have an irrational fear of being “mean” to their children, or somehow damaging them by not meeting their needs. They’re very concerned about being judgmental, overly harsh or (worst of all) being seen by other parents as such. As a result, they tend to let their childrens’ feelings rule the roost and convey to their children that emotions are paramount.

It’s a destructive trend. Granted, most young people are not turning to violence. Most won’t open fire on a crowded classroom to gain revenge for some personal offense.

But more are doing it than ever before. This has got to tell you something. Reason is on the decline in our culture. Emotions, including violent impulses, are gaining ground and even becoming the norm. It’s the logical consequence of reason and rationality–seen as too judgmental, too arrogant–going by the wayside.

We’ve got to look deeper than mere biology or ridiculous gun laws. We’ve got to get to the source and root of the problem. It’s psychological, and ultimately philosophical.


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