The Problem With No Explanation!

5

As an instructor, a criminologist, a gun owner, and a young person, I have given a lot of thought to the recent events at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Like many of my peers, I am frustrated with the reality that children are being gunned down in their own classrooms on a regular basis. Rather than rehash what has already been written about these issues, below I discuss some of those misconceptions, offer what I argue is an overlooked but potentially crucial variable in explaining school violence, and conclude by briefly addressing some of the solutions that have been proposed.

If, as a society, we continue to ask the wrong questions, we will continue to produce the wrong answers. Typical explanations of school violence tend to include video games (or other media), family structure, mental illness, and guns, all of which have significant flaws. For example, the claim that things like violent movies and abusive households are directly responsible for mass shooters seems difficult to reconcile with the fact that women and people in other cultures exposed to the exact same circumstances do not produce remotely similar consequences. In the case of mental illness, it is an empirical fact that an individual with mental illness is much more likely to be the victim of a crime than the perpetrator. Finally, even if every single firearm disappeared tomorrow (1), we are still left with a central but continuously overlooked question that no discussion of guns or any of the other factors discussed so far can address: Why is it that young men decide to express their anger and frustration through extreme acts of violence?

I argue that a key explanatory variable in understanding school violence is a culture that teaches young men to glorify violence and domination and to erase any part of themselves that could be associated with femininity. Simply put, as a society, we have created a lot of broken young men who have been told that acknowledging their emotions is a violation of their masculinity, and worse, who have never been taught how to appropriately express those emotions. If you think this argument is farfetched, consider this: not only do men die from suicide 3.53 times more often then women, but white men in particular account for as many as 70% of all suicides per year (2). Since the “Boy Code” demands we suppress all emotion and express ourselves only in violence, we are literally killing ourselves, and others.

A look back at mass shootings from the past few decades reveals a startling trail of young men who were bullied for being gay (or perceived as gay), and who sought revenge on young women – a horrific but logical extension of dating and domestic violence. For example, in the 2014 Isla Vista Shooting, the perpetrator left behind an online manifesto where he explicitly notes that the motivation for his attacks, which killed six students and injured fourteen others, was to punish women for rejecting him and to punish sexually active men for their apparent prowess (3). If we put these pieces together, as argued above, the key to understanding school violence is not scapegoating it to a handful of tangential factors, but addressing head-on the cultural acceptance of boys’ obsession with violence and their unwillingness to express emotion or seek help. I admit there are no easy solutions for doing this, but it is a conversation that I argue we need to begin to recognize and have as a society.

Finally, alongside discussions about why these kinds of events occur are those about how to secure our schools. Without question, we must do whatever we can to keep our children safe. But I conclude with a word of warning. As an educator, a gun owner, and a criminologist, I must argue that although well intentioned, I caution against suggestions that point toward militarizing our teachers and schools. Instead of repeating the many commentators that have already gone down the rabbit holes of arming instructors and similar suggestions, I wish to draw your attention to the bigger picture. There are already facilities that maintain order and security by utilizing a combination of perimeter security, armed guards, cameras, metal detectors, and other measures. These are called prisons. While I agree we need to do whatever is necessary to keep our children secure, I have to question how free we really are as a society if the only we can provide a safe education is to treat our schools like prisons or the streets of Fallujah. If this is the very best we can do for our children, I personally believe we should be embarrassed.

There is no doubt much complexity and nuance to the overlapping and entangled issues discussed here. While we may have disagreements on how to proceed, other than the morally bankrupt sycophants that used this tragedy as an opportunity to hurl insults at young people, most of us agree we must come together and begin to do something. I readily admit I do not know what the answers are, but I do know we must begin to have frank conversions and proceed carefully with policy.

  • To be clear, as a gun owner, concealed weapons permit holder, and a criminologist, I can think of at least a half dozen policies I might implement to address guns in particular, and I do believe certain measures could reduce the number of fatalities in these situations, which is absolutely something we should work toward.
  • American Foundation For Suicide Prevention. 2016. “Suicide Statistics.” AFSP https://afsp.org/about-suicide/suicide-statistics/
  • 2014 Isla Visa Killings. 2014. Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2014_Isla_Vista_killings

 

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Eric Sevell was born, raised, and currently resides in Boca Raton. He is currently finishing his PhDs in Sociology and Criminal Justice from Indiana University (IU). Eric has published on topics ranging from political attitudes to community and crime, and has taught Criminology and Deviant Behavior classes in person and online as an Associate Instructor for IU. He has a commitment to social justice and is interested in seeing Boca become a more equitable and inclusive place. In addition to his own engagement with local politics here, he is also a member of the 2020 Vision, a Boca Raton based non-profit working to develop the Wildflower and Silver Palm Parks alongside the city.

5 COMMENTS

  1. As a responsible gun owner, please explain how America has so many deaths from guns than other countries that have banned guns? Also, please explain why anyone needs an assault rifle? I’m tired of the gun owners argument that banning assault rifles is just the beginning to take away your guns? So what if it is? Are you part of a well-regulated militia? How many gun owners have foiled a school, church, or theater shooting by whipping out their gun and killing the shooter while not hurting any innocent people?

    You must have a license to drive a car and you must submit to some testing to keep your license so why should guns be any different? Gun owners should be licensed. There should be a national registry. You want to keep your license to own your gun, you must submit to mental health checks.

    Lots of people have crappy childhoods but it doesn’t make them go buy a gun and kill people. The shooter fell through the system.
    The checks and balances were there but too many people failed the kid.

    There are many solutions to improve the problem but many responsible gun owners don’t want to change. I hope these intelligent, compassionate, and articulate teens are able to succeed where adults have failed.

    • Hello Janet, I am also a responsible gun owner here in sunny South Florida. The term “assault rifle” is not very well understood by the public. So I would ask you to clarify your question “why anyone needs an assault rifle.” What rifles are you referring to? Rifles are used legally in multiple ways. From home defense/protection to hunting and just for the joy of it (collectors/history buffs). Now the argument that banning assault rifles is just the beginning of taking away our rights is a legitimate argument. Enforcing a law which criminalizes citizens who own rifles is essentially forcing citizens to give up their right to chose to protect themselves with guns. Law abiding citizens who would give up their rifles are also giving up their God-given right to protect themselves (this right is also reinforced by our constitution). Criminals by definition do not obey laws. Therefore, if there are laws that ban law-abiders from protecting themselves (by owning rifles) then you put more of a burden on the government to protect all of its citizens… and as we all know, law enforcement is already having a hard time doing that. Additionally, criminals will still own guns. Reffering to your statement on the militia: the militia is you and me. Legal and responsible gun owners make up the militia. The second amendment enables us to not only protect our lives and the lives of those we love, but also it is a measure to keep the government in check. I know this sounds farfetched to many at first, but hear this point out. The intent for the second amendment (2A) was not only for self protection from foreign threats, but for the ability of citizens to keep their freedoms from being confiscated by the government. Just read a number of the federalist papers (they reinforce this point). We own guns so that we can ward off all threats (foreign and domestic). Those who founded America came to this land to escape the tyrannical rule of the British, and they used guns to fight a revolution which would secure their God-given freedoms (the ones we still have today). The founders also realized we live in an imperfect world and that any and all government systems are subject to corruption and overreach of power. And for this reason they implemented, in our constitution, the right to own firearms (this includes all guns past and future). The second amendment fortifies the freedoms we all enjoy. Janet, I am glad you asked these questions. I also implore you to look into why we Americans have our second amendment. If we start chipping away at that right, what is to say that our government won’t start chipping away at the first amendment (or any other amendment for that matter)? I hope you read and keep an open mind to understand why we all own guns. Thank you!

  2. Thanks for your well written article, however I am not sure I completely agree with your suggestion. In the case of Mr Cruz it appears that he has been expressing his anger for the last several years in various overt ways and no one in Government or law enforcement wanted to address it properly. Additionally by extension of your premise school violence and mass shootings would have been much worse in my baby boomer generation and before when it was an absolute sin for a man to cry other than at his moms funeral. Maybe instead of teaching our kids to be hyper sensitive to there own feelings we should be teaching them to care about others as there seems to be a complete decay in civility and basic manners. I realize this is a very simplistic Idea and in reality there are many structural and social engineering problems as well but it does seem to be a one that would help

    • Yes, thank you Eric for bringing this topic to light. It is important in our American society to have these conversations. Other countries ban free speech and so that is why I am happy when I see people having these conversations about our freedoms. It causes people to realize why we have these freedoms and why our founders saw it to be so vital to a thriving society. And as for the mental health/emotional issue, I believe healing starts at home. Parents should be encouraged to speak with their children, and yeah Peri, I’ve heard from many baby boomers that their generation was emotionally broke/their parents weren’t as loving or understanding as todays parents are. I think today we are in a better place emotionally than we were 20 or 30 years ago, but also maybe we are on the brink of being too emotional (especially when it comes to policy making). Emotions shouldn’t dictate as to what and when new laws should be introduced. Many use mass murders and killings to their advantage and consequentially, our freedoms are up for grab so to say. Banning or making it illegal to own guns will not protect any law abiding citizen. It will only cause further harm. Just look at the fact that schools are gun free zones. No guns in the hands of “good guys” means easy targets for people who are mentally unstable and want to kill.

  3. RE: “I hope these intelligent, compassionate, and articulate teens are able to succeed where adults have failed.”
    Absolutely! Well said.

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